B'reishit is the first parshah in the Torah. It is read during the chag of Simchat Torah and during the following Shabbat service. This parshah tells the story of the seven days of creation as well as the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. B'reishit is significant not just because it marks a new beginning in the Torah, but also because it has the ability to inspire new beginnings in our lives. Conveniently, this parshah is read at a time of the year when new beginnings are encouraged-the New Year! So the question comes to mind, how can we utilize the opportunities of B'reishit and the New Year to spark a transformation?
This past year, right around the time of Simchat Torah and the reading of B'reishit, I made the decision to make a major new beginning in my life: to begin the process of applying to North American Federation of Temple Youth's (NFTY) Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) High School in Israel program. I had been toying with the idea of going to Israel with EIE for several months, but it wasn't until this time of new beginnings that I decided to start the application. The idea of starting fresh in a place where I knew no one scared me. Every positive thought that I could muster about going to Israel was overshadowed by the thought of spending junior year of high school with a bunch of strangers instead of with my friends. Taking this trip was a huge decision for me, and the deciding factor was when I realized that I would be starting fresh along with 42 other Jewish teens, all of whom were just as apprehensive as me. This is an important thing to consider when thinking about new beginnings; they are rarely things that need to be confronted alone. We should never allow the fear of being alone to keep us from making changes that we feel are important.
This year, I chose to make a fresh start in a bigger way than normal, but don't think that just because hopping a plane to Israel isn't on the top of your list of priorities means that you are unable to make little changes in your life, or even big ones. There are things that you can do as a student, a NFTY leader, and a Jew. As a student, the temptation to put your social life before your academic life is one that always exists. This year you can set specific times for both homework and fun so that the temptation to blow off your work will be lessened. Buy yourself a planner as a symbolic beginning of your new start as a student. As a NFTY leader in your region or Temple Youth Group (TYG), you can take initiative to start a new social action project that you feel strongly about, or plan an event to bring in new members for the fresh year. As a Jew, you can take this new start as an opportunity to further your Jewish learning. Choose a ritual that you are interested in and research it. Make a choice as to whether or not you want to incorporate it into your life. B'reishit gives us a chance to make alterations in our lives and to start fresh. This year, use the awesome opportunity to change your life for the better.
- How can I use this year to enhance my own Jewish identity and knowledge?
One way that you can further your own identity and learn more is by going on EIE! Take the time to learn about this amazing program, full of amazing people and amazing madrichim-group leaders. You can also sign up for a summer program, read iTorah and/or 10 Minutes of Torah, or even take a class at your synagogue or Jewish Community Center.
- How can I use this time of new beginnings to further myself in other ways?
Set goals for yourself in your school and personal life, focus and work to reach them.
- Challenge yourself to try something new this year. Maybe something that you haven't done before because you were too scared, like trying out for a team or a play. Maybe take a class in a subject you haven't tried before, like French or calculus.
- Take some initiative in your TYG to try a new activity or create a new tradition. Maybe you can find a way to bring in new members by doing something new. Use B'reishit as a model for creation of something new and see if you can develop your own "paradise."
Food For Thought
- How do you use the chaggim and reading B'reishit for your own new beginnings? Will you take it to heart and think about how to improve yourself in the next year or will you pass by without thinking about it? How can you use this model for your own growth and development?
B’reishit, Genesis 1:1-6:8
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 18-55; Revised Edition, pp. 17-50;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 3-34