A breath of divine air renews the process of creation as the Torah cycle begins again

By Student Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher

Each year, the Hebrew month of Tishrei can feel like an absolute whirlwind. We have Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot … and finally we round out the month with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Amid this parade of holidays, we take some time to reflect on the year gone by and begin to look forward to the year that is to come.

All of this celebration, atonement and reflection ultimately leads us to one special moment — the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Up to the point of Simchat Torah, we have celebrated the New Year, atoned for our sins and eaten/prayed/slept in sukkahs to commemorate our ancestors’ journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

All of this celebration, atonement and reflection ultimately leads us to one special moment — the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

One midrashim stands out

We love cycles in Judaism. We read the Torah in a cycle, beginning with Bereshit (Genesis), ending with Devarim (Deuteronomy), before starting again.

One of my favorite midrashim is a perfect representation of not only the cycle of Torah, but the cycle of our year, the cycle of creation and the cycle of our ever-evolving covenantal relationship with God.

At the very end of the Torah (spoiler alert!), Moses dies.

The Torah teaches us that Moses dies, al pi Adonai — literally, by the mouth of God.

The Torah teaches us that Moses dies, al pi Adonai — literally, by the mouth of God.

The midrash says that as Moses breathed out his last breath, God breathed the breath in.

As God held Moses’ breath with God’s own, God turned around and breathed out that very same breath over the face of the unformed chaos at the beginning of Genesis — starting the process of creation over again, each time, with our help.

Celebrate every day in Torah

As we read our Torah every year, we, like Moses, never really get to the Promised Land, either.

Instead of crossing over into the Promised Land and continuing the story, we roll our Torah all the way back to the creation story.

But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps that is what our Torah and our midrash are trying to teach us. Each year, we have the opportunity to actively participate in the renewed act of creation, alongside God.

Our breath, like Moses’, has the power to create order out of that chaos, to bring love to a hurting world, and ultimately create the Promised Land that our ancestors longed for all those years in the wilderness.

Our breath, like Moses’, has the power to create order out of that chaos, to bring love to a hurting world, and ultimately create the Promised Land that our ancestors longed for all those years in the wilderness.

It is my prayer that this year we can live up to the purpose of Simchat Torah — to celebrate each and every day in Torah and in intentional communal Jewish living.

It has been an absolute honor to spend the High Holy Days with this incredible community and I can’t wait to see where the excitement and thirst for Jewish life takes us in the coming year.

Student Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher will serve UHC Terre Haute during the 2021-22 academic year.

Photos

UHC members gathered to celebrate all the holidays during the month of Tishrei.

Reprising his performance from the previous year, Izaak blew the shofar during Rosh Hashanah services and throughout the High Holy Days.

Student Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher led Tashlich services at Fairbanks Park. Sisters Drinkwater and Coombs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints engaged the group in conversation.

Dick distributed to-go packets of bagels and cream cheese for a scaled-down break-the-fast following Yom Kippur closing services.

A volunteer crew gathered behind the Temple on Sept. 19 to raise the sukkah. Roger flew his drone for aerial views of the sukkah crew and Temple roof!

Herschel conducted a lulav and etrog service Sept. 26 at the sukkah.

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