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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayakhel

What’s New, You Ask?!

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What’s new? This Shabbat we conclude Sefer Shmot and, on Shabbat afternoon, begin a new book of the Torah, Vayikra. We also announce the start of a new month, Nisan, & we commemorate the new start of our nation by re-ordering the Jewish calendar in a special Parshat HaChodesh reading. This would seem to indicate that a whole lot is new!

Our entire world is currently gripped by the global pandemic Corona, which has wrought destruction on many levels. Not only are thousands sick, or dead, or confined to quarantine, but global economies are in turmoil. Millions have lost their jobs as companies shut down or contract; family Simchas and gatherings have been cancelled; grandparents are scared of hugging, kissing, even sitting together with their own grandchildren. Fear is driving the proverbial bus, as we ponder, "what will come next?" When will it end? How will we, how CAN we ever return to life as normal?

The message we project on this Shabbat is that life can always begin anew. No matter where you may be holding, no matter how dark or dangerous the road ahead may seem, there’s always room for hope & optimism. We stumble, but we rise and go on. We suffer, but we grit our teeth and refuse to succumb to the pain.

This unique quality of Am Yisrael is vividly, visibly conveyed to us through the medium of the Moon. It has its period of decline, to be sure, but it always will return in ascendance, symbolizing our eternal rise as a nation from tragedy to triumph. That is why our calendar is based on the month/chodesh (as in chadash-new), as opposed to the solar calendar, which is based on the year, or shana, connected to shayna, old.

And the same is true of our primary symbol, the Torah. It is not a finite, fossilized document, but a Torat Chayim, a miraculous, living, wellspring of wisdom that continually brings forth chiddushim, new ideas & viewpoints, in every generation.

Perhaps this is why Pesach, alone among the holidays, has a phenomenon called Pesach Sheni. If you miss the first Pesach (for certain reasons) you can make it up a month later & bring the Korban Pesach in Iyar. Again, second chances, the ability to renew yourself & make things right. Never despair or give up, individually or as a nation, for all is never, ever lost.

We Jews, more than any other people, have the unique ability to re-create ourselves, to shed the skin of yesterday’s disappointments & create a bright new day. Like the spring season in which Pesach must occur, we know that hopes & dreams, like flowers, may lie dormant for a time. But ultimately, they will burst into bloom. Life, in its fullest, will not be denied or suppressed for long.

Remember that famous story of the scientists who told the world that in just 3 days, the Earth would be engulfed by a massive, global flood? What to do? How should one spend these last 72 hours? Some said they would intensify their relationship with their families, others said they would indulge in every conceivable pleasure. But the Jews had a very different approach: "We have just three days," they declared," to learn how to live underwater!"

We will use our G-d given talents and intelligence to combat this virus, and we will rely on our indomitable force of Faith to keep us strong as we pray to Hashem to assist us in our struggle. We will deal with all the challenges being hurled at us, and we shall persevere. The sliver of the moon above us in the sky will grow full, and its bright, beautiful light will signal our renewal. We must only continue to believe in Hashem - and in ourselves.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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