Here we go again. Beginning at the beginning.
As the new Jewish year begins, Jews around the world will turn back to the beginning of the Torah; every year rereading the Five Books of Moses.
I’ve been asked, Now that we’ve finished reading Deuteronomy, why don’t we just keep going? Why don’t we delve into the books of Joshua, and Kings, and Samuel, leading straight into the stirring messages of the prophets?
And, some wonder, If the Torah is all about commandments, why don’t we start with commandments, rather than the creation story?
Our sages had different opinions on this. Here’s what I think: We begin with Bereishit, in the beginning, because that’s where all stories begin, that’s where every year begins.
Every year builds upon the past year, and yet every year is a new beginning. A time to leave behind the task of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, when we looked back, and begin to look ahead at who we can be, who we want to be, what we can do to achieve our goals individually, communally, and societally.
Right now our nation and our world are on the cusp of something important. We have seen the MeToo movement, and we have watched as individuals, companies, and our leaders have dealt with a “new” reality. A reality that is not at all new, but which finally is coming to the forefront of our attention. Things that were once considered acceptable, barely even noticed, are now jumping out at us as glaring societal faults.
This week, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two people whose work could only have been so recognized in this new climate of consciousness. As the Washington Post put it, “At a time of growing global awareness about injustices against women, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to two people who have brought attention to the most extreme forms of violence they can face: a Congolese surgeon who treats victims of wartime rape and an activist who was a former sexual slave of the Islamic State.”
Ten years ago, would the Nobel Peace Prize have gone to people fighting against the use of sexual assault as a weapon of war? Unthinkable. But that is exactly what happened this week.
We reread the Torah because we understand the importance of beginnings. We understand that we will grow and change over the new year, that we are building on our past and leaving it behind.
And this is why we begin again at the beginning. To remind ourselves of the words of the Torah, which tells us that we are made in the image of a God that changes, asks questions, and grows, just as we grow.
One of the most important messages of Bereishit is that God asks a question. “Where are you?” God asks Adam and Eve. Of course God knew where they were, but we understand that the question went far deeper than physical location.
Today, we must ask ourselves the same question. It is more than likely that the current nominee for the Supreme Court will be confirmed this weekend. For decades to come, he will influence the laws of this land. Based on his demeanor this past week, I worry for our nation. And yet I am hopeful that this experience holds the seeds of change.
Going forward, we must ask ourselves God’s question to Adam and Eve, and we must continue the conversation among ourselves: “Where are we? Who do we want to be? How can we transform ourselves?”