...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, October 25, 2008

B'reishit



This week, the yearly cycle of Torah readings begins all over again with Genesis 1: "B'reishit," "In the beginning." Tishrei, the last Jewish month, came in with a bang (actually, it literally came in with a blast of the shofar, a trumpet-like instrument made of a ram's horn) on Rosh Hashana; a week later came Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. We rested for a couple days then Sukkot began; Sukkot lasted a week and a day then was followed immediately by Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (Simchat Torah was especialy significant for me because it was my very first official Jewish experience, two years ago). (How interesting to re-read the blog entry I wrote about that first Simchat Torah!) Now we ease into the month of Cheshvan, the only Jewish month without any holidays or fast days (finally, a respite!) On Simchat Torah we celebrated the completion of the cycle of Torah portions; now we roll the scrolls back to the beginning and start over again with Genesis. "B'reishit." "In the beginning."

Except, as Reb Aryeh pointed out, "B'reishit" does not mean "in the beginning"--or more accurately, it doesn't have to mean "in the beginning." The Bet (the first letter of the Torah) is missing the diacritical mark that tells you how to pronounce it. If it's pronounced "BAH-rey-sheet" than it means "in the beginning." If it's pronounced "BUH-rey-sheet" then it means "in a beginning."

I just love that. For me, just that article switch opens up whole worlds of interpretive possibilities. What would it mean if we consider that our planet, that we ourselves were part of a beginning, not the beginning? That suggests to me an unending renewal, the sense that we can always begin again. The medieval Kabbalists were turned on to this interpretive possibility (it's not something invented by postmodern theological progressives); according to the rabbi, in the Zohar, Kabbalists elaborate on seventy different ways of understanding what it means to have been created in a beginning.

Another interesting thing that the rabbi pointed out: take a look at the letter Bet, the first letter of the whole Torah. It's closed on one side, and open on the other. Remember that Hebrew is written and read from right to left, so that the subsequent letters flow from the open side of the Bet. Creation flows from the opening of the Bet; Bet literally turns its back on whatever came before. And yet, a little tail extends backwards from the base of the Bet--a little part of the letter reaches back to the space before the beginning. This is significant for me as I think of the beginning of my Jewish life. Like Bet, I'm turning my back on certain things and older ways of being; choosing one path over others. But also like Bet, a little part of me reaches back to what I used to know. This is a beginning for me, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the beginning.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

For Daniel

Happy anniversary! There's no one with whom I would have rather spent the last two years. I love you!