For those of us who live in the world of academics, our year begins in September and goes through August. Others may operate from January through December, but for us, our year is one that greets new students with new backpacks and school supplies when the summer is waning, winds down when the next summer is approaching, and is quietly contemplative during the summer. How similar this is to the Jewish calendar!
We find ourselves now in early autumn, re-rolling the Torah to begin from Parashat Bereisheet yet again. In school we make a big deal of re-rolling the Torah; we unroll the entire Torah for the children to see where the five books of the Chumash begin and end. The children excitedly identify words and phrases they recognize, and then carefully, with the help of the adults, re-roll the Torah back to the beginning of Genesis, careful not to touch the parchment itself, but hold it through the fabric of a tallit. Year after year we perform this ritual, bringing to life the act of starting the Torah again at each Simchat Torah holiday.
We read from the book of Genesis/Bereisheet, “In the beginning….” What does it mean to say, “In the beginning”? In the theological world, we ask questions as to what happened before the beginning – where is God’s place in the cosmos? How did creation take place? The questions go on and on. In the world of education, we draw the lessons of creation from the Torah into the classroom, inspiring children and parents alike to live Jewishly, to renew a commitment to study and prayer, and to live lives consistent with being created “in the image of God.”
Each year, we assign a “text study” to our parents and faculty. This year, we have brought back the classic “How to Raise a Jewish Child,” by Hayim Halevy Donin, in which the author lays out a path for effective Jewish child rearing, including transmitting Jewish values, education, contemporary issues, and forging a partnership between home, school, and community. He lays out a prescription for raising children, which includes following the Jewish calendar, remaining dedicated to life-long learning, and emphasizing the importance of Jewish study and practice. His book is one that can be read and reread as a generation grows and is followed by the next.
Parashat Bereisheet begins with the creation of the world, its components, and human beings. It is a complex and beautifully interwoven narrative that can be appreciated by all ages and levels of education. We Jews are so fortunate to be given the opportunity to “start over,” with the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – and the re-rolling of the Torah. Let us take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the values that we hold dear so that when we say, “Bereisheet,” we know that this is a gift from God.
May you all have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.