Life has returned to normal, and this can be of some concern. With the end of the Jewish holiday season, topped off this year by Thanksgiving, the series of feasts and fasts, celebrations and commemorations has finally finished. Gone are the three-day and four-day weeks, and we begin the long run of a regular schedule. In our classes, teachers have resumed their regular curricula; festive decorations have begun to come down, replaced by lessons and projects that reflect ministry requirements and our own set scope and sequence. How are we to relate to this new normal?
The end of the holiday period always coincides with the reading of the Torah portion of Noach, and it is from this parasha that we may glean the lessons of how to handle this transition. Noach contains two of the most engaging and famous of the Bible’s stories: The story of Noah and the Ark and the story of the Tower of Babel. For thousands of years, both stories have captured the imaginations of children and adults, painters and songwriters, rabbis and preachers. Every generation finds something new, exciting, fresh and fascinating; we look forward to hearing both stories every year. There is, however, another part of our weekly Torah reading that goes almost unnoticed: 54 verses of genealogies, listing the descendants of Noah and his children. It is easy to skip over these registers, that generally just list who begot whom, and how long each lived. And yet these tedious catalogues appear, with equal prominence, beside the most exciting tales in the Torah.
It would be understandable to skip over these endless inventories of names and ages to get to the fun parts, but I think it would be a mistake. The powerful narratives of Noah and Babel, like the great Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are rousing high-points; we need such events to punctuate our religious calendars and literature. But meaning is also found in the regular and the routine, what lies in the spaces between our favorite festivals and stories.
In a world without the usual, there is nothing special. Learning to appreciate the rhythms of the every-day opens us up to the wonder of the exceptional. Additionally, the spaces between remind us of the importance of simply moving forward. There is great meaning in appreciating the advancing movement of time: from one day to the next, from one chapter to the following. In life and in literature, we must always be looking, and moving ahead.
Genealogies, especially, make us appreciate the joy in seeing one generation follow the next. At Akiva, over the past weeks, we had the opportunity to welcome our 2nd and 4th grade grandparents into our school for activities marking Sukkot and Simchat Torah. While we were thrilled to celebrate these two exciting holidays together, the greatest pleasure was in simply watching the different generations gathered together, the continuity from past to future. While we all look forward to the high points in life, the Torah teaches us to take the time to find the joy and wonder of living one generation—and one day—to the next.