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Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Bereishis

בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ (1:1)

On Simchas Torah, we complete the annual cycle of the public reading of the Torah by finishing Parshas V’Zos HaBeracha, and we immediately begin reading the Torah anew with Parshas Bereishis. The person who is honored to be called up to the Torah for the final Aliyah in Parshas V’Zos HaBeracha is referred to as Chosson Torah, and the person who receives the Aliyah for the beginning of Parshas Bereishis is called Chosson Bereishis.

The Rokeach (371) rules that in addition to reciting the normal blessings said by one called up to the Torah, the Chosson Bereishis should also say the שהחיינו blessing, thanking Hashem for allowing him the opportunity to once again begin studying the Torah. Although others disagree with the Rokeach and our custom is not to make this blessing, we can still derive an important lesson from this opinion. Although clearly a moment which is celebrated with much enthusiasm and joy, in what way is the fresh start of the Torah a cause to recite this rare blessing?

Our Sages teach that every word in the Torah can be interpreted in 70 distinct ways. Rav Moshe Tukechinsky, who served as the Mashgiach of the Slabodka yeshiva in B’nei B’rak, suggests that this number is no coincidence. Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 90:10) that the average life span of a person is 70 years. Hashem placed in the Torah a corresponding number of levels so that a person won’t be complacent with his previous understanding, but will seek to discover a new layer of depth in each successive year. However, Rav Tukechinsky adds that it is unreasonable to expect a person to begin this project in the first few years of his life, when his intellect isn’t yet adequately developed for the task. Rather, this lifelong project begins at a person’s Bar Mitzvah, when the Torah considers his mind sufficiently advanced to hold him responsible for his actions. It should come as no surprise that Rav Tukechinsky died at the age of 83.

Rav Moshe Wolfson notes that in secular studies such as mathematics, at the end of each school year the students must turn in their old books and receive new, more advanced books at the beginning of the next year. In contrast, Jews around the world study the very same Torah, Mishnah, and Gemora beginning in their youth and continuing throughout their lives, as the Divine wisdom contained therein may be accessed by each student on his personal level.

Many of us, this author included, grew up with a perfunctory introduction to the basic “stories” of the Bible – Adam and the forbidden fruit, Noach and the flood, Moshe and the ten plagues, and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Although at that point we may have thought that we understood the full depth of the Torah, we are now mature and intelligent enough to recognize the folly and arrogance of this belief. The Mishnah (Avos 5:26) teaches: Delve into it (the Torah), and continue to delve into it, for everything is contained within it. This is a lesson that each of us, no matter where we are on our personal path of Jewish growth, would do well to contemplate and internalize, and it is for this fresh opportunity to do so that we offer our thanks and blessing to Hashem.

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (1:1)

Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (119:160) ראש דברך אמת – Your first utterance is truth. The Baal HaTurim points out that the final letters of the first three words in the Torah (בראשית ברא אלקים) spell the wordאמת, hinting to the fundamental importance of the value of truth in Hashem’s eyes. Indeed, the Gemora in Yoma (69b) teaches that Hashem’s seal is אמת. Further, the final letters of the last verse describing the Creation (בראאלקים לעשות) also spell the word אמת, alluding to the fact that the universe was created with Hashem’s attribute of truth from beginning to end.

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the first verse in the Torah contains every vowel except for one: the shuruk is missing from this verse. He explains that this is because the letters which spell the word shuruk (שרק) can also be rearranged to spell the word שקר, and because Hashem created the world to be a place of truth, there was no room for a shuruk in describing the beginning of the Creation.

It is not only the Written Torah which is emblazoned with Hashem’s seal of truth, but the Oral Torah as well. The Aseres HaDibros begin with the letter א (אנכי), the Mishnah begins with the letter מ (מאימתי), and the Gemora starts with the letter ת (תנא), again spelling the word אמת.

The Vilna Gaon notes that it is not only the Torah itself which is encoded with Hashem’s seal, but even the great commentaries upon it are embossed with this commitment to truth. The Torah forbids (Vayikra 11:42) the consumption of all creeping creatures which slither on their bellies (גחון). Interestingly, Rashi renders the word “belly” as מעים – innards. This would seem to be anatomically imprecise, as בטן would be a more accurate translation. Further, the word גחון appears much earlier in the Torah (3:14), in reference to the punishment of the serpent which tempted Chava, yet Rashi felt no need to explain the meaning of the word until its appearance in Parshas Shemini.

The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that the Gemora in Kiddushin (30a) teaches that the letter “vov” in the word גחון is the middle letter in the Torah. Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with the letter א (אמר רבי יצחק) and ends with the letter ת (יישר כחך אשר שברת). Rashi didn’t feel the need to translate the word גחון, or else he would have done so where it initially appeared. However, because this is the middle of the Torah, and therefore of his commentary, he wanted to explain it using a word beginning with the letter מ to hint that the Torah, along with his Divinely-inspired commentary, is אמת from the start to the middle to the very end.

ולשת גם הוא ילד בן ויקרא את שמו אנוש אז הוחל לקרא בשם ד’ (4:26)

After relating that the third son of Adam and Chava, Sheis, gave birth to a child named Enosh, the Torah records that at that time, people began to call out in the name of Hashem. Although this ostensibly seems like a praiseworthy act, Rashi writes that to the contrary, the generation of Enosh introduced idolatry to the world. Instead of calling out to Hashem, they began to call people and even inanimate objects by the names of Hashem, profanely ascribing to them G-d-like qualities. If this was the case, why does the Torah write the verse in a manner which could be misconstrued as praising their actions?

When Rav Tzvi Hersh Farber arrived in London at the turn of the century, he was worried about the state of the Jewish community that he would find. However, his fears seemed to be misguided when he noticed synagogues which names such as “Shomrei Shabbos” and saw stores proudly advertising that they sell kosher meat. He assumed that the people were just as strong and observant as the communities in Eastern Europe with which he was familiar.

Unfortunately, he quickly realized that his optimistic interpretation was premature and incorrect. In Russia and Poland, there was no need for a synagogue to announce that it catered to those who observed Shabbos because nobody in the community would dream of desecrating Shabbos. The butchers didn’t advertise that they slaughtered animals according to Jewish law because they were all G-d-fearing Jews and nobody would assume otherwise. In this sense, the public declarations of religious observance were in fact testimony to the massive state of spiritual decline in which he found himself. It was only because the overwhelming majority of Jews had abandoned the path of religious observance that the few who remained true to the Torah were required to proclaim their faith.

In light of this incident, Rav Farber humorously suggested that until the generation of Enosh, there was no need to publicly announce one’s faith in Hashem. Everybody believed in one G-d, and there was no reason to suspect somebody of any other belief which would require him to issue a denial. It was precisely when the generation of Enosh introduced idolatry to the world and began a sharp spiritual descent that, just as in London, the few faithful who remained were required to call out in the name of Hashem to publicly declare their faith and separate themselves from the wicked ways of their contemporaries.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):


  1. Rashi writes (1:16) that Hashem initially created the sun and the moon equal in size, but because of an argument made by the moon, He subsequently made it smaller. In order to appease the moon, Hashem gave it the stars to serve and enhance it in the night sky. How did being surrounded by even smaller stars make up for the fact that the moon had been significantly reduced from its original size and glory? (Meged Yosef)
  2. The serpent succeeded in getting Chava to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge by convincing her that doing so wouldn’t cause her death (3:4-6). Immediately after eating the fruit, she gave some to Adam to eat. Rashi explains that she did so out of a fear that after her death, he would remain alive and find another mate. How is it possible that she ate the fruit out of a belief that doing so wouldn’t be fatal, only to fear the aftermath of her impending death? (Taima D’Kra)
  3. For her role in eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Hashem punished Chava (Rashi 3:16) with the difficulty of raising children and with the pain of pregnancy. Wouldn’t it have been more chronologically precise to reverse the curses, as the suffering of pregnancy precedes that of child-raising? (Divrei Dovid, Maharsha Eiruvin 100b, Kehillas Yitzchok, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Ayeles HaShachar, Meged Yosef, Peninei Kedem, M’rafsin Igri)

Answers to Points to Ponder:

1) Quoting his father, Rav Yosef Sorotzkin explains that it is natural for a person who is jealous of the honor accorded to somebody else to comfort himself with the realization that although he may be smaller than the other person, there are still many more people who are even less important than him. Although the moon was diminished and it became smaller than the sun, it was appeased by being surrounded by numerous stars which paled in relative size and made it feel great and important by comparison.

2) Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains that when a person is overcome by a desire, he loses control of his rational thought processes. In this case, Chava had such an urge for the forbidden fruit that she “logically” convinced herself that it posed no threat to her. However, as soon as she gave in to her craving and consumed the fruit, her desire was gone and she was able to assess the situation rationally, at which point she immediately recognized the danger that she had placed herself in.

3) The Taz, Maharil Diskin, and Brisker Rov answer that this curse was directed to Chava, who gave birth to Cain and Hevel prior to eating the forbidden fruit (Sanhedrin 38b). For her, the difficulty of raising children preceded the pain of any future pregnancies, so it was said first. Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains that the curse is that a woman will get pregnant with additional children before she finishes the difficulty of raising those who have already been born. The pain of pregnancy is written second to hint that it exacerbates the pain of raising already-born children. The Steipler suggests that the order of this curse is fulfilled in our generation, when mothers are forced by financial considerations to work outside of the house and young children are babysat by their older sisters. These girls experience the difficulty of raising children (their younger siblings) long before they know the pain of bearing their own children. Rav Yosef Sorotzkin posits that as difficult as a situation may be, the knowledge that it is temporary makes it more bearable. A woman could cope with the difficult nine months of pregnancy if this were the only suffering associated with children. However, the knowledge that the pain will continue without any limit through child-raising exacerbates the pain of the pregnancy, so this curse is written first.

© 2012 by Ozer Alport.

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