Two-Way Street for Simchat Torah

Rabbi Fredi Cooper
on September 20, 2021

And this is the Blessing: Breaking the Cycle

There is something beautiful and comforting in the notion that we know the cycle that life will follow and that it will repeat predictably. We are blessed with the Jewish year encompassing this regularity. Simchat Torah symbolically re-enacts the annual turning point between death and rebirth.

In the evening of Simchat Torah, we sit intimately at the side of Moses’ deathbed and watch the scene of his passing that fascinated our sages and inspired midrash. One midrash teaches that Moses implores God to allow him to have the chance to bless his people and ask them to forgive the sternness with which he has dealt with them in the years that he was their leader. Following his blessing, we watch Moses, now fully aware of his impending death, ascend the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo and hear the voice of God saying: This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I will assign it to your offspring. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there. Deuteronomy (34:4)

With the death of Moses, his breath is taken from him in the kiss of God, and we begin anew. We rejoice in reading of creation and rebirth. In Genesis that same breath is the breath of life for Adam: The Lord God formed the human being from the dust of the earth. God blew into the human’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

With song and dance, we celebrate the life-cycle. We have come to depend upon it, and we infuse our own lives with meaning as we complete our reading of the sacred text and then begin it anew.
We have come to expect a predictable pattern in our engagement with our brethren in Israel and Palestine. The violence and destruction produce a cycle of death, unfortunately with little hope for life and vigor. We know the rhythm of this phenomenon from years of watching it, always hoping and praying that it would change. We ask ourselves repeatedly: “Does it really have to end this way again?” In this case, it is deadlock, not viability.

Yet there are glimmers of hope that we may be able to break the cycle. As I sit and write my thoughts, I learn that Benny Gantz and Abu Mazen are meeting, representing the first opportunity in over a decade between an Israeli cabinet member and Palestinian President Abbas. Together, they began a process of taking small steps in re-instituting the residency rights for thousands living in the West Bank who lack legal status. They determined that permits would be issued for as many as 15,000 Palestinians to work in Israel. Defense Minister Gantz stated the goal was to build confidence between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and strengthen ties between the two entities.
It’s a fragile beginning. There are so many conditions put forth by both sides that stymy real progress. It offers, however, all of us who support the work of J Street the place to engage with our leaders to ensure that small steps become more significant. It is our way to assure that this particular deadly cycle is broken. Instead, it is our hope that the building of these connections and shifting the relationships could be like “the creation of a new world.”
I close with words from Torah, “This is the blessing – V’zot Hab’rachah.” Thus Israel dwells in safety, untroubled is Jacob’s abode, in a land of grain and wine, under heavens dripping dew. Deuteronomy ( 33:28)

May the safety and untroubled abode bless all who live in the Land.

May they find the way to bring justice and security to the Land of grain and wine.

May co-existence establish itself firmly under heaven’s dripping dew. May this finally be the blessing.

Rabbi Fredi Cooper, Ed.D is a retired Reconstructionist rabbi. In her rabbinate she served as a congregational rabbi, congregational consultant and a mentor and teacher at the Reconstructionist seminary. In her retirement, she serves on several boards including Reconstructing Judaism and J Street Philly. During Covid, Rabbi Cooper has found great sustenance in teaching and leading virtual support groups.

Recent Blog Posts