This season in the Jewish calendar is all about beginnings.
First we have Rosh Hashana, the "birthday of the world," when we are called to attention by the shofar. In the shofar service, we read of all God's creatures coming to have God judge their lives over the past year. This leads to ten days of making our peace with the people in our lives until Yom Kippur, when we struggle to make peace with God and most importantly with ourselves.
There is a custom that after breaking the fast of Yom Kippur one should begin to build a succah before going to bed. After this most solemn of days, we should begin at once to perform mitzvot and to prepare for the days of rejoicing. Life goes on. At the end of Sukkot we end the days of our rejoicing with Simchat Torah, celebrating and rejoicing in Torah. We roll the Torah scrolls all the way back to the start of it all, the stories of creation. We have an entire year to learn and to do better.
Rashi asked why Torah, which is a code of laws, does not begin with the first laws given before the Hebrews leave Egypt, but rather with creation, and I would add, with such a mystical story of creation? It certainly is not to tell us that the world is 5774 years old. I have seen and heard different commentaries over the years. Some emphasize that we all share common ancestors, so no one is intrinsically better than anyone else. Some point to the importance of the Sabbath.
I have also heard that Torah does begin with a paramount commandment, the commandment to create, to act on our world. The custom of starting to build a succah before going to bed after Yom Kippur reminds us of this; we must begin with an act of creation.
The modern JPS translation of these first verses is:
1. When God began to create heaven and earth -- 2. the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water -- 3. God said "Let there be light"; (sic) and there was light.This chapter shows us some origins of tikkun olam, repairing the world. We are partners in creation. God stopped creating and rested, leaving his creatures to finish the work.
The second chapter begins the story of our ancestors. Eden, like the surface of the deep, is a vague place. We don't know how long Adam and Eve's residence in Eden was, but it was not a fully human existence. Real life began with the discovery of good and evil and the expulsion into the world. Eden was infancy, where someone else meets one's needs, and there are only discomfort and satisfaction.
Our creativity began with work, sex, and children.