After the jokes of Bereshit sermons fade away — “And G-d uttered, zul zayn azoy, and it was so,” or “And G-d created the heavens and the earth and all the rest was made in China” — once the Torah is unfurled for yet another weekly reading cycle, I find the ritual comforting.
Granted, after Shabbat Bereshit we quickly faced up to the deluge of Noah, but even though, week in-week out, year in-year out, the stories repeat themselves, new understandings unfold each year. I’m not talking of the new insights from the classical commentaries. There was a time in my life when each year I would undertake a new classic commentary of Torah to be studied — Rashi, Ramban, Sforno, Malbim, Torah Temima, Radak, Abarbanel, Haamek Davar, etc. Some years I was more disciplined and consistent than others in maintaining this rigorous study schedule.
It’s been a long time since I studied the weekly Torah portion so methodically. I now find that the more you read the Torah, the more the Torah reads you.
You start noticing little details, nuances or phrases that speak to you in a new way. You may have seen and read or heard these words tens or hundreds of times before, but suddenly, a sparkle, an insight, a new appeal, emanates from them. As you change and develop, the layers of the Torah’s narratives develop with you.
In some ways, each of us sees the weekly Torah portion through the prism of our experience. Previously a character or a story or a commandment was understood one way; as we age, new light is shed, new understandings revealed. Time is the greatest teacher of all.
On some level this is the case with any literature that we read in our formative years, and then re-read as adults. How much more intense is this experience with stories and characters from the Tanach, which we internalize on such a deep level, even if by sheer intimacy of the exposure year in and year out.
Also, the weekly parsha becomes an anchor of sorts, not just the stories or the laws. It becomes a language, a discourse, that we deepen as time goes by. The words and phrases deepen into concepts and become the arc of our lives.
There is real joy in the completion of the Torah on Simchat Torah, and at the same a real joy in the opportunity of a new beginning. The possibilities become infinite.
Despite reading and studying something again and again, despite the obvious expectation of boredom, somehow there is still room for more; for something not yet known, something new and refined, to take root and grow.
No matter how worn or how torn, no matter how dry or stagnant it might seem to be, no matter how illogical it may seem to find new interest in something so familiar, it is precisely this intimacy with the text that unexpectedly each year generates and yields a new fresh perspective. We integrate it into the new, unknown experiences of our lives.
Bet is for Bereshit. And for Beginnings, too.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News