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by Daneal Weiner
Way back in the beginning, on the first verse of the Torah, Rashi asks why the 5 books begin with In the beginning? Since the purpose of the Torah is to teach us the ways of Hashem, wouldn’t the best way to begin that lesson be with the first mitzvah which is, "hachodesh hazeh lachem" the declaration of the new moon found a few parshas into the second book, Shemos?
What are mitzvos and what are the ways of Hashem? And what does all this have to do with the completion of the book of Breishis with this weeks
Rabbi Zev Leff offers an analogy to help understanding what mitzvos are. Imagine a light bulb. The brightest light bulb. About a gazillion watts. Someone asks you to describe it. Could you? Of course you could, you’re imagining it. O.k. Take two. Imagine, instead, someone else says to you there is an incredible light source on exhibit. It’s claimed to have the candlepower of a gazillion candles. You want to have a look at it, but it's on. There is no off switch. You’re warned that if you look at it for even an instant you'll go blind. You can’t get too close to it either or you’ll burn up? What kind of an exhibit is this?
The exhibitors have specially made an amazing built box to cover the light source. One that can protect you from it's brightness and heat. Now you can get close. How do you see through it? They’ve put special glass windows on the box which are the size of a pin hole and yet through them you get a glimpse of a part the source of the light. Are you in a position to give a good description yet? Off course not. All you can see is a small area through the pin hole size window. Wait, there’s another window. You find out that it has been calculated that in order to gather enough information for your mind to formulate a description 613 such windows have been placed all about the box.
This, Rav Leff says, are what mitzvos are. A way for us to comprehend the incomprehensible. Hashem cloaked himself in a box we call the universe and He poked through 613 commandments in order to give us a window of understanding of Who He is. But since it is really impossible for us to ever understand Who He is, the mitzvos are for us to understand His ways. Now we can ask Rashi’s question. Since the Torah is the blueprint for the universe, that box which enables us to understand Hashem’s ways, then why doesn’t the Torah start with the first window, declaring the new month?
And now that we’ve sunstantiated Rashi’s question, it doesn’t make sense. There are three mitsvos in the book of Breishis! Why does Rashi jump to the fourth mitsva in Shemos and call it the first? Would it be the first time if I answered this question with a question?
What do we have that no other religion has? Credibility is a good answer but can you be more specific? What we have that no other religion has is a tradition of a nationwide prophetic revelation which is the credibility! Pick any Jew in the world and he/she can be traced back to a grandpa and grandma who stood at Mt. Sinai. Take any person from any other religion and you can trace him back to a grandpa or grandma who told some missionary, “Yeah, sure. I’ll believe that. Where do I sign?”
What was one of the outcomes of this nationwide prophetic revelation? Shemos 19:9, “And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud in order that the nation will hear Me speak with you so that they will also believe in you forever.’ ” Our belief in the Torah stems from the fact that every living Jew at Mt. Sinai heard Hashem say that Moshe was the main man and what Moshe says is truth! The very first mitzvah heard from the mouth of Moshe was the declaration of the month told to all of Israel at the time of the exodus from Egypt. Later, in the desert, Moshe taught and wrote the entire Torah and then Breishis revealed itself to contain three mitsvos. Avraham did discern all the mitsvos of the Torah through his 5 senses and that was passed down but the written structure of the Torah obviously wasn’t known till Moshe wrote it down, ergo, the name “The 5 Books of Moses”! The name takes on a whole new dimension, doesn’t it?
It is evident that even without the revelation of Mt. Sinai we would still be bound to the Torah as it would have been passed down to us from Avraham. When Moshe went to Pharaoh he said he represents the G-d of Avraham, Yitschak and Yaakov and didn’t say the G-d Who created the universe? Moshe knew Pharaoh didn’t know who created the universe but he knew Avraham, Yitschak and Yaakov. Moshe presented Hashem to Pharaoh in a way he could relate to. We relate to Hashem and to our forefathers but when all Israel in its entirety where standing at Mt. Sinai and all of us heard Hashem speaking to Moshe it gave us more than a belief in Moshe. It established a credibility for Torah Judaism which would hold up against every other nations and religion for all time and, as the unfortunate circumstances are, against our own misguided brothers and sisters, too. “Moshe emes v’Torahso emes”- Moshe is truth and his Torah is truth.
As Maimonedes’ puts it in his 13 Principles of Faith (#7), “I believe with complete faith that Moshe Rabbeinu, a’h, was truthful, and he was the ‘father’ of all prophets, those preceding him and after him.” And #8) “I believe with complete faith that the Torah found in our hands today is that which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu, a’h.” like I said, the main man!
Moshe learned/received from Hashem directly, which means through prophecy and his prophecy was clearer than that of any other prophet or person who experienced a prophetic vision. This means that when Moshe prophetically learned about a prophecy Hashem had given Avraham, for example, Moshe saw that prophecy of Avraham’s better than Avraham himself!! Also, from a Gemorah in Bava Mitsia, for every law from the Torah, Moshe received 49 arguments supporting it and 49 arguments against it. One could take out the name of every Rabbi in the Talmud and replace it with “Moshe” and it would just as true as it is now! Granted, a little more confusing to follow. Again, what Moshe knew came from Hashem. When I had first started learning and was having trouble appreciating Tosofos as more than just some guy who kept trying to confuse things by running off on tangents, it was suggested that instead of asking myself, “What is Tosofos saying?” I should try, “What is Hashem in the name of Tosofos saying?” I responded, “Do I have to?”
So Hashem’s question in the name of Rashi is a good question. Why doesn’t the Torah which we received through Moshe in order to learn the ways of Hashem begin with that first window we heard from the mouth of Moshe, the mitsva, "hachodesh hazeh lachem"? Rashi answers quoting a verse from Psalms (111:6), “He declared to His people the power of His works in order to give them the heritage of the nations.” Rav Wolfson brings the words of Rav Boruch from Medjeivuzh who comments on this Rashi, “What a wonderful reason for the Torah starting with Breishis.” All we have to do now is understand it.
Plagiarizing something I wrote Sukkos time; It says in Vayikrah, 23:40, "And you shall take yourselves on the first day the fruit of the Hader tree, of the date palm, the leaves of the hyssop and willow..." (close anyway). Before the blessing on these 4 species most siddurs have a prayer, Y'he Rotsone, in which we ask of Hashem, "...the letters of Your Name You should bring close, one to one, and unite them in my hand [the 4 letters with the 4 species] and to know how Your Name is called upon me..." The problem is that the Arizal says the 5 books of Moses parallel the FIVE parts of Hashems name; the last 4 books parallel the 4 letters and Breishis parallels the kotes of the letter yud! (The kotes is one of the points inscribed at the head of the letter.) The question is, if Hashem's 4 lettername is really 5 parts, then why aren't we holding 5 species? Rav Wolfson says the answer is already revealed in reading, "...and to know how Your Name is called upon ME..." Hashem's Name is on the 4 species and on us too! WE are the missing species paralleling the remaining part, the sublime kotes of the yud!! After elevating ourselves with the month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah and repenting 10 days till the spiritually cleansing service of Yom Kippur we have perfected ourselves, just like the other 4 species we drive ourselves nuts over, searching for the perfect ones. The Arizal’s explanation of the verse in Vayikrah, "Take yourselves, the fruit, the palm, etc." is read not “Take for yourselves” but “Take YOU yourselves”! We are species #1!!! Next time someone puts out their hand, give them a real shake! (Careful not to poke the person behind you.)
Elul and the High Holidays are about our striving for perfection but there is a message here which goes even beyond the striving. There is a part of the soul of every Jew which is indestructible. Incorruptible. No matter how much sin may blemish ones soul, there is a point, a spark untouched by any imperfection. The mitsvos on the Yovel- Jubilee year of all servants going free and all land returning to their original owner are windows to understanding this spark of holiness. Hashem is entirely that and us being created in His image means we have in our make-up a relative degree of that holiness. It can never be bound nor made a servant to the cravings of the body. It may look like it, even for 50 years, but the truth is, our essence is that we can and will be freed from our materialistic bonds. The kotes of the yud of Hashem’s Name, says the Ariza’l, parallels a Jew and parallels Breishis. Now we can understand the verse from Psalms, “He declared to His people the power of His works.” What better way for the Torah to show us ‘His works’ then to show us the comings and goings of our holy ancestors. Jews who didn’t settle for just the internal spark of holiness but who strove for their whole being to emulate that holiness which emulates Hashem’s ways. To these people did Hashem give “the heritage of the nations.” The same people who formed the physical and spiritual make-up of our genes. The mitsvos can get us to that level of sanctity. First, in Breishis, we read about the successes. Then we learn how they did it.
Vayichi is the culmination of the 1st Book. Einstein was 2/3 right when he said space and time were relative. Space, time and soul are relative. Just as it takes 12 lines to make a cube (space) and 12 months to make up time it takes 12 tribes/forces to make up the unified soul of the Jewish Nation. A soul defined and brought to fruition in the 12 parshas of Breishis.
Avraham and Yitschak perfected kindness and strength. On their way to the binding of Yitschak, twice the Torah says they 'walked together'. The first time was when Yitschak wasn’t aware he was to be the sacrifice. Just as Yitschak was eager and willing to fulfill the word of Hashem, not knowing his life was on the line, so too did Avraham ‘walk together' with him, with just as much eagerness, even at the expense of his only son, born after 100 years of whom Hashem said He was going to make into a great nation. The second time was after Yitschak realized he was to be the sacrifice. Now he ‘walked together' with Avraham, maintaining that same willingness and eagerness just described. Avraham’s kindness was tested to the extreme of killing his son for Hashem and Yitschak’s strength was tested in giving his life for Hashem.
Yaakov perfected truth. When he left Lavan’s, Lavan came chasing after him and searched all of Yaakov’s camp for his idols. Yaakov yelled at him to present what he found before everyone to determine who is the rightful owner. How could he be so confident with 4 wives and 12 children years that no one even accidentally took anything from Lavan? 100 times Lavan changed Yaakov’s wage on him. Lavan would have left him penniless if he could. Yaakov had to out con the con did get what was coming to him and after 20 not so much as a needle did Yaakov or any member of his family take from Lavan. Yaakov lived in an environment of pure falsehood and left with only truth.
When Rachel was to wed Yaakov, Lavan switched her with Leah. Yaakov suspected a switch so he gave Rachel signals to know it was her. Rachel taught Leah the signals so she would not be publicly embarrassed should Yaakov realize what happened. Years later, Rachel asks Leah for some flowers her son gave her and Leah says, “Was taking my husband insignificant? And now you want my son’s flowers?” For Leah to have responded this way it must be that Rachel taught Leah the signals in such a way that Leah had no idea what it was her sister was giving her. Not public emabarassment NOR private embarassment would Rachel cause her sister to suffer. And even now Rachel remained silent and told Leah that she could be with Yaakov that night. Traits we clearly see passed on to Yoseph who was silent when he saw his mother being buried in Beit Lechem and who was careful in his dealings with his brothers not to embarrass them before the Egyptians.
Leah spent all her young days crying not to have to wed Eisav. Something so far off in the future to the mind of a youth yet she felt it and feared it as if the ceremony were taking place later that day. (Try sharing this with a smoker.) Yoseph’s was 17 and showed an iron will in rejecting the advances of his masters wife. And in this last parsha we see Yoseph’s 2 sons, raised in the depravity of Egypt, yet they emerge with a sanctity on the level of their uncles, the previous generation and Yaakov makes them two of the tribes of Israel!
There is so much to be learned from all of our forefathers and foremothers and right now, in the middle of Teves, the month when the forces of tumah- impurity are at peak, we should reflect back on our ancestors and have a look at ourselves. We all have that kotes of the yud in us but the goal is to wear it proudly. This introspection takes us into the first 6 parshas of the book of Shemos. The first letters of the first 6 parshas, the Arizal points out, spells ‘Shovivim’. Yirmiyah, gave Israel the message, “Shuvu banim shovivim!”- Return, wayward children! These 6 parshas tell of Hashem elevating Israel from the 49th level of tumah to the 49th level of keddushah and the revelation at Mt. Sinai!
Yaakov told Yoseph he couldn’t imagine seeing his face again and Hashem’s kindness has shown him even the faces of Yoseph’s children. We must think we’ll be seeing the faces of our great great great grandchildren because that’s about the same time we plan on doing everything we should be doing now. May Hashem grant us all the strengths of our ancestor’s and the days to bring those strengths to fruition. As we say three times a day, Blessed are You, Hashem Who desires penitence! And may our efforts merit the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of Your Temple and of Your holy city, Yerushalayim, speedily, in our day. Shabbot Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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