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Beginning at the “Beginning”

The Torah begins with the words, “In the beginning, G-d created…,”1 and goes on to recount the details of Creation. In commenting on these opening words, Rashi2 notes: “By right, the Torah should have specifically begun from ‘This month is to you….’3 Why does it begin with ‘In the beginning’? Because ‘He related the power of His actions to His people.4’ ”

Rashi goes on to explain that this forestalls any complaint by the nations of the world. Should the nations say: “You are thieves; you have conquered the lands of the Seven Nations,” we can reply to them: “The entire world belongs to G-d; He created it and gave it to whoever found favor before Him.”

Rashi’s terminology — “By right, the Torah should have specifically begun from ‘This month is to you…’ Why did it begin …” — indicates that the portions from “In the beginning” until “This month is to you…” should indeed have been included in the Torah, but that they need not have come at the very beginning.

This being so, it is understandable that the answer Rashi provides also explains why the story of Creation is found at the very beginning of the Torah.

Even if the story of Creation were written after “This month is to you…,” we would still be able to reply: “The entire world belongs to G-d. He created it and gave it to whoever found favor before Him.” The question thus remains: why does the Torah begin with Creation?

An additional question: if the Torah should indeed not have begun with Creation, why would the order have been changed so drastically, simply to negate a possible complaint by the nations?

We must perforce say that beginning with Creation not only provides an answer to the nations, but is of major import to the Jewish people regarding their spiritual service.

The Tzemach Tzedek explains5 that the spiritual aspect of “conquering the ‘land’ of the Seven Nations,” refers to the Jews’ spiritual service within the “land,” i.e., within this physical world as a whole. When a Jew employs the physical world for a spiritual purpose, he is in effect “conquering the land” for spirituality.

The nations’ complaint is that everything within the realm of the physical “belongs” to them, so that using it for a sacred purpose and thereby “expanding the boundaries of holiness”6 constitutes an act of piracy.

The answer to their accusation lies in the fact that “In the beginning G-d created….” Everything derives from the A-mighty, and He gave it to whoever found favor before Him; objects which, prior to man’s spiritual service, were not within the realm of holiness, existed where they did specifically so that man could reclaim and “conquer” them through his service, returning them to the domain of holiness.

This is also the meaning of “By right, the Torah should have specifically begun from ‘This month is to you….’ ” The Torah spiritually precedes and is thus loftier than Creation, including the spiritual service of conquering the physical and transforming it into the spiritual. For when a person is occupied with Torah, he is immersed in a sacred matter that is loftier than the world, while when he is occupied with worldly matters, even for a spiritual purpose, he is still involved in things that are close to his corporeal nature.

But if this is so, the question as to why the Torah begins with Creation becomes even stronger! Since the service of Torah and Mitzvos is loftier than the conquest of the physical, this service should have been mentioned first; the tale of Creation and the conquest thereof should have been related only afterwards!

Although the service of “conquest” is of a lower order than Torah and mitzvos, G-d’s intent in Creation was a desire to have “a dwelling place in this physical world.”7 This desire is best fulfilled through the conquest of the physical — involving as it does the transformation of that which is of the lowest level into a dwelling place fit for G-d.

It is for this reason that the Torah begins with Creation.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XX, pp. 1-4


Boundless Benevolence

The Gemara in tractate Shabbos8 says: “He who is born on a Thursday will be a benevolent individual, for on that day, the fish and birds were created,”9 i.e., on that day — as Rashi explains10 — G-d created beings that are wholly sustained by His kindness.

The Gemara, however, informs us in another tractate11 that all Jews are by nature compassionate and benevolent.12 This being so, what is special about the Jew born on a Thursday, as compared to Jews born on other days of the week?

The fifth day of Creation was unique, since on that day, as Rashi explains, G-d’s benevolence was dominant — a benevolence that is boundless, for just as G-d Himself knows no limitation, so too are His attributes limitless.

Indeed, because His boundless benevolence was dominant on the fifth day, the beings created on that day — especially fish — multiply greatly.

Herein lies the difference between all Jews’ natural benevolence and the benevolence of one born on a Thursday: The degree of most Jews’ natural kindness is limited — they will act kindly toward others, but not to the extent of foregoing all their own needs or undergoing excessive hardship.

However, he who is born on that day when G-d’s kindness was manifest will display a natural tendency to completely disregard his own being in order to assist others.

Conversely, there is special merit to the innate kindness found within all Jews, as opposed to the capacity for kindness and benevolence evinced by those born on a Thursday.

Understandably, being born on a Thursday does not guarantee that a person will be infinitely kind; it simply means that he or she will have a slightly stronger inclination to act kindly, and that this kindness — if fully realized — can be boundless.13 However, the benevolence inherent in every Jew’s character is an actual goodness — not just the Thursday-type potential for goodness and benevolence.

For a person to aspire to infinite benevolence, he must first possess the quality of self-effacement; as long as a person thinks primarily of himself, it will be impossible to give totally of himself to others. Diminishing one’s own ego and desires enables one to become immersed in the act of kindness — a kindness not confined by a sense of self, but a kindness without end.

This aspect of self-nullification is also alluded to by the creation of fish on the fifth day. Fish, which multiply greatly — indicative of an infinite capacity — are entirely covered by water. As such, they are completely hidden from our view; all a person sees is the water.

Water is, of course, a fish’s source of life. Being so completely immersed in one’s source that all others see is the source, alludes to complete self-nullification — a quality that leads to the blessing of, and the capacity to, multiply without limit.

So too regarding man’s manner of service. In order to arouse the loftiest degree of benevolence — which is similar to G-d’s boundless kindness — a person must first nullify himself before G-d. This will cause him to become truly humble, and enable him to perform boundless kindness, free of the constraints of self.

This is also the intent of Rashi’s comment to the verse14 “Cleave to Him,” where he notes:15 “Cleave to His ways, perform acts of benevolence … just as G-d does.”

When a Jew is truly cleaving to G-d, feeling only the A-mighty and himself not at all, then he can rest assured that his acts of kindness will emulate G-d’s — he too will perform acts of boundless benevolence.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, pp. 10-12


FOOTNOTES


1. Bereishis 1:1.
2. Ibid.
3. Shmos 12:2.
4. Tehillim 111:6.
5. Or HaTorah, Bo p. 262. See also Ki Yidativ 5684.
6. See beginning of Eimek HaMelech. See also Maor Einayim beginning of Torah portion Toldos.
7. See Tanya ch. 36.
8. 156a.
9. Bereishis 1:20ff.
10. Shabbos, ibid.
11. Yevamos 79a.
12. See also Tanya, conclusion of ch. 1.
13. Lechem Mishneh on Hilchos Teshuvah of the Rambam 5:4. See also Likkutei Sichos XV, p. 10ff.
14. Devarim 13:5.
15. Ibid.

 

 


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