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Starting Over or Starting Again?

Friday, 28 October, 2016 - 2:17 pm

When I play a board game with my children, they (and I!) are sometimes tempted to start over in middle of the game. If it’s not going well, and defeat is in the air, you may also be interested in throwing in the towel to start over.  Perhaps a new game will offer better luck and a shrewder attempt.

But, of course, it isn’t fair to start over just because I’m currently losing.

In the grand game of life, as well, we often start over.  When I feel like I’ve failed at something, I hope a fresh start will bring better results.

However, what if everything is going swell? If I’m winning, would I want to start over? Is it ever advisable to start over when you are head?

***

This week we will, once again, begin reading the Torah from the beginning, Parshat Bereishit.  We just concluded the Torah and, immediately, restarted from the beginning.  We aren’t starting over*, rather we are starting again.  Starting over is when you aren’t satisfied with the previous results. Starting again, is building upon the previous accomplishments to achieve even greater accomplishments.

Taken from this perspective, we can read the story of Creation and man’s beginning at an even deeper level. We can ask ourselves, ‘Keeping in mind the mandate of Torah and its Mitzvot – with which we are intimately familiar from last cycle of reading the Torah – what is the purpose of Creation? Why did G-d create only one human being and not an entire species? Why is the story of Creation a six-day process? Am I mindful of G-d’s rest when I incorporate the observances of Shabbat (from Shemot/Exodus) into my life?

This message is emphasized by the last and first letters of the Torah. The Torah ends with the word ישראל (Yisrael). The final letter is a lamed.  The first letter of the first word בראשית (Bereishit) is a bet.

Taking the two letters together it spells לב (lev – heart).  When we immediately start again studying the Torah, we have taken to heart its message.  The incessant commitment is one of devotion and emotion.

However, if we were to encapsulate the Torah by its first and last letters in order (symbolizing the conclusion of Torah study), it would spell בל (bal, which can mean ‘not’).

As we begin another cycle of Torah study, let us lean on the past to probe deeper into the future.

 

* The erroneous idea of the modern triennial cycle, where parts of Bereishit are read this year and different parts next year and it is finally concluded in the third year, sadly does just that. It starts again in middle of the Parsha, each week and each year. (There is an ancient acceptable custom to complete the Torah in three years instead of one. But, it involves reading each parsha consecutively for three weeks in a row and then moving on to the next parsha. Besides for the departure from tradition and loss of content and flow, the current model that some have adopted also signals that it is advisable to start over when I am unable to handle the load. The Jewish approach is not chop up the Torah to meet my capacity and start over, but rather to pace oneself accordingly.

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