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 Parshas Bereishis

B’reishis bara Elokim es haShomayim v’es ha’aretz (1:1)
Vay’varech Elokim es yom hashevi’I vay’kadesh oso ki vo shavas mikol melachto asher bara Elokim la’asos (2:3)

            Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (119:160) rosh d’var’cha emes – Your very first utterance is truth. The Baal HaTurim points out that the final letters of the first three words in the Torah spell the word emes – truth – hinting to the fundamental importance of the value of truth in Hashem’s eyes. Indeed, the Gemora in Yoma (69b) states that Hashem’s “seal” is emes. Further, the final letters of the last verse describing the creation (2:3) also spell the word emes, alluding to the fact that the universe was created with Hashem’s attribute of truth from beginning to end.

            Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the first verse in the Torah contains every vowel sound except for one. The shuruk is missing from this verse. He explains that this is because the letters which spell the word shuruk can also be rearranged to spell the word sheker – falsehood – and because Hashem created the world to be a place of truth, there was no room for a shuruk in describing the beginning of the Creation!

            It is not only the Written Torah which is emblazoned with Hashem’s seal of truth, but the Oral Torah is as well. The Aseres HaDibros begin with the letter aleph (anochi), the Mishnah begins with the letter mem (me’eimasai), and the Gemora starts with the letter tof (tanna), again spelling the word emes!

            The Vilna Gaon notes that it is not only the Torah itself which is encoded with Hashem’s seal, but even the great commentaries upon it are embossed with this powerful commitment to the truth. The Torah forbids (Vayikra 11:42) the consumption of all creeping creatures which slither on their bellies (gachon). Interestingly, Rashi renders the word “belly” as “innards” – me’ayim – which would seem to be anatomically imprecise, as beten would seem to be a more accurate translation. Further, the word gachon appears much earlier in the Torah (Bereishis 3:14), in reference to the punishment of the serpent which tempted Chava, yet Rashi felt no need to explain the meaning of the word until its appearance in Parshas Shemini.

            The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that the Gemora in Kiddushin (30a) states the letter vov in the word gachon is the middle letter in the entire Torah. Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with the letter aleph (amar Rav Yitzchok) and ends with the letter tof (asher shibarta). Rashi didn’t feel the need to explain the word gachon, or else he would have done so where it initially appeared. However, because this is the middle of the Torah, and therefore of his commentary, he wished to render it as a word beginning with the letter mem in order to hint that the entire Torah, along with his Divinely-inspired commentary, is emes – true – from the start to the middle to the very end!


Vaya’as Elokim es shnei ham’oros hagedolim es hamaor hagadol l’memsheles hayom v’es hamaor hakaton l’memsheles halayla v’es hakochavim (1:16)

Many people claim that their goal in life is to achieve greatness, to become an adam gadol. However, questioning them as to their understanding of the specific benchmark used to measure one’s success in becoming great will yield wildly varying answers. Some will say that it means becoming an expert in the entire Talmud, while others will claim that it is to be measured by one’s interpersonal skills and the acts of kindness one performs with others, and another group will define its attainment by the size of their bank account and the amount of respect they command from others.

  The Shelah HaKadosh writes that if one wishes to know the true inner meaning of any word, one need only examine the meaning of that word the first time it appears in the Torah. Searching for the word “gadol,” we needn’t go too far, as it first appears in Bereishis 1:16, when the Torah relates that Hashem made the large light – the sun – to rule by day and the smaller one – the moon – to dominate by night. On a simple level, it would appear that the first use of this word merely refers to the mundane fact that the sun is physically larger than the moon, hardly inspiring in our search to understand the Torah’s definition of greatness.

However, the Bostoner Rebbe notes that in searching for some deeper significance, we must consider the scientific relationship between the sun and the moon. To the naked, uneducated eye, it would seem that the sun provides our light during the day and the moon by night. However, we all learned in science that this isn’t exactly accurate, as the moon is incapable of independently generating its own light. More correctly, the sun gives us light during the day and at night the moon reflects the sun’s light. In this sense, the sun is the giver and the moon is the receiver. Applying this to us, the Torah is indeed teaching us a profound lesson that our quest for true greatness isn’t measured by how much Torah we learn or how hard we pray, but by how much we emulate the “great” sun by sharing our warmth with others!

            He suggests that this is the meaning of the blessing that we give an 8-day-old boy at his circumcision – zeh hakatan gadol yih’yeh. Literally, we bless the child that although he is presently very small, he should live and grow up to become a capable, self-sufficient adult. However, on a deeper level, we may explain that a newborn child is the ultimate taker. He is unable to care for himself in any way and is solely dependent on others to provide him with the food, clean clothes, and emotional love that he needs to live. We bless him that although he is currently the epitome of smallness – a taker – he should grow up to give to others just as others are currently giving to him, thus making him a truly great person!


Vay’gareish es ha’adam vayishkan mikedem l’Gan Eden es ha’Keruvim v’es lahat hacherev hamishapeches lishmor es derech eitz hachaim (3:24)
Es ha’Keruvim – malachei chabala (Rashi)

After Adam and Chava sin by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Hashem exiles them from the garden of Eden and places Keruvim, wielding fiery swords, at the gate to insure that no human ever attempts a forbidden return. Rashi comments that these Keruvim were angels of destruction. Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of Aruch HaShulchan, notes that this would appear to contradict a later comment of Rashi’s.

In Parshas Terumah, Rashi writes (Shemos 25:18) that the two Keruvim which were found on top of the Aron in the Mishkan had the faces of small children, which are paragons of innocence and purity. If so, how could he maintain that the Keruvim in our parsha were angels of destruction? The resolution of this apparent contradiction lies in the fact that our Parshas Terumah is discussing the Keruvim in the Mishkan, where they were placed on top of the Aron (Holy Ark). By attaching them to the Aron, and the Torah and Luchos contained therein, they remained wholesome cherubs resembling innocent babies, but the moment we separate our children from the Torah they immediately become sword-wielding forces of devastation – as any parent can testify all too well!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):


1)     At the end of each day of the creation, the Torah concludes that “there was night, and there was day,” and specifies which day has passed (e.g. 1:5). As the earth is round, there is always a place where it is daytime and a place where it is the night. How can the Torah state that the night preceded the day when there were by necessity locations where the day preceded the night? (Mishmeres Ariel)

2)     Rashi writes (1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees which would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth refused to listen and instead sprouted trees which grow fruits but which themselves don’t taste like fruits. How is it possible for the inanimate earth, which lacks an evil inclination, to have free choice and to disobey Hashem’s command, and for what reason did it do so? (Darkei HaShleimus)

3)     Rashi writes (1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees which would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth refused to listen and instead sprouted trees which grow fruits but which themselves don’t taste like fruits. As a result, when Adam and Chava were punished for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the earth was also cursed (3:17-19). Why did Hashem wait to punish the ground until that time instead of doing so immediately at the time of its disobedience? (Kli Yakar, Divrei Dovid, Chasam Sofer, Chiddushei HaRim)

4)     When creating the birds, which did Hashem make first – the chicken or the egg? (Maharil Diskin)

5)     It is generally assumed that precious metals have no intrinsic value and that their worth is determined only by the value agreed upon and placed upon them by mankind. However, before man had discovered gems or assigned them any significance, the Torah already gives them importance and refers (2:12) to the land where gold and other precious stones may be found. What intrinsic importance and worth do they possess? (Rav Shimshon Pinkus in Tiferes Torah)

6)     The Torah relates (2:18) that Hashem’s reason for creating woman was because he noted that it isn’t good for man to be alone, which implies that if not for this reason He wouldn’t have done so. Wouldn’t it have been necessary to create woman in order for Adam to reproduce and populate the world? (Brisker Rov quoted in Nesivos Rabboseinu, Zahav MiSh’va, Meged Yosef)

7)     Rashi writes (2:18) that if a man is righteous, his wife will be a helpmate to him, and if he isn’t meritorious, she will oppose him. Why do we find so many righteous sages (e.g. the story of Rav in Yevamos 63a) whose wives caused them so much pain and agony? (Sha’arei Orah)

8)     The Gemora in Berachos (61a) explains that Hashem originally planned to create man and woman as separate beings, but ultimately chose to make them as one (5:2), only to split the person into two, and then to command him (2:24) to cling to his wife and to become one flesh. What is the significance of this apparent Divine confusion and waffling? (Aderes Eliyahu 2:18)

9)     Rashi writes (3:1) that the serpent was inspired to trick Adam and Chava after he saw her naked and desired her. If his goal was to have Chava for himself, why did he pressure her to take from the forbidden fruit, which would bring about her death and defeat his purpose? (Sifsei Chochomim, Taima D’Kra)

10)  The serpent succeeded in getting Chava to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge by convincing her that doing so wouldn’t cause her death (3:4-6). However, immediately after eating the fruit, she gave some to Adam to eat with her. Rashi explains that she did so out of a fear that after her death, Adam would remain alive and would find another mate. How is it possible that she ate the fruit out of a conviction that doing so wouldn’t be fatal, only to immediately fear the aftermath of her impending death? (Taima D’Kra)

11)  Prior to eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, why didn’t Adam eat from the tree of life (2:9), which was permitted to him and which would allow him to live eternally? (Tosefos Rid)

12)  The law is that a man is allowed to rely on the food which is given to him by his wife and to assume that it is kosher and permitted. Why was Adam punished for eating from the food given to him by his wife Chava when he was entitled to rely on her to give him only permissible food? (Shu”t Chut HaMeshulash 44, Toledos Yitzchok)

13)  For her role in eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Hashem punished Chava (3:16, Rashi) with the difficulty of raising children and with the pain of pregnancy. Wouldn’t it have been more chronologically precise to reverse the curses, as the suffering of pregnancy precedes that of child-raising? (Maharsha Eiruvin 100b, Sifsei Chochomim, Brisker Rov quoted in Nesivos Rabboseinu, Meged Yosef, Peninei Kedem)

14)  What sin did Hevel commit for which Cain was able to succeed in killing him (4:8)? (Daas Z’keinim, Meged Yosef)

15)  After hearing Hashem’s sentence for the murder of his brother, Cain feared (4:13) that gadol avoni min’so – my sin is too great to bear. In the entire Shulchan Aruch, this expression is used to describe the gravity of only one sin: talking during the chazzan’s repetition of the prayers. Why is this sin so great that this expression is used to describe its severity?

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