It is with great excitement and anticipation that we should greet this Shabbos. Once again we are beginning the yearly review and study of G-d’s Torah! It is a quest that can be new and exhilarating, if we have the correct attitude.
Parsha Bereshis is the starting point of a new adventure as we explore G-d’s word and attempt to uncover the depths of His instructions. The first time we visit a place, meet a person, read a book, or hear a song, we focus on the overtly interesting and different. It takes revisiting a place, spending time with a friend, rereading a book, and reviewing a song to perceive and then appreciate the existing subtleties nuances, qualities, relationships and harmonies. Unfortunately, because of our tendency to take things for granted we are indifferent to the novelties within reviewed experiences and ignore the potential knowledge, excitement, and adventure.
The Mishnah tells us regarding the study of Torah, “Study the Torah from every possible angle because everything is contained in the Torah.” One of the unique qualities of Torah study is the countless insights and lessons revealed with each review. Each examination builds on the preceding analysis and either expands or challenges our understanding of G-d’s expectations. Therefore, we should greet each and every review opportunity with anticipation and expectation. “Every day the Torah should be in your eyes as brand new!”
From the beginning of Bereshis to the end of V’zos Haberacha, the focus of the Torah is separation and speciation. Regarding the story of creation (as well as such Mitzvos as the laws of Kashrus, Shatnez (mixture of wool and linnen), and the commandment against agricultural grafting) Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes: “These constant reminders are designed to admonish us to revere G-d as the Lawgiver also for our own species, to permit His Law to rule also over our own drives and energies, and to translate His Law into reality in all our activities.
It is true that we have certain energies, drives and developmental phases in common with plants and animals. We are born, we take nourishment, we grow, we age and finally we die. Nevertheless, G-d has created us to be a particular, higher species among living things because we are human beings, and among human beings He has appointed us to be a particular species as Jews. He has set down the law for both man and Jew.”
The divisions between light and darkness, day and night, heaven and earth, land and sea, species and species, human and all other creations, man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, and ultimately, good and bad, establishes separation and speciation as an immutable law of nature. Any attempt at blurring or eliminating the established distinctions between the basic elements of our universe is in direct conflict with the laws of nature and G-d’s will.
The purpose of speciation is to establish a clear demarcation between the innumerable elements of G-d’s universe and focus us on what has to have been G-d’s specific intention in creating each and every one of them. G-d’s intention should generate in us a sense of responsibility and appreciation for each other and all of nature. If we misuse or waste G-d’s creations we deny G-d’s purpose and deny G-d’s dominion over nature and ourselves.
At the end of V’zos Haberacha, Moshe’s final words to his nation are, “True progress is yours, O Yisrael; who is like you, O people saved by G-d, the Shield of your help…
Imagine if you can, the year 2488 after creation. We are standing in the western plains of Moav, at the foot of Har Nebo, facing Yericho and the banks of the Jordan River. Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential “Man of G-d, the greatest of all prophets, is about to die. The single most extraordinary era in human history is about to end, and Moshe is speaking his final words. How much attention and importance would we have conferred upon those last moments and words?
You must allow your imaginations to conjure up to the vision of a nation holding its collective breath. Nature herself has been silenced by the awesomeness of the moment. Parents are holding their children aloft on their shoulders so that Moshe’s final moment and the words will be engraved upon their hearts and minds.
Moshe’s voice is clear and strong, denying the momentousness of the occasion and the 120 years of his extraordinary life. With singular focus and absolute concentration we hang onto every echo of Moshe’s divine voice. His blessings stir within us a primal yearning to be intimate with G-d and embrace our responsibilities as the Chosen People. Bittersweet emotions threaten to overwhelm our concentration as we realize that we are witnessing an unparalleled event in human history.
Finally, Moshe’s final words reach us as tears freely flow down the face of a nation. “…O Yisrael; who is like you, O people saved by G-d…” His last words lift our spirits as our souls soar upward in exaltation and pride. We are the Chosen People! We are G-d’s most cherished possession! We are His kingdom of priests and His holy nation! We are different from all the other nations. We alone were given G-d’s Torah through the voice of Moshe, His most trusted servant!
We, as representatives of humanity, are the intended goal of creation and history. We are a society guided by principles of divine compassion, forgiveness, and love. We are an extended family that embraces individuality within the encompassing demands of obedience. We are a nation fueled by fervent passions and steered by profound intellect. We are the reason why G-d established separation and speciation.
As we once again embark on our journey through Chumash, it is important that we recall the spiritual imprint of Moshe’s final words. Simchas Torah precedes Shabbos Bereshis. It is our collective Siyum (ending) of the Torah, as well as our collective beginning. As momentous as the Siyum Hashas (conclusion of the Talmud) was as 100,00 people learned, sang, and danced together, remember that our yearly Siyum of the Torah is collectively celebrated by millions, not thousands!
May the coming year be filled with the excitement and joy of a community reveling in the uniqueness of our designation as the “Nation of Torah, and the guardians of Moshe’s final words.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.