TORAH SPARKS: Simchat Torah & Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh | Parashat Bereshit


Simchat Torah &
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
Parashat Bereshit

October 13-14, 2017 | 23-24 Tishrei 5778

Simchat Torah | Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12, Genesis 1:1-2:3
Maftir | Numbers 29:35-30:1

Haftarah | Joshua 1:1-18

Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh | Parashat Bereshit | Genesis 1:1-6:8

Triennial | Genesis 2:4-4:26

Haftarah | Isaiah 42:5-43:10


Dvar Torah

Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva, Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem

The image of a serpent biting its own tail is prevalent in many different mythologies. It first appeared as early as 1600 BCE in Egypt, and then later amongst the Greeks who called it the ”
“, meaning “devouring its tail”. The psychologist Jung saw the Ouroboros as an archetype; an innate, universal, prototypical idea:
OuroborosIn the image of the Ouroboros (the serpent swallowing its own tail) lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process… The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e., of the shadow…it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolises the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which […] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious. – C.G.Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 14 para. 51
Does this imagery help us to understand what is happening at that fateful moment when we turn, yet again, from the end of the Torah back to its very beginning? That instant, when we return to the start of Bereshit, is the moment when Judaism “slays itself and brings itself to life.”
In cultures that are not based around a primary canonical text there is a free choice of stories and they can be read in any order. However a closed canonical culture needs to focus its adherents on the core text in order to sustain its identity. Built into the very concept of a closed canonical culture is the notion that at a certain point the story will stop. When we reach the end of the Torah we put the story of Joshua to one side, along with the entire historiography of the conquest of Canaan; turning our backs on the future we will head back towards pre-history. The biblical canon is brought to life, or better, “given a constantly renewable lease on life” (Yerushalmi, “Zachor”), by our predetermined relationship with re-reading.
The return to Bereshit is a source of eternal youth, but it is also filled with an anxiety that Jung alludes to. As the snake twists its head back into pre-history to consume its tail, the particularist tale of Exodus and Sinai is forced to confront the shadow of its universalist beginnings.
So imagine for a second what it would be like if, instead of heading back to the start of Bereshit, we allowed ourselves to read on into the book of Joshua. We would surely have to confront the crisis sparked off  by Moses’ death and described by the Amora Rav in Masechet T’murah 16a:
Rav Judah reported in the name of Rav: When Moses departed [this world] for the Garden of Eden he said to Joshua: ‘Ask me concerning all the doubts you have’. He replied to him: ‘My Master, have I ever left you for one hour and gone elsewhere? Did you not write concerning me in the Torah: ”
But his servant Joshua the son of Nun departed not out of the tabernacle?” (Ex. XXXIII, 11) Immediately the strength [of Moses] weakened and [Joshua] forgot three hundred laws and there arose [in his mind] seven hundred doubts [concerning laws]. Then all the Israelites rose up to kill him. The Holy One, blessed be He, then said to him [Joshua]: ‘It is not possible to tell you. Go and occupy their attention in war…
Rav understands that the death of Moses generates a huge sense of loss of continuity amongst the Israelites, which is then sublimated in violence towards the other inhabitants of the land. The book of Joshua deals with the Israelites’ anxiety after Moses’ death.
Additionally, were we to continue reading onwards instead of turning back to Bereshit, we would soon lose our sense of the coherence of the canon. Where does our story end? Why stop at the end of the Tanach – what about the rest of the Jewish story? Closed canonical cultures seem to be doing well in the contemporary world partly because they provide a sense of safety and closure. Central to the creation of such cultures lies the moment of “swallowing our tail”.
Whether we read on after the death of Moses, or whether we choose yet again to return our shoulders to our Sisyphean stone and go back to the start of Bereshit, we will be beset by tension and anxiety. Either way we will need to steel ourselves to the challenge: “Chazak, Chazak V’Nitchazek” – “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!”

Table Talk

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

This Parasha, the only one read on a Chag (and not on a regular Shabbat), brings the Torah and Moshe’s life to a close.
Parashat Vezot Habracha
1) The blessings/personal mentions that Moshe gives to each tribe (chapter 33) might have been his last words to the people.  Why do you think that Moshe does not give one blessing to the entire nation together?
2) Moshe goes up on the mountain alone (34:1).  Who might we have expected should go up with him at this point? Why do you think that no one is going with him?

Chazak Chazak VeNitchazek!

On Shabbat we will start to read the Torah again.  We are returning to Bereshit.

3) The first creation story (Bereshit 1:1-2:3) ends with the Seventh Day (2:1-3).  What Does God do on that day?  How do you think the Seventh Day/Shabbat is related to all the days that preceded it?
4) In the second creation story (2:4-25) Adam (the Human) is placed in the Garden of Eden.  What is the purpose of placing him there (v.15)? What do you think is included in that definition? What does it teach us about the Torah’s view regarding an ideal existence for Humans?
5) By the end of this Parasha we meet Noah, born 10 generations after Adam (5:28-29).  Why is he named Noah? (Try to look at the Hebrew.  You may notice that in Midrash Shem – interpreting a name – the sound of the name is more important than the grammatical meaning of it.) What is the situation of humanity at this point (see also 6:1-8)?

Dvar Haftarah

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

Prophets were likely to be very unpopular characters. They frequently said things that people did not want to hear in ways which were often particularly painful. One can only imagine how the following opening prophecy of Isaiah’s went over with the public: “Hear, indeed, but do not understand; see, indeed, but do not grasp. Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears and seal its eyes – lest seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasps with its mind and repents and saves itself.” (6:9-10) God’s intention in this prophecy was to punish the children of Israel for their disloyalty by removing the possibility to repent.
Some hundred or so years later, this very imagery was used again in a message to the Babylonian exiles who seemed incapable of understanding the reasons for their exile: “(18) Listen you who are deaf; you blind ones, look up and see! (19) Who is so blind as My servant, so deaf as the messenger that I send? Who is so blind as the chosen one, so blind as the servant of the Lord? (20) Seeing many things, he gives no heed, with ears open, he hears nothing.” (42:18-20)
Making sense of this prophecy is not a simple task. A modern Israeli biblical scholar, Amos Hacham chose to read it as a dialogue, a bitter exchange between the prophet and his audience. The prophet presents the exiles with his truth and they, in turn, roiled by his message, throw his words back at him. He calls them blind and deaf (18) and they retort in kind, calling him blind and deaf (19)! The prophet, in return, informs them that even though they see and hear, they are deaf to the coming redemption from exile (20).
At this point, the prophet declares the greatness of the moment and what God truly desires for them: “(21) The Lord desires His [servant’s] vindication, that he (the servant – Israel) may magnify and glorify [God’s] Torah.” Unfortunately, the people’s senses were impaired by their experiences and their “vindication” was lost as a consequence: “(22) Yet it is a people plundered and despoiled: all of them are trapped in holes from now on…” (See A. Hacham, Isaiah, Daat L’mikra, pp. 451-3)
It is bracing to be called “deaf and blind”, lacking a basic awareness of one’s situation. Few of us are willing to listen to such a message. Yet, it was this lack of awareness which stood between the people and their redemption in the days preceding the return from Babylonian exile.
Isaiah asks us to make it a religious mandate to be aware and discerning, to pay attention to what goes on around us. Who knows? God’s message might be staring us in the face, reminding us of what we should do, if only we would see and listen.

We would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab

Rabbi Ron Androphy, Rabbi Jeffrey & Tami Arnowitz, Rabbi Martin Flax, Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, Rabbi Ben Kramer, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, Rabbi Robert Pilavin, Rabbi Micah Peltz, Rabbi David Rosen


Aaron Dworin, Rabbi Robert Eisen, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Rabbi Rafi Kanter, Rabbi Dennis Linson, Rabbi Mark Mallach, Rabbi Marvin Richardson z”l, Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Ronald Roth, Rabbi Neil Sandler, Rabbi David C. Seed, Mel F. Seidenberg in honor of his grandchildren and two great grandsons, Rabbi Ari Sunshine

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