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“The End Becomes the Beginning,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

September 1, 2023 | 15 Elul 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

The end becomes the beginning.

Though summer, according to the equinox, does not end until September 23rd, culturally, this coming Shabbat and the days that follow mark the switch into fall mode. Kids start back to school, if they haven’t already done so. Many vacations already seem like a wisp of a memory. And the cool nights remind us that autumn is not far behind. The end of summer will bring us to another beginning as we prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

In ancient times, the produce of the land that came first was called reisheet רֵאשִׁ֣ית. The word is similar to how Genesis begins, b’raisheet and it contains the word rosh as in beginning or new.

This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, creates the scenario of what will happen when the Jewish people cross the Jordan River and begin to till and to tend the land. As the land bears fruit, reaching the end of the growing period, the people will need to recognize that this bounty actually doesn’t belong to them. Therefore, they are instructed to bring the first fruits as an offering to God.

The Sefat Emet, a 19th century early Hasidic commentator noted that the first fruits were actually a preparation for Rosh Hashanah because those planted earlier in the season would sprout their first fruits. The Sefat Emet goes on to say that the rabbis of the Talmud associated the first fruits with spiritual power of the divine who created the world and brought us out of Egypt. It is possible to read the beginning of Genesis as “with raisheet,” with spiritual power God created the world. Similarly, the offering of the first fruits after they arrived into the land was a way the people could remember the raisheet, the spiritual power of God redeeming us from slavery (from Itturay Torah, VI pp. 152-3, translated by Rabbi Laurence Kushner).

How do we get some of that spiritual power, that raisheet, so present at this time of year?

That spiritual power does not just belong to God. It is also within each of us. The Sefat Emet taught that “it is still possible to set everything right with the intentions of the heart.”

As we continue to head toward Rosh Hashanah and gather the choicest fruits of our endeavors and interactions, may we begin to set everything right with the intentions of our hearts.”

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

  • We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat outside or on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our websiteWe continue our review and study of our Congregational Read, On Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. You don’t need to have read it yet.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • The Village gathers at 10:00 a.m. for a concert with Wayne Potash & the Music Fun Band, followed by Shabbat blessings and challah. Register here.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher