When I was growing up in Regina Saskatchewan, I used to go to Hebrew school two or three days a week after public school, as well as on Sundays. My birthday is in May, and because the Hebrew calendar starts in September, I was always a grade ahead in Hebrew school (or a grade behind in public school depending on how you look at things). In public school, I was part of an accelerated program, and at the end of grade four I was given the opportunity to skip grade five. I was excited. I would be in the same class in both schools with some of my closest friends.
To skip grade five, I needed to choose an extra subject. I chose Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology because I was fascinated by the stories. I probably had to write a report or do a presentation, but since I can't remember what I did, it couldn't have been too difficult.
What I do remember was that learning about a variety of creation stories widened my world view. For example, my nine-year-old self decided that a bunch of gods living on Mount Olympus was every bit as believable as the story in Genesis about G-d creating the world in six days. Over the years I have read many creation stories from cultures around the world (one of my favourites is from the First Nations-- Daughters of Copper Woman by Ann Cameron), yet rather than adopting them as my own, I appreciate them as being truth for others; my truth is my heritage.
Looking back on the last sixteen months, as we have all been dealing individually and collectively with the pandemic, my formal and informal studies of other cultures have served me well. Without other perspectives, I doubt that I could make sense of the daily upheavals that we have all seen rolling out around the world—from natural disasters to political polarization and senseless violence.
If I only knew Greek mythology I would believe that Zeus created man because he thought he was missing something. Basically, he wanted some playthings. Once created and animated with Zeus's spit and Athena's breath, the gods frequently visited their playthings, taking what they wanted and punishing those who dared to challenge them. Since we were made in the gods' image, we contain all the passions of the gods with no ability to truly care or have compassion for others. Over time, the gods withdrew from the world and left it to run by itself, devoid of plan or purpose except to attain power and wealth.
What sets the Torah apart from Greek mythology and many other mythos, is that in it, G-d created the world specifically for humankind to live in. He fashioned us in His image from earth and breathed a soul into each of us because He wanted a relationship with free-willed beings. Being made in G-d's image means that we are able to go beyond instinct, to think in abstract ways, and to make choices about how we respond to circumstances and events, to others near and far, and even to G-d Himself. The day that you were born was the day that G-d said the world needed you, and every day that you wake-up is a day that G-d believes in your ability to make a positive contribution in the world.
If you are feeling discouraged by the way the world seems today, look to your own traditions for positive ways you can connect with the physical and the Divine. Know that we have never and will never be abandoned.
Fiona Prince is a coach and teacher who provides fundamental communication and writing skills through her own company and through Royal Roads Professional & Continuing Studies. Fiona acknowledges that her home and office are located on the traditional territories of the W̱SÁNEĆ and Lkwungen-speaking peoples, on whose traditional territories, she is thankful to live, learn, play, and do her work. She worships at the Chabad Family Shul in Victoria and volunteers by teaching children and adults how to read Hebrew.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, July 23rd 2021
Photo: Archaeological Museum of Brauron, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons