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Parshas Bereishis

What Ends Must Have Begun!

Volume 27, No. 1

Sponsored by the Parness family in memory of Anna Parness a”h

Robert & Hannah Klein in memory of her mother Rus bat Aharon Hakohen

The Neugroschl family in memory of Alexander ben Yitzchak a”h (13 Tishrei); Rachel bat Genendel, Rivka bat Rachel and Yaakov ben Yisrael Hy”d (killed in Auschwitz - 14 Tishrei); and Yisrael ben Dan a”h (20 Tishrei)

With gratitude to Hashem, we now begin the 27th cycle of Hamaayan / The Torah Spring. Thank you to our readers for your continued support.

R’ Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz z”l (the Shelah Ha’kadosh; died 1630) writes: Know that Shabbat alludes to the foundation of our emunah and the foundation of the Torah, for it alludes to the beginning of existence, which, in turn, alludes to the presence of a Creator. That Creator is none other than He Who always existed and always will exist, and Who caused everything else to exist, as alluded to in His Name, Y-K-V-K, which (in Hebrew) hints at the statements: He is, He was, He will be, and He causes everything to be.

The Shelah Ha’kadosh continues: How does Shabbat allude to the beginning of existence? Shabbat marks the end of Creation, when G-d “rested.” If G-d had not rested on the seventh day, He would have gone on creating forever. This would have suggested that He similarly had been creating forever and that there was no beginning to existence [as some Greek philosophers believed].

But, since He did stop creating new things, everything that exists is merely a re-creation of what He created during the six days of Creation. Each week is like the week before, which was like the week before it. In truth, G-d creates everything anew every day, but that is only a repetition of the act of Creation which He did in the beginning. This re-creation occurs constantly under Hashem’s hashgachah / direction.

The Shelah Ha’kadosh concludes: Thus, Shabbat testifies to the world having a beginning, as we read (Shmot 31:17), “in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Shnei Luchot Ha’brit: Masechet Shabbat, Torah Ohr)

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“God said, ‘Let us make man . . .’” (1:26)

R’ Menashe ben Yisrael z”l (Amsterdam; 1604-1658; best known for his mission to persuade Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to live in England) writes: Regarding all of the other creations, G-d said, “Let there be,” i.e., He did not associate himself with them. In contrast, when He created man, He associated himself with the act (“Let us make”) due to the man’s inherent greatness. And, He thereby showed us a line, in the very first chapter of the Torah, between that which is holy (man) and that which is not (animals). The reason man is holy, of course, is because he has within him a Divine soul. (Nishmat Chaim Part I ch.1)

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“God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” (1:31)

The Midrash Rabbah states: “Good”--this is the yetzer ha’tov / man’s good inclination. “Very good”--this is the yetzer ha’ra / man’s inclination to sin.

Why is the yetzer ha’ra called “very good”? R’ Aryeh Leib Hakohen Heller z”l (1745-1812; author of Ketzot Ha’choshen) explains: There are some things that become stronger when they face opposition. For example, when water is poured on a fire, the flames shoot-up higher. Similarly, a person who faces a challenge can become greater than a person who does not face a challenge. Thus, the yetzer ha’tov is “good,” but the yetzer ha’ra is “very good.” (Shev Shematita: Introduction, letter “vav”)

A related thought:

The Gemara (Shabbat 55b) states that there were four people in history who died “by the advice of the serpent,” i.e., they died only because death was decreed upon mankind after Chava listened to the serpent and ate from the Etz Ha’da’at / Tree of Knowledge. These four were: Binyamin, son of Yaakov Avinu; Amram, father of Moshe Rabbeinu; Yishai, father of King David; and Kilav, son of King David.

R’ Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z”l (Maharsha; 1555-1632) observes that although these four never sinned, they are not considered to be the greatest people who ever lived; certainly not as great as Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Ha’kohen!

Why not? R’ Yisroel Reisman shlita (Brooklyn, N.Y.) suggests that it is because Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Ha’kohen faced greater challenges than did these four tzaddikim. Although the former two did not successfully endure all of their challenges, they were still greater than those who never failed because they were not challenged as much. (From a Motza’ei Shabbat Navi Shiur)

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“Of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, you must not eat; for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (2:17)

R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) writes: If Adam had not eaten from the Tree and contaminated his soul, he would have lived forever. The reason is that man is a combination of a spiritual, supernatural soul and a material, natural body. As long as man did not sin, his existence was not dependent on nature. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, in contrast, was purely natural, with no spiritual content. Accordingly, G-d directed Adam not to eat it. Adam was to trust that G-d could sustain him. When Adam disregarded G-d’s command, he subjected himself to the forces of nature, one of which is death. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim: Potei’ach Yad)

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“Kayin left the presence of Hashem . . .” (4:16)

The Midrash Rabbah comments: After Kayin finished his discussion with Hashem, he met Adam, who asked the outcome of Kayin’s judgment. Kayin replied, “I did teshuvah and a compromise was reached [i.e., the decree that he would have to wander for the rest of his life was softened].”

Adam replied: “Is the power of teshuvah that great?” [Until here from the midrash]

R’ Moshe Roberts shlita (Chicago, Illinois) asks: Our Sages teach that teshuvah was created before the rest of the world, and R’ Moshe Tirani z”l (1500-1580) explains this to mean that the possibility of teshuvah is necessary for the world’s existence, since it is inevitable that mortal man will sin (see Bet Elokim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah, ch.1). If so, how could Adam not have been aware that teshuvah atones?

R’ Roberts explains: There are three kinds of teshuvah – repentance motivated by love of Hashem, repentance motivated by fear of Hashem, and repentance motivated by suffering. Adam was aware of the existence of teshuvah, but only the first two types. Kayin’s teshuvah, however, was of the third type, which is the lowest level. When Adam heard that even teshuvah motivated by suffering is accepted to some degree, he exclaimed, “Is the power of teshuvah that great?!” (Beit Moshe: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah, p.14)

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Elsewhere in the Torah . . .

“Praiseworthy are those whose way is perfect, who walk with the Torah of Hashem.” (Tehilim 119:1)

R’ Shmuel d’Ouzida z”l (Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael; late 1500s) writes: There are many things which happen to be prohibited by Torah which people don’t do out of disgust or because of social mores–for example, drinking blood and eating rodents. This verse is teaching: “Praiseworthy are those whose way is perfect, [but who choose that path in order to] walk with the Torah of Hashem, [not for their own reasons].” (Peirush Mi’ktav Yad)

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Letters from Our Sages

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by R’ Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel z”l Hy”d (1885-1945), rabbi of and rosh yeshiva in Piešťany, Czechoslovakia. He is best known for his work Eim Ha’banim Smeichah regarding the resettling of Eretz Yisrael.

We read (Devarim 33:4), “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the morashah / heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov.” The Gemara (Berachot 57a) comments on this verse, “Do not read ‘morashah’ but rather ‘me’orasah’ / betrothed.” The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19b) further teaches, “In the beginning, the Torah is called by G-d’s Name, and later it is called by man’s name, as it is written (Tehilim 1:2), ‘His desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in his Torah he meditates day and night’.” This means that before a person toils in Torah study, it is not his, but after he toils in Torah study, it is his. This is the meaning of the first Gemara cited as well: The Torah does not start out being a person’s inheritance. First it his betrothed, and only after hard work is it his to call by his name.

According to this, the reason the two people who receive the aliyot that conclude and begin the Torah on Simchat Torah are called “Chatan Torah” and “Chatan Bereishit”--“chatan” being the word for bridegroom--may be to remind them that even though the Torah has been completed, they should know that they are like grooms at the time of betrothal who must build their relationships with the Torah. (She’eilot U’teshuvot Mishnat Sachir: Even Ha’ezer No.1)


The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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