Weekly Reading Insights: Simchat Torah - Bereishit
essay from Rabbi
Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent
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Although the primary purpose of the Torah is to teach the
Jewish people about the commandments, we see that Bereishit opens
with the story of Creation and not with a mitzvah. Rashi
quotes the explanation of Rabbi Yitzchak: Why did the Torah begin
with the story of Creation? In order that His nation would know
His strength to give them the territorial portion of the nations.
If the nations accuse the Jews of being thieves because we conquered
the Land of the Seven Nations (Israel), we are instructed to answer
them that the earth belongs to the Holy One Blessed Be He. He created
it and gives it to who He see fit. If He desires, He can give it
to the other nations, and if He wishes He may take it from them
and give it to us. In addition, since He gave it to us, it is not
permitted to give any of it away. It is important not to submit
to the falsehood of believing the Jewish people stole the Land of
Israel. The story of Creation gives us the correct perspective.
Despite the above, the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the reason
that the Torah begins with the story of Creation cannot be only
to supply an answer to a possible question that the nations of the
world may or may not ask us (though today it is clearly relevant).
It must also be a lesson as to how to serve G-d.
The first lesson is that a Jew should not be influenced by things
in the world that hinder the fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments.
That a certain commandment is said to not make sense, is impractical,
outdated or uncivilized is the complainer's problem. If you hear
a complaint once, you will hear it one hundred times. Our job is
to remember that G-d created the world, and all of the earth is
His; He sets what is correct, and we listen to Him.
There is another lesson: Initially, the land of Israel was in the
inheritance of Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Afterwards, it was
conquered by the seven Canaanite nations. To change its status back
from the land of the Canaanites to the "Land of Israel"
required its conquering by the Jewish people.
From a spiritual perspective, this is a hint to what is expected
in the daily life of a Jew. While all of life belongs to G-d, we
often make a distinction between our Jewish lives and our daily
physical pursuits. When we are in synagogue praying or in the middle
of some other commandment, we are serving G-d. On the other hand,
when we are eating or drinking, involved in our work lives etc,
we may unconsciously or even consciously allow ourselves to fall
under the influence of the physical world.
Therefore, the beginning of the Torah tells us: Everything
you do should be for the sake of heaven. To serve G-d when we are
involved with a specific commandment is nice, but what G-d really
expects from us is that "everything" should be part of
our service to G-d. On this, the gentile nations - and the gentile
within each one of us - make their claim: "You are thieves.
You have conquered! You have stolen our secular orientation by conquering
the secular parts of life and made them into something holy, the
Land of Israel. We do not want to change!"
The Torah is teaching us that this argument is baseless. There
is no true separation between Torah and the world. The entire world
belongs to the Holy One Blessed Be He. The ultimate purpose of the
physical reality is to "make a dwelling place for G-d in the
lower worlds". This is the meaning of the well-known edict
that, until Mashiach comes, it is every Jew's job to transform wherever
he or she is into an extension of "Israel" - to imbue
every place and every aspect of this world with G-dliness.
Chag Samayach & Shabbat Shalom, Shaul