Peninim On Parshas Bereishis


sefer-torahRabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. (1:1)

The first Rashi in the Torah is famous: Amar Rabbi Yitzchak, “The text of the Torah should have commenced with Sefer Shemos 12, in which the commandment regarding the month of Nissan is written. Instead, the Torah begins with creation. This is to indicate that Hashem created the world. Thus, it was His prerogative to give Eretz Yisrael to whichever nation He chose. He gave the Holy Land to the Jewish People as an inheritance.” This statement is questionable, since many basic teachings and lessons can be derived from Sefer Bereishis, such as: Maase avos siman labanim, “The actions of the fathers (Patriarchs) are a sign, portent, for their children;” the words of the servants of the Patriarchs are more precious than the instruction of the children.” These are just a few of the lessons which would be lost with the omission of Sefer Bereishis.

Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, points out that, indeed, many of the fundamentals of the Torah– such as Techiyas Ha’meisim, Resurrection of the dead– have rules which are only in the Talmud. If so, the stories of the Avos could have their place in the Oral Law. They did not have to be written in the Torah She’Biksav, Written Law. The rule for inclusion in the Written Law is that it belongs to the Taryag, 613 mitzvos, or that it presents a lesson which is important for the gentile nations to know. Since the Oral Law was supposed to remain oral and, thus, not accessible to the average gentile, they would have to read it in the Torah She’Biksav. As a result of this, Rabbi Yitzchak, quoted by Rashi, explains that there was actually no reason to begin the Torah with its narration concerning the creation of the world, except for the fact that the gentile nations need to learn from this saga. They should become acutely aware of the development of the Jewish nation and its title to Eretz Yisrael. Bereishis is for them. Perhaps, it is also for us, since, regrettably, many self-loathing Jews still do not accept that Eretz Yisrael really belongs to us. If we would truly believe it is ours, so would everybody else.

There is another reason that Rashi begins his commentary to the Torah with a statement from Rabbi Yitzchak. Rashi’s full name was Rabbi Shlomo ben Rabbi Yitzchak, hence the surname Yitzchaki. It makes sense that Rabbi Yitzchak, whom Rashi quotes, was none other than his father. Why does he begin his commentary with a dvar Torah from his father? I think it goes beyond Rashi’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of Kibud Av, honoring his father. Rashi had a sense of hakoras hatov, gratitude, recognizing that whatever he had achieved was the result of his father’s sacrifice. Hakarah means recognition. In every word of Torah that Rashi learned, he acknowledged his father. Thus, as he begins his commentary to the Torah, he commences with a dvar Torah from his father.

Interestingly, his father teaches us to look to the beginning, the source of everything. Throughout history, various groups have laid claim to Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Yitzchak asserts that all strife can be settled easily by focusing on the Owner/Creator of Eretz Yisrael: Hashem. He decided to give His land to His People. Subject closed. Likewise, Rashi is intimating that his own ability to write such an unparalleled pirush, commentary to the Torah, is due to his father’s mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice.

The story is related that Rabbi Yitzchak merited a son who would illuminate the Torah world for all generations through his commentary, which made Torah accessible to everyone. Apparently, his father, a poor vintner, found an unpolished stone, which he immediately took to the local jeweler for an appraisal. Lo and behold, the stone was valued at a price beyond the means of anyone in the entire city – except for the church. When the local priests heard about Rabbi Yitzchak’s discovery, they were prepared to pay an exorbitant sum of money for the stone. Rabbi Yitzchak refused to sell the stone to the church at any price, fearing that it would contribute to idolatry.

The priests thought of a ruse to obtain the stone. They hired a ship and convinced Rabbi Yitzchak to join them for a short trip. As soon as they were away from land, the priests demanded the stone. They were prepared to pay for it, but, if necessary, there were “other” means of obtaining it. Tradition tells us that Rabbi Yitzchak flung the stone into the sea, either on purpose or “accidently on purpose.” A Heavenly voice then decreed, “Because you were willing to sacrifice a precious diamond for the glory of G-d, you will be blessed with a son who will illuminate the eyes of the Jewish People.”

In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth (1:1)

The Midrash relates Rabbi Yehudah ben Pazi and Bar Kappara expounding on the work of Creation. “Why was the world created with a bais – Bereishis; in the beginning? Because it is an expression of brachah, blessing. And why not with an aleph? Because it is an expression of cursing, arirah.” The commentators point out that Chazal’s statement is not necessarily consistent with other pesukim in Tanach in which the letter bais is not always used as blessing. Indeed, we find in Yeshayah 24:1, “Behold, Hashem empties (bokeik) the land and lays it waste (bolkah).” Also, in Yechezkel 16:40, “They will tear you (u’bitkuch) with their swords.” Furthermore, we find the letter aleph heading up the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments – Anochi Hashem Elokecha. Nonetheless, although aware of these pesukim which seem to contradict their words, Chazal chose to disregard them and not make them an issue concerning this particular Midrash. Apparently, a deeper meaning is the basis of Chazal’s delineating the bais of blessing from the aleph of curse.

Horav Meir Tzvi Bergman, Shlita, gives the following explanation. He cites Chazal in the Talmud Nedarim 40a, “If the young tell you to build and the elders tell you to raze, listen to the elders and do not listen to the young. This is because the building of the young is razing, and the razing of the elders is building. An example of this is Rechavam ben Shlomo HaMelech.” This is a reference to Rechavam’s ignoring the advice of the elders, his father’s advisors, and instead listening to the young, inexperienced advisors with whom he had grown up. This ultimately led to his downfall and the razing of the Bais HaMikdash.

We find a similar statement in the Talmud Kedushin 33a, which notes that Rabbi Yochanan would rise out of respect for the aged, even gentiles. He commented, “How many crises have they weathered!” Rav Bergman explains that the older generation has an advantage over the young, whereby they know how to build upon the foundations of the past. Any structure which they build, be it physical or intellectual, it is based upon their rich storehouse of experience – both personal, and that which they have observed among the nations. They include the traditions they have received, which have been tested and proven over time. Thus, even when they determine that a structure must be razed, it is built upon a strong foundation of experience and wisdom acquired through painful and diligent observation, practice and training. Indeed, this is why their destruction will prove to be constructive. It will have a productive and beneficial impact on the future of any endeavor. They understand when something has to be razed and how it should be taken down.

By nature, the young refuse to learn from the past, often maintaining a rebellious stance against what is old, tried and true. They seek initiative, want to devise their own methods and invent new theories. For them, it is an insult to learn from others. Their building is based upon undermining and tearing down the structures of the past. Previous methods and axioms are an anathema to them – regardless of how much practical sense they make. The mere fact that it is not “theirs” is sufficient reason for something to be discarded and, often, reviled. Thus, their concept of building essentially means dismantling the original structure.

The construction of the Bais Hamikdash is a mitzvah of the Torah. Yet, it cannot be carried out under the guidance of the young, because it must be founded upon deep foundations of tradition going back to the Avos, Patriarchs. The Rambam Hilchos Bais HaBechirah 2:2 notes that it is a hallowed tradition that the place where David and Shlomo built the Mizbayach, Altar, was the exact spot upon which Avraham Avinu built an Altar and bound Yitzchak upon it; upon which Noach built an Altar when he emerged from the Ark; where Kayin and Hevel offered their sacrifices; and where Adam HaRishon offered a sacrifice to Hashem when he was created. Indeed, it was from the earth of that very same spot that he was fashioned. Chazal say that “Adam was created from the place in which he would find atonement.”

The bottom line is that an edifice as sacrosanct as the Bais Hamikdash must be built on a mighty foundation. The building wrought by the young on new– and often – shaky foundations, consists more of destruction than construction. Rav Bergman goes so far as to say that even if the young offered us a chance to build the Bais Hamikdash, and even if we could definitely not be able to build it without their assistance, we would outright, without hesitation, reject their offer. At any rate, although we might not be able to build the edifice, we would at least have the foundations for that building firmly in hand, because we connect to the past. We will start, and Hashem will help us to complete it. If we were able to comply with the wishes and advice of the young, we would ultimately destroy its foundations, allowing nothing to rest on it, and catalyzing its premature ruin. Far from considering the assistance of the young an opportunity that should not be lost, it would mean the bitter end to every future opportunity. Far from reaping benefit, we would be stuck in a vicious maelstrom and lose everything.

With the above in mind, we can revert back to the Midrash which distinguishes between the bais of blessing and the aleph of curse. The Torah of Klal Yisrael cannot begin with an aleph, because this means commencing the Torah from “the beginning.” This is an indication that here lies curse – not blessing; it is not building, but destruction. The Written Torah which one can read from the original, must be precluded and overshadowed by the Oral Torah which one must study from his elders. Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (1:8), Shma beni mussar avicha, v’al titosh toras imecha, “Hear, my son, your father’s mussar, and do not leave off your mother’s Torah.” In pointing the individual in the correct direction to further his wisdom, the Torah says (Devarim 32:7), She’al avicha v’yageidcha, z’keinecha v’yomru lach, “Ask your father and he will recount it to you, your elders and they will tell you.” Torah must be studied through the process of mesorah, transmission, from one generation to the next. Herein lies the blessing; herein lies construction.

The Aseres HaDibros are a free-standing introduction, indicating the beginning, Hashem’s introduction to Klal Yisrael. Thus, it can very well begin with an aleph, because its first words are Anochi, “I am Hashem, I am the beginning, the wellspring and source of all that is.” The Torah of Hashem’s children, however, must begin with bais, because a child comes after his father; he is second in the tradition, and Torah can only be learned through the medium of the external chain of tradition.

And G-d created the great sea-giants… G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. (1:21; 2:3)

Upon studying the story of Creation, we confront what seems to be two inconsistencies in the language of the text. On the fifth day of Creation, Hashem created the taninim ha’gedolim, the great sea-giants. Interestingly, this is the only creation of which the Torah does not conclude, va’yehi chein, “and it was so.” Why is this? Clearly, if Hashem created them, then it was so. Why is this creation different than the others? Rashi cites a comment from Chazal in Meseches Bava Basra 74b that these giant sea-creatures are none other than the Livyasan and its mate. After creating them, the female was then slain, salted and preserved for a future banquet to be held in the company of Moshiach Tzidkeinu and attended by the tzaddikim, righteous persons, of all generations. This is an incredible statement, considering that this amphibious creature was created only to be immediately killed and stored for the sake of a special meal sometime in the distant future.

Another such instance is in Creation, which, at first, seems highly irregular. Hashem rested on the seventh day of Creation, declaring it as Yom Shabbos Kodesh. The Torah teaches us that Hashem blessed the Shabbos. How did Hashem bless Shabbos more so than any other day of the week? Rashi explains that Shabbos was blessed with the Manna, which they received daily, but on Friday, in honor of Shabbos, Klal Yisrael were provided with a double portion. This seems strange, considering that the Manna was not received until thousands of years later, and it only lasted for the forty years in which the Jewish People sojourned in the wilderness. Both of the above creations have had very limited and restricted purposes; yet, their creation occupies a central role in Hashem’s plan. How are we to understand this?

In an insightful commentary, Rabbi Yaacov Haber notes that this is a question only to those who assume that the significance of an object is measured by time and space. This is a grievous error. We should not determine the value of an object based on its overt value. Some things are here for but a moment, but, to someone, that moment is critically important.

Let us take an example from the episode of Noach and the raven. The pelting rain had ceased, but was the land dry? Noach sent out the raven in search of dry land. Chazal relate that the raven kvetched and asked, “Why me? There are so many other creatures aboard the Ark. Send one of them!” Noach replied, perhaps with more frankness than was necessary, “You do not have much purpose in the world. You are not a kosher fowl. You may not be offered on the Mizbayach, Altar, as a sacrifice. You do not sing sweetly. Truthfully, if something were to happen to you, it would not engender a great loss in the world.” Noach was wrong, because not only did the raven survive, but its much later descendants actually served a crucial function in providing sustenance to Eliyahu HaNavi in the desert.

Noach erred in that every creation has a function and a purpose. Hashem does not waste creations. They all have significance in His eyes. We have no right to question Hashem, just because we do not quite understand the significance of something.

Another classic example of this idea is when Moshe Rabbeinu is commanded by Hashem to wage war with Midyan. Moshe felt that he should also battle Moav, since the people were much worse than the people of Midyan, who only assisted Moav in their attacks on the Jews. Hashem did not agree. Perhaps at the time Moshe did not understand, but when we look further down in history, we can understand why Hashem spared Moav. Rus descended from Moav. If there had been no Moav – there would have been no Rus and no Malchus Bais David, kingdom of the House of David. Many generations of this degenerate and evil nation were allowed to live so that the diamond, Rus, would ultimately emerge.

If Moshe can misjudge, we surely can, and we often do when we question the value of a nation, a group or an individual. In our limited perception, we see little value, but Hashem’s vision envelops an entire world as a whole in its historical context. We can never estimate the purpose, or value in life, of an individual. It might take one single action to justify an entire life’s existence. It might be his descendants down the line that justify his creation. Since we can never know, we have no right to pass judgment, surely not to question the Almighty.

This thesis strikes home, since I have had the privilege to spend time with Jews who are living in restricted environments, such as those incarcerated for various crimes. I used to wonder about them, since some of these individuals are doing hard time with little or no hope of parole or commutation. I say I wondered, in the past tense, until I saw a forty-five year old man putting on Tefillin for the very first time and reciting Shema Yisrael. There is no simple way to describe the experience. These are people who, for the most part, were raised with no clear understanding of what Judaism means or its relevancy to them. For some, had they not ended up in prison, they would probably never had donned a pair of Tefillin. When they perform that mitzvah, it is with such feeling and passion that it could serve as an inspiration – and it does. Maybe that is their purpose – to perform a mitzvah with pure, unadulterated emotion, for no other reason than to finally serve Hashem.

And the man assigned names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to every beast of the field. (2:20)

One of the seven blessings which comprise Bircas Chasanim is Sameach tesamach reiim ha’ahuvim k’sameichacha yetzircha b’GanEden mikedem. “Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime.” This brachah asks Hashem to gladden the couple who stand before us as He did for Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden. One question confronts us immediately upon grasping the scope of this request: Is it reasonable to expect that every contemporary couple experiences such a heavenly relationship on par with that of the first couple in Gan Eden? Let us face it, we are not in Gan Eden, nor are we Adam and Chavah. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, derives a powerful lesson from here concerning the power of prayer. When we entreat Hashem for something, we should not limit ourselves. Hashem can do anything and, if He desires, He will. Therefore, we should ask and hope for the ultimate response to our requests. Who knows?

Returning to the blessing, we do not find anywhere in the Torah that Hashem “gladdened” Adam and Chavah. The Midrash, however, does teach that Hashem Himself escorted Chavah and brought her to Adam. Before doing so, He adorned her with forty- four beautiful ornaments and braided her hair. The angels descended to Gan Eden and played music for them. The sun, moon and stars danced before them. Hashem prepared a banquet filled with delicacies, He made the chupah, canopy, and He served as the chazzan to bless the first couple. The Torah, however, does not indicate that any unusual form of simchah took place. In addition, the word yetzircha is singular, which means creature, and is interpreted as referring to Adam, who was gladdened when Hashem created Chavah, so that he was no longer alone. This might be a reference to the singular unit of Adam and Chavah as husband and wife, who became a unified couple through the perfect harmony that existed between them.

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, suggests that when Hashem created Adam and Chavah, He gave them the entire world. They were in charge. They had all of the keys. He gave them the ability to fashion the world in their image, to leave their imprint on the future of mankind. What greater sense of joy can there be than to have the power to initiate, to guide and direct, to inspire and shape lives. This is similar to the power of Creation. This is why Chazal teach us that Adam gave the appropriate name to every creature in existence. He understood their individual characteristic traits and named them accordingly. This is the apex of simchah. Adam and Chavah enjoyed the happiness associated with chedvas hayetzirah, the delight in the ability to create.

This was the manner in which Hashem gladdened Adam and Chavah. He gave them the opportunity to shape the image of the world according to their wisdom, understanding and perception. This is the zenith of simchah. Every young couple has before them the same opportunity, as they begin a new chapter in their lives together as husband and wife. Together they will decide the character of their new home. Will it be a home where Torah will thrive, where tzedakah and chesed, charity and acts of lovingkindness, will reign? Will meticulous mitzvah observance be a primary component in their lives? How will they raise their future children? What will be their priorities? Yes, this is the chedvas ha’yetzirah that greets them as they enter the new phase of their lives. Just as Hashem gladdened the first couple, so, too, does He avail the same opportunity to every subsequent couple. It is up to them to make the proper decisions.

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