Friday, October 16, 2009

Parshat B'reishit - פרשת בראשית

In Lecha Dodi there's a line that I find particularly relevant to this week's Parsha. The line is: "סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה," roughly meaning that "the end product is found in the first thoughts."

This week we read B'reishit, which is the first Parsha in the Torah. The concept outlined above can be found in various levels in this week's Parsha. In B'reishit, we read of the creation of the universe - the very first thing that happened, according to the opening pasuk of the Torah. Following the concept above, we learn that everything in the Torah can be found in the opening act of B'reisihit.

In fact, the Vilna Gaon claimed to have a way of reading into the first word of the Torah 613 ways; one for each of the MItzvot. The story goes that he was challenged by a student/a group of his students. They asked him how he could see the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben (click here to find out more) in the the word B'reishit.

Incredibly, he answered them that בראשית is an acronym. Each of the first letters of the word stand for בן ראשון אחרי שלושים יום תפדה, which means "Firstborn son - after 30 days you shall release!"

Another thing worth pointing out about Parshat B'reishit, the first Parsha in the Torah, is that it opens with the second letter in the Alef-Bet.

The Medrash explains that the word Arur (meaning cursed) begins with an Alef, but a Bet is at the beginning of the word Baruch (meaning blessed). While this answer is certainly nice, we can also note that the Talmud starts with the letter Mem. (In the tractate of Brachot, when we read the words, "מאמתי קורין את השמע - from what time do we read the Sh'ma")

In the Sh'ma itself, there's a phrase "- ושננתם לבניך ודברת בם," meaning "And you shall teach them your sons and you shall speak of them. The "בם" here is rather vague. It literally means "them," and we are not helped by the fact thay they are intriduced earlier on as "הדברים" - another vague term, meaning "things."

A beautiful answer to this difficulty is provided by the Magid Ta'alumah, who says that the two letters of the word "בם" correspond to the written Torah and to the oral Torah. The written Torah begins with a ב, while the oral law starts with a מ - which together form the word בם. When we read the relevant part of Sh'ma, "ודברת בם," we may now understand what is being commanded of us - to continually speak words of Torah; both the written and the oral Torah.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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