Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 6 No. 1
The main purpose of Torah is undoubtedly in its capacity as a guide on how to live - as the very word 'Torah' suggests. That being the case, it would have seemed more appropriate for the Torah to have commenced with the first mitzvah given to Klal Yisroel, that of Rosh Chodesh and of Pesach, which were given together in Parshas Bo, rather than with the creation of the world, which is of lesser significance.
This is how Rashi, quoting the Medrash Tanchuma, begins his commentary on the Chumash. The question is striking in its own right, and provides us with a vivid insight of what Torah is and the key role that it must play in our lives. And Rashi's well-known answer (that Hashem the Creator of the world, had the right to take away Eretz Yisrael from those who lived there at the time of Yisraelís conquest and to give it to Bínei Yisrael) provides us with a further insight into the significance of Eretz Yisroel as the spiritual homeland of the Jewish people (otherwise, the question remains unanswered) a lesson that has never been more relevant than it is today.
Rabeinu Bachye, quoting only half of the posuk that Rashi cites in his answer, offers an entirely different explanation.
"The strength of His deeds He is telling His people" (Tehillim 111) - in informing us that it was He who created the world, explains Rabeinu Bachye, in order that His sovereignty, by virtue of His ways and His deeds, should become publicly known - a principle so vital that G-d did not want to rely on its oral transmission, but insisted on opening the Torah with it.
It is impossible to know G-d through His personality, Rabeinu Bachye continues, therefore it is essential that we get to know Him through His deeds, which, he maintains, is a mitzvah. Based on a posuk in Mishlei (28:2), he points out how, just as it is a mitzvah to refrain from delving into G-d's personality (kevayochol), so is it a mitzvah to delve into His deeds and to gain knowledge of Him through them.
What is it that we learn about G-d through the knowledge that He created the world, that is of such vital importance, that it can be placed on a par with the knowledge of the Mitzvos?
Once we know that G-d created the world, explains Rabeinu Bachye, it becomes obvious that He supervises it, too (what sense would it make for Him to go to the trouble of creating, out of nothing, such a complex world, and then to leave it to its own devices). This in turn, leads to belief in prophecy (for how canthere be Divine supervision without Divine communication?). And if ther is prophecy, then there must be Divine reward and punishment (to give meaning to the communication).
Having taught the major principles of Divine supervision, prophecy, and reward and punishment, the Torah goes on to demonstrate all of these. By the end of the Parshah of Bereishis, all of them have been powerfully illustrated, so that the lessons that we learnt from the creation become reinforced. After creating Odom out of nothing, Hashem formed and made him, and then commanded him, in the dual format of both a positive mitzvah (to eat from the fruit of all the trees in the garden), and a negative one (not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge). So we have creation, supervision and prophecy, as well as reward, when He placed him in Gan Eden before he sinned, and punishment, when He drove him out after the sin.
The concept of punishment is repeated with the exile of Kayin after he had killed his brother Hevel, and it is repeated again, still in this Parshah, with the punishment of the generation of the flood, when their destruction is already foretold at the end of the Parshah, as is the reward of No'ach.
The Haftorah, which describes the creation in terms of G-d's greatness, certainly flows beautifully with R. Bachye's interpretation, suggesting as it does, that we need to know about the creation, in order to learn more to appreciate G-d's powers.
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
Torah - A Means Not An End
"Bereishis Boro Elokim" - for the sake of Torah which is called 'Reishis', say Chazal.
Whatever a person does, comprises two parts: the work and the intended outcome, the objective. It is obvious that the objective is the more important of the two, so that if, for example, a person maintains a shop, which costs a hundred dollars a day to run, the shop is only worth maintaining if the income exceeeds that amount. Similarly, if a shop costs a million dollars a day to run, then it is obvious that the merchandise that is sold there, must be extremely costly for the owner to find it worthwhile to run the shop.
If we are told that the wealthy multi-millionaire called Hashem created Heaven and earth with all their mirads of hosts, for the sake of Torah, imagine, points out the Chofetz Chayim, just how valuable the Torah must be, seeing as it is the purpose of the creation and therefore, far more valuable than the whole of the creation combined. And this is borne out by the posuk in Yirmiyoh (32:25) "If not for My Covenant (the Torah) by day and by night, I would not have placed the statutes of Heaven and earth".
And here lies the answer to those people who, 'in their wisdom' explain that they do not learn Torah, nor do they want their children to go to Yeshivah, because Torah-study does not lead anywhere, there is no purpose in it.
How foolish! Torah is not - nor was it ever meant to be - a means to any end. On the contrary, it is the end - the ultimate, priceless objective for which the whole world was created, and which is therefore, intrinsically more precious than the entire world.
..."And darkness covered the depths... And Hashem said 'Let there be light', and there was light" (1:2-3).
It is well-known, writes the Chofetz Chayim, that it takes only a little light to dispel much darkness. You can enter a dark house and attempt to drive away the darkness with sticks and with axes. But you can rest assured that you will not succeed. The only way you will succeed is by turning on a light.
The reason for this seems straightforward enough: darkness is not something tangible; it is a vacuum. Therefore, one cannot do battle with it using any manner of warfare. What one needs to do is to fill the vacuum with light, which is the antithesis of darkness, and which was created for the very purpose of dispelling it.
Torah too, is called light, and the powers of evil, darkness. And by the very same token, the powers of evil are not something tangible that one can fight with conventional weapons. They comprise a vacuum, which can only be filled by the light of Torah, which was created especially for the purpose of dispelling that darkness - for so Chazal have said: 'I created the Yeitzer ho'Ra, says Hashem, and I created Torah as its antidote' (Kidushin 30b).
In practical terms, this means that someone who has difficulty in overcoming his Yeitzer ho'Ra, as well as someone who has unsavoury character-traits, will not succeed by doing battle with the enemy and by tackling him head-on. The only way he will overcome him is by serious Torah-study. The more Torah he studies, the more light he radiates, and the more darkness he dispels.
When Moshe came to write this possuk, he asked G-d why it was necessary to encourage the Apikorsim to sin by writing 'us', suggesting that there is more than one G-d (kevayochol).
"You write," G-d answered him "and those who want to err - let them!" In the meantime, one can learn from the word 'us' that one should always consult, even with one's own inferiors, if there is no-one else to consult.
Those who want to go astray, the Chofetz Chayim explains, will do so, whether the Torah writes "Let us make man" or Let Me make man". That is why the Torah did not contend with them, writing what was in the best interest of those who do not want to go astray.
Here we have an answer to those 'wise men' who set out to make changes in the Torah in order to attract the non-believers. As we have just explained, those who do not believe to begin with, will not become greater believers, no matter how many changes one initiates, and those who make the changes will have to give reckoning before G-d for falsifying the Torah.
And he says exactly the same about those who are forever making compromises in order to prevent people from contravening the major sections of Torah. Now surely, he asks, those who set out to make compromises in the name of Torah should first ask the Torah whether that is what it wants (in the same way as a court of law will do before arbitrating between two litigants). They would soon discover that the Torah is very much against compromises of this nature - because its firm policy is "If Hashem is G-d, follow Him, and if it is Ba'al, then follow him" - (but whatever you do, don't compromise).
History of the World ( Part 45)
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
Merodach Beladan the second is crowned King of Bovel. He will reign for forty years.
Chizkiyohu ha'Melech dies. His son Menasheh is twelve when he is crowned, and he will rule for fifty-five years. Hoshayah is the Cohen Godol, and Yeshayah, Yoel, Nachum and Chavakuk, the prophets.
The heavenly fire which descended (to consume the sacrifices) in the days of Shlomoh, ceases to function.
Nachum (who received the Torah from Yo'el) prophesies about the downfall of Ninveh (the capital of Assyria).- Menasheh, among the worst of all the kings, does Teshuvah in the twenty-second year of his reign, but he has done too much harm for his teshuvah to be fully effective. Apart from spreading idolatry throughout his kingdom, he also placed an idol in the Beis ha'Mikdosh. He composes a beautiful prayer, acknowledging his sins and begging Hashem for forgiveness.
Chavakuk (the son of the Shunamis, whom Eliyohu revived) receives the Torah from Nachum and prophesies. He is the son of Ovadyah the Edumite who, also a prophet, hid the hundred prophets from Ach'ov and Jezebel in two caves.
Merodach Beladan, King of Bavel, dies. He is succeeded by his son.
Tz'fanyoh ben Kushi is a grandson of Chizkiyohu ha'Melech. He receives the Oral Torah from Chavakuk.
Menasheh dies fifty-five years before the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdosh. He is succeeded by his son Omon. Omon is 22 when he is crowned. He too, is an evil king.
Omon is murdered by his servants. Shalum is the Cohen Godol and Chizkiyoh the prophet. Nevuchadnetzar the first (who is not mentioned in Tenach) reigns in Bovel for thirty-five years. Yoshiyoh ben Omon succeeds his father. He is only eight when he ascends the throne.
Yoshiyoh first begins to seek G-d.
He sets out to purify Yehudah and Yerusholayim of idolatry. Chilkiyoh is the Cohen Godol, and Tz'fanyoh, Yirmiyoh and Chuldoh, Yirmiyoh's cousin, the prophets.
Yirmiyoh receives the Torah from Tz'fanyoh and begins to prophesy. He will continue to do so for ninety-two years until the first year of Koresh the first, in the early days of Ezra.
Yirmiyoh cursed the day that he was born - in fact, he was born on Tish'oh be'Av. He is a Cohen, a descendant of Iysomor ben Aharon, and the word "Eichoh' is actually the acronym of "Ani Yirmiyoh Cohen Ho'anosos'.
Yirmiyoh, who is a spark of Moshe, rebukes Yisroel for forty years, like Moshe did. He also writes five chapters of Lamentations, corresponding to the five books of the Torah that Moshe wrote.
Uriyoh ben Sh'mayoh from Kiryas Ye'orim also prophesies at that time. He too, is a Cohen, but the people despise him because he descended from a lowly family - Ben Sira is his son. (Others say that Ben Sira is the son of Yirmiyoh ha'Novi.).
Some say that after Yirmiyoh returned to Eretz Yisroel (after the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdosh) in order to comfort the Jews who remained there, they took him forcibly to Egypt. When he rebuked them, they turned on him and murdered him, and that is where he is buried. Prior to that however, following a heavy plague of locusts, they asked him to pray for it to be removed. This he did - successfully. As a result, they referred to him as a god and sacrificed to him.
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