On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the beginning of the Jewish New Year. "Beginnings" aren't reserved for the High Holidays, though. In fact, the Mishnah says that "there are four 'beginnings of the new year'" (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1). Beginnings are ubiquitous throughout the year and each of us experiences them at different times! How do we relate to beginnings? Though our sages tell us that "all beginnings are difficult"(Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 19:5:1), they also teach us that "according to the difficulty is the reward" (Pirkei Avot 5:23). Beginnings bring with them challenge and uncertainty, but they can also bring us excitement, curiosity, and offer us opportunities to hit the reset button. Judaism's texts on "Beginnings" remind us that there is always something for us to begin anew.
The Beginning of the Beginning
Genesis gives us an account of creation, but many questions remained in the minds of the rabbis. For example, in what order were the heavens and earth created? Was some earth created holier than others? Was there anything before creation? These sources take you back to the beginning of the beginning:
- The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: Hillel and Shammai on Which Came First (Chagigah 12a)
- The Beginning of Earth: What Piece of Land Was Created First? (Taanit 10a)
- The Beginning of Us: Why Was the World Created? (Rashi on Genesis 1:1:2)
- The Beginning of Planning: A Blueprint for the World? (Zohar 2:161a:11-161b.1)
To think about: Do you ever think about the beginning of the universe? Does thinking about your place in the world inspire, humble, confuse, or overwhelm you? Do you think there is some plan for world and our lives, and are we progressing in the right direction?
The Beginning of Torah
The Sages dig deeply to understand why the Torah begins the way it did. They ask questions like: Why does it begin with the letter bet? Why does it begin with the story of creation and not with law? What is the significance of God's first interaction towards humankind? The following texts tell insightful stories about the beginning of the Torah:
- The Torah's First Letter: Take 1 (Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Yitro 16:1)
- The Torah's First Letter: Take 2 (Bereishit Rabbah 1:10)
- The Torah's First Statement: Take 1 (Rashi on Genesis 1:1:1
- The Torah's First Statement: Take 2 (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 20:2:1)
- The Beginning of God's Relationship with Humankind (Sotah 14a:6)
To think about: What was the Beginning of Torah for you? What is the first piece of Torah you recall learning, and when did you learn it?
The Beginning of Jewish Journeys
Each of our ancestors began their Jewish journeys at some point, oftentimes in response to some challenge. Check out the following texts, which describe the humble beginnings of our ancestors' connections with God, Torah, and the Jewish people:
- The Beginning of Abraham's Relationship with God (Bereshit Rabbah 39:1)
- The Beginning of Moses' Protected Life (Sotah 12b) and Solidarity with the Israelites (Midrash Tanchuma Shemot 9:1)
- The Beginning of Hannah's Hopeful Prayers - and Ours (1 Samuel 1)
- The Beginning of Esther's Righteousness (Megillah 13a) and Heroism (Esther Rabbah 8:7)
- The Beginning of Rabbi Eliezer's Acceptance of the His Calling (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 1:2)
- The Beginning of Rabbi Akiva's Aleph-Bet Learning (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 6:2)
To think about: When did your Jewish Journey begin? What is your first Jewish memory? Are there distinct moments or teachings that, in retrospect, you feel helped direct you to the path you find yourself on now?
Sefaria's Learning Department invites you to create and share a source sheet that brings your own stories of beginning in conversation with the beginnings of the prophets, rabbis, and teachers who came before us.
Shanah Tovah u'Metukah. May this year bring you sweet new beginnings.