Parshas Bereishis 5759

Parshas Bereishis 5759

Starting Over

“In the beginning of His creating, Hashem created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of Hashem hovered over the face of the waters. And Hashem said, “Let there be light, and there was light.’” (Bereishis 1:1-3)

Rashi, in his first commentary in the Torah, asks, “Why does the Torah begin with Bereishis, the account of the creation of the world? If the Torah is a book of mitzvohs, why doesn't it start with the mitzvoh of Rosh Chodesh, the Torah’s first mitzvoh found in Parshas Bo, the 3rd Parsha in the book of Shemos?”

Rashi answers with a verse (Psalms 111:6), “’The power of His works He has declared to His people by giving them the inheritance of the nations (Eretz Yisrael).’ For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, ‘You robbed the Caananites of the their land’, Israel will have a ready answer. ‘The entire world belongs to Hashem. He created it and He gave it to whomever He deemed worthy in his eyes. He gave it to the Caananites when He wanted to, and now He took it from them and gave it to us.’”

Although Rashi provides an answer to why the Torah begins with Bereishis, a tough question still remains. Why doesn’t the Torah go from the account of the creation of the world to the mitzvoh of Rosh Chodesh? What is the reason for the lengthy chronicle of the lives of the Avos and Imahos (the forefathers and foremothers)?

R' Chayim Vital, the foremost disciple of the Arizal, in his work, Sha'arei Kedusha (Part 1, Gate 2) writes, “The middos (character traits), were not included in the 613 mitzvohs yet they are integral to them since they are a prerequisite to the mitzvohs themselves. Therefore, the one who possesses inferior middos is worse off than one who is only committing transgressions. Since the middos are such an important foundation, they were not included in the mitzvohs. Good middos lead to mitzvos. One should be more concerned about his middos than his mitzvos.”

Since the middohs are a prerequisite to the Torah, the Torah can not penetrate the heart of one who doesn't refine and perfect his middos. Yet where are they? We know that word Torah is from the word Hora'ah (instruction). If they are so important, why aren't they included among the mitzvohs of the Torah? And if the Torah won’t penetrate someone with bad middos, how should one acquire good middos? Where can one find instructions in middos?

Derech Eretz Kodmah L'Torah, proper ethical behavior precedes the Torah. (Vayikra Rabba 9:3). One of the important interpretations of this idea is that before one can learn and put into practice the mitzvos of the Torah, one must pave the path with Derech Eretz. This means acquiring middos Tovos in order to learn Torah.

Why do the account of the creation of the world and the chronicle of the lives of the Avos and Imahos precede the first mitzvohs and the Giving of the Torah? The kindness of Avraham and Sarah, resoluteness and clarity of Yitzchok and Rivka in their Avodas Hashem, the humility of Rachel, the prayer of Leah and the vision of Yaacov etc. are the personal character traits we strive to acquire. The lives of the Avos and Imahos are the examples after which we pattern our lives and thereby become suitable vessels for receiving and internalizing the Torah.

For this reason the sages of the Talmud (Avodah Zara 25a) called Sefer Bereishis, “Sefer HaYashar”, The Book of the Upright. It is the Book of our holy and righteous foremothers and forefathers who excelled in their desire to acquire and refine their middohs.


The World Comes into Being

We often take the first verse in the Chumash for granted. In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth. Nevertheless, a careful reading reveals a deep problem. The word Bereishis, does not at all mean “in the beginning” since it is followed by a verb, and in Hebrew grammar the word Reishis is always found in the construct state, it is always connected to word which come after it. Therefore, the translation would have to be, “Bereishis (not Hashem), created God, the Heavens and the Earth”.

If the verse wanted to teach us the order of the creation, it would have stated “BaRishona” (at first) instead of “Bereishis”. (see the commentary of Rashi in 1:1)

Rashi brings a fascinating Midrashic interpretation. The word Bereishis is actually the word Reishis preceded by the preposition “beis which means “in”, “with”, or “for”. Therefore, the translation of the verse is, “For Reishis, Hashem created the Heavens and the Earth”. Hashem created the world for the sake of the Torah as it is written, “(Said the Torah) Hashem created me as the beginning (Reishis) of His way, the first of His works of old.” (Proverbs 8:22)

The Holy Zohar (1, 24b) explains Bereishis, With (or by way of ) Reishis, Hashem created the Heavens and the Earth”. Reishis means Torah. Hashem created the world with the Torah. Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. (Zohar Terumah 161b)

R’ Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, in his Me’or Einayim, writes. “(Said the Torah) Hashem created me as the beginning (Reishis) of His way, the first of His works of old.” (Proverbs 8:22) With the Torah, Hashem created the world. Therefore, the essence of every speck of creation, is the vitality and spirit of the Torah. It is further written, “This is the (law) Torah; (when) a man dies in a tent.” (Bamidbar 19:14). The essence and vitality of the Torah is also called man. And Hashem and the Torah are themselves One (Zohar 2, 90b).

Therefore all of creation is suffused with the vitality and spirit of Hashem as is written, “. . .and You enliven all things.” (Nechemia 9:6) Therefore Hashem diminished and contracted His vitality and His light in order that the world could exist; for His full influence is far too great. This allowed even the lowest spheres to be permeated with and contain His light without risk of shattering.

The task left for us in our world is to raise up our awareness of, and to reveal as much of this light as possible.

This is B’Reishis.


There is an argument brought in the Talmud and Midrashim (Chagiga 12a, Bereishis Rabba 1:15) between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. Beis Hillel maintained that the Earth was created first and Beis Hillel maintains that the Heavens were created first. Said R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, I don’t understand what the great sages are arguing about. I say that neither one of them was created first, rather they were created concurrently like a pot together with its lid; they are one thing.

Later commentaries were also surprised at the argument of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. What does it even matter which was created first, what was, is and that is that.

Rather says the Slonimer Rebbe, (Nesivos Shalom, commentary to Bereishis p.16) there must be an underlying consideration for us in understanding the ways of Avodas Hashem.

There are two ways in Avodas Hashem. One is the path of the Heavens or spirituality; Torah, mitzvohs, prayer chesed (acts of loving kindness). The second is the path of the Earth, or the physical; money, eating, sleeping and other physical needs. One is obligated to serve Hashem with both aspects, even the physical!

The Maggid of Mezeritch once commented on a verse from Tehillim which is found in the daily prayers, “How great are your works Hashem, the whole world is filled with your possessions (kinyanecha).” (Psalms 104:24) Said the Maggid, “Don’t read "kinyanecha" as your possessions, rather as your acquisitions. The whole world is full of opportunities to acquire divinity (Elokus) and the ways of Hashem.” Proper use of the physical world can lead to maximum holiness.

This then was the argument of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, writes the Slonimer Rebbe. What is the principle Avodah of a Jew in this world, the path of the physical or of the spiritual? Beis Hillel held that the physical is the key Avodah, and by sanctifying it, one will come to the spiritual. Beis Shammai held that the primary Avodah is through the spiritual which will fortify one enough to successfully master the physical. R’ Shimon Bar Yochai said, “Not so”! These two paths of Avodas Hashem come to us as two parts of a whole, like a pot and its lid. Both paths were brought into the world synchronously and a person has to serve Hashem with both aspects equally. Full Avodas Hashem can only be through the physical and spiritual together in complimentary unity.

The account continues, (verse 2) “And the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. . .”. A Jew must know that even though the earthly/physical path is dark and lurking with danger, nevertheless, (verse 3) “And Hashem said, ‘Let there be light’. . .”. Through using the physical world as an essential aspect of ones Avodah Hashem, the result will be light, a great advance in spirituality and knowledge of Hashem.

From Out of the Attic

For seven years, R. Avraham - once a protégé of the Vilna Gaon - sat in an attic in Kalisk, immersed in Torah and d’veykus (communion) with Hashem, and oblivious to the outside world. One day a Jew from Kalisk burst into R. Avraham’s secluded room and shouted, “How can you sit there in such isolation? Go out and seek the great light in Mezritch! The great Maggid says, ‘...the earth is full of Your possessions’ [Tehillim 104:24] - that is, the earth is full of means of acquiring Godliness.”

“Is that what he said?” responded R. Avraham. Electrified, he leaped out of his attic window and made his way to Mezritch.

Returning to Kalisk after his first encounter with the Maggid, he visited his former mentor, the Gaon of Vilna. “What did you see in Mezritch? What innovation did you find there?” the Gaon challenged him.

“’VeChai bahem’ - and you shall live by them” (Vayikra 18:5), was his brief reply.

“One remark by the Maggid would suffice for a long time,” he later commented. “And we would guard it in holiness and purity until the next one came.”



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