By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Begin Again (and Again)
So, as I sit down to write this, we are on the verge of a new beginning with Parshas Beraishis close by on the horizon. My editors are urging me on to be ready so they can prepare it for publication despite a busy Yom Tov season. By the time you read this, it may well be Parshas Beraishis or beyond, but exactly when you read it doesn’t really matter. Here’s why:
It struck me that “the beginning” is never really the beginning. At least, it’s not the “only” beginning. That Esrog you used for Sukkos? It was decided for you on Shavuos, the Rosh Hashana of fruit trees, as mentioned in the Mishna in Rosh Hashana. There are three other “Rosh Hashanas” too, one of them having been celebrated recently. In fact, I took note of the fact that Parshas Beraishis doesn’t coincide with Rosh Hashana, but rather comes a few weeks later. This, too, must be meaningful.
I wondered: why do we not have one ‘new year’ that is the definitive beginning of the year? Why do we have staggered times for beginning the Torah again, the year, and even the day? Is it alos hashachar, when the morning star is seen, or is it sunrise? Don’t forget about the ‘three hours in the day’ when princes and princesses awake. It seems like there’s just so much uncertainty and no straight answer about when things start over.
Beraishis, “in the beginning” isn’t even the beginning. It was just the beginning of Hashem’s creating THIS world. Chazal tell us that Hashem made and destroyed many worlds before He settled on this one and left it intact. I wondered why He had to destroy them, or why Chazal had to point out specifically that they were destroyed. And Hashem is perfect so how does Hashem make a world that doesn’t “work”?
Some say that this was very intentional, and with that we can answer our questions. What Hashem was trying to teach us with the fact that he “tried one way” and it didn’t work so He “tried another way” and kept doing it until it worked, was that we are not expected to be perfect and succeed every time. We don’t have to “get it right” the first time or feel like a failure if we don’t.
People make New Year’s resolutions. They often fail and then people say, “I’ll try again next year.” That’s a waste of time. Why wait for a new year when there are so many other times perfect for a new beginning? You can make a new beginning every month on Rosh Chodesh, every week on Yom Rishon, every day at multiple times, and every minute! There’s no wrong time to make a new beginning and that’s why we have so many options. I think there’s even a further nuance that we can learn from too.
Certain times are special for certain things. We have the Rosh Hashana of trees and fruits and kings and people for judgment. There are so many different opportunities to find our mode of success. The Rambam explains the fact that Hashem gave us so many mitzvos “because He loves us.” If He loves us why not make it easier?
Think about it. If your car had an instruction manual that was 8 pages, wouldn’t you be more likely to read it than when it comes with one that is 486 pages long with small print and footnotes? Why can’t Hashem just give us five mitzvos that we could all do and that would be it?
He explains that having the large array of mitzvos enable each of us to find an area in which to excel. While we’re doing all the mitzvos as best we can, some people will associate better with visiting the sick while others will connect with tefila. Some will excel at the laws of modesty or proper speech and some will gravitate towards kosher laws. There is a place for each of us to make our own Creation of our own world, and have the opportunity to emulate Hashem.
But why did Hashem have to destroy those “failed” worlds? So that we learn that no mistake is too big to move forward from and that we don’t have to be slaves to our past. Each moment is a chance to make a new beginning, even if we just began anew yesterday.
Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of England who led them through World War II. One would think that such a man would have his position for life, yet he lost his seat shortly after the war. Undaunted, he went on to become a professor and best-selling author. When he was down, he certainly was not out. This is the man who said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” I think this is the message we need to learn as we read Parshas Beraishis for possibly the umpteetnth time in our lives.
Instead of getting discouraged by less than successful attempts, let’s follow the way of Hashem and take the opportunity to begin again, again.
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