I love the few moments on Simchat Torah when we read the end of the Torah, and then read the beginning. One minute Moses is on top of a mountain, surveying the whole Land of Israel, the Torah is recounting all the wonders and teachings, and the people are getting ready for the exciting next chapter in their land. It is literally the high point!
And then...."the earth was formless and void, darkness over the face of the deep...and God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light!"
It's dramatic. It's jarring. It's particularly jarring to go back and realize how much of a climb we have to start again. To go through all the difficulties of beginning -- Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Flood, the tribulations of the first mothers and fathers, just to get to Moses again. Then all the difficulties in Egypt...that's what we'll be reading into the winter.
I was thinking about this question of why we do it. Why we willingly rewind, so we have to reread and relive all of the difficulties that we know are coming.
It can't be that we believe that life simply repeats itself in an endless circle. That's the view of the beginning of Ecclesiastes in the Bible -- there is nothing new under the sun. (We actually got that out of the way last Shabbat, where in some congregations Ecclesiastes is read on Shabbat during Sukkot.)
The Sfat Emet taught about the Exodus from Egypt that it happened so quickly that it takes all the generations to truly explain its meaning. So too with the entire Torah. Even after some 2000 reading cycles, maybe more, we're still unearthing all that is hidden in the Torah. There are some things there that only we -- the people of the year 5772, not the people of 5771 -- can find, understand, and make real in the world. By virtue of who we are this year, and who the world is this year, and how our relationship with God is different this year.
The legacy of Eve and Adam, Sarah and Abraham, Moses and Miriam, are still unfolding through us. We go back each year, to study that legacy. We live forward each year, knowing each week that our lives are adding another chapter to theirs! That we live not only as ourselves, but as the projection of the people we are reading about. This week, the consequences of our study of Adam and Eve's decisions will play out somewhere in a way or in a setting where they never have before. (Listen to congregant Terry Watterson's online audio Dvar Torah.)
The arc of the whole Torah is still thrilling. God creates a world and seeks partners -- who will they be? Two humans, all of their descendents? A single couple, and their slowly growing family that becomes a nation? How long until that partnership flowers -- one lifetime, hundreds of years? Can it endure slavery, exile, or even the normal difficulties that go with learning something new and demanding? (That goes for both God and the Israelites!)
That's the big story, and along the way are all the little stories and teachings that beckon for our attention. Each of them is still not fully understood -- perhaps not even by God -- so we go together into another year. From darkness and chaos, slowly and gradually toward the top of the mountain, where Moses is looking out in wonder at what we will do with it all in the new year.