Friday, October 12, 2012

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 Shabbat we read B'reishit, which is the first Parsha in the Torah. The concept outlined above, of finding the DNA, as it were, for all that comes afterwards, can be found in various levels in this week's Parsha. As it forms the beginning of the entire Bible, it is here that we read of the creation of the universe - the very first thing that happened, according to the opening verse of the Torah. Following the concept above, we learn that everything in the Torah can be found in the opening act of B'reishit. Incredibly, 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. It is told that that he was once challenged by a student/a group of his students, who asked him how he could see the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben encrypted here in the the word B'reishit. A tough ask, it would seem. But the Vilna Gaon had no trouble responding and answered by explaining that the letters of the word "בראשית" form an acronym. Each of the letters stand for בן ראשון אחרי שלושים יום תפדה, which means "Firstborn son - after 30 days you shall release" and sums up the essence of the mitzvah in six words. 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, not the first letter, Aleph. The typical explanation for this is found in the Medrash, where it is posited that the word ארור - Arur (meaning cursed) begins with an Alef, but as Bet is the beginning of the word ברוך - Baruch (meaning blessed), it is preferred so that there can be no way in which one could imagine that the Torah begins with even a hint of a curse. It's a cute answer, but there's plenty of other reasons, as well. In the Sh'ma, 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 introduced earlier on as "הדברים" - another vague term, meaning "things." Thankfully the Magid Ta'alumah provides a beautiful explanation as to what is being referred to. He notes that the Talmud starts with the letter מ, mem, in the tractate of Brachot. There we read the words, "מאמתי קורין את השמע - from what time do we read the Sh'ma?". The Magid Ta'alumah claims that the two letters of the word "בם" which we have such difficulty with actually correspond to the written Torah and to the oral Torah. The written Torah begins with a ב, as in בראשית, while the oral law starts with a מ - which together form the word בם. Thus, 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. And all of this is alluded to in just the first word of the Torah! Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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