Every so often, we do well to return to our first principles of who we are – both individually and as a people.
We do well to revisit our core origin story – the story we tell ourselves about who we are called to be.
Whether amidst challenge or triumph, we do well to see with clear eyes how well we fulfill that call.
Now is one of those times.
It's another Torah portion ripped from the headlines, with plot twists, dubious behaviors and vexing moral quandaries all evoking recent Mideast events. We are called to confront not only how we navigate hard times, but also how we understand and judge behaviors arising amidst hard times.
Torah seemed to know what psychologists learned thousands of years later – and it matters a whole lot right now.
It's another "ripped from the headlines" Torah portion. This one introduces Avram (later, Avraham) as spiritual history's first monotheist, and a God who promises both the giving of blessing and becoming a blessing. But Avram quickly learns that blessing doesn't mean ease or instant gratification. With eerie relevance to current events, Torah teaches of blessing through experiences of refugees, kidnappings and battles to redeem captives.
So, what does it mean to be a blessing amidst all this strife?
In these turbulent days of Mideast news – the shock, the spiral of despair and death, the worry that worse may yet be to come – it all can feel overwhelming, as if the torrent is all but sure to destroy the innocent along with the rest.
Facing his own torrent of overwhelm and destruction, Noah built an ark – with a skylight. Yes, a skylight open to the torrent.
So must we.
Torah begins again, and "in the beginning" – or maybe Torah's words mean something else? – we encounter more a cascade of questions than clearly reliable answers.
That means we're doing it right.
What do Torah, a crown, inheritance and collective unity have to do with one another?
The answer of this week's Torah portion – Torah's very last one, and also prelude to Torah's very first one – derives from Moses' very last words to the Children of Israel before he died. These words equally herald the end and the beginning, the ends and the means, the endless cycle of time, and our collective first purpose in a world lurching forward.
By Rabbi David Evan Markus
Sukkot 5784 (2023)