As we begin the new cycle of reading the Torah, one of the things that strikes me is the magnitude of our parsha. Not only because it contains a description of the creation of the world which of course carries with it a plethora of theological questions, but simply because it is the first parsha. The Torah has messages for us as individuals, as part of Am Yisrael and as human beings. The all encompassing nature of the Torah make it a very hard “book to write”. Where should the Torah begin in its attempt to convey all of these critical lessons. We vest a tremendous amount of importance in the text of the Torah and therefore the way in which the Torah chooses to introduce itself should be seen as a matter of major importance.
This notion is expressed in the famous first comment of Rashi on the Torah:
“R. Yitzchack said: It was not necessary to begin the Torah but with the verse “This month shall be unto you the first month… since this is the first mitzvah that Israel was commanded and what is the reason it begins with Breishit? …”
Before we examine the answer of R. Yitzchack, it is important to point out the underlying assumption in his question. The starting point of the Torah is critical and sets the tone for the rest of the book. The first pesukim hint to us what the very purpose of the Torah is.
Originally he had assumed that the appropriate place to start the Torah would be with the first mitzvah that Am yisrael was commanded, that of Kiddush Ha Chodesh, which appears in Shmot 12:2. This would be the natural place to begin, if the purpose of the Torah was a work of rules and regulations that we must fulfill, mitzvot to be kept and rules of conduct that define us as God’s nation. According to this view the entire book of Beraishit may have historical value and may actually make for fascinating reading but it lacks the ability to “get to the point”- the “point” being, once again the fulfillment of the Mitzvot. We are taught a tremendous amount of lessons in human nature, family rearing, diplomacy and many other engaging episodes but with only a handful of Mitzvot in the entire book it seems to be better suited to be left as Midrash and not part of the actual text of the Torah itself.
Instead we are presented with a different prelude to the Torah, the actual creation of the world by God.
What is this meant to teach us? Asks R Yitzchack.
“…If the nations of the world say to Israel you are robbers because you have seized by force the land of the seven nations, They (Israel) can reply “The entire world belongs to God, He created it, and gave it to whomever it was right in His eyes ,Of His own will He gave it to them, and of His own will he took it from them, and gave it to us.”
His answer is one that under normal circumstances we might find surprising. He associates the entire story of creation, with all its problematic nature and philosophical pitfalls, with the territorial claim to Eretz Yisrael.
[I say that under normal circumstances this would seem surprising. As I am writing these lines times are a bit less than “normal” and all aspects of our lives are focused on what seems to be a fairly simple concept, our right to Eretz Yisrael. It is significant to note as well the logic in R Yitchack’s argument. He does not claim that we happened upon an uninhabited piece of real estate and are therefore the first to claim it, rather he is quite clearly rooted in the historical reality of the conquest of the land by Yehoshua and the result that this had upon the prior inhabitants of the land. Our claim to Eretz Yisrael is based on a gift and obligation from God, when this gift can be realized, which we will discuss soon. This claim may require a use of force and unfortunately will most likely lead to a certain amount of violence, (despite the calls for peace that were made to the seven nations prior to the entrance into the land as described by the Ramban Devarim 20:10). Needless to say that the UN would not accept such a claim nor would the CNN report it in a understanding manner. I do not however believe that our claim is weakened by those facts, and we should be cautious of adopting values dictated to us by the media which are not in line with the traditional torah perspective.]
As important as a concept as Eretz Yisrael may be, and as clear cut a proof as is provided by the story of creation, I think that the original question still has not been answered. Why is it necessary to have the entire book of Beraishit if the goal and purpose of all the information “pre-Mitzvot” is to support our claim to the land. After all how does the story of the flood and all the stories of the Avot bolster our claim to Eretz Yisrael?
The Ramban in his comments on the first pasuk in the Torah expands this question and offers a very different reading of R. Yitzchack. The Ramban explains that the question was not only relevant to the story of creation but indeed on the entire Sefer. The answer, however, must not be understood in a simplistic manner – God created the world and therefore can do whatever he pleases- but a much more fundamental principle is involved here, a principle worthy of being the first in the narrative of the Torah.
According to the Ramban what we learn from Beraishit, the entire parsha and even sefer, is that Man was created and given responsibility which at times he did not live up to. Adam and Hava sinned and their punishment was Galut, from Gan Eden. The stories of Kayin and Hevel, the flood, the tower of Bavel, Sdom and amora amongst the rest of the stories in Beraishit have a common theme- reward and punishment. God not only created the world but as well He continues to be involved in its everyday events, guiding history to meet the balance of justice.
What R. Yitchack is telling us is that “yes, God created the world and yes, He took Eretz Yisrael away from the seven nations, and therefore we are not robbers. However, we must keep in mind that this does not stem from an unconditional proposition. We must be worthy of Eretz Yisrael in order to live here in a suitable way. There is no such thing as a free lunch”.
If our dominion in Eretz Yisrael was to represent Gods creation of the world, when the Jews were exiled from Eretz Yisrael, were they then to reevaluate their position and suggest that maybe God did not create the world? Definitely not! The message is exactly the opposite, exile represents God’s creation of the world in the same sense that Geula does. They recognized Gods sense of justice and it was clear that the cycle of justice was being completed. The seemingly knock out “Zionistic” Rashi, becomes, according to the Ramban, an enormous challenge. We must build our society here in Eretz Yisrael in a manner that is worthy of such a place, we must be sensitive to all aspects of God’s wishes and design for mankind. The rest of the Torah is the prescription for such a society. The Mitzvot that we must keep in all realms of our lives empower us to proudly defend our position vis a vis Eretz Yisrael,(even then we will not be handed the land on a silver platter).
As we attempt to live up to the standards that R. Yitchack has set for us each and every one of us has to ask themselves what they can do to help achieve that goal. Those of you reading this in Israel must answer this question as well as those that do not yet live here, for after all Am Yisrael is one unit, a nation that is to live on its land and form the basis for representing God in this world.
R . Shames