20 Oct 2022 Parshas Bereishis: Three Lessons From The Beginning
Bereishis 5783, Baruch she’he’chiyanu v’ki’yimanu v’hi’gi’yanu la’zman hazeh!
Parshas Bereishis: Creation, Adam and Isha, the first sin, the first murder, exile, the generations from Adam to Noach, the corruption of man upon the earth. In a parsha more esoteric than revealed, in narratives beyond our comprehension, and in lessons about the foundations of our world as we know it – and before it was as we know it – we begin our journey and cycle through Torah once again. The Torah opens with: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקְים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ – In the beginning, Elokim created the heavens and the earth (Bereishis 1:1). There are worlds (pun intended) to learn, say, darshan and write about this pasuk, but as we are mortals and time is more limited than we would like, I will share three insights with you.
(I) Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman, in Short and Sweet on the Parsha (Feldheim), teaches in the name of Midrash HaNe’elam that the letters of the word בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית can be rearranged to spell the words שיר תאב, which means ‘desires song.’ This hints to the idea that everything that Hashem created in the entire creation desires to sing praise to HKB”H by announcing the existence of the Creator and fulfilling His will (Short and Sweet on the Parsha, p.4).
From here we learn that an integral part of our existence as ovdei Hashem, as created beings, is the avodah of singing shira to Hashem. As King David instructs us, עִבְדוּ אֶת–ה’ בְּשִׂמְחָה בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה – serve Hashem with simcha (gladness and joy), come before Him with song (Tehillim 100:2). It is not sufficient to serve Hashem by carrying out the mitzvos by rote, but rather, we must be moved to the depths of our soul from the joy of Torah and mitzvos, and sing (proverbially and, at times, literally) to the Creator for the zechus of being His nation.
In regard to the power of song in avodas Hashem, when Moshe entreated Hashem to be granted entry into Eretz Yisrael, Moshe said about his prayers: וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־ה’ בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר, I pleaded with Hashem at that time saying (Devarim 3:23). The Ba’al Ha’Turim teaches: ואתחנן בגימטרי‘ שירה שאמר לפניו שירה כדי שישמע תפלתו – that ואתחנן in numeric value equals שירה, song, to teach you that Moshe sang before Hashem, so that He would heard his prayers (ibid).
Not only does the power of shira stir our soul, but it elevates our prayers to higher heights, so that the RS”O may hear – and accept – our prayers.
(II) Rabbi Bregman further writes a tremendous insight of the Vilna Gaon (Short and Sweet on the Parsha, p.4). The word בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית is the roshei teivos (an acronym) for the most important values in the life of a Jew:
בראשית = בטחון, רצון, אהבה, שתיקה, יראה, תורה
How does the entire Torah begin? By alluding to the most fundamental concepts and foundations upon which a Jew must build his life?
Bitachon – trust; ratzon – desire to serve Hashem; ahava – love of G-d; sh’tikah – silence and knowing when to hold our tongue; yirah – reverence of G-d; and finally, Torah – the all-encompassing beacon of light that guides us through this world of darkness.
When we live according to each of these ideals, and remember that the acronym of בראשית is the beginning and foundation of the entire creation, we will live lives striving to always reach higher heights in our avodas Hashem.
Which brings us to our third insight: (III) Rabbi Bregman quotes a medrash that contrasts the way a human being builds and the way HKB”H, l’havdil, builds. Chazal teach that when a person builds, he works from bottom up. When Hashem builds, He begins from the Shomayim and works down, as the verse says: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקְים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ – In the beginning, Elokim created the heavens (first) and the earth (second). What is the medrash coming to teach us? What lesson does Hashem want us to learn into how we should conduct our lives?
“R’ Shmuel Alter (d.1969, authored Likkutei Bosor Likkutei [20 volumes]) explains: Hashem wants that as we build our lives, the shomayim-type stuff should be the focus of our lives. This means making torah and mitzvos our main goal. In terms of the rest of what life has to offer, all the stuff of olam ha’zeh can come afterwards. This is what the medrash means by saying that when Hashem builds, He goes from Heaven to earth, working downwards. Unfortunately,” Rabbi Bregman concludes, “many people in life have it backwards and make the finite, temporal, material world the goal of their strivings” (Short and Sweet on the Parsha, p.4).
Asaf Lieberman, an Israeli broadcaster, wrote after Rav Chaim’s petirah, zt’v’k’l, “I am a chiloni (secular Jew). The word kadoash does not speak to me. And yet, many matters become clear when one enters his (R’ Chaim’s) house on Rashbam Street in Bnei Brak… Rabbi Kanievsky’s home is mesmerizing. There is nothing in it. Meaning, there is nothing in it from a materialist perspective. In the small bedroom there are two old beds and a cupboard. In the central room, a table and books. There is also a tiny kitchen. And that’s it. The rabbi’s entire life can be summed up as sleeping, learning Torah and nutrition.
“In all my visits there, as a skeptical journalist, I looked for the catch. Where are the rabbi and the members of his household hiding the lavishness? But the thing is, there is no lavishness… As I mentioned, I am a chiloni who does not connect with discussions of holiness… (But) Think about it: Who is the person for whom you would wait hours for a few minutes with? For which person whom you never met would you abandon everything so as to participate in his funeral?” (Jewish Action, Fall 5783, p.26).
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקְים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ – (I) we must strive to always sing in our avodas Hashem; (II) we must remember the acronym of Bereishis and the six foundations upon which a Jew builds his life; and (III) we must strive to build lives focusing on the ikar (primary – Shomayim) and not the tafel (secondary – aretz).
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,