Finding the Strength to Re-create Ourselves: Yael's Reflections on Parashat Bereishit

by Yael Bendat-Appell, Camper Intake Coordinator

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Chazak chazak, v’nitchazek. / Be strong, be strong, and together we will be strengthened.

While we typically associate these words with the end of a Torah cycle, these are also the words we said aloud together this past Tuesday in the transitional moment before embarking on a new Torah cycle, also corresponding to embarking upon a New Year of learning and living. As these words were recited, we had just about made it to the end of yet another intense season of “chagim”-- from the High Holidays to Sukkot and Simchat Torah. We grappled with themes of repentance, mortality, fragility, impermanence, and joy.

And just as we find ourselves starting right back at the beginning, with Bereishit, we are reminded to “Be strong, be strong, and together we will be strengthened.”

This reminder to muster our strength could not come at a better time. After the internal processes of teshuvah (repentance) that we engaged in throughout the month of Elul and the yamim nora’im (High Holy Days), we are now faced with the daunting task of doing the hard work of improving the ways in which we live our lives. This is the commitment that we just made! But it is hard to change our habitual ways of being. It requires pushing against inertia, laziness, and fear of change – each with its own strong magnetic pull.

The creation story/ies in Bereishit offer an opportunity to think about our own re-creation stories at this time of year. How can we recreate ourselves towards personal betterment and increased engagement in the repair of our broken world? Just as the world was made up of fundamental parts – darkness, light, water, living creatures, human beings – we too have to examine and decide what are our own fundamental qualities.

Brilliantly, as if intuiting how daunting this prospect is, the accompanying Haftarah on Simchat Torah, from the first chapter of Joshua, is thick with the language of strength and courage. The phrase chazak v’ematz (Be strong and courageous) repeats four times as Joshua takes on the mantle of leadership. Our first glimpse into Bereishit is sandwiched on both sides by the language of strength and courage.

This – right now – is the moment of picking up the pen to write our own creation stories for 5779. May we embark on that worthy project feeling buttressed by the encouragement and strength of our Tradition.