Posted on October 15, 2009 (5770) By Rabbi Yochanan Zweig | Series: | Level:


“And Hashem made the two big luminaries, the greater luminary…and the smaller luminary.” (1:16)

Among the various prayers recited at the circumcision ceremony are blessings for the child’s future wellbeing. The onlookers wish for him to enter into marriage, Torah and the performance of good deeds. “Zeh hakatan gadol yihiyeh” – “this small child will be big”, the statement made when naming the child, requires further elaboration. What are we blessing him with by expressing our desire that he become “gadol” – “big”?

The Vilna Gaon teaches that in order to understand the true definition of a word or expression, we should analyze the first time it is used in the Torah. The first occurrence of the contrasting words “katan” and “gadol” is found on the fourth day of Creation, when describing the luminaries. The Torah initially refers to the sun and moon as the “me’oros hagedolim” – “big luminaries”, but then the verse refers to the sun as the “me’or hagadol” – “big luminary” and the moon as the “me’or hakatan” – “small luminary”. Citing the Midrash, Rashi explains that the sun and moon were originally created with equal power, but subsequently, Hashem diminished the moon’s power.1 By what standard is the Torah gauging the size of the sun and moon when it refers to them initially as “gedolim” and subsequently as “gadol” and “katan”?

The Midrash is teaching us that initially the sun and moon were capable of being their own source of light, but Hashem removed from the moon the capacity to produce its own light, and left it capable of only reflecting the light generated by the sun. Therefore, we see that the Torah defines “gadol” as one which is its own source and “katan” as one which has the ability to reflect only that which is generated by another source.

It is this very notion which we express at the circumcision ceremony; a child grows and learns from his parents and teachers, reflecting that with which they imbue him. We wish for that child that he reach a stage in his development when he will harness all he has learned, and become a “gadol”, a source radiating his own light for others to reflect.[2]

2.It has been brought to my attention that the same insight has been made by HaRav Y.D. Soleveitchik ZT”L- M.S.

Thought For Food

“Behold I have given to you all herbage yielding seed.” (1:29)

Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the redactor of the Mishna, categorized the Oral Torah into six Orders. The titles conferred upon each of these Orders reflect the underlying theme contained within the Tractates of which the Orders are comprised. The second Order discusses all the laws that are found in connection to the holidays celebrated during the Jewish calendar year. It is therefore appropriately named “Moed” – “Designated Time”. Similarly, the third Order, which deals primarily with the laws governing the interpersonal relationships between men and women is aptly titled “Nashim” – “Women”. The first Order elaborates upon all the spiritual preparations that a Jew must make before he is permitted to partake of the physical benefits of this world. The first Tractate in this Order delineates the various blessings associated with different foods, and the subsequent Tractates deal with the agricultural laws.1 With the exception of kilayim, which discusses the laws prohibiting the intermingling of seeds from different species, all of the laws are only applicable to produce and foods in their completed form. Why, then, is the first order of the Mishna called “Zera’im” – “Seeds”, a word which represents produce in its initial form?

At the conclusion of creation, when Hashem instructs Adam as to the foods of which he may partake, He states that “all herbage yielding seed and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit shall be yours for food”.[2] Although all produce has the quality of self-perpetuation through the seeds contained within them, this notion has already been discussed on the third day of creation.[3] Why, then, does Hashem repeat this characteristic in His instruction to Adam? Furthermore, in the very next verse, when the Torah records the foods from which the animal kingdom may partake, why is there no mention made of the fact that their food contains seeds as well?[4]

Hashem is instructing man that even though he has been granted permission to partake of the produce of this world, it is still man’s responsibility to insure that his consumption does not lead to the depletion of the world’s resources. This message is given to Adam by Hashem stressing that all produce was created with the ability to perpetuate itself. Adam is being notified that he has access to the benefits of this world, not indiscriminate rights. This explains why the description of produce containing seeds is not mentioned in reference to the animals, for such a message can be delivered to man alone. An animal cannot be instructed to ensure that the world’s resources are not depleted.

The first Order of the Mishna deals with the blessing which we are required to make prior to eating, as well as all of the agricultural mitzvos that are prerequisites for the consumption of produce. The compiler of the Mishna, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi is delivering the same message that is found in the Torah; the message of “seeds”. Even when we have performed all the requirements which permit consumption of food, we must still remember that we may only partake, and not deplete the world of its resources.

1.See Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishna