Decoding Torah: Parashat Beresheit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

8 min read

The repair of the world and the soul often require taking responsibility, consciousness, and effective action. HaShem places challenges before us but also provides the tools to face them, aiming for the repair and improvement of the world.

Beresheit 1: The Dawn of Creation

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The very opening of the Torah provides a framework for our understanding of the universe. From the Zohar to the writings of the Rambam (Maimonides, “Mishneh Torah”, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 1), the sages meditate upon the enigma of creation ex nihilo — the notion that HaShem brought forth the entirety of existence from absolute nothingness. This act showcases His boundless power and the realm of possibilities that lie within His will.

Furthermore, the world’s establishment itself, with its intricate design, testifies to the unparalleled wisdom of HaShem. Just as a detailed tapestry reveals the expertise of its weaver, the harmonious interplay between light and darkness, land and sea, flora and fauna points towards a Divine Designer.

However, this harmonious existence came with a choice: the eternal struggle between good and evil, represented by light and darkness. This duality serves as a testament to mankind’s free will, a gift that can either uplift or tarnish the sanctity of creation.

Commentary:

  • The first insight is the infinite capability of HaShem, the ability to create something from nothing.
  • The natural order of the world is changed through the actions of HaShem, making each part of the world filled with holiness.
  • The dialogue between lack and abundance, between darkness and light, symbolizes the eternal struggle between good and evil.
  • Each day is special in its own strength and energy, and each of us can impact the world uniquely each day.
  • The world is created in a measured and planned way, which testifies to the wisdom of HaShem and His good will to create such a world.

Beresheit 2: The Completion of Creation

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.”

Upon the culmination of the six days of creation, the concept of Shabbat was introduced. The Shabbat doesn’t merely signify rest; it’s a testament to the world’s inherent perfection in its divinely crafted state. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in “Derech HaShem” (The Way of God, Part I, Chapter 4) illuminates this idea, noting that Shabbat represents the world’s return to its primordial state of perfection before the toil of mankind.

Moreover, the interconnectedness of creation, each element complementing another, serves as a profound lesson. It teaches us about unity, about the collective purpose shared by all creation, and about the inherent sanctity that exists within the vast array of the universe.

Commentary:

  • Completeness is part of HaShem’s ultimate goal, and is measured through the divine providence and order in the world.
  • Each creation in the world complements the other, and thus we should seek the continuity and harmony in everything.
  • The Shabbat is a time to fortify and unite with HaShem, and to understand the values and purposes that have been imparted to us.
  • The sacred and the mundane are measured through time and not just through space, which grants great importance to every moment we are alive.
  • Each part of creation contains within it a spark of divinity, and we must find this light in every creation.

Beresheit 3: The First Transgression

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals.”

The narrative of Adam, Eve, and the serpent is one deeply rooted in mysticism and moral instruction. Kabbalists, like Rabbi Isaac Luria in “Etz Chayim”, have delved into the metaphysical implications of this event, noting the introduction of spiritual impurity into the world. This event signifies the challenges of human desires, the seductive allure of transgression, and the profound consequences of our choices.

However, it also sets the stage for the concept of teshuva (repentance). The potential for rectification and return to HaShem is born from our very first collective failing.

Commentary:

  • Evil and deception are present in the world, but the way to confront them is through closeness to HaShem and fortification through Torah.
  • At every moment there is choice, and our choice affects the spiritual level of the world.
  • Preparation for repair and improvement is an inseparable part of the human experience, and the path to repair is through repentance and prayer.
  • Physical excitements and desires are obstacles on the path to spirituality, but can become tools for drawing closer to HaShem when conducted correctly.
  • A person can cause either repair or destruction; therefore, one should strive to be an active partner in creation, not just a passive observer.

Beresheit 4: The Birth of Morality

“Adam knew Eve his wife.”

From the union of Adam and Eve came the next generations, bringing forth a plethora of moral challenges. The story of Cain and Abel, for instance, serves as a somber reflection on jealousy, responsibility, and the weight of brotherhood.

The challenges faced by these early generations were not mere historical events but lessons. Each interaction, each choice, and each consequence serve as a reminder of the weight of our actions and the ripple effect they can have upon the world.

Commentary:

  • The marital relationship is one of the most important tools for soul correction and drawing closer to HaShem.
  • Every action in this world has an effect, for good or bad, so we must take responsibility for our actions.
  • The revelation of the will and readiness to parent children are an expression of faith in the power of renewal and blessing in the world.
  • Jealousy and competition between siblings can lead to harm, but also to repair when conducted in a refined manner.
  • Laws and boundaries are important for social order and spirituality. Transgressions that cross these boundaries can lead to crime and estrangement from HaShem.

Beresheit 5: Generations of Legacy

“This is the book of the generations of Adam.”

The lineage of Adam, as detailed in this chapter, isn’t merely a chronological account. It’s a testament to the legacy, the spiritual imprint left by each individual. As elaborated upon in the writings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the “Zohar” (Vayechi, Section 3), every soul has a unique mission, a divine purpose that contributes to the grand tapestry of existence.

The long lifespans of these early ancestors, from Adam to Methuselah, aren’t merely numbers. They represent epochs of influence, eras wherein these individuals impacted the world, teaching us that our time on this earth, be it short or long, is invaluable.

Commentary:

  • History is an inseparable part of individual and collective identity, and allows us to understand the required rectification in various generations.
  • The influence of parents on children is important, but each person is considered as an individual in the eyes of HaShem.
  • Long life is a blessing, but the quality and intention in life are the most important criteria.
  • Each generation carries the potential to rectify and improve the world, so we must identify and appreciate every member of the greater family of Israel.
  • Even amidst darkness and destruction, there is always a spark of light and hope waiting for redemption.

Beresheit 6: The Descent into Chaos

“And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth.”

This chapter paints a grim picture of a world consumed by moral decay. Yet, even in such dire times, there existed glimmers of hope, most notably in the form of Noah. Through him, the potential for a new beginning, a world rebuilt on righteousness, was possible.

The teachings of Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 38b ) shed light on this era, emphasizing the importance of righteous individuals and their role in preserving the sanctity of the world. Even in times of overwhelming darkness, the beacon of righteousness can pave the way for salvation.

Commentary:

  • Moving away from HaShem and breaking boundaries can lead to widespread evil and destruction.
  • In every generation, there are righteous individuals who serve as lights in the darkness, proving that rectification and closeness to HaShem are possible.
  • When darkness increases, it can be seen as a sign for change and rectification, not as a final, immutable judgment.
  • Human power to influence nature and the world is immense, so it must be used cautiously and wisely.
  • The rectification of the world and the soul often require a prompt response and a fundamental change in approach to life.

Conclusion

In sum, the teachings embedded within the initial chapters of Beresheit are vast and profound. They set the stage for mankind’s eternal journey, marked by struggles, triumphs, and the constant quest for spiritual elevation.

Let us continually seek to draw inspiration from these ancient narratives, recognizing the timeless wisdom they offer and the deep spiritual truths they embody.

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