August 23, 2019 |

A New Decade: Chazak Venitchazek

Next week we will read parshat Vayechi and conclude the book of Bereshit, Genesis. We will also say goodbye to the calendar year 2009 and user in a new year, a new decade. What does the Torah tell us about transitions of this kind?

There is no book quite like the book of Bereshit, which takes us from creation through the flood, from polytheism to monotheism, through several generations of a fascinating, influential, dysfunctional, and yet world-changing family, and leaves us wondering what could possibly be left for the sequel.

The sequel, of course, while covering a shorter period of time, is rife with its own difficulties – slavery in Egypt, a reluctant acceptance of the Torah, the Golden Calf, and rebellion and ungratefulness in the wilderness. That act gets followed by animal sacrifice (which perhaps matches the caliber of the people we read about in Sefer Shmot), more rebellion, more idol worship, and ultimately the tragic prevention of Moshe from entering the Promised Land.

So we finish Parshat Vayechi a bit bewildered by the intense story we are completing, and perhaps not sure we want to read what comes next.

And yet the parsha ends with blessings. In fact, the entire Torah is peppered with blessings – from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his sons, Moses to the Israelites, Bil’am to the Israelites, God to the patriarchs. The blessings and promises of future success stand in stark contrast to the realities depicted by the stories that alternate in the narrative.

It is later on, at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval, that perhaps ties these threads together: “Behold, I have put before you a blessing and a curse” – choose wisely. And throughout the Torah, it is all about choices. Do we plan and save during the seven good years for the bad? Do we believe the spies who spew negativity and depressing spin about the land of Israel? Do we build a golden calf, or take arms against those who were so quick to forget the events at Mount Sinai? Do we join the orgy with the Midianite women or stand up, as Pinchas did, for what we know to be right?

In America, people like to make New Years resolutions, which are famous for lasting until February. We may all sit down over the next week or two and think of things that we’d like to do better in the coming year. Will we sell our families short in order to save ourselves, as Abraham did in Egypt,? Will we part ways with our brothers, as Joseph did, or be reunited? Will we become enslaved, or will we find a way to become free? And will that freedom be nihilistic, or dedicated to a higher cause as was the case at Sinai?

On January 1, will we watch the ball drop, or will we drop the ball?

Somehow 2010 always seemed like the future, and here we are. We live in a world in which Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 is our past, and we’re now getting to the sequel. We are in so many ways behind where the science fiction writers of the last century thought we’d be, and in a few ways beyond where their imagination took them. As we wrap up Sefer Bereshit and the first decade of this century, let’s agree to strengthen and re-strengthen (chazak venitchazek) our commitment to good choices, to taking responsibility for our own future, and making sure that our next book is not one of slavery and idol worship, but one of freedom and faith to our ideals.

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Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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