Our Jewish lives are governed by cycles. The daily cycle leads to a weekly cycle, follows on to a monthly cycle, which builds towards a yearly cycle. One way in which we measure this yearly cycle is through the reading of the Torah. So, once again we have arrived at the beginning.
This coming Shabbat, we begin the cycle of the Torah anew when we read Parashat Bereshit. There are many ideas about the beginning of our story, from the philosophical (what existed before God created the world) to the historical/theologicial (how am I to read this story when it conflicts with what I know to be true in a scientific sense).
We can also look at it from a midrashic perspective. Our rabbis have asked the question; why does the Torah begin with the letter bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? Surely, it would make much more sense for the text to have started with the letter aleph, the first letter! There have been several reasons brought forth by the rabbinic commentators throughout the ages; for example, that aleph, which has the numerical value of one, represents God. One of the more compelling ones I’ve come across gives a fresh take on what the letter aleph represents. In the vast majority of cases, the letter aleph is synonymous with the number one and thus God. But, what if the letter aleph was not representing God, but ourselves? The letter which we must master is ourselves. We are the aleph.
What does this mean? As we have just come out of the High Holiday Season, we have spent the better part of a month looking inward, reflecting and coming to terms with ourselves and all that we have done in the past year. It is a marathon session of internal struggle that, hopefully leads to a clearer picture of who you want to be in the coming year. It is precisely at that moment, when the holidays finish, that we immediately set to work.
To assist us in that work, the Torah, our great instruction manual, is restarted. Because we have done the preliminary work, the aleph, then and only then, can we move on to bet. We are reminded to not let the hard work of the past month go to waste. There is a step by step progression, like the letters of the aleph bet, that will lead us on the right path. All we must do is continue putting one foot forward in front of the other and continue the work we started over a month ago.