04 Oct 2018 Bereishis – New Beginnings
Baruch she’he’chiyanu v’ki’yimanu vi’hi’giyanu la’zman hazeh – blessed be He Who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time. With the conclusion of the yomim tovim, the excitement and anticipation that we feel is palpable, as we prepare to start our learning of Torah She’bichtav (written Torah) all over again.
Sefer Bereishis. Parshas Bereishis. In the Beginning: Creation, first sin, first murder, the deluge, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, enemies and foes, brothers and sisters, captors and captives, slaves and kings, wars and redemption… In the Beginning.
What is the significance of starting a book that has been read and then re-read, over and over again, throughout the millennia? Have we not just read these very narratives last year? Have we not learned these very Rashi’s last year, and the year before (and the year before!)?
R’ Yaakov Neuburger writes, “Every siyum (completion of learning), be it of a massechta (tractate) or the entire Torah She’bichsav, is celebrating not the accomplishment (of past learning), but rather the anticipation of applying all of one’s knowledge to future studies and situations. Indeed, that is why at every siyum we focus on the ‘Hadrans’, praying and promising that we will return to the massechta at hand and that the massechta has become an active and alive part of our consciousness…
“In similar fashion we can appreciate… our rush to start Bereishis as soon as we have completed Sefer Devarim. (As we finish Devarim), the Satan claims that now that we have completed the study of the entire Torah, we will be putting it away and presumably going on to other masterpieces, lehavdil. Upon hearing the beginning of Bereishis immediately after chazak chazak, Hashem’s confidence in us and our knowledge of the absolute singularity of Torah and its place in our lives, is vindicated.
“Klal Yisrael sees the successful completion of one cycle not as an end but rather as a new rung on the ladder on which to penetrate the texts ever more deeply the next time around. Our simcha (joy) celebrates our well-founded expectation that we will always find new insights in the Torah, and the blessing that we have as Torah and life continuously illuminate one another” (Days of Awe, Days of Joy, p.251-252).
Hence, Torah is never finished, unlike the many books we peruse and the novels we read. When we finish those, they find their rightful place on the shelf of the bookcase, perhaps accumulating dust till an occasional passerby picks up the novel or book, redeeming it from its solitude.
Torah, the scroll of our lives which ends with the word יִשְׂרָאֵל and begins with the word בראשית – so that the last letter and first letter spell the word לב (heart) – is the heart of Israel. Without a beating heart, a person cannot live, and without Torah to sustain us, our nation cannot survive. Hence, as soon as we close out Devarim, with the reading of Parshas V’Zos Ha’Bracha on Simchas Torah, we immediately begin again.
And each year, and with each cycle, new lessons and insights are learned and hopefully, applied to our every day lives, ensuring our physical hearts keep beating as sustained by our spiritual heart of Torah.
Then Jewish teen, Clara Kramer, who spent two hellish years hiding in an underground bunker in Eastern Poland during the Holocaust (along with 17 other Jews – https://michalhorowitz.com/recommended-reading/claras-war-one-girls-story-of-survival/), was finally liberated by the Russians in the summer of 1944.
Upon liberation, and emerging from the bunker, Clara writes, “I tried to run but my own legs crumpled under me. I looked at our group of 18, our families; how many others were there like the Becks (the gentile family) who saved 18 Jews? I was in a dream. I looked (at the others). In the bunker, they looked almost normal because that was what I was used to. But here in the sunlight and out in the open, I could see how close we all were to death. Our skin was translucent and hung off us like baggy clothing. We were sticks with lungs and hearts and not much else…
“The soldiers asked us over and over if we were Jews. We were afraid to say yes, until one with a kind face, no more than a boy himself, told us it was all right and we were safe now. I nodded. I heard a commotion and looked back at the house.
“Mr. Melman staggered out of the house, barely able to hold the Torah (a Sefer Torah remained hidden throughout the war in the attic of the home where the Jews lived underground). He handed it to Papa. He stripped the wrappings off it, until the bright white of the satin covering, the gold and silver of the handle coverings and the golden thread dazzled in the sunlight. I helped the children and we walked over to Mr. Melman. The men walked inside and came out with coverings for their heads. We started to say the prayers of thanksgiving…
“I passed out and when I woke up a few moments later, I was staring at the clouds floating overhead in a bright blue sky, a sight I thought I would never see again” (Clara’s War, p.302-303).
Indeed, with the summer season over, the chagim behind us, and a long, cold, and dark winter right around the corner, we take comfort in the beauty, breadth and depth, grandeur and mystery, of the great heart of Israel.
Bereishis – In the Beginning, we begin again.
כי הם חיינו וארך ימינו – For the Torah’s wisdom is our life and the length of our days.
בברכת בשורות טובות, חודש טוב, ושבת שלום