Simchat Torah / Shabbat Bereshit 5772
October 20-22, 2011
Every year around this time I start to reflect on what it’s like being part of the best book club in the history of the world. Not only has the club been in existence for almost 6,000 years, but wherever my travels take me, I know there is someone else who has read the same book I have, and is interested in discussing it.
The book, of course, is the Torah (which is actually made up of 5 books).
We read a designated portion of the Torah every week throughout the year. This week, we reach the end, and upon doing so, start back at the beginning (literally, as the first portion of the Torah is called “Bereshit” – commonly translated as “In the beginning”).
What are we to make of the fact that every year we read through the entire Torah, only to start over again once we’ve reached the end?
It’s pretty challenging mentally to experience something’s conclusion and not have any time to let it sink in and reflect on it before starting over from scratch. And yet, in this never-ending cycle, there is beauty.
Every year, I always find new things that interest me:
Did you know, for example, that “Moopim” and “Choopim” are Jewish names? (Benjamin’s sons)(Genesis 46:21). Let’s just say that I now have a couple more names to add to the arsenal when it comes time to name my next puppy.
How about the fact that when the prophetess Miriam (Moses’s sister) dies, the Israelites do not mourn her loss (Numbers 20:1), but when the High Priest Aaron (Moses’s brother) dies, the Israelites mourn for 30 days (Numbers 20:29). What gives?
Not only are there new things to learn, but often, where we are in our lives as we approach a book has an impact on how it touches us. I am certain that the Torah will speak to me in different ways in the coming year given the professional and personal transitions I have made recently, allowing much of the old to become new again.
This coming Shabbat, in the portion of Bereshit, we read the traditional Jewish account of the world’s creation. Rather than focusing on what was created on each individual day and in what order the events might have taken place, I encourage you to take a broader look at the creation story, and in particular, the comment attributed to God at the end of creation: “v’hineh tov me’od” – “and it was very good.” The world around us is flawed, but beautiful, and I would argue that it remains “very good.” The important question though is: what can we do as humankind to take a world that is “very good” and make it great?
I hope that in our next cycle through the Torah in the year ahead we will all commit to set aside regular time to read our book for book club, so that we’ll have the opportunity to learn new things, to have the old transformed into new again, and to approach our lives with the mission of making all that is very good, great.