Parsha : bereishit

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SCIENCE AND THE TORAH PORTION: The Basic Needs of the World

by Idit Gamliel

The Third Day is described twice by the words, "It was good" [Bereishit 1:10,12]. This is the day when the plants were created. While there are many overt ways in which we enjoy plants, such as in a tasty salad, they also provide many hidden benefits.

Plants perform the process of photosynthesis, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and forming carbohydrates by a combination of sunlight and water. These are the basic foods which provide energy for all the creatures, a sort of "energy bank" which can be passed from one creature to another. The cycle is completed and energy is released by breathing, when the organic compounds are burned with oxygen from the air, releasing carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere. In this way, the plant kingdom provides a reserve of energy sources for the rest of the world.

Chlorophyll is what gives the plants the ability to absorb sunlight, and it also gives them their green color. The action of the chlorophyll is part of the "Kelvin Cycle," named for a Jewish researcher who studied the process about 50 years ago. For this work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1961.

The delicate balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was maintained as long as mankind preserved the plants. In recent times, when there have been massive destruction of forests coupled with a large amount of combustion of fuels, there have been growing fears that the oxygen content of the air will decrease, and the carbon dioxide will increase. Various groups interested in ecology have been working to bring the processes back into balance.

POINT OF VIEW: Say, Yes to Speaking

by Dr. Yisrael Rozenson

In a famous section of the introduction of the Natziv to his commentary on Bereishit, he discusses a basic sin of the Jews who lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. (Actually, I sometimes wonder if it is as famous as it should be, since if so it should be regularly shouted from the rooftops!) According to the Natziv, the people "were righteous and pious and acted according to the Torah, but they were not straightforward in their worldly customs and manners. Thus, because of irrational hatred of each other, they suspected that anybody who did not act in accordance with their beliefs was a Tzeduki or an Appicorus. This brought about divisiveness and spilling of blood, and led to all the possible evil in the world, until the result was the destruction of the Temple."

That is, heated ideological debates, carried on by people who are convinced that they are in possession of the one and only truth, are often in fact a cover for what is really nothing more than "sin'at chinam," irrational hate.

Based on this concept, the Natziv goes on to explain why the Midrash calls the Book of Bereishit "Sefer HaYashar" [The Book of the Straight Path]. The name is related to the personalities and the customs of our forefathers: "And this was the praise given to the forefathers. Not only were they extremely righteous and pious, and also loved G-d as much as possible, they were also 'straight' in their customs. That is, they acted to help the other nations; even if the others were despised idol worshippers, they loved them and rushed to their aid as part of the effort to support the creation."

I would like to suggest that the same behavior pattern is rooted in the act of creation itself. Why else would G-d choose to create His world by speaking? It must be that He wanted to teach us the inherent value of speech itself. From the very moment that the first creatures appeared, it was clear that there is a correspondence between speech and creation. Since speech is used both for mental processes and communication, it provides for understanding and internalization, which can lead to constant renewal, in itself a form of creation.

The verse, "Just as heaven is above the earth, so are my ways high above your paths" [Yeshayahu 55:9], implies that we cannot imitate all of G-d's actions in detail. However, it is true that we would like to observe the verse, "and we will go in his pathways" [Yeshayahu 2:3]. There are those who would like to imitate the Divine path based on the verse from this week's Haftara, "G-d will go forth as a hero, his jealousy will awaken as that of a warrior" [Yeshayahu 42:13]. But in so doing, they completely ignore the spirit of an overwhelming majority of the passages of Tanach which see jealousy and fanaticism as the sole province of the Almighty, permitted only by very specific individuals in cases of dire need. Note that the fanatic usually does not resort to communication or speech.

A different approach is based on the advice of the sages to imitate the Almighty in his characteristic of kindness, as is written, "the Torah starts with kindness and ends with kindness" [Sota 14a]. This will quickly lead to the need for speech. There can be no real kindness without true acquaintance of the other side, and it is impossible to know him without speaking to him.

Say, Yes to speaking! This theme, the title of this article, is a paraphrase of Zev Jabotinsky's cry, "Ken, lishbor" [Say, Yes to breaking!]. His cry was taken to the extreme and used for many years as a justification for implementing change by force. Instead of this, the Natziv implies that it is important to talk, even to those who would seem to be Tzedukim or apostates, as in the end we may find that they are really far from these categories. Speak, instead of breaking. Speak, so that we can continue to create. Speak, so that speech will not be comparable to chaos (see Yeshayahu 33:11), which is characterized by the terrible silence of the lack of talk.

As a group, we are very careful to abide by the ethics and the halachah of "shemirat halashon" [guarding the tongue] with all the details regarding slander against individuals. However, we see things differently when the same tongue is aimed at ideological opponents who are threatening to upset the absolute certainty that we represent the one and only truth. In ideological debates, the tongue is free to slander and seek its own path. Let us hope that the above words of the Natziv will help to widen the scope of "shemirat halashon" to include this important area.

TORAH AND TECHNOLOGY: Enjoying Shabbat in an Elevator

"And G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" [Bereishit 2:3]. Shabbat is blessed not only in the prohibition of work but also in the commandment of "oneg" [joy], which requires both physical and spiritual comfort.

Tall buildings, with four or more floors, are required by law to have elevators. During week days, the occupants and their guests have no problem enjoying the fruits of modern technology in reaching the upper floors. On Shabbat, if there are no special provisions made, it is necessary to expend a large effort to climb stairs, and, to put it mildly, this can interfere with the pleasure of Shabbat. With the proper automation, it is possible to use an elevator even on Shabbat. In the interests of bringing the public up to date on this issue, we would like to make some comments.

1. It is unfortunately quite common that a Shabbat elevator does not meet all the requirements. Even if the elevator is operated automatically, many details have to be taken into account, and these should be checked by an authority on the subject. Both the occupants and the builder should insist that the company installing the elevator have certification from a competent authority.

2. The main possible problems with installing a Shabbat elevator are related to a direct or indirect manual influence on the operation of the elevator. This could be connected to such elements as the electric contacts in the door mechanism, an electric eye, motion sensors, weighing the contents of the elevator, lighting and ventilation, speed of the elevator, and signal lights.

3. Local elevator manufacturers have a halachic-technological specification for correct installation, but the implementation must be checked by an independent inspection (possibly by a subcontractor). The inspection is simple and fast, and it is typically performed in the presence of a technician of the company involved, who order the inspection. Among its other tasks, Zomet Institute carries out such certifications. Unfortunately, the tests often uncover some errors which must be corrected.

4. It is recommended that the committee in charge of every cooperative building and the owners of every hotel and public institution make sure that there is a valid halachic certification of all Shabbat elevators. It is the right of the client to demand this whenever an elevator is installed, and consumer awareness will serve to bring all the manufacturers in line with the halachic-technological requirements.

5. When an elevator is renovated or new functions are added, it is recommended to perform a renewed inspection. Experience has shown that when changes are made they may interfere with the proper Shabbat operation of the elevator, and this should be checked.

6. It is a common error to assume that the use of a Shabbat elevator is permitted only in times of great need, such as for sick or especially weak people, since people feel that "when all is said and done, I am really riding on Shabbat!" The truth is that there is no prohibition to "ride" on Shabbat per se, unless the rider or somebody else is performing work which in itself is prohibited on Shabbat. When a Shabbat elevator has been installed properly, there is no prohibited work performed by any human being.

(Presented by the staff of Zomet Institute.)

RELIGIOUS ZIONISM IN ACTION: Sheirut Leumi in a Uniform

by Nissim Swed

Meital and Michal serve as soldier-teachers. Even though they wear army uniforms, they are not connected to the IDF but they are under the authority of the Torah Culture Authority of the Ministry of Education. They teach in both religious and non-religious schools, but in their personal lives they adhere to a strictly religious lifestyle.

When I wanted to know why they did not join Sheirut Leumi as most of their friends did, Michal answered, "Our uniforms serve as an entry permit into the non-religious schools." Meital added, "We participate in field trips and provide the student with the Jewish point of view." Other soldier-teachers described their special contribution to the schools of nature study in which they serve.

Michal gave another example of the unique tasks which these young women perform: "Yesterday I led a group of new immigrants from the CIS. The subject of the discussion was 'The Jewish Identity.' If there is no drastic change in the lifestyles of these immigrants, I am afraid that this may be both the first and last encounter any of them have with religious Judaism."

In summary, Meital says, "We are both convinced that this service, together with the preparation we put into it and the refresher studies we had to undertake, have raised our own spiritual level and our personal goals. In another year I will no longer be the same 'Meital' who started this project last year."


3 - NYCI (Block)

Guest Rabbi:Rabbi Jay Marcus of Staten Island, New York

The very first Rashi on the Torah begins with the famous question.

Rav Yitzchak states that the Torah should have begun with the very first Mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh). Why then does it begin with the story of Creation?

The Torah begins with Creation to teach us the critical lesson that if the nations of the world accuse the Jewish People of stealing and conquering the Land of Israel, we are to respond that the Al-Mighty created the world and has destined His People, namely the Jewish nation, to receive the Land of Israel. This Rashi serves as the basis of our claim to Eretz Yisrael.

It is apparent from Rashi's question and answer that he views the Torah as a Sefer HaMitzvot, a Book of Laws and therefore has to have a special explanation for the Torah commencing with the story of Creation which he emphasizes is the basis of our right to Eretz Yisrael. However, two specific questions may be raised to Rashi's approach.

The first question that arises: is the first Mitzvah of the Torah really that of HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem in Parshat Bo in Sefer Sh'mot? Aren't the Mitzvot of Pru Urvu (procreation), Milah and Gid HaNasheh in Sefer B'reishit considered the first Mitzvot?

Rashi obviously views the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh as the first Mitzvah commanded to B'nei Yisrael as a People while the Mitzvot in Sefer B'reishit are commanded to individuals. Therefore, Rashi considers HaChodesh HaZeh the first Mitzvah which Am Yisrael had to obey as a nation. If, in reality, there are no communal Mitzvot included in Sefer B'reishit, why doesn't the Torah begin with Creation and continue immediately with Rosh Chodesh, the first Mitzvah in Sefer B'reishit?

As a point of interest, the Ramban's approach to Sefer B'reishit and to this question is different than Rashi's. He views Sefer B'reishit and the moral lessons learned from the Avot as future guidelines for their descendants. The Ramban feels that the theme of Maaseh Avot Simon Lebonim - "the actions of the fathers is a symbol to the children" - is the paramount lesson of Sefer B'reishit. Thus, the lessons learned from the lives of our Avot (Patriarchs) and Imahot (Matriarchs) as described in Sefer B'reishit are applicable to all future generations, including our own lives in contemporary times. Rashi takes another approach totally as to why the lessons of Sefer B'reishit are included if they don't contain any communal Mitzvot.

Rashi's response became relevant to me, personally, a number of years ago when presenting a lecture to the wives of the United Nations delegates. The major question and concern of these women was the "right" of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as presented in the "Bible". I presented the aforementioned commentary by Rashi as our claim to the Land of Israel. However, the diplomatic wives were troubled and raised the question: Where specifically in the Five Books of Moses do the Jewish People enter or gain title to the Land of Israel?

They never really entered the Land itself. Our entrance into Eretz Yisrael as a nation really occurred with Yehoshua in Sefer Yehoshua and not specifically in the Five Books of the Torah. However, as I informed the delegates' wives, following Creation in the Book of Genesis, Abraham and Sara enter the Land of Israel (in Parshat Lech Lecha), Yitzchak never leaves Israel and Yaakov's exile and subsequent return to the Land of Israel to be buried in the Me'arat HaMachpela (Cave of his Forefathers) in Hebron at the conclusion of the Book of Genesis is the Jewish People's "claim" to the Land of Israel. Rashi views the lives of the Avot and Imahot as testimony to the Jewish People's "Right" and claim to Israel.

In truth, then, the theme of the entire Sefer B'reishit may be viewed as the fulfillment of the very first Rashi. It is not only our "right" to Israel but it is the entrance, life and sacrifice of our Avot and Imahot for Eretz Yisrael which serves as our first chazakah (right) and kavosh (conquering) of Land of Israel.


4 - PARSHA PAGE (Kornfeld)


This is the story of the offspring of Adam; on the day that Hashem created man, he created him in the image of G-d... Adam lived for 130 years, and then he had a child... Seth. (Bereishit 5:13)

"Love your neighbor as yourself (Vayikra 19:18)," said Rebbi Akiva, is an invaluable guide to Torah observance. [Shimon] ben Azzai said, "This is the story of the offspring of man," is an even more valuable guide! (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 -- see also Bereishit Rabba end of Ch. 24)

It is readily understandable why Rebbi Akiva chose "Love your neighbor" as a general guide to the Mitzvot of Hashem. The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) relates that Hillel, the temporal leader of Israel, summed up the entire Torah in one sentence by saying "Don't do to your friend what you wouldn't want done to yourself." Following the Golden Rule will invariably lead a person towards the performance of Hashem's Mitzvot -- Mitzvot that are themselves intended to teach a person to be considerate towards his fellow man (see Parasha-Page, Kedoshim 5756). What lesson, however, did Shimon ben Azzai learn from the words, "The story of man's offspring" that brought him to invoke its importance so emphatically?

Numerous suggestions are offered by the commentaries, but let us examine an original approach based on the teachings of a Mishnah in Sanhedrin.


Why was man created by Hashem single [and instead of being created along with him, the rest of mankind descended from him]? To teach that if one causes the loss of a single Jewish soul, it is as if he has destroyed an entire world and if one rescues a single Jewish soul, it is as if he has rescued an entire world.

Every person should therefore feel as though the entire world was created only for him [-- that is, he should tell himself, "I'm as important as an entire world! Why should I degrade myself by transgressing a command of the Torah?" In this manner, he will never sin]. (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 37a, and Rashi)

If a person maintains a proper self esteem, he will never even consider sinning. If he views himself as the sole center of his Creator's attention, he won't be affected by an environment of sin and sinners.

All of creation was intended to be an arena for the final creation -- mankind. Similarly, all of mankind is meant to be the supporting actors for the one true man of G-d. It wasn't only when Adam was created that a single individual was the focus of the entire world; such is the case in every generation:

"Fear Hashem, observe his Mitzvot, because that is what mankind is all about," quoted Rebbi Elazar. The entire world was only created in order for one who does that such a person (i.e., one who fears Hashem) to come along. Rebbi Abba Bar Kahana said: This person is as important as all the rest of the world. *Shimon ben Azzai*, or Shimon ben Zoma, said: The entire world was only created to be companions for this person. (Berachot 6b)

Ben Zoma once stood on the Temple Mount and observed from there a crowd of some 600,000 Jews. "Blessed be Hashem," he exclaimed, "who created all of these people just to serve me!" (Berachot 58a)

All of existence was intended simply as a backdrop for mankind. Perhaps this is what Chazal meant when they described the "dimensions" of Adam:

Rebbi Elazar said: Adam was from the earth until the heavens... Rav Yehudah related from the teachings of Rav: Adam was from one end of the world to the other end...(Chagigah 12a)

Adam was as important as all the rest of creation, and so is the true servant of Hashem. All the members of humankind that do not recognize and serve their creator are playing a role secondary to the truly G-d fearing individual. (See also Rambam, in his Introduction to the Mishnah, who brilliantly develops this theme in his lengthy analysis of a Gemara in Berachot 8a.)

This is the lesson that ben Azzai learned from our verse. "This is the story of the offspring of man" -- all living men stem from a single man, Adam. Let a person be aware that the entire world was created for him if he remains true to the Torah way. In ben Azzai's opinion, this verse is "an even more valuable guideline" than loving one's neighbor. It is important to love others, but it is more important not to let those others affect one's own service of Hashem. Regardless of what others teach us, say to us, or do to us, we have a mission to fulfill. Don't just remember how important *others* are, let us remember who *we* are!


This explains an enigmatic teaching on another verse in Parshat Bereishit:

"These are the happenings that occurred to the heavens and the earth 'when they were created' [B'hibaram]" (Bereishit 2:4) - Don't read the word as "B'hibaram," but [rearrange the world's lettering and read it as] "B'avraham" -- for Avraham. In Avraham's merit the world was created. (Bereishit Rabba 12:9).

How can the world have been created in the merit of one who hadn't yet come into being? And what hint did our Rabbis find in this verse to Avraham? They certainly wouldn't have suggested this play on words had they not seen a hint to Avraham in the text (as has been demonstrated in earlier Parasha-Pages -- see Parshat Ki-Tetze 5754).

What we have prefaced allows us to understand these words. In this verse too, the Torah emphasizes that the entire world was created for but one man to work it and develop it (see the continuation of the chapter, Bereishit 2:5-25). Similarly, at any given period of time the entire world may be designed for a single individual's fulfillment. This is the allusion to Avraham, for it is just such a theme that is demonstrated by Avraham Avinu. The Mishnah tells us in Avot (5:3), "There were ten generations between Noach and Avraham... and they all continually angered Hashem. Along came Avraham, and he made it all worthwhile." It was in order to produce one Avraham that Hashem allowed ten generations of sinners to pass.

"Single was Avraham" (Yechezkel 33:24). Avraham was indeed the single focus of Hashem's attention in the world -- and he knew it. He was not going to allow the sinners of the generation to cause a decline in his status!




"In the beginning, G-d Created the Heavens and the earth." [1:1]

Right? Wrong! "In the beginning of G-d's Creation of Heaven and earth; the earth was in an unformed state (Tohu Vavohu)..." See Rashi.

In a recent discussion on the Internet, this change of language led to quite a bit of confusion. Someone asked essentially the following question: since according to Rashi the account of Creation begins _after_ the earth was already "Tohu Vavohu," does this mean that Rashi believed that G-d did not create "Tohu Vavohu?"

Of course not ("Heaven forbid!"). From Rashi, the Ramban [Nachmanides], and Ibn Ezra, we see that only the Torah - quite deliberately - does not provide a full chronological history of the very beginning of Creation. The Sifsei Chachamim explains [note Kaf] that the Torah "wishes to explain only what came into existence following the creation of Heaven and Earth..." But Heaven and Earth _were_ created, even from null to "Tohu Vavohu" - the Greek idea of matter existing before G-d created it is simply never entertained.

This leads us to a larger issue. In our classes, we study works by many traditional scholars, and deliver Divrei Torah on the parsha using a variety of traditional sources. Behind the diverse opinions and outlooks, it becomes obvious that these scholars share a common thread of underlying beliefs. The truth is that traditional Jewish philosophy has a strikingly clear set of parameters, an awareness of which can help those who want to study further on their own.

While it is true that the Talmud is filled with one debate after another, it is _also_ true that the debates only occur within these firm guidelines. The concept of a G-d who created the universe from scratch is part of that core. The Ramban says: "Isn't there a great need to begin with Creation? Because this is the root of our beliefs, and one who does not believe this, and believes that the universe existed for all eternity, denies the fundamentals and has no Torah... but the answer is that the work of Creation involves deep concepts which cannot be understood from the verses..." Thus he explains why the Medrash asserts that the Torah could have really started later on (save for certain other reasons, see there), says something perfectly in accordance with modern science ("There was a Big Bang. We don't know why or how."), and also underlines this fundamental concept.

The Rambam [Maimonides] begins his Mishnah Torah, his compendium of Jewish law, by saying that "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there exists a 'First Being,' and He brings into existence all that exists [lit. all that is found]; and all that exists, from heaven to earth and all in between, does not exist except through the steadfastness of He who makes it exist." [Mada 1:1] He offers much the same words as the first of his 13 Fundamental principles of Jewish belief, as detailed in his commentary to Mishnah Sanhedrin Chapter 10.

Against the backdrop of such definite statements, it is almost inconceivable that any traditional scholar (such as Rashi) could argue against Creation Ex Nihilo!

The scholars of the Talmud and beyond certainly knew that alternative philosophies existed - one merely need read of the encounters with Greeks and Romans, the Moreh Nevuchim, and the Kuzari. Certainly, a system designed to promote asking the most penetrating, challenging, and thoughtful questions cannot simply set up blinders to prevent thinking about fundamental issues. Nonetheless, none of these encounters and debates made their way into the Halachic literature (save into the laws of idolatry!) because at the end of the day, these perspectives are totally foreign to that which our tradition claims to have acquired at Mt. Sinai.

To take the most obvious example: is it possible for a Talmudic scholar, who questions everything, to fail to examine the very existence of G-d? No. Several years ago, I heard a leading sage in Jerusalem require a group of students to examine the existence of G-d in their own minds until they came up with no fewer than five satisfactory proofs that G-d exists. And yet, of course, this is hardly a subject of debate - the Rabbis clearly felt that they had the proofs.

For anyone interested in a serious study of these underlying concepts, I would recommend the Rambam's 13 principles. They are available in print (translated and explained in several languages), on the Internet, and - we hope to provide them shortly on our site, with explanations and elaboration as necessary. We hope that a description of these "parameters of Jewish tradition" will help readers to better understand traditional perspectives and sources.

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