Just in time, we are starting a new year of reading the Torah with Parashat Bereshit. The first words in Hebrew are:
“בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים…” – In the beginning, God created.
Rabbi Isaac says (in the Genesis Rabbah Midrash I.7), “The beginning of your word is truth,” meaning that if we put together the last Hebrew letter of each of the three first words of the Torah (Taf, Alef, Mem) and rearrange them, we get the word emet – Truth.
Simcha Bunim of Peshischa adds, “An author makes his mark by putting his name on the cover of his book, and thus God imprints his signature –Truth – at the beginning of his book, the Torah.”
Or, to say it in today’s language: In describing creation (including the creation of man), and in the telling of man’s first actions and God’s reaction man’s actions, the foundational principles of the belief in one God are encrypted – that there is Truth.
These principles are the axioms on which a logical, thought basis for faith is built, regardless of one’s lifestyle. Of course, one can choose not to accept these absolute assumptions and to walk on a different path in the journey of life.
Likewise, it is also clear that many pages can be written on each principle, and that each of them can be studied for many lessons with examples from the entire Jewish library. I choose to discuss here, in Parashat Bereshit, seven such principles of thought. I will write briefly about each one in the hopes of clarifying the basic meaning of the principles on the one hand, and also increasing readers’ desire to delve deeper and deeper into each issue, to ask more questions and seek more answers.
Think before you act
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
The world was not created for no reason or by accident; the Creator marked his wisdom in all of his actions and they exist according to the laws of creation – physical and spiritual laws. The fundamental, unchanging law of creation is the Unity of Opposites. Just as gravity maintains the world, so does the Unity of Opposites. We must internalize this and live accordingly. This internalization is expressed in the next principle:
Awareness of Shabbat
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:3)
When creation was finished, the “product” was revealed in all its glory: “A world of Shabbat” – a world of harmony and peace. A place with energy from Eden, a place where justice is tempered with mercy and all of creation is saturated with the compassionate warmth of the womb. This is the world we received and the way it should be. The third principle explains the secret of man,: that he alone is responsible for preserving the world as it was created.
7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
The Creator gave man of His own self, breathed some of His spirit into him. It is by virtue of this exchange that man recognizes God, the presence which created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. But man has another level of awareness and existence which is called the soul, bounded by the skin which envelopes the body, whose role it is to preserve our deeply fragile physical existence. The drama of human life is a result of a struggle between these two internal powers over guiding our lives and therefore the next principle is of the utmost importance:
Freedom of choice
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Man is a creature who makes choices, not according to survival instincts alone (all natural creatures can make these kinds of choices), but also according to intuition which connects him to his soul, to God, to the force or the being which enabled his life and which also marked its wisdom upon his life.
Consequence, not punishment
So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out (Genesis 3:23-24)
Every decision has its consequences. The word “punishment” is meant for ignorant people who need to be tamed, not educated, in order to give them moral-spiritual knowledge. The banishment from the Garden of Eden is the outcome of man’s decision, the consequence of his weakness so that he can be toughened. The banishment is due to man’s unwillingness to accept the consequences of his decisions and therefore, the forceful banishment obligates him to deal with his actions and to re-build a bridge back to the Garden.
Tikkum Olam (Repairing the world) and personal responsibility
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)
Man’s existential condition is that of choice, even if he is not aware of it and is sure that he has no choice whatsoever. Sometimes the choice can be to change reality and sometimes it can be to change his relationship to reality. But the choice always exists.
Choosing to do right is choosing to transcend one’s thoughts of separation (which create certain feelings) and to instead connect to thoughts of peace and the Unity of Opposites. Separation always wants to prevail, for such is the nature of the physical-material world. But man, who has a soul inside of him, should control his inclination towards separation. If he does not, his fate shall be like that of Cain, who wanders throughout the world, never reaching home or finding peace. His days are only profane and never sacred; he has a mind but no soul.
Grace (ח”ן) – an acronym in Hebrew for “Hidden Wisdom” (חוכמת נסתר), “Life-Giving” (נותן חיים), and “Path of Life” (נתיב חיים)
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:5-8)
When evil is in control, it always multiplies itself in the end.
Evil is a condition of alienation, hatred, jealously, hostility, sabotage, lies, and more.
Good is the opposite of all the above, and it is exactly the same in spiritual law as in physical law.
If we put our hands into a fire, we get burned because we have violated a natural law. The flesh burns in the fire! Similarly, we sometimes put ourselves into the fire of hatred and jealousy, the fire of lust and lies, and then hope we will not get scorched. Sooner or later the consequences will appear, difficult and painful, yet we will expect and hope for the best.
Rabbi Mira Raz