For the week ending 14 October 2017 / 24 Tishri 5778

New Beginnings

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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As is customary in many shuls and yeshivos around the world, Ohr Somayach makes a special kiddush on Shabbat Bereishis. The question is: Why? Why is this making a special kiddush on this particular Shabbos such an almost universal custom?

Those readily partaking in the kugel and cholent might just say “Why not?!” But there must be more to a widespread minhag than simply indulging in gastronomical pleasures.

Some might say, “Well, it must have something to do with Simchas Torah, or the ending and restarting of the Torah cycle”, but others might contend that we already celebrated that on Simchas Torah itself. If so, what is the deeper meaning of celebrating in particular on Shabbos Bereishis?

I would like to preface the answer with a story I recently heard from Rabbi Yaakov Minkus, a rebbi in Yeshivas Beis Yisrael:

Once during the Simchas Torah hakafos, the Rav of a certain shul noticed two congregants just standing in the back schmoozing away the time. Concerned, he approached them and asked them to come join in the traditional dancing. Politely, they refused. “Rabbi”, they told him, “This dancing is not for us. For you as the Rabbi to dance with the Torah, it makes perfect sense, but not for us! You see, to tell you the truth, we didn’t learn anything this past year, nor did we set aside any specific time to learn at all. Any time we had the chance to learn, we spent the time schmoozing and wasting time. So on Simchas Torah we are doing the same. We have no right to dance with the Torah.”

The Rabbi replied “You are right and you are wrong. As you know, there are two different kibbudim (public honors) that are given out on Simchas Torah: that of the “Chassan Torah” and that of the “Chassan Bereishis”. The Chassan Torah is the aliyah where we celebrate the concluding of the Torah. This is customarily given to the Rabbi or another Talmid Chacham who has made great strides in his Torah learning over the past year. According to your own admission you are correct, you do not have much to dance for.

But there is another aspect to our dancing on Simchas Torah, and that is of the Chassan Bereishis. This is the aliyah where we celebrate the starting anew of the Torah. Anyone can receive this kibbud. So for this aspect of Simchas Torah you should also join in! It’s a new cycle, a new starting point. So even if last year you fell short, now is the time to pick yourselves up and get dancing for all the Torah you will succeed in learning,G-d willing, over the next year!”

This starting point, this new beginning is now – Shabbos Bereishis. We see it clearly in this week’s parsha – Bereishis. Aside from reading about the actual creation of the world from nothingness, (which if not a terrific example of a new start I don’t know what is) there is also the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel).

After Kayin murders Hevel in cold-blood, G-d confronts him about his crime. After first denying any wrongdoing or even knowledge of the murder (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”), G-d then pronounces sentencing and Kayin finally admits to the crime. He says just three words: (Gen. 4:13) “Gadol avoni minso” — meaning that “this sin is too great for me to bear”.

We then find something astounding: G-d reduces his sentence in half! In verse 12 Kayin’s sentence is that of “Na v’nad” — wandering and exile in seclusion. Yet, after his admission, in verse 16, it states that Kayin settled in the land of Nod, meaning exile and seclusion. What happened to the decree of constant wandering?

Chazal explain (Sanhedrin 37b, see also Torah Temimah to verse 13) that we see that his teshuva – even though it was half-hearted, and even though is was only given when actually confronted, and even though he at first denied any wrongdoing, and even though he committed such a despicable act and the potential for all mankind for all time was halved — even so it caused his punishment to be halved! Not only that, he merited to see seven generations of his own offspring! One of whom, Na’ama, was a very righteous tzaddekes and the wife of Noach, through whom mankind propagated after the Mabul (Great Deluge) — another excellent example of a fresh start. All because of three words.

This is an unbelievable lesson to take from Parshas Bereishis — the power of renewal and new beginnings.

This is the message we need to take from this kiddush on Shabbos Bereishis.

Even if last year we didn’t accomplish as much in learning as we could have or even should have.

Even if Elul zman didn’t work out as well as we would have wanted.

G-d is giving us now a chance for a new start, potential for zman anew.

That is the reason klal Yisrael celebrates on Shabbos Bereishis.

May we all be zocheh to utilize this message for the upcoming zman, and iy”H next year on Simchas Torah everyone here will be able to say that that the reason they are dancing is due to their own personal aliyah in learning, and are therefore worthy of being the “Chassan Torah”!

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