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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Beraishis

In the beginning of G-d's creating the heavens and the earth. (1:1)

We can translate the first pasuk of the Torah in a number of ways. Homiletically, the word "bereishis" can be translated as "bishvil reishis," "because of the beginning." This implies that the world was created as a result of things that are called "reishis," things that are of such prime significance that the Torah refers to them as reishis. Chazal accord two entities this distinction: the Torah and Klal Yisrael. Using this hypothesis, Hashem created the world so that Klal Yisrael would accept and observe the Torah. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh adds by inference that one who studies Torah, making it an integral part of his life, merits the entire world. Everything in the world exists to serve this individual. Conversely, one who does not have such an association with the Torah is not permitted to have any benefit whatsoever from the world - unless he serves or sustains those who do study Torah.

Indeed, everything in this world exists for the purpose of serving the Torah and the ben Torah. After the completion of the railroad from St. Petersburg to Berlin, Horav Chaim Brisker, zl, remarked, "This was made for one purpose - to afford the yeshivah students easy access to get to the famous yeshivah in Volozhin. Everything in this world is for the Torah and those that study it."

Likewise, when the Trans-Siberian railroad was built after many years of torturous labor, costing significant sums of money and involving thousands of workers, everyone wondered why it had been constructed. What reason could there have been for creating a railroad through Siberia that would go as far east as Vlodivostak which bordered Japan? No logical reason justified this "waste" of human and natural resources.

The answer became apparent when the students and Roshei Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Poland fled from the European Holocaust to Shanghai, Japan, using this same railroad as their route of escape. A project was once again justified, as a result of its service to Torah and its devotees. If we keep this idea in mind, we might accord greater respect to those for whom Torah study is their life's ideal.

Hashem saw that the light was good, and Hashem separated between the light and the darkness. (1:4)

If the light was so "good" and the darkness less positive, why did Hashem merely separate them? Why did Hashem not banish darkness to some abyss, permitting "light" to shine all day? Why do they have equal time? Horav Yosef Chaim M'Bagdad, zl, explains that darkness increases our appreciation of light. He recounts an incident involving the Baal Haflaah, who was in need of a minyan at his home. After he was able to gather ten men, he realized that one of them was not desirable for a minyan. Thus, he sought another person. The individual in question was no fool and became quite insolent. He asked the rav, "Why did you not count me in the minyan? After all, even for the ketores, spices for the incense, they included the chelboneh, which had a foul odor." The rav immediately responded, "You are correct. That is why they need eleven spices!"

While the response may have put the man in his place, what really is the reason that they needed eleven spices? If the chelboneh is included, why do we need eleven spices? If it is not included, why bring it altogether? The answer, claims Rav Yosef Chaim, is that the ten good Jews and the ten sweet smelling spices stand out much more when they are relative to the foul-smelling spice and the Jew whose level of committment leaves much to be desired.

The same idea may be applied to the creation of darkness and its relationship with light. Hashem saw that light was inherently good. If He were to eliminate the creation of darkness, however, people would have become complacent with light. The would not appreciate its benefit as much. Consequently, darkness reigns in conjunction with light - to serve as a vehicle for appreciating the true brilliance of light.

And Hashem made the two great luminaries, the greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night. (1:16)

Chazal tell us that originally the sun and moon had been the same size. The moon complained, asking, "How can two kings rule simultaneously?" In other words, the moon felt that one of the luminaries should be diminshed in size. Hashem, thereupon, told the moon to diminish itself so that the sun would be the dominant luminary. Chazal characterize the moon's remark as inappropriate. The moon receives its light from the sun. Thus, the sun is the mashpiah, source of light, and the moon is the mekabel, reflecting the light it receives from the sun. This was unacceptable to the moon. It could not "tolerate" being the same size as the sun, but not of equal brilliance. Hashem diminished its size, so that it could never expect to be totally equal with the sun.

The moon's "sin" is the root of all sin in the world. Man also refuses to be mekabel, to accept Hashem's dominance, to sublimate himself to Hashem. No one desires to be subservient. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, attempts to underscore man's subordination to the Almighty in order to harm that relationship. Rosh Chodesh is the "zman kapparah l'chol toldosom," time of atonement for all their offspring. It represents an opportunity for salvation, "u'seshuas nafshom miyad soneh," and "a salvation for their soul from the hand of the enemy." On Rosh Chodesh, we offer a Korban Chatos, sin-offering, to atone for the sin of insubordination, for an attitude of misplaced assertiveness. The enemy from whom we seek salvation is the yetzer hora that manipulates our emotions, that "subtly" encourages us to defy the Almighty.

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, notes that if we review the various korbonos ha'Chag, offerings brought on the festivals, we will find that for every festival a Korban Chatas is offered. We will note two korbonos, however, that do not have a Chatas associated: the Korban Tamid, which was offered daily in the morning and evening; and the Korban Mussaf of Shabbos. What distinguishes these two "zemanim," moments in time, during which korbonos are brought, but, unlike for the others, a sin-offering is not included?

Horav Nebentzhal explains that all festivals are determined by the moon: the Bais Din sanctifies the New Moon, thereby designating the dates of the Yamim Tovim. Since the moon is the catalyst for the Yamim Tovim, it is understandable that as atonement for the moon's "sin," we offer a Korban Chatas. The moon complained, which is an error that must be rectified , especially since the moon is the determining factor in this festival. Shabbos and the daily Tamid are brought on a regular basis, daily and weekly. The sun governs the daily cycle that determines the Korban Tamid, both in the morning and in the evening, when the sun in setting. Shabbos begins with the sun's seventh daily setting. There is no reason to have a Korban Chatas be offered in response to the sun.

Horav Nebentzhal suggests that this might be the reason that the Torah juxtaposes the laws of korbanos upon the appointment of Yehoshua as Moshe Rabbeinu's successor. Chazal teach us that Moshe's face was like the sun, and Yehoshua's face was like the moon. This is an analogy to the lesser spiritual plateau achieved by Yehoshua in comparison to Moshe. Moshe was like the sun, inspiring, sharing his brilliance with Yehoshua, encouraging him to attain his leadership role. Yehoshua also manifested a problem with "two leaders sharing the same crown," when he came to Moshe complaining about Eldad and Meidad who were prophesizing. Moshe, like the sun, was above this. He responded to Yehoshua saying, "Are you being zealous for my sake? Would that the entire people of Hashem be prophets" (Bamidbar 11:29). Moshe, the quintessential leader, did not succomb to envy. He begrudged no man. That is the sign of a true leader.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife. (2:24)

Is this really the way it is supposed to be? For what purpose do parents spend their lives raising children, enduring hardship, frustration, and at times, pain? When their son grows up, should he reject them in order to cling to his wife? This cannot be the Torah's intention. Radak says that the pasuk only implies a physical separation. His attachment to his wife requires him to move out of his home of origin in order to establish a new home with her. This writer once heard an explanation for this pasuk that sets the tone for marriage. While one is in his parents' home, he is a mekabel, a taker. His parents support and sustain him. He has no specific responsibility towards others. When he takes a mate, he "leaves" his parents' home. He now assumes the role of "nosein," giver. He must now take the initiative to play a more aggressive role in his new relationship. The submissiveness of the past, the "taking" to which he had become accustomed, is no longer appropriate. He is responsible for the care of his wife, playing a pivotal role in their relationship. Indeed, he leaves his parents' home, but only in the sense of the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed.

Alternatively, we may suggest another interpretation. The Torah says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother." The Torah does not say that a son shall leave his parents. This would lead us to infer that the "son" never leaves his parents' home. "Ish", man, is a term which denotes submissiveness and compliance. That characteristic of the individual is now transferred to his wife. In order for a relationship to retain its harmony and unity, it is critical that each partner devoid himself of his self-importance. Nothing can be more anathema to a marriage than a mate who is obesessed with his or her own ego. The young man is to take the deferential nature he had assumed in association with his parents and integrate it into his relationship with his wife.

Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering...But to Kayin and to his offering He did not turn...This annoyed Kayin exceedingly...And Hashem said to Kayin, "Why are you annoyed?" (4:4,5,6)

Hashem is questioning Kayin about the source of his depression. Does not the Torah, however, in the preceding pasuk clearly state the reason for Kayin's annoyance: Hashem's rejection of his offerings. Is that not enough reason for one to be despondent? Horav Chaim Brisker, zl, gives a practical explanation to the query. Hashem asked Kayin, "Why are you really upset? Is it because your korban,offering, was not accepted, or is there a deeper reason, the fact that your brother's korban was accepted?" Quite possibly Kayin's dejection was not due to his own rejection by the Almighty. Perhaps the real problem was the fact that his brother's korban was accepted.

Regretably, this has become second-nature for many. They could tolerate their own lot, as long as their neighbor does not succeed. The thought that someone else would succeed is a bitter pill for many to swallow. We tend to become so obsessed with our friend's success that we neglect doing something about our own failure. How are we to correct our own mistakes when our prime concern is our neighbor's achievement?

This is the book (account) of the descendants of Adam. (5:1)

The Torah enumerates the generations that descended from Adam Ha'Rishon. In his inimitable manner, Horav Moshe Swift, zl, suggests a homiletic interpretation of this pasuk. "The book of life is the generations of man." There are all kinds of books. Some are worth reading, while others are nothing more than trash. Some books teach valuable lessons with profound meaning, while other books leave no lasting impression. We are pages in the book of life written by our parents. They are the cover, the binding that holds the pages together. We write the pages based upon the way that we act and our adherence to the path which they have forged for us. The length of the book is determined by the amount of work the children contribute to it. Parents hope and pray that their children will write creditable pages in their book of life.

Sometimes, however, the pages are well-written but the binding is worthless, causing the pages to scatter and the book to fall to pieces. The parents are weak; they are irresolute, giving in to every foolish notion that arises. Their own legitimacy as committed Jews is at best placid. Thus, the book's binding falls apart. Before the children grow up and add their own pages to the book, it falls to pieces and the pages scatter.

How tragic a scene: a book that had so much potential, but has fallen apart because the covers were weak. How often parents bemoan the decisions they have made for their children! Every author needs a good editor, one that will be objective, advising to supplement or -- at times -- to delete. Parents have the opportunity to avail themselves of help as they prepare their book of life. Some accept the advice of their editor, while others make their own subjective decisions. Unfortunately, when we are dealing with a book of life, there is no room for error.

1. Why do we not find the words "ki tov," good, associated with the second day?

2. Did Adam eat meat?

3. Adam was created from dust gathered from all corners of the earth. Why was this?

4. Was Kayin born prior to Adam and Chavah's banishment from Gan Eden?

5. What prompted Hevel to choose shepherding as a vocation?

6. What type of tools did Tuval-Kayin create?

7. What unique feature did Shem manifest at birth that indicated his tendency toward righteousness?


1. The work with the water was not completed until the next day. The concept of "good" is not applied to something which is incomplete.

2. No.

3. Wherever he would die, the earth would readily accept his body.

4. Yes.

5. The ground was cursed as a result of Adam's sin. He, therefore, refused to work the soil.

6. He made weapons for murder.

7. He was nolad mahul, born circumcised.

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