This Shabbat is the start of a new year for our weekly reading of the parashat hashavua – the weekly Torah reading. Among many other things, the weekly parasha is a unique – perhaps Divine – marker of time. Our lives and the events of our week so often seem somehow to connect to, reference as allusion, or otherwise assume some quality or character of an aspect or theme of the weekly Torah portion. The weekly portion often seems to have a mood that marks the season. And the portions dovetail with the Jewish calendar and holidays…If you have only ever perceived the years of your life through the usual January to December calendar of days, weeks, and months, and the same old “Monday thru Friday, weekend” rhythm of experience, you have an opportunity to try something different. If you have never yet spent a year of your life living on the Torah’s paradigm of time, you are in for a treat. I invite you to give it a try…
One way to do so is to read this email each Friday, which follows the parasha and which I hope will give some worthwhile food-for-thought and discussion over Shabbat dinner. These emails usually contain a link to a more detailed consideration of the portion as well.
Another great way to mark time with the parasha is to attend shabbat morning services and hear/discuss the weekly Torah reading with others during the service and over kiddush lunch!
If you have always assumed that “one day” you will read the entire Torah, let this year be THE year to do so. You also can attend our weekly Torah study on Monday evenings at 7:30pm either in-person or on Zoom. This year we will highlight at least one insight by the classic commentator, Rashi, as we explore other relevant themes, mystical understandings, historical context, values, and other explorations of each week’s Torah portion…Open to all, no prior knowledge needed.
We start with parashat Beresheit at the very beginning: “In the Beginning…” It is almost impossible for the human mind to grasp what that means exactly – “In the Beginning” – as if we can imagine anything before ‘the Beginning’, like a front without a back. Tradition suggestions that the Torah’s story of creation begins not with the first letter of the alphabet, aleph, but rather with the second letter, bet – ב – because it is open on the one side that leads to the next letters that come after bet and the ongoing story, but it is closed on the three sides we can’t know: what came before, what is above, and what is below.
What lessons do we draw from this for our own lives?
Perhaps that ‘now’ is all there really is for us, so to ‘live in the moment.’ Or perhaps to focus on the future and the present, but not the past. Perhaps to recognize that at heart we too are like little kids who, the moment you tell them they can’t know about what came before or above or below that letter bet, will therefore immediately start looking precisely for what is below, above, or before!
Perhaps that the letter aleph – which is a silent letter that makes no sound – can’t start the universe. Some serious physicists suggest that the ‘Big Bang’ was catalyzed by sound – likely music. And all of us who have engaged in any political activism or synagogue leadership or in business or in life know that if you want to make things happen and get things started, you usually have to make some noise…
Rabbi Michael Schwartz