11 Jan 2017 From Bereishis to Vayechi: The Beginning, The Middle, The End
As we once again conclude the first book of the Torah this Shabbos, perhaps it is appropriate to reflect on some lessons learned from Sefer Bereishis. In the Beginning. Bereishis. The Beginning.
Sefer Bereishis is also known as: Sefer ha’Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. Sefer ha’Yashar: The Book of the Straight. Sefer ha’Simanim: The Book of Omens.
In this book the world was created, and in this book, Knesses Yisrael was formed. In this book, we meet the patriarchs and matriarchs, who lived committed, straight, dedicated, passionate lives. In this book, are the simanim, the omens, of all future events that will occur to, and befall, our people.
Bereishis barah Elokim… In the Beginning, G-d created… Vayechi Yaakov b’eretz Mitzrayim… At the End, Yaakov lived – and died – in the land of Egypt.
It is a book of passion and emotion, love and hatred, fears and tears, parents and children, brothers and sisters, patriarchs and matriarchs, births and deaths. In it is embedded the story of humanity, and the story of our nation, from time immemorial.
From Adam and Chava we learn of sin and weakness; and yet, the gift of forgiveness. Though she brought death to the world when she took of, and ate from, the eitz ha’daas, Adam named her Chava: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי – for she is the mother of all living beings.
From Kayin and Hevel, we learn of the extreme dangers of jealousy and insecurity; and yet, Hashem never removes himself entirely from a person. For immediately after the murder: And Hashem – G-d of Mercy – said to Kayin, “Where is Hevel your brother?” Even Kayin is given a chance to repent, even to Kayin Hashem speaks!
From Noach we learn about diligence and submission to the word of G-d; G-d said ‘Build’ and Noach built. G-d said ‘Enter’, and Noach entered. G-d said ‘Go out’, and Noach went out! And yet; Noach – passive, quiet, takes-no-initiative Noach, is blamed for the flood waters, for he did not utter even one prayer on behalf of his generation. Perhaps with prayer, perhaps, they would have been saved…
From Avraham Avinu we learn to recognize, believe in, worship, revere, love and accept the rulership of G-d, even when we may be utterly alone in our beliefs. For Avraham was truly the embodiment of Ivri – the man “on the other side.” While the whole world believed in one way, he knew the emes and dedicated his entire life to Hashem. For now I know that you, Avraham, are a yirei Elokim, a G-d fearing person.
From Sarah and Rivka, two of our matriarchs, we learn to be quiet in quiet times. “Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visiting angels inquired. “She is in the tent, of course.” Tzanuah hi – she is modest! Rashi declares. Of course she is in the tent. And yet, in the turbulent times, in the confusing times, in the dark times – All that Sarah tells you, listen to her voice – the strong, quiet, courageous matriarch steps out of the folds of the tent and takes charge to ensure the continuity and destiny of Klal Yisrael. As for Rivka: And now my son, she declares, as she orchestrates that the brachos shall go to Yaakov (and not Eisav), שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי–לַאֲשֶׁר אֲנִי, מְצַוָּה אֹתָךְ – listen to my voice, to what I am commanding you to do.
From our second patriarch, elusive Yitzchak Avinu, we learn that sometimes the highest levels of avodas Hashem occur quietly, away from the limelight. For while not much is known about Yitzchak from the Torah text, he is the olam temimah – the pure sacrifice – so holy, he was never allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael.
From Yaakov, the bechir she’b’Avos – the choicest of the patriarchs – whose life story is told through the last seven chapters of the book of Bereishis (!), we learn of life.
Yaakov’s deals with the threat of the external enemy in the form of Eisav and Lavan; Yaakov must contend with the deep emotions and pain, the love and longing, the sacrifices and courage, of his two wives, Rachel and Leah; through the abduction and violation of his daughter, Dina, Yaakov and his family face the threat of assimilation.
With the story of Yosef, Yaakov must face the turbulence that roils his own home, as his sons perceive beloved, dreaming, favored Yosef as a threat from within. So severe is the animosity between brothers, that Yosef is disposed of and unheard from for twenty-two long and lonely years.
From Yaakov we learn of life’s struggles that may try to bring us down, and from Yaakov we learn of the ability of Yisrael to arise from each battle, ready to move forward, to face the next challenge life may bring.
And from Yosef, the master of dreams, we learn of perseverance, of never giving up on one’s dreams, of always believing in a Just and Kind G-d, even if He remains hidden and silent throughout one’s troubles. From Yosef, the Hebrew-lad-turned-slave, we learn that even the gravest of sins, committed by one’s own brothers, can be forgiven, and seen as the guiding hand of G-d directing one’s fate. From Yosef ha’Ivri we learn that even in exile, even in the impurity of Egypt, even from the highest echelons of power, one can live, die and be buried as Jew, faithful to the ways of Avraham ha’Ivri. And from Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, we learn to never give up hopes of redemption and return to the Holy Land.
Bereishis. From a book of many new beginnings, from a book that opens with a primordial chaos, darkness darker than the deep, and the spirit of G-d hovering over the face of the waters, the glorious nation of Israel is formed.
As we reel from the terrible losses of this past week, as we mourn for our young children brutally taken as they walked the streets of our holy city, as we shed yet another tear over more spilled Jewish blood, and as we all strive to find the light within the darkness, let us recall the unwavering, unshakeable, unbreakable faith of Yosef ha’Tzaddik. Until his dying day, he never lost his faith or trust in Hashem.
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו, אָנֹכִי מֵת; ואלקים פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֶתְכֶם, וְהֶעֱלָה אֶתְכֶם מִן-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב – And Yosef said to his brothers, I am going to die, and (nevertheless, do not give up hope! For) G-d will surely redeem you, and He will bring you up from this land (of Egypt), to the land that He promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov;
וַיַּשְׁבַּע יוֹסֵף, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אלקים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִתֶם אֶת-עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה – And Yosef had the children of Israel swear, saying: Elokim will surely redeem you, and (when you get out of this land of exile, I beg of you to please) take my bones up with you from here.
Bereishis. In The Beginning… Vayechi Yaakov… In The End.
For Yaakov and his children, the Bnei Yisrael, the End of one book is only the Beginning of another, as Knesses Yisrael continue to thrive and flourish, grow and yearn, live and die, always as Jews, yearning – as our fathers did before us – for the End of days, which will herald a glorious new Beginning.
May it be immediate and in our days, amen v’amen.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,