This Thursday, 22 Tishri, is Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the day when a circle is completed. On this day, Moses dies and on this day the world is born. Sadness becomes joy when the Torah cycle begins again. At the same time, Joshua becomes the leader and is instructed by God to be of stout heart and to cross the river Jordan. Israel begins a new life.
A new life, but soon the first death takes place, as we hear on the first Shabbat of the new cycle. A brother kills a brother.
Before the murder takes place, God says to Cain, who is angry that his brother’s offering had been preferred to his, “If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.”
These words are like a seed within from which the whole of the Torah grows. They encapsulate the moral choice facing humanity and which is so eloquently expressed by Moses in Devarim. “See! Today I have set before you the life and the good and the death and the evil.”
To return to Cain, after the murder, God asks him, Where is your brother Abel?” ”
I do not know,” replies Cain. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The answer to this is yes. We are one another’s keepers and the stories to come of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, Aaron and Miriam and, much later, of David and Jonathan, all provide good and bad examples of how we treat one another. Israel’s very creation and education are God’s living experiment in learning to care for one another and, by so doing, to honour God.
Don’t miss the beginning of this great journey. Come along this Saturday at 10:30. Liz Berg will be leading the service.