Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In the Beginning

Where there is Torah, it sustains the world.
- HaRav Ovadia Yosef

Last Shabbat, I read a dvar Torah about Parshat Breishit. It was simple, but I had never thought about it before. After all the horrible events of this week, it seems to be relevant too.

The first line in the Torah is:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

The question is asked, ‘Why does the Torah start with the letter beit (ב), the second letter of the alphabet and not the first letter, alef (א)? There are many answers to this, and there is great significance to the order of the words. (I'm afraid I'm not going to link anything here - knock yourselves out and look it up.)

That significance is shown in the following story from the Tamud: (Tractate Megillah 9a):

In the times of the Greek/Roman occupation of the HolyLand, 70 (or 72) Rabbis were forced by the Egyptian King Ptolemy II to translate the Torah into Greek. (Known as the Septuagint, it was considered to be a great tragedy, as the Torah is supposed to be learned and read only in Hebrew so as to avoid misinterpretation in language or connotations.) The King and the Greeks/Romans wanted to prove that the Torah could not possibly be written by G-d and that having different translations by different Rabbis would prove this. Each Rabbi was placed in isolation so they could not discuss the wording with each other. When each Rabbi finished his translation, it was found that each version was IDENTICAL to the others. Not only were the Greek words the same in each version, each Rabbi changed certain wording in the same places with the same phrases, so as to avoid misinterpretations. One such change that each of the 70 (or 72) Rabbis made was the very first sentences. Their translation, began, not with the words in the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), but rather with the word G-d, (אֱלֹקים), i.e., “G-d created the heavens and earth in the beginning”. 

The change was made this so that the Greeks/Romans would not think that a god named Breishit/Beginning created anything.

However, this change raises its own question: If there is a danger of misinterpretation, why does the Torah begin with the word 'breishit' בְּרֵאשִׁית and not with the word God?

Because, say our sages, there were no worries that Bnei Yisrael, to whom the Torah was given, would misunderstand. There was no reason for Moshe Rabbenu not to write the words in the correct order, laden with its meaning and significance.

The Torah is cyclical, we never stop reading or learning it.

The last line of the Torah is:

לְכֹל הַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה וּלְכֹל הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה משֶׁה לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל
‘and all the strong hand, and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel’.

On Simchat Torah, we read the end of the Torah, and immediately begin again from the beginning, so what we are reading is:

לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
Before the eyes of all Israel, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.                       

In other words, G-d created the heavens and earth right in front of our eyes. How can we not believe in the one true G-d and in His Word.
And when we continue to read the Parsha, we know that all He created was good.

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד
And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.