D’var Torah January 1, 2021

This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is all about endings. It is the last parasha in the book of Genesis. In it we find Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim. We also find Jacob’s final words to his children. In the words of the Plaut Torah Commentary, they are “a combination of prayer, blessing, curse, warning, psychological assessment, parable, recollection and hope.” 

The parasha then concludes with the death and burial of Jacob, which is ultimately followed by the death and embalmment of Joseph at the age of 110. Before he died Joseph requested that his bones be brought out of Egypt to the land of his fathers, a little foreshadowing, if you will.

So too, this Shabbat we are observing secular endings as well. Last night marked the start of the New Year. Even though we celebrate the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, many of us also like to participate in this cultural annual milestone as well. Given everything that transpired in 2020, most are not lamenting this past year, but instead are excited to put it in the rearview mirror and begin anew.

However, according to our an anonymous sage in our tradition, “kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are hard.” To start a new journey takes both imagination and courage. Committing oneself to positive change and positive action takes work and commitment. It also means being willing to take risks and also welcome the possibility of failure. This is perhaps part of the reason why so many are unsuccessful in fulfilling their New Year’s resolutions. 

This New Year it is all the more challenging as the troubles of 2020 are not in the past. The pandemic is still raging, even with the roll out of vaccines. Our Nation’s politics remain sunk in a quagmire even with a new administration about to enter the White House in a few weeks. Economic uncertainty is also very much a part of our day to day existence. 

Perhaps this is why Jacob’s words to his sons were not simply words of pollyannish, unbridled hope. He knew the character of his sons and what the future held for them. Nonetheless, Jacob was cautiously hopeful. For hope, tikvah, is what has kept our people going through all of the challenging times we have faced throughout the generations.

Perhaps the, that is enough for us on this first Shabbat of the secular New Year. As we enter this New Year, may we continue to hopefully be blessed with health and safety. We say farewell to 2020 for all of its challenges and the handful of blessings we did find. We welcome 2021 for its promise of better tomorrows even though we know in our hearts kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are hard.