Judaism: Week One - Bereshit

Today marks an interesting point in the Jewish calendar. One that I never really thought about before. Today begins the process of the annual reading of the Torah. We read portion one: Bereshit. The first section of the first book of the Torah. The very beginning. The world goes from nothingness to existence and the story is told here.

Jews all over the world are reading the same portion. Millions of people and we are all reading the same thing. There is something inherently beautiful about that. Something symmetrical. Week in and week out, every Saturday, Jews from all walks of life, all cultures, and various degrees of adherence all take a moment to read the weekly portion. It is all coordinated. Instead of feeling along and lost in the world, it gives an individual a sense of connection to something larger than just themselves.

Today is portion one, next week portion two, and so on throughout the year. Certain weeks there are double portions. Certain holidays have portions as well. And as you move through the year, for those who are following along, the entire book is read over the course of the year. And it is all read in sequence with Jews all over the world.

Year after year, completely synchronized with one another, Jews read the entirety of the Torah over and over again. Each year there is something new to be found. As we learn and grow, we see something in the book that we have not seen before. Or perhaps the events of a particular year may help us gain new insight into a certain passage.

Even if you don't believe, or have doubts, or struggle with what religion really means in your life, it is still a powerful book. Here is this text written thousands of years ago, and the people in it had the same struggles we do today. The people writing it down had the same struggles we do today. I find comfort in that. Whether you believe in the divinity of the book or not, there is power in a text that endures for thousands of years. Is there anything else written so long ago that we still read today? Is there anything that is being written today that will still be read in thousands of years?

Judaism has always been a part of my life. Like a red thread interwoven into everything. Sometimes it's just a thin red line in the background, more or less ignored. Just a presence and no more. Other times it is a thick red rope that I grasp onto for dear life, holding on lest I tumble into darkness. But this was not something that I consciously thought about. It was something that was just there, and something others dictated and decided for me. I was born a Jew, educated to some extent as to what that meant, and let the example and opinions of others instruct me as to how that should manifest itself in my life.

Here and now I am taking the time to reflect as to what that really means to me: to be born a Jew. Here and now I am taking the time to understand how I want Judaism to manifest itself in my life. Judaism is infinitely complex and scholars have been arguing and debating, analyzing and scrutinizing, and trying piece things together for thousands of years. My attempts are amateur at best. Nonetheless, I am going to try to take a stab at it. To put some thoughts down and see where they lead.

So this morning, like Jews all over the world today, I read portion one: Bereshit. What struck me was not even in the text itself. It was in the commentary. Because this is an infinitely complex text, and because scholars have been working to understand it for thousands of years, no copy of the text is offered without commentary. There is always some sort of information to help guide you along. Today I find myself thinking over what was written just before one starts to read the text:

We begin the study of the Torah with the realization that the Torah is not a history book, but the charter of Man’s mission in the universe.
— The Stone Edition Tanach edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman

The implications of that statement can have strong repercussions in a person's life. And therein lies the crux of my endeavor. The extent to which the Torah, Judaism, and statements like these will reverberate in my life.