Starting from the very beginning



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

In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth (1:1)


With great excitement, we started this week In our Shtheul very first tractate of the Shas in Masechet Berachot, and one of the questions ‏we have been discussing is why the very first page begins with the letter Bet and not with the first letter Aleph? We came up with different answers, and perhaps we can find a satisfactory answer from this week's Parasha; Parashat Bereshit

The very first verse starts with the letter Bet בראשית in the beginning. When God set out to create the world, all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet clamored for the honor of beginning the Creation narrative (Midrash Otiyot D'Rabbi Akiva). Ultimately Bet was chosen. Aleph as the first letter of the alphabet, protested, but God reassured it, "When it comes time for the Giving of the Torah, I shall begin with you alone. I [אנכי] am Hashem, your God" (Shemot 20:1) (Bereshit Rabbah).

This Midrash shows that of the two most important events in world history, Creation and the Giving of the Torah, the latter was the greater. In fact, the entire purpose of Creation was so that the Jewish people could keep the Torah "If not for My covenant day and night, I would never have laid down the laws of heaven and earth" (Yirmiyahu 33:25).

Bet comes before Aleph this time, because in implementing a plan, means must precede the ends they serve. In terms of God's thoughts, however, the Torah came first in importance: "God told the universe, 'If the Jewish people accept the Torah, well and good. Otherwise, I shall return you to chaos" (Shabbat 38). Thus, the Torah preceded Creation, for the world cannot exist without it.

Additionally, as King David says in Tehillim (111:10), ראשית חכמה יראת השם, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem. It is proper that when a person begins to acquire wisdom, he implants in himself the fear of Hashem for it is accounted as good understanding for all who do this. Such a person will be praised forever for his wisdom and it will endure. This is not the case with a person whose fear does not precede his wisdom (Mezudat David)

With that insight we can understand why the Gemara starts with the second letter Bet because before Bet we need to practice Aleph "אנכי ה' אלוהיך", I am Hashem your God. After observing and understanding the concept of God-fearing, we can go further and deeper to learning about the Commandments and following the instructions.

With this in mind, we can understand why it is that the Holy Torah doesn't begin with the commandant of the new moon, the first law that was addressed to all of Jewry as a nation, since the Torah is not a history book but the charter of Man's mission in the universe.

Rashi cites Rav Yitzchak, who explains that the reason for the Torah's narrative of Creation is to establish that God is the Sovereign of the universe. He declared to His people the power of His works in order to give them the heritage of the nations (Psalms 111:6). If the nations accuse Israel of banditry for seizing the lands of the seven nations of Canaan, Israel can respond, "The entire universe belongs to God. He created it and He granted it to whomever He deemed fit. It was His desire to give it to them and then it was His desire to take it from them and give it to us." This beautiful answer can answer our question also. Just as Hashem didn’t start the Torah with laws but rather an introduction to creation, so too the Gemara begins with daf Bet before Alef to instill in us that before we can start to learn the Torah, we need to remember who gave us the Torah and why are we learning the Torah. Only after we have this understanding can we truly begin to learn Torah.

Have a wonderful Shabbat

Rabbi Eliyahu Tal




©2020 by Rabbi Biton - The Jewish Experience CT

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