The Torah completed its annual cycle of weekly readings this past week with the parsha of V’Zot Habracha. It begins our new yearly reading of the Torah this Shabat with the reading of parshat Bereshith.
Rashi points out to us that when Moshe came to bless the tribes of Israel before departing this world he purposely connected his blessings to the past blessings of Yaakov to his children hundreds of years earlier. And Yaakov also did likewise connecting his blessings to those that he received from his father Yitzchak. And Yitzchak built his blessings upon the foundation of the blessings that he received from his father Avraham. Hence the connecting letter vav at the beginning of V’Zot Habracha.
So it can easily be said that the Torah favors the continued use of old blessings. The Jewish people cherish the use of old blessing and their effectiveness. It is part of Jewish traditional life to cherish the past and not allow it to be discarded or forgotten. And truth be said, there is really very little to add to the blessings given us by previous generations.
Those blessings of family, tranquility, prosperity and health are really all a person can ask for in this life of ours in this world. In fact one can be bold enough to state that not only is there no necessity for new blessings – there really are no new blessings that can be administered. The old blessings are apparently eternal in nature, valid in all generations and under all circumstances.
However, the parsha of Bereshith tells us of new beginnings, of a world waiting to be developed by human work and ingenuity. The parsha tells us that the Lord has created a paradise that humankind is bidden to develop and preserve. And we see throughout the history of human civilization the insatiable drive of human society to invent, create, discover and exploit the hidden treasures of our planet.
It is within the innate nature of humans to pursue new beginnings in every sphere of human activity. I recall from my years in the yeshiva how my revered and sainted teachers were never satisfied by my repeating back to them their interpretations and reasonings of the Talmudic subject under discussion but rather challenged me to come up with my own original thoughts on the matter.
The only way to grow physically, economically and spiritually is by forging new beginnings and connecting them to the old blessings that preceded them. Without new beginnings, society stagnates and regresses.
The Dark Ages of Europe before the Renaissance, the printing press and the renewed drive for discovery and development that characterized the late Middle Ages and the dawn of the Modern Era, is stark testimony as to what happens to civilization in the absence of new beginnings. Remaining static, not adjusting to new situations and opportunities, attempting to freeze time and place, and allowing for no new beginnings eventually dooms a society to irrelevance and even to its own demise.
We are witness to a fractured Jewish society that has somehow lost the essential connection between old blessings and new beginnings; that no longer combines V’Zot Habracha and Bereshith. On Simchat Torah we immediately combine Bereshith – the new beginnings – with the conclusion of V’Zot Habracha, but much of the Jewish world is ignorant and unaware of our old blessings. It only pursues new beginnings and flails about wildly in attempting to create a new Judaism that somehow will retain value and a sense of eternity.
Without the old blessings, without Torah knowledge and ritual observances, without taking one’s Jewishness seriously, no new beginning will ever provide lasting benefit and needed succor to Israel. And yet Jews who only possess old blessings but shy away from, indeed condemn, any new beginning doom themselves as well to eventual societal dysfunction, poverty and marginalization.
Smashing cell phones solves no societal problems, and becoming doctrinally anti-technology only serves to perpetuate past errors of judgment and behavior. The parameters of Halacha are unchanging but practical policies, programs and societies are constantly in need of adjustment and rethinking in the light of ever changing human conditions and challenges.
Old blessings do help us make the correct choices regarding our new beginnings but they never were meant to prevent new beginnings from taking place. No new Jewish beginning, no matter how expertly financed and media spun, can be successful without the basis and reference to old blessings. V’Zot Habracha and Bereshith always should march joined together in the Jewish world.