"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."
Genesis 1:1, King James Version
Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
First Verse, First Word, First Syllable
The initial verse of the Bible, one we all know by heart, doesn't actually mean what we all think it means. I have yet to find a Bible that translates it literally.
The very first syllable of the very first word, our launching place into the word of God, is not bareshit, which would be written with a [ ָ ] below the first letter. Instead, it's written bereshit, written instead with a [ ְ ].
Can one tiny letter even matter?
Well, it changes the meaning. It doesn't mean "in the beginning"; it's technically "in a beginning."
Earth's Creation was A Beginning
According to an Israeli-Jewish Hebrew professor of mine, it has always been deliberately ignored by scholars, translators, and religious leaders of Judeo-Christian faiths because no one knows what to do with it. It is brushed aside.
Well, the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ knows exactly what to do with it, and precisely what it could mean!
Our doctrine asserts that the the creation of this earth and the surrounding heavens was not the first of God's creations. His worlds are incomprehensively innumerable (1). So this was, in a very literal way, A beginning--one of countless beginnings.
Beginnings are often exciting, new, untarnished opportunities to start again. But according to Seneca, a Roman philosopher who was a contemporary of Jesus, the even the best beginnings signal "some other beginning's end" (2), and are fraught with the complexities and fears of change.
Take having a baby. Moving. Serving a mission. These can all be so good and desirable, yet simultaneously so hard--but you gotta pick up both ends of the stick. Elder Richard G. Scott taught that It isn't necessarily easy to follow God's plans; "[b]ut when was anything really worthwhile easy?" (3)
On the flip side, sometimes the most difficult new beginnings can also have silver linings. For me, 2021 was the year my divorce was finalized and we began reinventing our family dynamic. It's been horrible and dream-crushing. But it's also the way both of us were finally able to move toward a place of healing and peace.
For all of you who are experiencing the pain of being far from a loved one for a time, I'd like to share a phrase my mom has had written at the top of her kitchen whiteboard for the last two decades: All reunions are preceded by separations. Because of Jesus Christ, even death isn't an end; its a beginning of its own, and will one day bring about the sweetest reunions we could ever imagine.
It's New Year's Day, which makes this discussion more immediately applicable, but the principle is the same whenever we find ourselves embarking on a new beginning:
God is the Master Creator, the Expert on beginnings. So hold on! One day you will have eyes to see what He's been creating for and through you all this time.
Happy New Beginning, my friends! Let's make--no, let's let God make the most of it!
(Moses 1:33, 35) "And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. [...] But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them." (See also Hebrews 1:1-2.; Doctrine & Covenants 76:22-24.)
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" is commonly attributed to Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. (As a side note, how many of you recognize this phrase from the 1998 hit song "Closing Time" by the band Semisonic?)
"Realize Your Full Potential," Conference Address, October 2003.