Bereshit I - THE SECOND ROUND
ALTHOUGH ROSH HASHANAH marks the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, Shabbat Bereshit is the beginning of another important event in the religious cycle of the year. It is the time when the first sidrah in the Torah is read in its entirety in the synagogue. Part of the sidrah -the first chapter and three verses of the second- is first read on Simchat Torah following the conclusion of the reading of the last portion of the Torah. Thus, on the happiest holiday of the year, we conclude one round of public leading of the Torah and immediately begin another. This impressive and inspiring scene is enacted year after year.
I see in this unique annual custom a powerful educational and moral lesson. It stresses that one never really "completes" the Torah; that one never knows all the profound meanings that are expressed on its scrolls; and that one never follows or observes properly all its noble teachings.
There is yet another lesson that can be derived from this singular practice. It teaches that those who may not have read the Torah diligently, or have followed its commandments faithfully during the year, have a golden opportunity to begin from Bereshit all over again--to study anew, correct past errors, and make up for what they have missed doing or understanding during the past year.
Others say that the Torah begins with the letter bet--the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet--and not with the aleph--the first, to teach us that the aleph is not as crucial in life as some are wont to believe; that there is always the bet waiting in the wings; that God gives man a second chance make good. If life can be compared to a boxing arena, there is a second round in which to fight and win; and if life is considered a milchemet ha-chayim, then the loss of one battle need not mean the loss of the war. The Allies fought two World Wars in which they lost a number of battles, but rallying with determination and courage, they won in end.
The other day I watched my grandchildren at play with tin "boxers." The toys performed energetically and amusingly to the delight of the children. After a minute or so, however, the tin toys became exhausted and, one after another, fell to the floor. The children picked up the fallen toys, rewound them and set them up again, and the "boxers" were performing again.
These toys are a true comment on life. I wish that many people I know myself included, would take the obvious lesson of the tin toys to heart. Sometimes all we need is a "rewinding" of spirit and faith to face the next round of responsibilities and chores.
Unfortunately, numerous individuals consider the loss of the first round in life as a total and final disaster. At the first slip or failure they lose heart and hope. Any falter or reversal appears to them as ultimate catastrophe. They fail to realize that almost every individual has his moment of trial and defeat -whether in the physical, economic or moral realms. Those who have triumphed in the end were, knowingly or unknowingly, influenced by the doctrine of the letter bet of Beresbit, and from the practice of the second round of reading the Torah every year. They were able to continue and achieve because of their faith in a second round of promise and victory.
Take, for example, science. Its greatest triumphs and breakthroughs came through the process of trial and error. The biographies of great discoverers and inventors tell us that. Many were the rounds and the battles that these men lost before they reached their desired goals. The same is true with men of letters and art. The worthwhile achievements in the fields of literature, music and art came after numerous efforrs that ended in frustration and defeat. It was courage and grit that helped turn temporary defeats into permanent victories.
Several years ago a successful moving picture entitled "Grit" was shown throughout the land. In that cinema grit was represented mainly as a physical quality--the ability to fight and strike back at the enemy. Actually, however, grit has more to do with heart and will than with muscle and brawn. It has to do with determination and will power--not to be subdued by a lost round or a temporary setback. Grit is not so much a natural endowment as a quality that has to be nurtured and developed over a period of time. It comes as a result of self discipline and abiding faith-the major building blocks of great character.
A sage in the Midrash informs us that the world, concening whose creation we read in the Torah on Shabbat Bereshit, is not the very first that God has created. In a remarkable passage he states that borey olamot umachrivan ad shebara et elu. "He created worlds and destroyed them until He made this one" (Gen. Rab. 3:9; Kohelet Rab. 3:11). God was not pleased, kaveyachol, with His first attempts at creation. It is only when He finally made this world that we are told, "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it very good" (Gen. 1:31). What should poor mortals say!
When the reading of the Torah was concluded on Simchat-Torah, there came the mighty shout of the congregation, chazak, chazak, venitchazek. "Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other." After that there began the "second round" and we heard Bereshit read over again. This must be our cue and guide for this year and for many years to come.
Let me conclude with a poem entitled: A New Leaf by Kathleen Wheeler.
"He came to my desk with quivering lip-