EVERYTHING THAT HAS a beginning, has an ending, but in this case, it is the ending that has a beginning. We finished with Zos HaBrochah, and here we are again at Bereishis, starting all over. We’ve been doing it now for thousands of years all over the world. If we ever get to Mars, we’ll do it there too.
The amazing thing is how many times people can do it without ever wondering what lies beyond the simple words, “In the beginning, God made the Heaven and the Earth.” You mean, just like that? Well, no. One of the main reasons that Rebi Shimon bar Yochai is famous, and the Arizal as well much later on, is because they expanded those words into kabbalistic dissertations, many, many volumes of kabbalistic dissertations.
Do we need to know them? It’s like asking if the average person needs to know what happens to a baby from conception to birth. Most of us are just concerned about what happens from the time of birth when our lives as we know them actually begin, and we leave the pre-birth stuff to the doctors. But is that necessarily the best approach? Is there anything from the pre-natal period that can help us with life post-natal?
Of course. Unquestionably. But that doesn’t mean that the average person is going to feel the need to do so. “That’s why we pay doctors,” some will say. The trouble is, by the time we get to a doctor about some problem, it is often very late and, in some cases, too late.
In any case, for anyone interested in taking a look under the hood of Creation, I just wrote a book that does that called, “What’s Really Going On: A Kabbalistic Look Under the Hood of Creation.” It is available in Kindle and paperback formats through Amazon, and as a PDF file through my site (www.thirtysix.org). Even I was amazed while writing it where some of my research brought me.
In the meantime, how would you feel if you built a house to live in and while you were gone, someone moved in instead and turned it into a bar and nightclub? Or let’s say you forgot your tefillin on a public bench, only to come back and see children playing with them like cheap toys? Would you not feel wronged, perhaps even violated?
Now, though it is true that God does not feel any pain, He acts as if He does, at least for us. So imagine how God must “feel” watching mankind use His holy Creation that He made for a very specific purpose, in a very specific different purpose? Just a simple act of throwing waste on the ground is an abuse of Creation, so how much more so using Creation to a personal end not in line with its purpose.
Perhaps that is one of the main reasons why we start the Torah all over again each year. It’s a good reminder of Who made Creation and why, before history gets confusing and convoluted. Taking us back to the “beginning” allows us to “see” how God preceded it all, made it all before man steals the stage and makes life super distracting, as he is wont to do.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT that is part of the Bereishis Story is the transformation of man. What we see is what we get, but not what always was. The story of Creation from the beginning of Parashas Bereishis until its end seems like one continuous flow. Ya, man sinned and ruined everything. But other than that, everything is basically the same, right?
Wrong. Everything is dramatically different. When Adam HaRishon sinned, he brought an abrupt end to the first part of history. Even the quality of time changed. The physical world you see around you? It wasn’t like that at all, including the rest of the universe. That physical person you see when you look in the mirror? You wouldn’t be able to see them today, not in the mirror and not straight on. All of it would be invisible to some from our time, just as an angel is.
I know it sounds rather fairytailish because it did once to me as well. But that’s just because we have grown up thinking that this world is the one that has always existed, or at least this way. It is the same world that was created, but its nature was dramatically changed because of Adam’s sin. But the only books that speak about that are the really holy ones (Zohar, Arizal, etc.), and how many people learn them?
It wouldn’t make a difference if it wasn’t for the fact that it is the way we’re supposed to be, and will be again one day. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that everything we do is supposed to be to eventually return us back to that state. It may not be relevant to us now in practice, but it is certainly relevant to us now in theory.
For example, one major change from before and after is the yetzer hara. It’s only really impacted us since the sin of “eating” from the Aitz HaDa’as. And even then it was external to us, only really becoming internal once Kayin and Hevel were born. That’s when the yetzer hara moved in, took the best room in the house, and decided to stay for good.
That too we have accepted as being the most normal thing in the world. Difficult, but normal. Far from it. When Adam was first created, the yetzer hara wasn’t even in the Garden. He didn’t have one evil bone in his body, and there wasn’t one in the entire Garden as well. Only once he got involved with the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra, and even before eating, did that begin to change. First it came as the snake, and then it was absorbed into our being. With few exceptions in history, we have no idea what it means to not be influenced by our yetzer hara.
But if you take a couple of steps back and look at society as a whole, you can see what it means to be subservient to the yetzer hara, and that’s with a Torah in the world! Just take note of the amount of heresy around the globe, and how many services we have developed just to cater to our physical drives and whims. There was no junk food before the yetzer hara came around, nor would there have been had it never entered the Garden of Eden…which leads to another fundamental before-and-after difference.
If, as a child, someone had offered me a choice between candy and a connection to God, it would have been an easy one. The candy. Even as an adult I have to work it through sometimes to choose the God connection. Pleasure from a candy is just a wrapper away. Pleasure from a God connection takes much more work, and even then it usually doesn’t provide the same level of gratification. Let’s face it, if prayer wasn’t an obligation many would skip it, and many do.
In fact, they skip the whole thing. They avoid religion altogether for a fun-packed secular life. They will argue that it is the more logical choice, but that is just a cover for a yetzer hara-friendly lifestyle. Because anyone I have ever met who wanted to know the truth about life before ignoring religion thoroughly investigated it first, and usually became religious as a result. Only one person ever told me, “You know, you’re right about what you said, but I’m steering clear of it anyhow.”
That is the danger of knowing good and evil. If you knew nothing before it, then it is a big step up. But if you began on the level of truth and false, then it is a big step down. Truth becomes murky and, eventually, just opinions, something that has been evolving for thousands of years but has really become prevalent with the help of social media. A lie said often enough becomes the truth for those who say it…especially since God is patient enough to let people hang themselves by it.
A convenient truth is usually a lie.
ONCE I was on my way to a friend’s wedding somewhere in Jerusalem, with my family. It is normally a 20-minute drive from where I live (just outside Jerusalem). That day, at 5 pm, it was particularly backed up, so I decided on an alternative route to get onto the highway.
That meant going in the opposite direction on the highway for about a minute, exiting, and then getting back on the highway in the right direction. But at the moment I was supposed to get into the right lane for a quick exit, my son asked me to change the CD, and as I did I missed the exit.
That was a problem. The next exit was much further away in the wrong direction, and getting back on the highway in the right direction was even harder. But I had no choice, so I continued going farther away from my destination, which began to distress me.
That was not the end of it though. Once off the highway and traveling down the road I had to take to turn around, I did not recognize exist and missed that too. It felt as if something was taking me further away from my destination against my will, and it was very disconcerting. I was clearly upset, and everyone in the car knew to stay quiet at that point. I had already blamed the CD fiasco for the original mistake.
I finally found a side street to turn left on in order to turn the car around. It was a single-lane road with no traffic, probably a service road to some businesses that were closed at the time. After making the left, I went a little further down the road before making a U-turn to get back onto the road that would eventually lead me back to the highway. I was starting to think about going back home instead, no longer in the mood for a wedding.
After my U-turn I made a right back onto the road to the highway, going in the right direction, so to speak, for the first time that night. But my relief was short-lived because within moments, there was a flashing light behind me telling me to pull over. It was a white unmarked police car that I had not noticed until then. What had I done wrong, besides leaving for the wedding in the first place?
It turned out that I had made my U-turn too early and had crossed a solid white line that I had even known was there. That was a 500 shekel ticket and points. Bad had gotten worse, which had become even worse. Someone was out to get me.
Not only was I apologetic, but I even told the policeman the entire story, though I don’t know why. His shoulder was not one to cry on. Nevertheless, my demeanor seemed to draw out some mercy, because he forgave me the points and halved the fine. But it was still a ridiculous 250 shekels I shouldn’t have had to pay, had I simply had a normal drive. Talk about long short cuts.
Twenty years later I have not forgotten what the policeman told me as he gave me my ticket. He said, “I never sit there, and wondered what I would catch at that location. Then you came along.” Talk about salt in a wound, and popping a balloon. Needless to say, by the time we got back onto the highway in the right direction we had all decided to go back home instead. We made a barbecue to turn “lemons into lemonade,” but I have to say that I had never experienced such a fiasco before that night, nor since, and hopefully, will never again, b”H.
Why have I told you this story? Because it reminds me, believe it or not, about mankind and Creation. We started off in the right direction, but took a shortcut by prematurely eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We were expelled from Paradise to right the wrong, but have been driving in the opposite direction ever since. The difference is that I knew I was going in the wrong direction, and it distressed me. Most of mankind thinks it’s on track and is having the time of its life. That makes turning around a lot more difficult.
But another major difference is that I could only get back on track once I finally turned my car around. With Creation, it is always going where it has to go even when it seems to be going in the opposite direction because God is really the One driving. We can’t always see that now, but one day it will become clear to all, and it will amaze us to no end.
But that does not mean that people who seem to misdirect mankind are not accountable for doing so, and that the people who try to get history back on Torah course do not get rewarded for trying. As God told Moshe Rabbeinu who asked, “How is it possible for a human being to erect it [the Mishkan]?”
“You work with your hand.” (Rashi, Shemos 39:33)
In other words, Moshe appeared to be the one erecting the Mishkan, but in actuality, it arose as a result of a miracle, as it says: “the Mishkan was set up” (Shemos 40:17). Likewise, we have to respond to history as it appears to us, and leave the actual driving of it to God.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 22
DURING MY excursion mentioned above, I had a difficult time remaining calm. First of all, we kept going in the wrong direction with few chances to course-correct. Secondly, we were on a schedule, and that was getting smashed to pieces each minute we drove in the opposite direction of our destination. The plan had been to stop by the wedding for a bit, and then continue on to my brother-in-law’s for a family barbecue, which was even further in the other direction.
Getting caught and ticketed by the police for such a ridiculous violation (the solid line was too long for such a side street) just made the whole event seem like a big waste of time. And by the time we finally got back onto the highway in the right direction, the traffic was so far backed up still that we would have been way too late for the chupah that we had planned to attend. I have lost my cool over far less aggravating situations.
But there was a nagging voice the whole time, and it just kept getting louder every time the situation seemed to get worse for no reason known to me. “It’s min HaShamayim—it’s from Heaven.” The whole thing was hashgochah pratis—divine providence. It was no accident, but God deliberately doing all of it to me.
When it was all said and done, and we had returned home and made our own barbecue, I had finally calmed down enough to reflect on what had happened. All the anger was gone. All the distress had ended. I was even moving on past my 250 shekel fine. The only thing left bugging me was how I had acted contrary to my supposed belief in ain od Milvado. At that time, it no longer felt like I was the victim of some cruel force, but tested by God in my belief that He runs the world, all of it.
I don’t know how God graded me, but I gave myself an F, and hoped that somehow, I wouldn’t have to repeat the “course.” I also hope that even if I did fail that test, somehow it has since helped me pass others like it. Clearly, I had not been prepared for such a test (who ever is?), and that was my mistake. As I learned that day, such preparation does not occur at the moment of crisis, but during the quiet times when we have the presence of minad to integrate the idea that there really is none other than God.