(Deeply) in the Beginning

Every fall, I find myself somewhere different, “in the beginning.”

The Torah cycle carries Jews from Eden, one autumn, through to the edge of the Promised Land the next fall; then the scroll is re-rolled, and we start again. Forever rolling through that same five-book story complicates the concept of “beginning.”

And the idea of “new year” sort of rolls along for Jews:

  • One new year — once a sort of fiscal birthday for animals — begins with the eleventh month of the calendar, Elul. Elul has become a time of introspection to prepare for the much more widely heralded new year for years, Rosh Hashanah.
  • Rosh Hashanah, literally, “head of the year,” is part of a longer period of observance bringing folks from Elul, through the Day of Atonement, to Sukkot, known as “The Festival” in ancient times.
  • Sukkot, the booth-building, redemption-themed fall harvest holiday, AKA “time of our joy,” became, at some point in Jewish history, linked with renewing the Torah cycle. Where Jews once closed a harvest festival by praying for rain for the following year’s bounty, Simchat Torah (“Torah Joy”) closes and renews the reading cycle.
  • The fall holiday cycle ends with a reading of Moses’ death on the west bank of the Jordan and, immediately after, continues, “in the beginning of Elohim-God creating the heaven and the earth…”

So, last Saturday, we started the year’s reading cycle again: “…and there was evening and there was morning, a first day.”

By the end of that first reading, Eve and Adam have already been evicted from the Garden. The Eden episode, however lasting in imagination, lasts a total of 40 verses. Tomorrow, in the second reading of the year, God is already disheartened enough by the whole human experiment to consider destroying it all, finally leaving Noah and company to try again.

In our backyard the wooden skeleton of our sukkah — the fragile structure erected to help us celebrate the holiday of Sukkot — still stands. The walls are gone, packed away for next year, but no one has yet found the time or energy to completely dismantle last year’s structure.

And so it begins.

There are, by the way, two more new years —

  • The new year for trees — which occurs when no new growth is yet visible but the sap has begun to run — falls in the February-ish month of Shevat;
  • The new year for years — i.e., the festival year (or year of a reign) — begins with the month of Nisan, fifteen days before Passover.
    • More chances for a new start.

      PS — The Hebrew Poetry — aka “Amichai” — group at Temple Micah has been reading “The Bible and You, The Bible and You, and Other Midrashim” in the volume Open Closed Open. Check out the stanza which begins:

      The Bible and you, the Bible and you.
      As the Torah scroll is read aloud each year
      from “In the beginning” to “This is the blessing”
      and back to the start, so we two roll together…

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    Virginia blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages WeLuvBooks.org. CommunitythruCovid.com is on hiatus.

    2 thoughts on “(Deeply) in the Beginning”

    1. “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s,…”

      “….a way a lone a last a loved a long the”

      — “first” and “last” words of Finnegans Wake.

    2. In more recent years in my studies (as I only began my Torah study in my adult years lol), it has struck me how very short the story of the beginning of the world and Adam and Eve is.

      I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the concept of Judaism and the new year, tying it to the scrolls opening and ending and reopening. I feel that Judaism is beautiful and explicit in the idea that there is always a “second chance”, or new start.

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