Bereshit – Back to the future

As a country, we have to do a whole lot of soul-searching to guard what’s sacred and fix what’s broken.

WE HAVE been on an emotional roller coaster since mid-summer.’ (photo credit: TNS)
WE HAVE been on an emotional roller coaster since mid-summer.’
(photo credit: TNS)
We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the Circle Game.
– Joni Mitchell, “The Circle Game”
And so we begin again. After a marathon month of holidays, we can breathe once more. The pressure is finally off of us: no more massive meals and scrambling for innovative recipe ideas; no more begging Saba and Savta to take the grandkids so Ima and Abba can work and/or spend a few minutes alone; no more “acharei ha-hagim” mantra – that annoying “after the holidays” excuse that puts most every transaction on hold until the machzorim (holiday prayer books) are finally closed, and the sukkah dissembled and put back into storage for another year.
We have been on an emotional roller coaster since mid-summer, when the Fast of the 9th of Av signaled that the holidays were just around the bend. We said our penitential prayers, we dipped our honey and toasted the New Year, we put down our forks and spoons for a day and faced God, we shook our lulav and had a snack in our little grass shack, and we danced up a storm as the cycle of Torah readings ended and immediately started up again. Oh, yes, and we managed to squeeze in not one, but two Yizkor services, mentally bringing our departed loved ones back to life and reaching across time to recall the heroic heroes of the Holocaust and the IDF.
It seems more than appropriate that this week we will read the portion of Bereshit. It is, as the title reminds us, a time for new beginnings. Though the month of Tishrei has almost passed, and the school year returns in full swing, the end of the holidays and their out-of-routine schedule brings us back down to earth, reminding us that a lot of work is now ahead of us. As individuals, we must take the lessons (hopefully) learned during these past few weeks and use them to become better Jews, parents, children, neighbors and friends; that pledge we made to God is waiting to be collected.
And as a country, we have to do a whole lot of soul-searching to guard what’s sacred and fix what’s broken. Because we are still a young nation, filled with over-achievers and underpaid workers living together in a cultural cholent, we desperately have to find a banner under which to unite – rather than merely co-exist – and hope that this banner isn’t war. The first step, of course, is to engage in election correction and somehow extricate ourselves from the political quicksand that has immobilized the government for more than a year, threatening to chip away at the fabric of our society unless we escape the morass. Face it, people: Until self-sacrifice trumps self-promotion, we are mice on an endless running wheel.
BUT FEAR not, dear reader: We Israelis are nothing if not problem solvers; we are innovative, resourceful pioneers, constantly reinventing ourselves and somehow finding a way to muddle through our challenges. We are, in short, experts at starting over.
Think for a moment about the dramatic stories that begin the Torah’s narrative in the Book of Bereshit, starting this Shabbat. First, there is the saga of Adam and Eve. After falling from grace, they are banished from the Garden of Eden and suddenly confronted with their mortality, forced to sweat for their survival and endure pain, both physical and emotional. Noah, too, will have to abandon his rather cushy existence and face a brave new world, all alone except for his family, and traumatized by a global destruction. And then there are Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, who are commanded by God to summarily leave their home, their birthplace and their community and strike out on their own, armed only with a revolutionary spiritual message – one not entirely embraced by an idolatrous world.
These “superheroes” – and their courageous struggle to start anew – are part and parcel of every Jew’s DNA. Over and over again, in countless generations and locales, we, too, have had to create new beginnings and reboot our lives. No other people in history has been displaced and dismissed so often – with such cruelty – and yet overcome impossible odds to not only survive, but flourish. The greatest of all these epic adventures, of course, is our miraculous return to Israel, foretold by God long ago yet seemingly an impossible dream. We have returned to our homeland never to wander again, although we know that our journey here has only just begun.
That familiar wheel that pulls us through the year, the spiral staircase upon which we climb yet another step, is again in motion. Where it will lead us is anyone’s guess – all we know is that it won’t be boring! I, for one, am cautiously confident that this will be our best year ever. Here’s to 5780.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;