Although we do, in fact, complete the yearly Torah cycle on Simchat Torah, the real simcha, joy, is that we begin again. The challenge, and real joy goes beyond simple, mindless “happiness”, is to make the new year’s cycle NEW, not simply another “season of reruns”.
I always accompany my own reading of Parshat Bereishit, the opening of the Written Torah, with the first Mishna of Berachot, the opening of the Oral Torah. It reminds me that Torah study is not a matter of pointless argument of useless “theories”, creation vs. evolution, revelation vs. redaction, but with action. It doesn’t establish or even discuss the obligation to say the Sh’ma but, rather, takes the mandate for granted and opens with a discussion of how to perform it.
In Bereishit, the universe is created. At the head (ראש, Rosh, the root of בראשית, Bereishit, means head), at the top, is Elohim, God showing his face as structure and laws (laws of nature, laws of physics, among many others). Our mystical tradition (I also study the holy Zohar of Parshat Bereishit in preparation for this Shabbat) brings us to before the start of Bereishit, where the simple, absolute (and wholly unknowable and unimaginable) Unity begins to descend to duality and from there the multiplicity that makes up our experienced world, meeting the “head” of the parsha with Elohim, Who then brings duality into reality, שמים וארץ, Sh’mayim v’Aretz, heaven and earth, אור וחשך, Or v’Choshech, light and darkness.
Let’s return to the Mishna and its focus on the Sh’ma, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָֹה אֶחָד, Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonay Eloheinu Adonay Echad, Listen, Israel, YHVH/God who we experience as our Elohim (God in physical/dualistic reality), YHVH/God is One. Our first and basic mandate is to return, redirect all the Divine energy which makes up our world (remember the insight of relativity theory, that matter and energy are the same basic substance) as it splits and refracts into the infinite diversity of Creation, once we’ve corrected and repaired and refined it (our privilege/challenge/responsibility in being Human, partnering with God to help complete Creation), to its ultimate Unity.
No matter how successful we’ve been in the previous year(s), and in fact, each success should reveal yet a new imperfection that stood behind it for our future efforts, infinite reality, by definition, means that from our human perspective there is alway another element of reality awaiting each of our individual, unique treatments to refine and repair it.
Are you, am I, up to the challenge? Can we see them not as burdens to get out of the way, but as, once again, joyful opportunities to live at our highest capacities? ‘בעזרת ה, B’Ezrat HaShem, with God’s help (and may we always be aware of that help), I know that we can be.
Moadim l’Simcha, Chag Sameach v’Shabbat Shalom