October 13, 2017
Every Shabbat is special . . . but this Shabbat is especially special. It’s Shabbat Breishit – the Shabbat that we begin to re-read the whole cycle of weekly Torah portions with the first chapters of the Book of Genesis (Breishit). The beginning of the Bible, the grandeur of the Creation, the wonder garden ofEden, the innocence of Adam and Eve, the drama of Cain and Able – it’s all there. The first love, the first evil, the first farming, the first clothing, the first religion, the first nomadic wandering, the first curiosity, the first anger, and even the first musician – Genesis is a compendium of firsts. For that reason, in the Medieval Jewish Kehilah (Community), this Shabbat really was the beginning of the administrative year. Officers began their roles as officers in the community. The community “secretary” (the central Jewish community administrator in Medieval Jewish communities) began his work.
(A page from the Mahzor of Worms, created in 1272. This two volume mahzor was in use in the community of Worms until the synagogue’s destruction on Kristalnacht, November, 1938. It was rescued by the city’s archivist, who hid it in a cathedral.)
In the Middle Ages, wealthy Jews would commission a Scribe to create a Machzor. Today, we use the term to mean a prayer book which is dedicated to an individual holiday. We’ve got machzorim for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot , and all the other holidays. The Hebrew word itself means “cycle,” and in the middle ages it referred to a one volume book which contained all the material necessary for rituals and holidays of the whole year. (O.K. . . . it’s a HUGE book, and sometimes it was in two volumes instead of one.) The few existing medieval machzorim are beautiful: hand written with beautiful calligraphy and illuminations. Gold leaf. Illustrations painted in colorful inks and temperas. And . . . the first Shabbat referred to in the Machzor was . . . Shabbat Bereishit – this Shabbat. The first holiday referred to is Hanukkah – which is the first
(Israeli stamps, issued in 1986, commemorating the Mahzor of Worms.)