B'reshit: In the (New) Beginning, the Holidays Were Over!

I’ve just returned from celebrating a raucous Shimini Azeret/Simchat Torah holiday (these are the same day in Israel) in Efrat, the only town (pop. about 10,000) among smaller enclaves in the Gush Etzion “block” of Jewish settlement across the “Green Line” (the 1967 armistice line).  

The area, just a few miles south of Jerusalem and between Bethlehem and Hevron, is beautiful – “schools, schuls, and homes” (to quote a friend with whose family I stayed).  It is nestled along high ridges above steep, rocky, cultivated slopes owned by Palestinian farmers.   

Shimini Azeret/Simchat Torah, the last day of the High Holidays, was chocked full of symbolism and this-day-only rituals.  

•    Prolonged dancing with the Torah, both indoors and outside, as we read the last section of Deuteronomy followed immediately by the first section of Genesis.
•    Entry under the chuppah of a “B’reishit groom” and “B’reishit bride,” symbolizing the “marriage” of the Jewish people to the Torah (or to G-d). 
•    Aliyot (the honor of being called to give Torah blessings) for everyone – including, in the schul I attended, women and children.  
•    A prayer for rain, as we switched the thrice-daily Amidah phrase from “moreed ha’tal” (“who causes dew to fall”) to “mashiv haruach u’moreed hagafen” (“who makes the wind blow and the rains fall.”)   
•    Special blessings for the children under a “chuppah” of talisim. 
•    As soon as night appeared and the Ma’ariv prayer had been said, down came the Sukkah, its sach (palm frond roof) discarded and its wooden posts wrapped in plastic sheeting and tucked away on the mirpeset (balcony) for another year. 

The holidays were over! Whew!  

The three-week period between Rosh Hashanah and the end of Sukkot is one of emotional (prayer, repentance, celebration) as well as physical (fasting, feasting, building, living in the sukkah) intensity.  Perhaps the overwhelming feelings of the “day after” are exhaustion and gratitude for a return to routine and normalcy (and the departure of visiting family and guests!)

But even as we return to our pre-holiday lives, it would be a missed opportunity not to reflect upon what we Jews worldwide have just experienced, if we took the season seriously.   

An important part of living Jewishly means living in-tune with the holidays, especially those just finished, and internalizing their messages.  During them, we hopefully (meaning both I hope and that we did so with hope) renewed and recommitted ourselves to:

  • Pursue the lives we are privileged to live.  
  • Fulfill the promises we made to G-d, to others, and to ourselves.  
  • Not quickly forget last year's regrets and our “New Year’s Resolutions” to make this year of 5775 better for ourselves, our loved ones, the Jewish world, and the world at large.
  • Study more about our values, history, laws, and customs.  
  • Improve our Hebrew, both because it is the language of our people and holy texts, and to better understand get more out of prayer.  
  • Increase our support for Israel, ancient and modern homeland of our people.   
  • Improve our personal middot (characteristics) to try and reshape ourselves into the Mensch we are intended to be.  

Now, as we once again begin the annual Torah reading cycle with B’reishit, it the time to emerge from "evening into morning."  And to do what we can to help make every day "very good."  

Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem.

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  • B'reshit: In the (New) Beginning, the Holidays Were Over!

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Proverbs 13:3