Beginnings, New Things And……. {B’reishis 5777}

Beginnings, New Things And…….

B’reishis 5777

A phrase that I grew up with from my earliest years states: “vee m’n firtzich oif Shabbos B’reishis, azoi gayt dee gantze yohr” – “How we conduct ourselves on Shabbos B’reishis, so flows the whole year”. (Not that I needed to translate that for any of you, but just in case…)


This week symbolises new beginnings, opportunities, hopes and dreams. It describes the very first footsteps of mankind, walking on a pristine new world. The stars studding a previously ink-black sky and a moon casting its first silvery shadow. The soil had never been furrowed and no ships had sailed across the oceans.


Everything that happened did so for the first time in history. Imagine being the first person ever to witness a flower opening or to see the sun set over the ocean. Being the first one ever to hear the morning chorus of the birds or the patter of raindrops on the earth.


Imagine being presented with a history book and a quill and told to write the very first words.


That was Adam and Eve way back then, and it is also each and every one of us right here and now. I once heard someone say that he is jealous of his son who had not yet watched a certain movie. When I ask him why, he said that’s because his son still had the opportunity to watch it for the very first time! I told him to sit down with his son and to watch it with him, to be part of that new experience, to see it with fresh eyes. To make it new.


The cycle of the Jewish calendar is repetitive, and indeed the word for year in Hebrew – Shanah, is etymologically connected to Sheni – to repeat, the second one. However, our challenge it to see that new cycle as being something new, its why the Hebrew word for Month – Chodesh is derived from the word Chodosh – new. Each Shanah, each repetition must also be a Chodesh, something new.


We start that new cycle this week, we’ve rolled the Sefer Torah back to the very beginning and will once again read the Sedra of B’reishis. We will read of new beginnings, but will we accept the challenge to see them in our own lives?

Greetings from Jerusalem – 10 Tevet – Vayigash 5777

Greetings from Jerusalem

Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations


This Shabbat Nachi and I will be celebrating with our family in Jerusalem as we prepare for her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah on Sunday. We therefore have a run of Shabbat, the Fast of Tevet on Sunday and the Bar Mitzvah on Sunday evening, culminating in the call-up by the Kotel on Monday morning.


The Fast of Tevet of course commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nevuchadnetzar and the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The other two fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, commemorate the breach of Jerusalem’s walls and the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash respectively.


So being here in Jerusalem for this weekend is especially poignant.


On the face of it, the two fasts in Tammuz and Av would seem to be more significant and be commemorating more severe events than the fast of Tevet; surely the actual breach of the walls is more severe than the mere besieging of them, not to mention the subsequent destruction of the Temple. However it is only the fast of Tevet that can override Shabbat, whereas the other fasts would be postponed to the Sunday.


The unique quality of this fast is that it commemorates not just the tragedy and destruction committed by the enemy, but also the failings of the Jewish people at that time. When the siege began, we were once again exhorted by the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah to repent, except this time we refused to listen. At that moment the future, the destiny of Jerusalem and the Bet Hamikdash was in our hands, yet we failed to grasp the opportunity and ultimately paid the highest of prices.


So for Nachi and I, to be commemorating a Bar Mitzvah at the end of this Fast day, to stand the next morning by the Kotel and witness another link being made in the chain of our Jewish tradition; to see a young man accept the responsibility to behave in the manner described by our Prophets and the Torah, takes on an added significance here in Jerusalem on this date.


Yet it is not just the day after the Fast, but also the day before hand. In years gone-by there used to be a fast of the 9th and we mention it in our Selichot on the 10th. Amongst other events, the significance of this date was the preparation for the siege of Jerusalem; Nevuchadnetzar needed to prepare his forces, he had to position his army and then close the trap on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus whilst the 9th seems to be even less significant than the 10th, it is in fact a milestone within our history and an important lesson for us all. Before the events that ultimately culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple could begin, the enemy needed to gather his forces. Encircling a city doesn’t happen by itself and before the trap was sprung the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Hezzekiah really had an opportunity to change the course of history. Yet we failed.


For this date to fall on a Shabbat, and especially the week when we read of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, brought about because Judah was prepared to sacrifice his life for the safety of Benjamin, should be a lesson to us all. Rather than being forced together by a siege let us instead unite together out of a shared destiny, a proud history and a bond of family and faith.


There is unfortunately much that divides the Jewish Nation at the moment, both religiously and politically, and we – as ever – have the choice how we deal with it. We are masters of our own destiny, but until we take responsibility for both our own actions and for the welfare of our brothers and sisters, then we may as well sit back and watch as the enemy encircles Jerusalem and prepares for its destruction.


Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Fast,


Rabbi Dovid