BERAISHIT–IN THE BEGINNING!
Isn’t amazing that first parsha of the Torah, Berashit, always occurs during the baseball playoffs? Many years ago, when I was a young rabbinical student, I noticed this strange temporal anomaly that led me to the inevitable conclusion that God is indeed, a baseball fan. Where do we derive this from the parsha? It states: “In the BIG INNING, God created the heavens and the earth,” A “Shabbat Berashit”—“A Shabbat of new beginnings.” After all the excitement of the High Holidays, comes the Shabbat once more
One of the famous questions asked in the Talmud is why did the Torah begin with the second letter of the Aleph Beth– the letter Beth? Why not begin the Torah with the letter Aleph instead?
The Talmudists answered, that the letter Aleph stands for arrur–a curse, whereas the letter Beth stands for bracha– a word signifying blessing. Surely it is better to begin the Torah with a bracha than a curse!
I have often found myself wondering, what kind of question is the Talmud asking in the first place. One could always ask why the Torah did not begin with one letter or another?
What kind of answer is the Talmud giving? Surely there are many bad words that begin with the letter Beth — Bor — an ignorant person, Bliyayal – a knave etc. Surely there are many good words that begin with the letter Aleph — Adir – Great, Emet, Truth, Emunah = faith, God is Ehud “The One” What kind of answer was the Talmud suggesting?
The answer may lie in the letter’s numeric values. Beth = 2. Aleph = 1. It is as if the rabbis were suggesting that when you have two, then you have blessing. When two people take their unique talents and gifts and work together, then you have a blessing. Creation is a blending of opposites. By letting go of selfishness, only then do we become open to the possibility and reality of blessing.
God did not create man to be a taker. God did not create us as singular beings, human beings must complete each other if there is to be a blessing. Each one of us brings a special gift to the world we live in. We all have the capacity to give and share with each other.
When we look only for Number 1, we discover like Cain that at the pinnacle of society, being number can be in a tragic sense the loneliest number. Could that be the reason the old rabbis equated the letter Aleph with cursedness?
A further illustration may be seen in the second day of Creation, which features the birth of separation of the heavenly and earthly waters. At no point in the second day of creation does the day conclude with the refrain, “and God saw that it was good …” From this omission, rabbinic tradition observes that the unresolved duality resulted in the disunity and disharmony of the world because the vision of unity was lacking. Jewish mystics teach that only the light of cooperation and fellowship can overcome the fragmentation of our lives.
Beth stands for bracha. It also signifies the number two. We are partners and co-creators with God. In a sense, we complete God’s creation. Our bracha enhances God’s world. Without each of our individual blessing and contribution, the world is an incomplete place. The world is a defective place because God did not create a perfect world.
There is an old Yiddish story about a man who once went to a tailor to have a suit altered. The tailor told him to come back in a week’s time. The business man came back in three weeks. When he asked for the suit, the tailor was just finishing. Perturbed, the man asked the tailor: How is it God was able to create the world in one week, and it took you 3 weeks to finish this suit? The tailor looked puzzled and quipped, “What kind of question is that? Just look how messed up the world is, and look how lovely these trousers look. How can you possibly compare the two?
There are some of you who might think that this is a radical, maybe even disrespectful attitude for a religious person to have. Surely it smacks of arrogance!
Yet, despite the sardonic message, the old story has its antecedents in the Midrash:
Yet, that is precisely the wisdom our tradition teaches us. We can and we must improve upon creation. Such a concept is called Tikkun Olam B repairing the world. In the teachings of the Kabbalah, God created the world imperfect. God has empowered our soul with a simple but difficult task: to mend the world and reveal the goodness that is latent in Creation. One might ask, “How can we say that human beings can improve upon God’s wonderful creation?”
I came across a most remarkable article in the Jerusalem Post a couple of years ago. The scene was only all too familiar to any Israeli: A suicide bomber kills several Israelis. Yet, out of the wreckage something good emerged that nobody could anticipate. A Palestinian girl received a kidney from a young Scottish student killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing ‑‑ saving her life, officials said Sunday.
Yasmin Abu Ramila, 7, a Palestinian from historically Arab East Jerusalem, had been on a transplant waiting list and undergoing dialysis treatment for almost two years, an Israeli Health Ministry official said.
A suitable donor became available when Jonathan Jesner, 19, a Jewish seminary student from Scotland, died on Friday, a day after he was wounded when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus in Tel Aviv. Believe it or not, Israelis have on occasion sometimes received hearts and kidneys from Palestinian who died.
In an area where so much hatred exists, I am certain there are at least two more people who will have good reason to be thankful. Every beat of these young people’s lives will serve to remind them that peace is not only a possibility, it is for them—a reality.
After young Yasmin Abu Ramila, shown here with her mother, received Jonathan Jesner’s kidney. The Maariv daily quoted Abu Ramila’s mother, Rina, as saying. “I grieve for their loss and thank them for their donation.”
This is a wonderful example of why God’s Creation can stand a little improvement.
When we see a flood destroy cities, or lightning causes a forest fire, or an earthquake ravages countryside with its people. When we desalinate the oceans to provide drinking water for millions, we bring blessing into the world. When confronted with the specter of famine, disease and poverty, it is up to us to make a tikkun on Creation. We can and must bring blessing when the world experiences immense suffering as a result of nature’s catastrophes.
So why did the first letter of the Torah begin with the letter beth? To teach us that it is only in partnership we can and must bring blessing into the world. This is the message of the Torah, the rest my friends, is commentary. May we embrace the New Year as if it were the first day of Creation.