Franz Kafka once met a girl who was crying in the park. Upon learning that she was weeping for a lost doll, he promised her a letter from the doll. They met in the park weekly, with Kafka bringing her a letter each time, recounting the doll’s worldly travels. On the last visit, Kafka brought the girl a new doll. “That isn’t my doll,” the girl protested. Kafka explained that the doll had changed from its many experiences. The girl smiled and embraced the doll.
I am intrigued by Kafka’s perspective on experiences and kindness to the child, as well as the child’s awareness of care and change. The monthlong succession of Jewish Holy Days have recently ended: Rosh Hashana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Holiday of Booths), and Simchat Torah, (Celebrating the Five Books of Moses). On Simchat Torah, we conclude Deuteronomy and — within the same breath — immediately start reading Genesis. The end merges with the beginning and the beginning becomes woven into the cycle. In other words, there is no end and no beginning, akin to God.
I love these holidays offering renewal, forgiveness, love and joy. I love that doors close and new ones open. I love starting anew the weekly assigned readings to inspire, challenge, and uplift our being. Last week Genesis shared creation of everything from nothing, based on God’s words and love, followed by meeting Adam and Eve in and out of the Garden of Eden. Today’s weekly portion dovetails climate issues and the story of Noah and the Ark.
I wonder why repeat this weekly ritual of learning Torah portions, returning to the same passages at the same time anually?
In the Kafka legend, the weekly letters linked the lost doll to the new doll, bridging the girl’s understanding of herself, her loss, and her future.
The Torah stories remain the same. But, like the girl and her doll, we change, circumstances shift, experiences transform, we reinterpret, listen differently, and see alternative perspectives. In my pastoral work and call of religious service, I am keenly aware of the changing seasons and unfolding years, along with our yearning to revisit the timeless lore and guidance woven through the Torah.
Just as the girl leaves the Kafka story with a new doll, the protagonists of the Creation and Noah stories are changed by their experiences. Adam and Eve leave Eden with new responsibilities to tend nature and each other. Noah’s biggest challenges come after the flood struggling to rebuilding as the waters subside.
How will we emerge from this pandemic? How will we bridge social divides? How will we address the challenging issues of our day assuring a better future? I believe the divine image in all of us sheds light to address these questions, initiating refreshed outlooks, and urgency of doing tikkun olam, healing the world. I share Torah that provides familiar weekly lessons to help us cope with the unfamiliar, to help us accept our new doll (day). The end weaves together with the beginning in a single breath.
Rabbi Mark H. Kula resides in Missoula serving throughout Montana, Rabbinic Advisor to the Zootown Jews, a Missoula fellowship welcoming all, and Rabbi on Campus at University of Montana. He can be reached at Rabbimarkkula@gmail.com.