On Sunday morning, while trying to capture a sense of joy on Simẖat Torah, we were simultaneously becoming aware of the terror, murder and slaughter in Israel, in real time, as it was unfolding. At that same time, we completed the annual Torah reading. Once again, the happy ending didn’t happen. Moshe Rabbeinu died, and he was not able to enter the Promised Land.
And as I do every year, I started to get teary-eyed when that aliyah was chanted. Every year I hope for a new ending, but it never happens. Moses, the star character never makes it to the Land. He works so hard and puts up with so much, but instead he lives until age 120 and then takes his final breath.
But then, soon after, Lorne started chanting the opening words of the entire Torah:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ
When God began to create heaven and earth…
We stopped reading about death, and we started to hear a plan for a new beginning…
Beth Tzedec is blessed to own many Sifrei Torah. Once we concluded reading in one Torah from the end of Devarim, that Torah was lifted and wrapped and put to the side for a short while. Then a second Sefer Torah was used to read the beginning of Bereisheet. The entire choreographed ritual when reading from two Sifrei Torah took maybe five minutes.
Some communities own just one Sefer Torah, and on Simẖat Torah, the people wait while the Torah is rolled from the end to the beginning. That rolling action takes quite a while.
Whether a shul has multiple Sifrei Torah or just one Torah, a period of time is needed to move forward from the death of Moses to the creation of the world. When a community only has one Torah, it takes a long time. When a community is fortunate to own many Sifrei Torah, less time is needed. But there is still time between death and starting over.
This is a metaphor for what we are witnessing and experiencing. It is going to take a long time for some of us to start over again after the horrors and terror that began on October 7. For others it will take some time, but not quite as long.
We are all going to need different tools to cope and to be reminded that there is good in the world, as we are bombarded now with so many messages that tell a different story.
We inherited a tradition that values life. And yet so many of us are understandably walking around like zombies, as if we are in the stage of aninut, the time between death and burial. It is a week into this war, and many more Israelis still need to be buried. We at Beth Tzedec mourn alongside all of the mourners of Israel. We are collectively experiencing the death of loved ones, even if we don’t know a single person that has died at the hands of Hamas this week.
When the time comes and you can find the way out of the fog, your synagogue and your Spiritual Leadership Team will be there for you. We have already started creating opportunities to gather, share, cry, reflect and pause. We are partnering with local and national organizations to find the best tools to help us through this nightmare.
We encourage you to come to shul and gather in community, so we can gather strength from each other.
This isn’t easy for anyone. It is a terrifying time. So that we don’t become paralyzed by fear, take time to turn off the television and the computer, stop doom scrolling and remember:
Am Yisrael H̱ai.
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin