סדר בראשית

וירא אלקים את האור כי טוב ויבדל בין האור ובין החשך

(Genesis 1:5/’בראשית א’, ה)

He who forms light and creates darkness is blessed and praised for ever and ever, for He them juxtaposed them one to the other so that man could distinguish himself by differentiating between light and darkness and between truth and falsehood. For to do so is the essence of man so long as he lives on earth, to pursue and to seek that which is shut and hidden, and whatever is distant from or closed to him. And this longing provides the purpose, and goal and the essence of his life. Just as it is for a man’s physical desires, so too is it for one who seeks to fill his soul with ideas and to live a life of the spirit, because if anyone has fulfilled all his desires and has no longing for anything else, his life becomes meaningless, and his days become empty. For the ultimate life force animating all creatures is the powerful longing for that which is apart and distant and difficult to reach, and no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. . . . And perhaps it was this idea that our Sages had in mind in expounding the Midrash on the verse וירא אלקים את האור כי טוב ויבדל בין האור ובין החשך, that God hid the light for the righteous until the end of days, by which they meant that the light of truth would remain forever hidden from their eyes so that the righteous would always search for and seek to grasp it, and in their searching and seeking they would find the pleasure of their lives and the whole merit of their existence, rising up from the depths to the heights and aspiring with longing to the most lofty understanding in this world of action that God created to do (אשר ברא אלקים לעשות). (From the introduction to Dor Revi’i)

ויעשׂ אלֹקִים את הרקיע . . . ויהי כֵן                   

(Genesis 1:7/’בראשית א’, ז)

The Ramban asks why, immediately after telling us that God made the firmament (ויעשׂ את הרקיע), the Scritpure adds that it was so (ויהי כן), indicating that God’s command that the firmament come into existence (יהי רקיע) was already realized. Our master said in the name of his father the gaon (R. Avraham Glasner, 1826-77) that the Scripture was distinguishing this command (יהי רקיע) from the one that followed: “let the waters under the firmament be gathered into one place and let the dry land appear” (יקוו המים מתחת השמים אל מקום אחד ותראה היבשה). For the Ramban wrote that the Holy One Blessed Be He originally created only one substance from absolute nothingness. Only after this generic substance came into existence could that substance be transformed into four distinct elements (earth, wind, fire, and water), which could then be transformed into all the material things of our experience.

It is known by scientists that the properties of the four elements would have made it impossible for the land to be above sea level, because earth, being heavier than water, sinks in water. The land should therefore have sunk to the bottom of the mighty waters. The Holy One Blessed Be He therefore brought about a phenomenon contrary to the laws of nature when He said “let the waters under the firmament be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear,” because the waters gathered in a low place and the land rose above sea level.

Our master’s father used this idea to explain the words of King David (Psalms 24:1): “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” That the world did not always exist, but was, instead, God’s creation is evident from fact that “He has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers” (Psalms 24:2), because the natural tendency of land is to sink beneath the water. The Scripture therefore writes “and God made the firmament and separated the waters . . . and it was so,” to teach us, as the Ramban explains, that the waters were separated after creation of the first generic substance. Although the separation between the waters conformed to their natural tendency, the command “let the waters under the firmament be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear” violated their natural tendency. Nevertheless, it did come to pass at the Almighty’s hand. (Shevivei Eish)

ויברך אלקים את יום השביעי ויקדש אותו כי בו שבת מכל מלאכתו אשר ברא אלקים לעשות

(Genesis 2:3/ ‘בראשית ב’, ג )

See the Ibn Ezra who explains “לעשות” to refer to the characteristics in all the species that enable them reproduce offspring similar to themselves. However Rashi and the Ramban did not accept this interpretation, presumably because the power to reproduce is not called “לעשות” but “לפרות ולרבות”. The verb “לעשות” is properly used in reference to something new that is made out of substances already created. (See the Ramban on the verse “נעשה אדם”.) They therefore were forced to adopt a forced explanation of “לעשות”. But it seems fitting to uphold the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra, but to understand “לעשות” to refer not to the natural offspring of living things that resemble their forbears, but, instead, to man who uses his intelligence to make new things from the elements and substances created by the Almighty, thereby bringing forth the hidden forces of creation into reality. This is the idea expressed by the Iqarim in explaining the verse “דור לדור ישבח מעשיך” to mean that man is enjoined to improve what the Almighty has made through new inventions, wonders never even imagined in earlier generations. And for this activity the verb “לעשות” seems entirely appropriate.

One could also use this idea to connect in a very pleasing way the beginning and the end of the Torah, for just as it is the case that man can use his intelligence and understanding to make new discoveries by applying the established principles of natural science, so it is with the wisdom of our holy Torah, for, as our Sages said (ברבות מ”א), if you understand what is old you will understand what is new (אם שמוע בישן תשמע בחדש). What the Sages meant is that the principles that we derive from the ancient Torah which we have in our hands, one who toils and devotes his life to its study may bring forth something new that was never known before. Thus, the Sages explained that the Holy One Blessed Be He showed to Moses everything that expert students would eventually discover in subsequent generations. For man was created to toil, to see good and rejoice in the fruits of his labor, whether it be from his inventions and discoveries for the physical benefit of mankind, or from bringing forth something precious from what is vile (להוציא יקר מזולל), or explains what is difficult (מבאר כל חמירא) and reveals the mysteries of the Torah (מגלה מצפוני התורה), the secrets of the Living God (רזי אלקים חיים). This idea is hinted at in the words of our holy Torah, “ולכל היד החזקה ולכל המורא הגדול” (according to Rashi a reference to the giving of the Torah) “אשר עשה משה לעיני כל ישראל”, meaning that Moses gave a written text of the Torah so that the eyes of the nation — those who devote themselves to Torah study — will derive halakhot from it by way of the hermeneutic rules that were transmitted to them. Thus, just as heaven and earth were created and conveyed to mankind “לעשות” — to be improved and perfected constantly — so, too, was the Torah transmitted to be constantly improved and perfected.

And although the Torah was transmitted in its entirety, so that new commandments may not be added nor old commandments deleted, this prohibition refers only to the commandments enumerated in the written Torah. However, every authoritative Jewish court is allowed to interpret the commandments and to draw inferences from them. And also in this respect is the Torah comparable to creation, inasmuch as man cannot create any new substances or elements ex nihilo, but can only manipulate and combine existing forces and elements by discovering the deep hidden structural relationships between those forces and elements. Thus, the Torah and the creation are exactly alike, differing only in this respect: that creation was transmitted to all of mankind and our holy Torah was transmitted to the Jewish people. The Torah is ours to hold it dear and to perfect it, to study it with our heart and soul so that it may enlighten us and enable us to see new lights that will give meaning to our spiritual lives.

ויאמר אלקים אעשה לו עזר כנגדו

 (Genesis 2:18/ בראשית ב’, י”ח )

In the Talmud the Sages comment, “if a man is worthy (זכה), she is a help meet (עזר), if he is not worthy (לא זכה), she becomes his opponent” (כנגדו). Our master explained that a man who lives alone must be busy constantly, working both inside and outside his home with no moment to spare for Torah and wisdom. This is why it says in the Talmud that R. Yosi called his wife, “my house” (ביתי). However, a married man is free from domestic responsibilities and may devote himself to God’s service. So, if one dedicates the spare time not devoted to domestic obligations to serve God, then, the wife that God gave him is considered a helpmeet. But if one uses the spare time to prowl the streets with the lads and make merry with the jesters, then his wife is considered a curse, becoming his nemesis, for it would then have been better had he been obliged to care for his home himself than to be occupied with mischief.

However, if our Sages have explained the first verse, how can they explain the next verse (Genesis 2:20) which says, “and the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a helpmeet for him” (ויקרא האדם שמות לכל הבהמה ולעוף השמים ולכל חית השדה ולאדם לא מצא עזר כנגדו))? And so our master explained that the Torah is hinting at an important idea, there being Gentile scholars who maintain that man is descended from the apes. But how have their eyes been dimmed from seeing! For did the Sages not say (Bekhorot 8a) that three types of creatures have conjugal relations facing each other: fish, snakes and people? Besides these three, all others, including the apes, have conjugal relations in the opposite way. And before its legs were cut off, the snake had conjugal relations in the manner of all other creatures, so that among all the creatures only fish in the water had conjugal relations in the manner of man. Nor could it be that apes would have changed their manner of conjugal relations to that of a human being. Thus, when the Torah says, that among all animals on the land, man could not find a helpmeet כנגדו, it means that he could not find a partner with whom to have conjugal relations face-to-face. That is why God said, “I will make a helpmeet for him” (אעשה לו עזר כנגדו). (Shevivei Eish)

 ואיבה אשית בינך ובין האשה ובין זרעך ובין זרעה הוא ישופך ראש ואתה תשופנו עקב

(Genesis 3:15 / בראשית ג’, ט’, ט”ו )

Our master interpreted this verse as an allusion to the comment of the Midrash that the verse (Psalms 49:6) “In time of trouble, why should I fear the encompassing evil of those who would supplant me” (למה אירא בימי רע עון עקבי יסובני) refers to the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakippurim. Kind David is saying here that it is not great sins that cause him to fear for his soul, because it is possible to gain forgiveness by repenting sincerely. What he really feared was his routine transgressions to which he had become so accustomed that it did not even occur to him to repent of them.

This is what was meant by “he shall bruise your head” (הוא יְשׁופְך ראשׁ), which means that when a person repents on Rosh Hashanah for great sins he bruises the head of the serpent – Satan — the instigator and seducer, thereby frustrating Satan’s efforts. But God tells the serpent “you shall bruise his heel” (ואתה תשׁופֶנו עקב), meaning that Satan is able to snare people in their routine transgressions, which are difficult to repent of, because those transgressions eventually come to seem as if they are permissible. (Shevivei Eish)

אל האשה אמר הרבה ארבה עצבונך והרונך בעצב תלדי בנים

(Genesis 3:16/ בראשית ג’, ט’, ט”ז ) 

Rashi explains that “your pain” (עצבונך) refers to the pain of child rearing “your travail” (והרונך) to the pain of pregnancy and on “in pain you shall you bring forth children” (בעצב תלדי בנים) to the pain of child-birth. But, as everyone can see, the order is reversed; Ibn Ezra avoided this problem by interpreting עצבונך as the pain of losing virginity.

But our master observed that both of these great commentators could interpret the verse in a consistent way which can be traced back to their explanation of the verse (Genesis 4:1):  “And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’” (והאדם ידע את חוה אשתו ותהר ותלד את קין ותאמר קניתי איש את ה’). Rashi interpreted this verse following the opinion that this occurred before the sin, conceiving and giving birth immediately. But Ibn Ezra interpreted the verse according to the opinion that this occurred after the sin, when they realized that they were mortal and were trying to perpetuate their species. Thus according to Rashi’s interpretation, עצבונך refers to the pain of rearing the two sons, Cain and Abel, whom she had already born, whom she would lose on a single day when Cain killed Abel and Cain left her into exile as a nomad. Rashi then interprets והרונך andבעצב תלדי בנים as referring to the children whom she would subsequently. See the Talmud in Eruvin (100b) where both interpretations are derived from the repetition of the words הרבה ארבה (I will greatly multiply). (Shevivei Eish)

בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם

 (Genesis 3:19/ בראשית ג’, ט’, י”ט )

Our Sages warned against study of the Torah exclusively and exalted the importance of work, as we have been taught in Pirqei Avot (2:2):

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: “The study of Torah is appropriate together with pursuit of a livelihood, for the combination of the two together causes sin to be forgotten, and any Torah which is not accompanied by work is destined to be nullified and will cause sin.”

Moreover, we learn in Qidushin 29a: “Whoever does not teach his son a trade is like one who teaches him robbery,” and our Sages also taught us (Berakhot 8a) that one who derives benefit from his own effort is greater than one who fears heaven.

The various commentators endeavor to interpret the explicit and clear statement of the Talmud Berakhot differently from its plain meaning. But their efforts were unnecessary, for the fear of heaven associated with an easy life is very far from being powerful enough to resist the evil inclination and sin, nor does it prevent the development of bad character traits. On the other hand, the expenditure of energy required by hard work distracts a person from his weakness and his evil inclination, enabling the worker to gain a noble spirit, untainted by jealously and hatred, suspicion and oppression.

This lesson may also be learned from the sin and fall of Adam. At the commandment of the Almighty, blessed be He, Adam was prohibited, on pain of death, from deriving any benefit from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam, of course, was not lacking in fear of Heaven, but in the Garden of Eden he was idle. He was therefore unable to withstand the test, and ate the fruit of the tree that he had been commanded not to eat. And responding to God’s question, Adam said (Genesis 3:12): “The woman that you gave to me.  She gave me from the fruit of the tree.  And I ate” (האשה אשר נתתה עמדי היא נתנה לי מן העץ ואכל).

The Midrash expands on his answer as follows:

The woman that you gave me brought me to this that I ate from the tree, and I am not at all sure that I will not eat any more.

When the Holy One Blessed Be He saw that fear of heaven, which, was undoubtedly one of Adam’s attributes, could not save him from sin, He gave Adam another means by which to avoid sin: hard work. For God said to him (Genesis 3:19): “with the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם).  

The saying of our Sages that one who derives benefit from his own effort is greater than one who fears Heaven is therefore exceedingly correct, for one who works is better protected from sin than one who fears heaven but is idle. (Adapted from Zionism in the Light of Faith/הציונות באור האמונה)

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