DAY-O, MR. TALIBAN
This past week we celebrated the festival of Simchat Torah -- literally translated this means the Joy of Torah. This past week we also watched the beginnings of the military attack/humanitarian effort in Afghanistan.
This past week we celebrated the festival of Simchat Torah -- literally translated this means the Joy of Torah. This past week we also watched the beginnings of the military attack/humanitarian effort in Afghanistan. And, on this Shabbat, we will read the Torah portion of Bereshit. Bereshit begins with the famous words "In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth." A great deal of analysis can be done on this particular Torah portion; books have been written on this single sentence. Indeed, many lessons about the current war could be derived from the Torah portion. Nonetheless, I want to look not at the portion itself, but at why we read it this Shabbat.
We read the beginning of this Torah portion on the festival of Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is a festival in which we celebrate the cycle of Torah. We read the last portion of the Torah and the beginning of the first portion on this festival. The question could be asked, why didnít we just finish reading Parshat Bereishit on Simchat Torah and save this coming for Parshat Noach? Why do we read only the beginnings of Bereshit on Simchat Torah but then hold off on reading the whole of the Parsha until the following Shabbat?
An answer to this question reveals a valuable lesson when one looks at what is going on in the world. Simchat Torah is the last of a series of major festivals celebrated during the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The first of these festivals was Rosh Hashanah which started on Sept 18. Rosh Hashanah was then followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshanna Rabba, Shemini Atzeret and finally Simchat Torah. During this very busy period, we set the stage for the coming year. But the year isnít made up of festivals. It isnít made up of unusual events. It is made up of days and weeks, the vast majority of which are "normal".
In the past month, the United States has been gearing up its response to the World Trade Center attacks. Great and terrible things have been afoot. There have been discussions of a holy war, of a time of terrible strife and suffering. There have been fears of new attacks and calls for massive retaliatory strikes. All of us have watched the news, all of us have tried to get our minds around the enemy and all of us have asked ourselves what we can do. To a certain extent, the world has been paralyzed with sadness, anger, fear and even impatience. For the last few weeks everyone has been waiting for a response. And finally, on October 7, it came.
While the United State will mount a massive response, it will be a response, as has been explained to us many times, that will take time, patience, and perserverance. While the past month has been marked by tremendous and terrible events accompanied by widespread sadness and fear, the response of the United States will be characterized by patience, time, and deliberation.
The Hebrew month of Tishrei has also been a month of tremendous and terrible events. In the past month the whole world, individual by individual, has been inscribed in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. Over the past month, there have been tremendous festivals, both joyous and somber. And at the end of this series of festivals is Simchat Torah, on which we read the beginning, but not all, of Parshat Bereishit.
So, returning to the original question, why do we read Parshat Bereishit again on the Shabbat after Simchat Torah? A possible answer is that we read it again because it reminds us that the year isnít just festivals and major events. The year is an effort, normal day in and normal day out, to do good in the world. We read Parshat Bereishit on a Shabbat just as we read almost every other Torah portion on a Shabbat. Our year isnít the festivals of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Our year is made up of days and weeks. Likewise, the war isnít going to be a major assault like the Gulf War, but a day in and day out effort to seek justice and protect the world.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a contemporary Torah scholar, explained in a commentary on the Parshat Ki Tissa that within 24 hours of Elijah the Prophetís victory over the worshippers of Baal at Mount Carmel, his life was once again at risk. As with Moses, G-d appeared to Elijah as a still, small, voice. Elijah learned the lesson Hashem was teaching and became a still, small voice that visits every Jewish home on Passover and every circumcision of a Jewish boy. Elijah learned that the real changes in the world arenít made by tremendous events like the victory over the worshippers of Baal, but by small, meaningful, consistent efforts.
Our grand assault on Saddam Hussain in 1991 did nothing to remove him or reduce the threat he poses. Osama bin Ladenís attack on the World Trade Center likewise did not destroy America. If anything it strengthened it.
Great events donít win wars or fundamentally change the world. Small events change the world. Giving charity every day, helping an elderly person across the street, doing our jobs, talking with our families about good and evil and right and wrong, and yes, even reading the Torah portion every week -- those are the things that can change the world. Hashem wrote, ĎIn the beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth...í
Now, itís our job to make every day holy.
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