In This Issue:
Rabbi Scott Friedman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parashat BeReishit contains not only the creation of the physical word and all its components, but the creation of mankind as well. The first individuals introduced are the world’s first parents, Adam and Chavah. After learning about Adam and Chavah and their complex relationship, the Torah introduces Kayin and Hevel, the world’s first pair of brothers. Kayin, the older of the two, not only brought murder into the world, but introduced the concept of Teshuvah as well. A very interesting question can be asked about Kayin. How could a person on such a high level sink so low as to murder? What drove him to this point?
The former Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshivah, Rav Chaim Schmuelevitz zt”l, asks this question. He adds, that not only did Kayin kill Hevel, but as the Pasuk states, “VaYomer Kayin El Hevel Achiv,” “Kayin spoke with his brother Hevel.” (4:8). Right before Kayin kills his brother the Torah states says that he spoke with Hevel. What was said in this conversation? Rashi tells us that Kayin said things that were quarrelsome in order to rationalize his killing Hevel. The Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel asserts that Kayin said there is no judge, there is no judgment, and there is no world besides this one. How could one who spoke prophetically to God himself not only kill his brother, but deny God’s existence?
Rav Shmuelevitz answers that we find the answer to these questions in the passage preceding the murder of Hevel. The Torah states, “VeEl Kayin VeEl Minchato Lo Shaah VaYichar LeKayin Meod VaYiplu Panav” “But to Kayin and his offering He did not turn. This upset Cain exceedingly, and his face fell.” (4:5) Kayin felt rejected by Hashem, he felt inferior to Hevel; therefore, in response to feeling rejected, he rejects back. This is not an unusual response; most of us do the same thing. This defense mechanism is used to avoid embarrassment, rejection, or other uncomfortable feelings. Ramban states that not only was Kayin feeling rejected, but he believed that Hashem would build the world primarily through his brother Hevel, since his Korban was favored. Not only did Hashem’s rejection of Kayin’s Korbon make him he feel insignificant, but also made him worry that he actually would be insignificant. Ramban adds that Kayin could have been inspired by his brother and improved but chose to rebel instead.
Too often we reject when we feel rejected. When someone is rude or difficult or acts towards us in a way we don’t like too often we act accordingly in return. In fact, we even feel justified in doing so! Although we might be justified, the Torah tells us “VeAhavta LeReiacha KaMocha”, love your friends like yourself. Treat others the way you would want to be treated and not the way they treat you. Or as the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world. We must take personal responsibility and realize that an argument or fight cannot continue without two sides involved. If we would treat others and ourselves the way we would like to be treated, eventually we will be treated the same way.
My Rebbe, Rav Elie Marcus, Mashgiach of Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim, called me this summer just to relate this story that he knew I would appreciate. Rav Elie’s brother-in-law was visiting Eretz Yisrael and meeting with many of the Gedolei Yisrael while there. He had been meeting with Rav Tzvi Meyer Zilverberg, a great Chassidic Rebbe in Yerushalayim, when the Rebbe asked him if he had visited Rav Vosner. Upon learning he had not yet visited Rav Vosner, Rav Zilverberg insisted he meet Rav Vosner, and then proceeded to tell Rav Vosner’s story. Rav Vosner had gone for an interview to learn at Chachmei Lublin, where acceptance was based on having known hundreds of Blatt (folie) Gemara by heart. He was not accepted into the Yeshiva. Having been turned down, he went to the Beit Medresh to learn for the few hours he had while waiting for his train. Rav Meir Shapiro, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin and the founder of the Daf Yomi learning program, noticed a Bochur sitting in the Beit Medresh that he had not recognized. He asked another Bochur who he was and learned that he was a boy who came for an interview and was not accepted. Rav Meir Shapiro asked when the interview occurred. “Just a few minutes ago” the Bochur responded. Rav Meir Shapiro said that a person who can be turned away from the yeshiva and instead of returning to his lodgings, moping, or complaining, was learning as soon as he received the bad news is exactly the kind of Bochur he wanted in his yeshiva. Rav Vosner was accepted into the yeshiva and is now today one of the great Gedolei Torah, one of the few survivors of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin and the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak. Can you imagine being immediately turned away from the college or job of their dreams and going and working to advance his or herself in that area immediately? Rav Tzvi Meyer said it is this Middah of being humble and taking personal responsibility that makes us grow. May we all internalize this lesson, and utilize it to grow in Torah and Middot.
In Friday night Kiddush we quote the first three Pesukim of the second Perek of Parashat BeReishit, which say, “VaYechulu HaShamayim VeHaAretz VeChol Tzevaam,VaYichal Elokim BaYom HaShevii Melachto Asher Asah, VaYishbot BaYom HaShevii MiKol Milachto Asher Asah VaYevarech Elokim Et Yom HaShevii VaYikadeish Oto Ki Vo Shavat MiKol Melachto Asher Barah Elokim Laasot,” “And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all of their array, Hashem completed on the seventh day His work that He did; and He abstained on the seventh day from all the work that He did, and Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all his work that Hashem created to make.” (BeReishit 2:1-3) The Mefarshim (commentaries) explain that many of the words and phrases in this section have deeper meanings beyond the simple interpretation.
It is interesting to point out that for the first six days, the Torah writes “VaYehi Erev VaYehi Boker Yom…” but for the seventh day it does not. The Baal HaTurim uses the fact that the Torah does not use this phrase to teach that Shabbat should be extended to include more than just an evening and a day. Rashi and Seforno both note that the exact moment Hashem finished creating the world was the exact second that it changed from the sixth day to the seventh day. To humans, who cannot tell time precisely, this moment is on the seventh day, not in between days. We therefore have the custom to accept Shabbat early in order not to inadvertently transgress Shabbat when we believe it is Friday.
Why does the Torah repeat the word “Melachah” three times; it seems pointless to do so. The Baal HaTurim teaches that the word appears three times because Hashem rested from three creations: the creation of the sky, the creation of the sea, and the creation of the land. The Baal Haturim adds that the word VaYivareich appears three times in Tanach: here, regarding Noach, and regarding Yitzchak. These allude to the three times that Hashem blessed the entire world: when He finished creating it He blessed it, when Hashem saw that the world required another blessing after the majority of the world was destroyed in the Mabul He blessed it, and He blessed the entire world by giving Yitzchak with the power to bless the world. From the point of the third blessing on, it became the responsibility of all of Bnei Yisrael to enhance the world and not the responsibility of Hashem. This third blessing is passed on generation to generation through our action, and our observance of Shabbat is an action that blesses the world.
Why are the words “Vayevarech and Vayekadeish” both necessary in the Pasuk? Rashi explains that Hashem will bless Friday with the Man, the food Bnei Yisrael received in the Midbar, because a double portion fell, and He will sanctify the Shabbat with the Man since it did not fall at all. The Baal HaTurim also gives this answer to the meaning of Vayevarech and Vayekadeish. The Ramban explains these two words by quoting Rav Saadiah Gaon who states that Hashem will sanctify and bless the people who keep Shabbat. He then rejects this opinion and the opinion of Rashi on the grounds that the Pasuk uses the past tense, not the future. He then quotes Ibn Ezra, who says that blessing is an increase in goodness; on Shabbat, a person’s body is renewed through an increase in strength, and his soul is renewed through an increase in wisdom. The sanctification is in that no Melachah is being done. Ramban says that this explanation is good for anyone who can fully understand it, but it is very difficult for people to understand. Finally he gives his own Kabbalistic answer, which he acknowledges is very difficult to understand. Vayivareich and Vayikadeish are not actually talking about blessing and sanctifying Shabbat but rather blessing and sanctifying through Shabbat.
This short passage in the Torah ends with the words “Bara Elokim La’asot”. Rashi comments on these words and says that Hashem did double the work on Friday to prepare for Shabbat. The Ibn Ezra and Radak say that Hashem gave the world the power to reproduce on its own because “Laasot” means “to make itself”. The Ramban gives three explanations to these words and his third concentrates on the fact that Bara is the creation of the world in six days, and La’asot is the life of the world in six millennia. (This concept of the world existing for 6000 years is found in BeReishit Rabba 19:8, and in the Gemara in Sanhedrin 97a, Avodah Zarah 9a, and in Rosh Hashanah 31a.) On the first day, Hashem created light and in the first millennium, Adam, who is known as the light of the world, lived. On the second day, Hashem created a division between waters; in the second millennium, Noach and his sons were separated from the rest of the world, who were punished through water. On the third day, Hashem created dry land, which sprouted and grew fruit, and similarly in the third millennium, Avraham began to call out in the name of Hashem, and sprouted spiritually. On the fourth day, Hashem created the sun, moon, and stars; the fourth millennium took place 72 years after the building of the first Beit HaMikdash, and ended 172 years after the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed. For this time, there was light for all of Bnei Yisrael. Then the sun and moon set, and the Batei Mikdash were destroyed. On the fifth day, Hashem created fish; in the fifth millennium, Nochri nations ruled the world and they were helpless like a fish out of the sea. On the sixth day, Hashem created animals and at the end, people; in the sixth millennium, the world was/is/will be ruled by “beasts,” who don’t believe in Hashem, and towards the end, it appears that a fiercer empire will arise, which will know Hashem. The seventh day was Shabbat, and the seventh millennium will hopefully be the time of Mashiach.
Whenever we say these three Psukim, may we understand them a little better, and in that Zechut may we be transported to the seventh millennium and the times of Mashiach.
The Torah begins with Parashat BeReishit, the story of creation. Immediately the question arises: what is the purpose of this story in the Torah?
Rashi (BeReishit 1:1 s.v. BeReishit), who cites Rav Yitzchak, states that the Torah should have started with the commandment of the new moon, which was the first law given to the Jews. The reason Hashem starts the Torah with creation is to show that Hashem is the ruler of the entire Earth and especially Eretz Yisrael, strengthening Bnei Yisrael’s claims to that land.
Ramban notes that we still today don’t understand the process of creation. Creation is a mystery that Hashem explained to Moshe and can be understood only by a select few.
Despite this note of Ramban, we can understand what the ultimate fulfillment of creation was. Adam and Chavah had the chance to bring out the fulfillment of creation simply by honoring the commandment Hashem gave them, and they failed. Hashem punished them so they could do Teshuvah, and they did do Teshuvah. This shows us that even if we sin, we can still repent and come back. This also teaches that when we do a sin, Hashem doesn’t give up on us. We can always come back and follow His ways.
Hashem gives us the opportunity to do Teshuvah all the time. He patiently gave this opportunity to the ten generations between Noach and Avraham, but each generation failed to bring out creation. Then Hashem picked Avraham to fulfill this mission. This is why Sefer BeReishit is also called Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation. Creation is not only about the mountains, oceans, valleys, or even the human and animal life. Creation is primarily about the birth of the nation of Israel. In the continuation of this Sefer, we see the children of Avraham and Sarah as they develop families and eventually a nation.
The purpose of this Sefer is, as Rashi said, to show us that the universe didn’t just start on its own. It was Hashem who started it and everything is in Hashem’s command. However, this Sefer also shows us that the reason Hashem started it was to make the nation of Bnei Yisrael. This nation continues the fulfillment of creation every day.
To introduce the creation of man, the Torah says, “VaYomer Elokim Naaseh Adam BeTzalmeinu KiDemuteinu,” “And God said, ‘Let us make a man in our image, as our likeness.’” (Bereishit 1:26) The Midrash explains that this Pasuk uses the plural Naaseh because God consulted the Malachim (angels) before creating man.
The Midrash states that when Moshe was writing the Torah, he saw this Pasuk and he asked Hashem, “Why are You creating an opportunity for people who don’t believe in You to find support for their opinions in this Pasuk, which seems to imply the existence of multiple gods, Chas VeShalom?” Hashem answered that he should leave the Pasuk the way it is and let anyone who wants to err do so. Hashem said to do this because in the future, there would be a leader who would think that he could make decisions without consulting his subordinates and his subordinates would be able to say that if Hashem consulted the Malachim, that leader should consult them too (BeReishit Rabbah 8:8).
Based on this Midrash, the Chanukat HaTorah explains the saying of Chazal that arrogance is like idol worship. One can interpret “Naaseh Adam” in two ways—that it is an expression of humility which Hashem showed by consulting the angels, or that it indicates the presence of other gods. A person who chooses to be arrogant will deny that Hashem went out of his way to show that humility is important; therefore, he will infer from this Pasuk that other gods exist, which is Avodah Zarah.
Rav Elchanan Wasserman finds this Midrash puzzling. In a business venture, would someone risk a large amount of money for a small profit? Obviously not; the risk and reward have to be somewhat in balance. So too, why would Hashem create a situation where someone could mistakenly conclude that other gods exist, just to teach the lesson of humility? This is a case where the risks seem to heavily outweigh the rewards.
Rav Elchanan explains that for years, people have learned this Pasuk and not believed that other gods exist. The Pasuk does not imply that there are other gods; it is clearly saying that Hashem only consulted his angels out of common courtesy. Only people who are looking to deny Hashem’s existence can understand this Pasuk as saying that there are other gods. This is what the Midrash means when it says that if people want to err they can—they are looking to err, so there is nothing Moshe can do to prevent it. This also means that the risk-to-reward proportion is greatly in Hashem’s favor. The vast majority of people will be able to learn the message of humility from the Pasuk and only a very few, for whom nothing can be done anyway, will perceive the wrong message.
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