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Shabbat Parashat Bereishit 5773

Parashat Hashavua: From the End to the Beginning

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul pp. 4-6

All year we progressed through the Torah from Bereishit, the story of creation after the tohu (primordial void), to “… before the eyes of all of Israel” (Devarim 34:12). Now we make our way backward, from the highest revelations of Hashem’s words, to the first light to break forth over the void.

There is a connection between the divine revelation that accompanied the creation of heaven and earth and that which is included in Hashem’s involvement in human history, which reached its pinnacle at the giving of the Torah. Each element teaches something about the other. Chazal see a hint in the word “bereishit” that the world was created because of Israel and the Torah, which are both called “reishit” (first). There is no purpose for human life in creation if we do not connect the beginning of the Torah to its end. A creation that does not know its Creator does not know itself and cannot find significance for its existence. It remains stuck in tohu. It is for good reason that Chazal call the first 2,000 years of the world tohu (Sanhedrin 97a).

The world cannot appreciate its Maker without seeing His part in history. The Kuzari (1:25) explains that this is the reason that the first commandment at Sinai begins with “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt” and not “… who created the world.” Hashem’s role in creation is left mysterious; we learn about Him from human and Jewish history. We understand Rabbi Yitzchak’s famous question: why didn’t the Torah start with “This month is for you the head of the months,” the first mitzva given to Bnei Yisrael, as they were preparing to leave Egypt. The main part of the Torah indeed only starts with the Exodus, which helps us internalize the existence of Hashem.

On the other hand, the main goal of history, including the giving of the Torah, is to return the world to the light of the seven days of creation. Through “before the eyes of all of Israel,” we come to Hashem’s creation of the world.

“There shall be light” was a divine decree. The world did not emerge from some blind battle between great powers. It came about ex nihilo by His word. Its purpose existed already before the world was created, and thus it is not human intellect that will lead the world. Man is simply one of the creations of “He Who said and the world was.” Man is subservient to Hashem, whether or not he is aware of this fact. Fortunate is the person who willingly accepts this role, and woe onto one who tries to ignore it.

Our parasha describes so vividly how Adam tried to extricate himself from Hashem’s dominion by means of the Tree of Knowledge. The snake promised, “You shall be like G-d” (Bereishit 3:5), and this is what drove him to act. This was the venom of the snake, which tried to turn knowledge into something that serves the desires of one’s eyes and taste. Throughout various stages in human history, people thought they could challenge Hashem (see Yeshaya 14:14). The powers of our era, who create all sorts of machines of destruction, also demonstrate the great danger of eating from the Tree of Knowledge without being protected by the path of the Tree of Life.

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Hemdat Yamim

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 to the memory of
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