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Torah Commentary
B'reishit (October 14, 2017)


In the beginning, GOD,
But before that, what?
Not nothing, exactly,
But something
From nothing,
Unarticulated, unformed,
Not knowing it was not
Nothing. Every conceivable
Form, color, shape — but
Formless, colorless, unshaped.
Capable of being, but not.
Waiting, unknowing for the
Beginning to begin.

— Bettijane Long, Wellesley, Class of 1957

The assignment was “Give an adequate description of Chaos.”

Bettijane Eisenpreis

The professor was Richard Wilbur, who later became the second poet laureate of the United States. Mr. Wilbur, a visiting professor at Wellesley, taught a seminar in poetry writing that met very early in the morning during a very cold New England winter. You had to be motivated to take that class.

I wish I could say that Chaos was the first of many poems I wrote and published. It was never published (until now), and I did not go on to have a long, successful career writing poetry. Rather, Chaos, and other poems I wrote that year, stand alone as proof of how a brilliant teacher can inspire a student. I did not become a poet, but I did become a published writer. Years later, I dragged my son to the 92nd Street Y to meet my former teacher. He asked me if I had become a writer, and I said yes. “So did everyone else in that class,” he told me. While he didn’t make us poets, I am sure he helped us to become better writers and more inspired people.

Shabbat B’reshit marks the beginning of the cycle of Torah readings for the year. At Temple Emanu-El, that means an exciting weekly Torah class at 9:15 AM on Saturdays. The fall is also the beginning of the school year. I only can wish that our children and grandchildren can experience teachers who inspire them to go above and beyond what they thought they could achieve, as we were inspired during that cold New England winter.

Bettijane Eisenpreis, a freelance writer, is a long-time member of Temple Emanu-El
and a regular participant in our Saturday morning Torah study group.

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