Parashat Bereshit

Organize and Prioritize  

The important message from the beginning of the Torah By Rabbi Eli Scheller

In the beginning of God’s creating…

God began the Torah with the word Bereishit– in the beginning – which starts with the Hebrew Letter Bet. The Midrash teaches that the first Hebrew letter Aleph was dissatisfied that it had been passed over. It complained, “I am the very first letter and yet I was left out at the beginning of the Torah!” God promised the Aleph, “You will see justice done. When I give the Torah to my children at Mount Sinai, I shall commence with the letter Aleph.” When God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People He placed an Aleph at the beginning: Anochi – I am the Lord your God….

Why did God ignore the Aleph at the beginning of the Torah, only reinstating it to its proper position when giving the Torah to the Jewish nation?

Oznayim Latorah brings down that Living in the created physical world, we tend to give priority to our physical needs. We make sure to find a good job, a nice home, and as many conveniences as possible. Only once these points are settled, we try to find a shul or yeshiva in which to learn Torah and pray, regardless of our actual standards – near where we live. We attach the “Aleph” – the primary concern – to the attainment of a satisfactory material standard of living. The Torah is relegated to “Bet”, secondary rank. However, as the Mishnah states: learning Torah must be man’s primary occupation. One’s work schedule should be designed to accommodate one’s Torah learning, not vice versa. God therefore left out the Aleph, and deliberately prefaced the count of the six days of creation of the physical world with a Bet. The “Aleph”, our primary concern, must be for the Torah.

facts of life: take this serious

Becoming the People, We are Meant to Become

By Rabbi Eli Mansour

The Midrash tells that the scholars of Athens once approached Rabbi Yehoshua with two white pieces of cheese. They told the Rabbi that although these two pieces of cheese looked identical, one was made from milk taken from a white goat, and the other from milk taken from a black goat. The scholars challenged Rabbi Yehoshua to identify which piece came from each kind of goat.

Rather than answer their question, Rabbi Yehoshua brought the scholars two outwardly identical eggs. He told them that one came from a black hen, and the other from a white hen. The scholars did not respond, and the conversation ended.

Undoubtedly, there is a deep message which the Midrash here seeks to convey. Indeed, some have explained the Greek scholars’ question as addressing the Jewish People’s special status as G-d’s treasured nation. This exchange occurred at a time when the Jews were not committed to Torah observance, and acted in a manner similar to the lifestyle of the other nations. The scholars thus asked Rabbi Yehoshua why there was any difference between his nation and theirs. The two peoples were more or less the same, just like cheese produced from the milk of different kinds of goats. The nations’ pasts are very different from one another, but right now, they are the same. And thus just as there is no difference between the cheeses, there is likewise no difference between the Jews and the Greeks.

Rabbi Yehoshua responded that the proper analogy is not two cheeses, but rather two eggs. The two eggs look identical, but once the shell cracks and the chicks are born, it will become clear which egg came from a black hen and which from a white hen. Similarly, although the Jewish Nation might currently resemble the other nations, eventually, once we manage to rid ourselves of our outer “shell” and return to our roots and origins, it will become clear that we are special, the descendants of Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Despite our appearance in the present, one day we will show how we are, in truth, worthy of our special status of distinction.

Rashi, in his commentary to the first verse of the Torah, explains the phrase, “Bereshit Bara Elokim” to mean that G-d created the world for Torah; learning Torah is the purpose of creation, and it is what sustains the world. We need to learn Torah in order to learn who we are supposed to be and what Hashem expects of us. We cannot lay claim to the distinction of being Hashem’s “chosen people” if we do not act special, different, and on a higher level of conduct. And the only way we can act on this higher plane is by learning and studying. This is especially relevant to the study of Sefer Bereshit, which we begin this Shabbat. Sefer Bereshit tells us of our nation’s origins, of the greatness of our patriarchs and matriarchs, who laid the spiritual foundations and gave us the spiritual “genes” which enable us to become great. The more we delve into this study, the better able we are to crack the “shell” which makes us appear similar to other nations, so we can shine and radiate with the Kedusha(Holiness) invested within us by our saintly forebears.

Why do we think that career

is the essence of our existence?

How did Adam & Eve fair in their important responsibility? The Torah reports:

God said to Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree (which I specifically said, ‘Don’t eat from it’), the ground will therefore be cursed because of you. You will derive food from it with anguish all the days of your life… By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. Finally, you will return to the ground, for it was from

[the ground] that you were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Adam and Eve eat from the fruit and are banished from the Garden. God tells Adam that as a consequence of his actions, a curse will befall humanity: By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. While they were in the Garden, Adam and Eve had every need provided – the instantaneous fruit and ready-made pastries. Now the Torah is telling us that to go out and make a living is a curse!

Western society has a very non-Torah view of “career.” Somehow we think that career is the essence of our existence, as if when all is said and done and we get to heaven, we will be able to boast that we made it to Corporate Vice-President. Though in handing out one’s eternal reward, I’m not sure God will be so impressed.

Making a living is a curse, yet today people are voluntarily running after it! Consider the following scenario:

Let’s say that I offer you an annual salary of $80,000 to quit your job and work on an assembly line screwing in a single piece. What do you say? Too boring? Okay, so I’ll pay you $120,000 a year!

Now imagine you take the job. It’s not the most satisfying work, but the money is good, so you make the best of it and enjoy your weekends. After a few months, you are shocked to discover that at the other end of the conveyor belt, someone is assigned to un-screw your piece!

You complain to the management that this is an absurd use of your time. So they agree to utilize the assembly line to manufacture automobiles. Satisfied, you go back to your place at the conveyor belt. But in a short time, you come to find out that the new cars are only being used to bring more parts to the factory. It’s an absurd cycle!

You complain again, and the management agrees to give the cars to employees, to enable them to come to work easier to make more parts. This still sounds absurd, so you complain again. This time, they agree to give the cars to employees of oil companies, so they can to get to work, in order to produce gasoline so we can drive our cars to work to produce the automobiles.

This is the cycle of modern economic production. We’re no longer “people,” we’re “consumers.”Of course there’s nothing wrong with free market economics. But there has to ultimately be a point to all this – beyond just “production and consumption.”

Are we living to eat, or eating to live?!

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were well-known. They were to live forever. When they were banished, the inevitability of death fell upon every human being. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Returning to the Garden, therefore, means discovering the source of our immortality. We all yearn for immortality – yet how do we achieve that? To set the world record for the 100-meter dash? To build the tallest skyscraper in Downtown LA ?

Of course not.

Increasingly, the rich and famous are finding new pleasure in public pursuits, because their motives have changed. ‘I’ve learned that when my work is ego-driven, it makes me lonely,” says Dr. Dean Ornish. “When I approach it in a spirit of service, I’m much happier.”

We must apply this to our own lives. Otherwise we are chasing a curse and we will never get back to the Garden.

Deep down in our soul, we all want to get back to the Garden. The first step is to realize that unnecessary over-involvement with materialism is a curse. Our purpose in life is to nurture our world, to work it and to protect it.

To get started, imagine this: Someone has nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize for service to mankind. The award carries a prize of $10 million dollars. You are to present yourself to the awards committee and report what you plan to do with the money if you win. What will you tell them?

The Talmud asks: Why was Adam created alone (as opposed to Adam and Eve created simultaneously)? To teach that every person is obligated to say, “For my sake alone the world was created.”

It’s our world. That is both a great privilege and an enormous responsibility.

The Garden of Eden is not as much a place as it is a reality. It’s an environment free of pain, disease, argument, jealousy. In Jewish terms, that is the definition of the Messianic era, a time when all of humanity will be restored to the original state of the Garden of Eden. May it come speedily in our days.

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

something to think about

What Did Cain Say?

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

In the story of Cain and Abel, we see the first ever act of cruel violence. It didn’t take us long and, unfortunately, it was just a taste of things to come.

Let’s recap for a moment: God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s (because Cain brought second rate goods whereas Abel brought the best). Cain is upset and angry. God questions his reaction, telling him that good and evil is completely his to choose. There is no need to be upset, merely to choose. The fact that he has made a mistake has not made him a bad person. He still has the same ability to choose good as he had before he made his mistake.

All well and good, but then comes a very strange sentence: “…Cain said to his brother Abel and then, when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him…”

The Sages point out that surely there are some missing words here. The verb “said” has no object. What exactly did Cain say? And why would the Torah say he said something if it’s not going to tell us what he said?!

The Sages explain: What Cain said is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he said. Cain was picking a fight. He could have said anything; it wouldn’t really have mattered. He was looking for an excuse to blame someone else for his own failures and shortcomings.

Is this not the root of so much conflict and argument in our own lives? We are dissatisfied with our situation, and rather than look inside to find the fault and its solution, it is far easier to shift the blame to someone else. Very often those “someone else’s” are the people we love the most.

The Sages tell us that when we are upset and frustrated with anyone, but especially those we love, the first question we must ask ourselves, and answer with all honesty is this: Is it their problem or mine? Much of the time, the problem is our own. We need to be brave and honest enough to recognize that. For as long as we seek to blame others for our own frustrations and shortcomings, we will never change.

Parsha Summary

First Aliyah: This section recounts the story of creation in six days. On the first day G‑d made darkness and light. On the second day He formed the heavens, dividing the “upper waters” from the “lower waters.” On the third day He set the boundaries of land and sea and called forth trees and greenery from the earth. On the fourth day He fixed the position of the sun, moon and stars. Fish, birds and reptiles were created on the fifth day; land-animals, and then the human being, Adam, on the sixth. G‑d ceased work on the seventh day, and sanctified it as a day of rest.

Second Aliyah: This section discusses the events of the sixth day of creation in greater detail. After Adam was formed from the earth, G‑d placed him in a garden just east of Eden. G‑d permitted Adam to eat from any tree in the garden, with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam named all the animals and birds, and G‑d decided that Adam needed a mate.

Third Aliyah: G‑d caused Adam to fall into a deep slumber and formed a woman, Eve, from one of his sides. Adam was delighted with his new mate. The serpent, at the time the wisest of all animals, sweet-talked Eve into eating from the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Eve shared the fruit with Adam, and imbued with a new sense of knowledge and awareness, they were ashamed of their nakedness and clothed themselves. The fallout was quick to come: G‑d cursed the serpent, Eve, and Adam too, with various maledictions.

Fourth Aliyah: Adam and Eve were then expelled from the idyllic Garden of Eden. Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. When Abel’s offering to G‑d was accepted, while Cain’s was rejected, Cain murdered his brother in a jealous rage. G‑d punished Cain, designating him to be a lifelong wanderer, but postponing his ultimate punishment for seven generations.

Fifth Aliyah: The sixth generation descendent of Cain was Lemech, who fathered several children — seventh generation descendants of Cain.

Sixth Aliyah: Lemech accidentally killed his great-great-great-great-grandfather Cain in a hunting accident; the blood of Abel was finally avenged. Adam and Eve gave birth to a third son, Seth. This section then chronicles the first seven generations of mankind, from Adam to the righteous Enoch.

Seventh Aliyah: The next three generations are chronicled in this section — concluding with Noah, the tenth generation from Adam. At this point in time, the wickedness and immorality of the people on earth reached such proportions that G‑d regretted creating man. G‑d gave the world 120 years to clean up their act or be destroyed. Noah, on the other hand, was an exception. He was righteous and found favor in G‑d’s eyes.

simcha corner

An Aleph Bet Bet

Bubbie Bayla was taking care of the kids for the weekend and she walked by her little granddaughter Rivkah’s room one morning to find her standing in the corner, reciting the Hebrew alphabet.

“Aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet…” said Rivkah

“What are you doing?” Bubbie asked.

“My teacher said that we’re supposed to daven every day,” said Rivkah. “But I can’t remember any of the prayers. So I’m just saying all the letters of the aleph-bet, and Hashem can put them together however he thinks best.”

Little Shloimie was sitting on his Zadie’s lap as Zadie read him a bedtime story. From time to time, Shloimie would take his eyes off the book and reach up to touch Zadie’s white beard, and his wrinkled cheek. Shloimie would alternately stroke his own cheek. Finally Shloimie spoke up, “Zadie, did Hashem make you?”

“Yes, Shloimie,” he answered. “Hashem made me a long time ago.”

“Oh,” he paused. “Zadie, did Hashem make me too?”

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “Hashem made you just a little while ago.”

Feeling their respective faces again, Shoilmie observed, “Hashem’s getting better at it, isn’t he?”