Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Simchat Torah: a day for reading — and connecting — the beginning and end of the Torah.
The Torah begins with the birth of the world. It ends with the death of Moshe (Moses). Between these two bookends, the Torah’s story unfolds. Explicitly, it’s the story of the early Israelite community. Implicitly, it’s also the story of a typical human developmental journey.
You may know the Hebrew names of the five books of the Torah, and their literal translations: Bereisheet (Genesis): “By way of beginning.” Shemot (Exodus): “Names.” Vayikra (Leviticus): “God Called.” Bamidbar (Numbers): “In the Wilderness.” Devarim (Deuteronomy): “Revelatory Words.”
With these names in mind, you could say that Torah takes us on a journey through the Five Stages of Soul:
2. Finding Your Name
3. God Calls
4. Wandering in the Wilderness
5. Revelatory Words
The characteristics of each stage are expressed through the characters in each book. Our journey through the stages may not be linear, and it may span a lifetime. Still, each year, our journey through Torah’s offers an opportunity to reflect on our progress.
“Beginning” (Bereisheet/Genesis): represents our earliest years. Usually, our lessons are learned in family or in other familiar close-knit groups. We experience conflict, jealously, and impulsivity, which gradually give way to maturity, humility, and the ability to seek or offer forgiveness. And at the end of this youthful period, we venture out of our earliest home.
“Finding Your Name” (Shemot/Exodus): In this young adult stage, we experience ambivalence about who we are and who we want to be. Do we want freedom – or not? Do we believe we have the strength to succeed – or not? Do we connect with God – or not? Are we grateful for the blessings we have received – or not? Towards the end of this stage, ambivalence is overcome, a house is built, and the peace of God dwells within us.
“God Calls” (Vayikra/Leviticus): We have mastered many of the rituals and routines of adult life. We learn how to support others, in sorrow, in joy, through healing journeys and through practical problems. Through our own ups and downs, we learn the value v’ahavtah l’reiacha kamocha – love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). We observe the blessings that flow from this love and the curses that spread in its absence.
“Wandering in the Wilderness” (Bamidbar/Numbers): Life is good: your inner tribes are in order, your inner gifts are flowing, you know your true inner name. But suddenly, you may have a dramatic change of health, family, or work — and all the chaos of early childhood comes up again! You would love to find your way out of this cacophony to a land flowing with milk and honey, but you need courage, leadership and calm. Finally, parts of yourself that had been suppressed may begin to speak. And you may find psychic room for a greater, more complex self.
“Revelatory Words” (Devarim/Deuteronomy): a life review. You affirm some of the principles you live by and revisit your memories. You imagine the world of the future, filled with challenges for your students, children, and younger friends. You pass on your wisdom. You have met God in your deepest self panim el panim — face to face or interior to interior — and you have grown (Deuteronomy 34:10).
Blessings as you continue your journey this year!
Pronounced: moe-SHEH, Origin: Hebrew, Moses, whom God chooses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.