The Cornerstone of Creation
The Targum Yerushalmi interprets the verse, “At first (Bereishis) God created” to mean, “With wisdom God created.” By veering from the standard translation of Bereishis and replacing it with the word ‘wisdom’ the Targum implies that wisdom is in fact the first and foremost element of Creation. It is the primordial cornerstone upon which everything else was built.
The commentary on the Targum Yerushalmi adds that this refers to the “chochmah elyonah” – the supernal wisdom discussed in the Zohar and later by the Rikanti and Rabbeinu Bechaye. What is chochmah elyonah, and how did the Targum Yerushalmi discern that this was the first cornerstone, which the Torah calls ‘Bereishis’?
The Master of the Palace
David HaMelech said, “How great are Your works, Hashem. They were all performed with wisdom.” When we delve into any branch of natural science, we marvel at the wondrous intricacy of Hashem’s handiwork. Scientists are often left baffled, struggling generation after generation over thousands of years, attempting to unravel the mysteries of nature. With each passing era, new wonders are revealed in all areas of science but the true, awesome depths of creation are surely still hidden from our eyes.
By contemplating the vastness and depth of wisdom inherent in nature, we realize a higher, more sublime dimension of wisdom: the chochmah elyonah, which is nothing other than awareness of Hashem Himself. “Raise your eyes to Heaven and behold He Who created them all.” When man observes the wonders of Creation in their true magnificent splendor he discovers “Who created them all.”
Tanach is replete with exhortations to discover Hashem by contemplating His works. This was the path by which Avraham Avinu, the originator of our faith, first realized that there must be an artisan who fashioned the masterpiece of Creation. The Midrash compares Avraham to a man who saw a palace with light shining from its windows, and realized that it must undoubtedly have a master. Eventually, the “Master of the Palace” appeared to him.
Our Sages teach that the world was created only for the sake of Avraham Avinu. The Divrei Binah explains that Hashem created the world so that people would recognize Him through it, as Avraham did, and realize that there is no course of nature, nor driving force of existence, other than the will and power of Hashem alone.
By contemplating the wonders of creation, we strengthen our emunah and heighten our awareness of Hashem, thereby creating a sturdy foundation upon which to build the edifice of our service of Hashem. The Rambam writes:
We are commanded to love and revere the awesome and venerable God, as the verses state: “You shall love Hashem, your God,” and “Hashem, your God, you shall fear.” What is the path that leads towards love and fear of Him? When man contemplates Hashem’s wondrous deeds and creations, and recognizes the unfathomable wisdom that underlies them, he is immediately drawn to love, praise and extol Hashem, and thirst with a passionate desire to know His great Name, as David HaMelech said, “My soul thirsts for the living God.”
As man contemplates these things, he is astounded and overcome with awe, realizing that he is a small, lowly and bewildered creature, standing in the presence of the Perfect Wisdom; as David said, “When I see Your Heavens, the work of Your fingers... what is man, that You consider him?”
Hashem created the world with ten utterances. Although the expression, “And God spoke,” is used only nine times in the Torah’s description of Creation, our Sages explain that “Bereishis – at first,” was the initial utterance that brought the world into existence. “Bereishis” represents the eternal renewal of Creation, which is constantly in a state of “at first.” Creation can never grow old, since Hashem is continuously recreating it, breathing new life into all living things. Each moment presents us with a fresh, new world, and new opportunities to recreate ourselves; to begin again anew, just as Creation itself is renewed.
This is the greatest of Hashem’s gifts: the opportunity to leave our mistakes behind, draw close to Him, and reach ever higher levels of love and reverence for Him. By contemplating the wisdom of Creation, and turning our ear to hear the first and greatest of the ten utterances, we can find new hope and meaning in our lives, and tap into the power of renewal upon which the entire world is based. The Chovos HaLevavos presents the following proof of God’s existence:
It is well known that any action performed without deliberate forethought cannot possibly display any sign of intelligence or skill. Suppose a person were to spill ink on a sheet of white paper. The ink could not possibly take the form of letters and words. If one were to take an intelligent, written composition, and propose that it was formed coincidentally by random drops of ink scattered across a page, the claim would instantly be dismissed as ludicrous. Written words are an obvious proof for the existence of a cognizant, deliberate author.
The wisdom inherent in Creation is far greater, deeper and more exquisite than any page of words. If words cannot exist without an author, how could we imagine that the entire universe exists without the deliberate act of a Creator? For any reasonable and honest philosopher, the works of the Creator present sufficient proof of His existence.
The world we live in presents us with an endless array of superlative masterpieces of Divine art and wisdom. How could a thinking person not be astounded by them, and be inspired to discover their Maker? The Baal Shem Tov would say that the Godly life-force which vivifies creation is clearly apparent to anyone with eyes pure enough to see it. The world is full of wonders, as is the life of each individual, and through these wonders we can perceive Hashem’s designs.
The Delicate Balance
Despite the obvious signature of the Creator inscribed on every facet of His Creation, there are still atheists who deny His existence. Some claim that if they cannot see Hashem with their eyes of flesh and blood, then He cannot exist. It is amazing that such an ideology can exist in the face of such obvious contradiction. How can a thinking person be blind to the existence of the Artist who crafted the art of creation? How can they be deaf to the call of “Bereishis” that the entire world seems to proclaim as one? Do they not perceive the wisdom, and the intelligent design that underlies the world around us?
When debating with atheists, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would often tell them that even if it were true, as they claim, that God’s existence cannot be logically proven, it also cannot be disproved. Is it not worthwhile to observe the Torah and mitzvos on the chance that there is perhaps a God Who will amply reward their observance and punish their transgression? Let the matter remain unresolved, in their estimation, but why would they not take the necessary precautions to prepare for a possible (even if uncertain) eternal life after death?
Despite this practical consideration, and the fairly obvious existence of God, millions of otherwise intelligent people (including many Jews) cling to Godless philosophies and lifestyles. What blinds them? Why do they not follow the train of reasoning that would unravel the clues to God’s existence, and discover His message to us contained in His holy Torah?
The answer is that Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, created a delicate balance in creation, such that two people can make the same observations and reach totally contrary conclusions. To one, Hashem’s presence is blatantly obvious, while to the other, Hashem is entirely hidden.
Without the potential for these divergent outlooks, there could be no free choice in the world. Our entire battle against the yetzer hara is nothing other than a constant process of choice, in which we are free to decide our fundamental world view. If we so desire, we can find Hashem everywhere; but if we stubbornly insist on ignoring Him, we are free to view the world around us as meaningless and mundane. By creating the possibility to overlook Him, He gave us a testing ground upon which to prove our worth, and thereby earn our own reward.
The same is true of the difficulties we all must face throughout our lives. There are times when Hashem seems hidden from us. Our faith is put to the test when danger threatens, and we wonder why Hashem does not hasten to our rescue. When we overcome our challenges, by holding on tightly to our emunah, we rise in spirituality.
Nevertheless, the battle still rages on. The yetzer hara craftily adapts to our new-found level, presenting new difficulties and challenges. Our entire life is spent in a constant struggle to peer through the clouds of confusion in order to discover the Creator concealed within His Creation, since truly, “adam l’amal yulad”: man was born to labor in Hashem’s service by overcoming life’s many difficulties. One hurdle at a time, we proceed through life, learning and growing as we go along.
This is especially true in our own era, the final generation, in which the footsteps of Moshiach approach. The world is now filled with unbridled heresy, as the yetzer hara makes its last desperate attempt to defend its position. When at last the yetzer hara is defeated, the clouds of confusion will be swept away and the revelation of Hashem’s Presence will once again be as apparent as when the world was first created. The entire world will become like the Two Tablets, which were clearly and undeniably engraved by Hashem’s own finger.
Until then, we must work to develop our emunah in order to see Hashem’s light even amid the darkness. When faced with our final judgment, we will be asked, “nasata v’nasata b’emunah – did you deal with faith?” Most simply, this means “were you honest in business?” However, it can also be interpreted literally. We must deal with faith itself, as we deal with our other important occupations. “Dealing with emunah” should be a primary concern in our lives.
The commentaries endeavor to connect the final verse of the Torah, “And the mighty hand… that Moshe displayed before all of Israel,” with the first, “At first, God created Heaven and earth,” thereby showing the seamless continuity of the Torah cycle. According to the principles discussed above, we may suggest the following explanation:
Rashi states that the “mighty hand” refers to the miracles that Moshe orchestrated when he received the Torah on our behalf, and led us through a barren, uninhabitable desert. These miracles publicized Hashem’s greatness in the world, allowing mankind to recognize and draw close to Him. The Ramban explains that this is the true purpose of all miracles.
Awesome miracles were performed time and time again throughout the course of Jewish history. Many of them were wrought before the eyes of our entire nation. Those who witnessed them told their children, who passed their remembrance down throughout the generations.
Most nations take pride in their heritage. They cherish the names of their heroes, their national landmarks, and their victories. One generation proudly passes on its heritage to the next, and no one ever thinks to question the veracity of his tradition. They raise their lore and legends on a flagpole to publicize the glory of their people.
The Jewish people have more to be proud of than any other nation. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that we are also the most bashful and reticent of the nations. Many of our people are particularly eager to cast aspersions upon the veracity of our noble heritage. Why do we take such pains to forget and belittle our glorious history and our countless national heroes: our sages, prophets and kings? Why does the new generation try to forget the miracles of yore, and make every effort to cut itself off from its forefathers, imagining them to have been misguided and superstitious? How can people be so blind and stubborn as to reject our priceless inheritance without giving it the slightest consideration?
In answer to all this, the Targum Yerushalmi interprets the word “Bereishis” to mean “with wisdom”. In Hashem’s great wisdom, He created a fork in the path of reality, so to speak, such that two people can observe the very same facts and reach entirely contrary conclusions. One person can recognize Hashem’s Godliness in every facet of creation, while another can develop erroneous and heretical conclusions from the very same observations. That such folly can exist in a world where Hashem’s hand is so evident, is the greatest display of His wisdom.
A delicate balance between good and evil must exist. Had Hashem made His miracles undeniable, had their holiness left a permanent impression on the world, the same would have been true in the realm of evil. Our misdeeds would have caused irreparable damage, unleashing forces of destruction that could never have been checked.
Hashem saw that such a state could not be borne. The possibility must exist for the past to be forgotten, whether for good or for evil. The world must constantly be recreated, with a new Bereishis each day. True, the miracles of creation can be forgotten, but the evil of our sins can also be forgotten. We can turn away from our bad traits and habits, and fashion a better future, in the pure, unblemished, newly-formed world that awaits us each morning.
This is “Bereishis” – the first utterance of creation, and the cornerstone of existence. In Hashem’s great wisdom, He imbued the world with endless potential for rebirth, such that neither the individual, nor the world as a whole, need ever grow stagnant in body or spirit. As a result, the possibility must exist for “the mighty hand that Moshe displayed” to be forgotten.
As we begin the new year, we take the message of “Bereishis” to heart, resolving to improve our own inner world, by recreating ourselves each day in sincere teshuvah. Thereby, we help form a better world at large, which will eventually lead to the reformation of all creation, and reveal the new light that will shine on Tzion, with the coming of our Righteous Redeemer, may it be soon and in our days, Amen.