Breishit: Movement

Moving forward, moving cyclically.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

'What is the name of Shabbat? It is the name of G-d' (Zohar).

The Ba’al Shem Tov explained: The Almighty’s very name is “Rest”, because the idea of movement, or change, is not applicable to Him. Movement is only possible for an entity that exists within time and space, and He is limited by neither space nor time.

“And the Festival of the Harvest, תקופת השנה, the tekufat hashana “(Exodus34; 22).

The Festival of the Harvest is none other than Sukkot-Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, the holiday that we have just celebrated. Rashi explains this “tekufat hashana” as the “return of the year (the end of the old year) as a new year starts”. The word tekufa comes from the word meaning circle; the word shana, year, comes from the root word for change. Time progresses, but spirals back to a new beginning, in a circle. Our world is entering autumn, as nature involutes and “dies”, until next spring’s renewal; which only leads to next year’s autumn and “death”.

This circular tefuka was hinted at yesterday (and yesterday did “die”, in a sense) in our circular dancing around the synagogue, in the Hakafot of Simchat Torah.

Also, last Shabbat, we read Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Kohelet’s main theme is  this cyclical nature of our world: “Futility of futilities…And the sun rises and the sun sets; to its place it rushes, from thence to rise again….the wind goes round and round , and on its rounds the wind returns. All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea does not fill up; to the place where the rivers flow, there they flow once more” (Kohelet 1; 2-7).

Rav Matis Weinberg shows how the Ushpizin (guests - "invited" with a short prayer each night of the holiday) of Sukkot, our Jewish biblical forefathers, negate for us the futility of Nature’s cyclic “futility”.

Abraham, for example, countered the futility of death by asking the Lord for old age, of which the Torah says: “Honor the elderly” ( Vayikra 19;32). The word “honor” in Hebrew is והדרת, v’hadarta; “hadar” in Aramaic means to return. Thus Avraham’s request for old age was an allusion to Nature’s cycles, death and futility; but Avraham’s old age was the illustrious old age of a life in which not one second of his 175 years was anything less than memorable and הדר, hadar,  beautiful( which is a persistent theme in Sukkot’s Arba Minim, Four Species).

The lesson is that the life of a Jew, with all its motion and perturbations, is anything but futile.

We finished Sukkot with Hoshana Rabbah and its last guest, King David himself. Known for his Psalms and his music, King David had a life of much motion and commotion. Yet all the notes of his life, like good music, were orchestrated into an organization that we view as Malchut, the Kingdom of Mashiach (Messiah).

Isolated musical notes by themselves mean nothing, and are certainly not music; but linked together in a organized (Malchut) musical piece, the notes are a thing of beauty (hadar) and happiness, simcha. This, of course, reaches its pinnacle in Simchat Torah, with cycles of dancing and singing in the Synagogue, as each of us moves out of his Succah and begins his new year in a Time and Space of change.

As we read Parshat Breishit tomorrow, on a Shabbat of rest ( Genesis 2; 1-2), may we merit a year of hadar and simcha, with no futilities, but only beauty, peace and happiness.