Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The Torah reading cycle begins anew this Shabbat, with the first verses of Genesis. You know them well, “In the beginning,” or “When God began creating,” depending on your English translation. But, did you know that the first letter of the entire Torah is the Hebrew letter Bet and not Aleph?
In their effort to explain why Torah begins with the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet and not the first, the Rabbis taught the following. They said that the letter Bet is closed on three sides and opened on the side facing the interior of the Torah text. Bet is like a box with one side missing and a long base. What’s important about this? The Rabbis explained that the closed sides teach us not to speculate on what is above and what is below the earth; nor should we look before the days of creation. Rather, the way forward is the path that leads us into Torah, because it leads to “our life and the length of our days.”
The Torah Way is the right path. It’s a path that shows us how to live by Torah today. Wisdom has no expiration date and Torah is no exception. For example, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19). Or, it might be found in rabbinical literature (Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash) which is an extension of Torah because it serves as a living commentary to it. For example, “Do not scold your neighbor with a fault which is also your own.” (Mekhilta 18).
“What is the Torah Way?” is our question, today. It applies to everything we do. At Beth Israel, the Torah Way explains how we welcome you into the congregation. With warmth and personal attention we meet mutual expectations for what modern, joyful and relevant Judaism can be.
In the community, the Torah Way describes how we live by Jewish ethics. Acts of tzedakah (charitable giving), mitzvah (positive deeds), and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) all derive from Torah.
At home, the Torah Way is how we make a Jewish home. Shabbat rituals help us pause to reflect on gifts of love and friendship in our life. Speaking kindly and respectfully to each other brings honor to everyone at home. And, when we combine our work in the synagogue, the community and home, we also bring honor to God.
Ask yourself, “Is it the Torah Way?” If it is, you’ll know that you’ve measured your deeds against the highest standard available to you. Remember what the Psalmist wrote, “Behold a good doctrine has been given to you, My Torah, do not forsake it. It is a tree of life to those who cling to it. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”
The Torah Way is a Reform way to reconcile our modern circumstances with the ethical standards found in Torah. Those teachings, which speak to us in our time and place, enrich our life by transforming daily tasks into sacred deeds. The Sabbath day is a perfect example. A day of rest can begin with sacred rituals that unite us as a community of families, and continue with commitments to time with family and friends.
How to begin? Start this Shabbat in Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, and see the Bet that stands at the head of Torah as a guide into your Jewish life and the length of your days.