This coming October 13th is my granddaughter’s 13th birthday, and yes, it is on a Friday. This means that she will become Bat Mitzvah, the celebration taking place on the 14th. By coincidence, October 13 is Simhat Torah this year. Thus we have two endings and two beginnings. The reading of the Torah will end, and immediately begin again. And my granddaughter will end her childhood and begin her life as an adult member of the community. She also will chant Barasheet, “In the Beginning” as her Torah portion. She is also asked to do a Dvar Torah, an interpretation of the reading. What an amazing time for her, her mother, our family and me.
When I thought about this event and particularly about the reading I began to develop my own Dvar Torah. It has been a recurring thought for me, beginnings and endings, which lead to new beginnings. The first passage of Barasheet reads (in my slightly edited version), In the beginning the universe was unformed and void and darkness was upon the surface of the deep. And Ha Shem said Let there be light, and there was light. Now, of course that might be stated slightly differently. Before the Big Bang we don’t know what existed, but nothing (unformed and void and dark?) might be a good guess. Then something happened, we can only guess at exactly what that was. And, after about 300,000 years there was light. But then it went dark again. Then about 200, 000,000 years later the first stars ignited and there was light. And that light has lasted about 13 billion years, so far. More accurate, but perhaps not as poetic as the myth. But either way there was a beginning. I’ll get to the ending later, in about 100 Trillion years.
My first real understanding of endings was when my grandfather died. It was a traumatic experience for me. For the first time I realized emotionally, instead of intellectually that we all die. But it was also a beginning, as I really came to experience the joy of being in the present, knowing that the present moment is all we have as a guarantee. Once I really knew that I was going to die, it was a new beginning, death no longer held any terror for me. We usually recognize an ending, for me. my divorce from my first wife is an easy example. But we often don’t recognize a beginning, yet I still have a vivid memory of the first time I met my wife Laura. But I didn’t know that was a beginning, it was only a glimmer of possibility.
We so often dread endings. This may be because we build our lives around what is familiar, and we are frightened by change. When something ends the things that used to be familiar might become rare or even strange. We might have to change, and that can be the most difficult task of all. Yet, as we have all heard, the only constant is change. If we can learn to think of a time of ending as a time of a new beginning we might relax, at least a little. Beginning are often the most rewarding times for it is often there that growth begins. Each season has an ending leading to the beginning of the next. And out of that constant change comes rest, growth and life.
But does this ending and beginnings go on forever? As I understand it, current cosmology predicts that the last star will go dark in about 100 Trillion years, I told you we would get there eventually. Everything will begin to dissolve into nothingness, black holes, even elementary particles, disorganization and darkness. Our universe will end. And in the beginning the universe was unformed and void and darkness was upon the surface of the deep...