This week, we observe the holiday of Simchat Torah, which means “rejoice in the Torah” as we complete a cycle of Torah reading. During the year, the weekly parshot have taken us through the entire Torah. Amidst the spirited festivities of this holiday, we read through the last chapter of Deuteronomy and dive right into the first chapter of Genesis—reminding us that the Torah, like all learning and life itself, is a circle.
There is so much grace built into the Jewish calendar. So many opportunities to clear one’s mind and resolve again to do or be better. Rosh Hashanah marked our new year, Simchat Torah marks a new year with the Torah; even lesser celebrations like Rosh Chodesh give us new moons, no trivial fresh start if we consider the oft-cited suggestion that good habits take a month to form. So like any marking of a new year, new season, new cycle…it’s an excellent time for reflection and another chance to “hit the mark.” If you’ve been curious about tagging along for the parsha cycle—now is the perfect time to start: at the beginning of the story. Our story.
The haftarah is a section from the Prophets read on Shabbat following the weekly parsha. The word itself means “concluding portion” and it relates in some way to the parsha as a whole. There are a few theories suggesting the origin of this practice. According one common explanation, when Jews were subject to rules forbidding the reading of the Torah under the same Antiochus of Chanukah infamy, sages began reading a section from the Prophets instead of the forbidden Five Books of Moses. A recent explanation of modern Jewish scholars is that reading the haftarah helps solidify that the Torah is more than just the Five Books of Moses, and includes sections like the Prophets. Haftarot may even differ depending on Sephardi or Ashkenazic ritual.
As the parsha this week is Bereishit from Genesis 1:1-6:8 the haftarah is from Isaiah 42:5-43:11 (or -42:21 in Sephardi tradition). The passage is awash with sentiments of new beginnings. In this portion we are drawn in, introduced to this great, new, exciting thing about to happen to us and the new purpose with which we have been imbued:
“I am the Lord; I called you with righteousness and I will strengthen your hand; and I formed you, and I made you for a people’s covenant, for a light to nations. To open blind eyes, to bring prisoners out of a dungeon, those who sit in darkness out of a prison.”
Like a spiritual pep talk, we’re told we’re about to go through something momentous—something that will be transformative, but also scary and intimidating, immensely rewarding, and with a divine purpose. We will go down this terrifying road, but we’ll survive. And then we’ll thrive.
“The former things, behold they have come to pass, and the new things I tell; before they sprout I will let you hear. The Lord shall go out like a hero; like a warrior shall He arouse zeal; He shall shout, He shall even cry, He shall overpower His foes. And I will lead the blind on a road they did not know; in paths they did not know I will lead them; I will make darkness into light before them, and crooked paths into straight ones. These things, I will do them and I will not forsake them.”
We are reminded we are not alone. That this new life will have meaning, but it may not come easy. We begin anew. We are invited not to waste the blessing of this day, to take advantage of illumination.
Casey (Kefira) McCarty is a published author living in Ohio. She is the Assistant Director of the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop space, and is an artisan who crafts jewelry, Judaica and fine art available online and in Central Ohio galleries and boutiques. You can find her online shop at www.sinemetudesigns.etsy.com