Parshas Bereishis, Seuda Shlishis 5777
Renewal and Preservation
When Ptolemy forced the Sages to translate the Torah, they adapted certain verses to avoid any incorrect conclusions that might have been drawn from the literal translation. Instead of writing, “Bereishis bara Elokim,” they wrote, “Elokim bara bereishis,” so that no one might think that there is a being called Bereishis that created Elokim, chas v’shalom.
If “Elokim bara bereishis” is the clearest wording of the verse, why did the original Hebrew verse not state so as well? Why did the Torah have to begin with the word “Bereishis”?
The Worlds that Preceded Us
The Midrash says that before Hashem created this world, He created many other worlds, each of which He destroyed in turn until He arrived at this world, which He allowed to remain. This seems to imply that Hashem was unsatisfied with His original creations, and through some process of trial and error He finally arrived at a satisfactory world.
However, this is unthinkable. Hashem is perfect, and so are His handiworks. He could have made the desired world at once, and not gone through a series of imperfect worlds which needed to be destroyed. Obviously, the previous worlds - which had to be destroyed - were a deliberate and necessary preparation for this perfect world.
This is an integral foundation of creation, and a necessary aspect of how the world must operate. Hashem made these worlds and destroyed them, in order to lay the foundation for this world, in which things must also rise and fall, be built and then destroyed, to clear the way for better things to follow.
Such was the case with Noach, who emerged from the Ark to find an entirely new world, unrecognizable from the world before the Flood. The Flood destroyed Noach’s first world, to make way for a better world to come.
Klal Yisrael is the Soul of Creation
The Midrash states that man was created on Erev Shabbos, so that everything would be prepared for him as soon as he was born. Since he was the purpose and meaning of creation, everything else was created first in preparation for his arrival.
The Divrei Binah adds that for this same reason Hashem first created Adam’s body and then breathed into it his soul, as the verse states, “Hashem formed Adam from the dust of the earth and blew into his nostrils a living soul.” Since the soul is the meaning and purpose of the body, the body was created first and the soul then blown into it, rather than first blowing the soul into this world and then forming a body around it.
In the same way, Klal Yisrael is the soul of the world. The world was first created, and then Klal Yisrael was placed upon the world as the meaning and the purpose of the world.
There are many levels of souls. The Tzaddikim have high and holy souls, which wield a different sort of influence over their bodies. So too, throughout the generations, according to the spiritual level of Klal Yisrael in that generation, so is their ability to uplift the world - which is the “body”, so to speak, to Klal Yisrael’s soul.
Before Adam’s sin, he had a much higher spiritual level. Correspondingly, the world was a much holier place. When he sinned and fell from this high level, the entire world fell with him. It became much more difficult to draw sustenance from the earth. Adam was forced to eat bread “by the sweat of his brow,” as compared to the Gan Eden of ease and plenty in which he lived before his sin. The fall of the world around him was an external expression of his own spiritual descent.
So too, the world that housed the Avos was on a higher level than our own world. The Avos lived then, breathing holiness and meaning into the world, and raising it to a level appropriate to their own spiritual standing.
Most evident in our own times is the dramatic change that occurred with the Holocaust, such that world we know today is entirely different from the world our forefathers knew before the Holocaust. Everywhere we look, everything is entirely different. The Tzaddikim and Torah leaders that lived before the Holocaust were incomparable to the Tzaddikim who live today. It is a different world today, and the style of Torah teaching has changed as appropriate to the new world. The soul of the world has changed.
This is the meaning of the Midrash that before this current world in which we live, there were other worlds that Hashem created and destroyed, one after the other. Hashem granted His creation a special power to endure destruction and then rise again in a different form, rising from the ashes, as it were, in a new form.
Preserving the Seeds
Throughout it all, Klal Yisrael have the power to preserve the holiness of previous worlds. The worlds that past were destroyed, but we carry with us the seeds of those worlds, to be planted in the new world before us. These seeds, planted in the ashes of destruction, take root and grow. A new generation emerges, with new Torah institutions, new yeshivos, and new Jewish communities.
Rav Yaakov Emden said that greater than the miracles of the Exodus, are the miracles of our survival in Exile. Among these miracles is our astounding ability to preserve the wisdom and ideals of our forefathers, throughout all the terrible calamities that befall us. Although the world around us is destroyed, we preserve that seed of holiness and replant it in the new world that emerges from the ashes. Empires rise and fall, but Klal Yisrael remains with the same Torah wisdom and Torah values, adapted to the needs of the times.
This is the meaning of “Bereishis bara.” Hashem created a power of “Bereishis,” of new beginnings, through which we can endure one calamity after another, and build new worlds that remain connected to the worlds that preceded us and preserve their holiness and beauty.
This power exists among our nation as a whole, and among every individual as well. People go through hardships in their lives, in which it seems that their entire world and everything they have built has collapsed into nothing. Yet every Jew has the power of “Bereishis” to begin again, to preserve what was good and meaningful in his previous world, and replant it in a new and better world that he or she can build from the ashes.
This is also the power of teshuva, through which a person can leave behind a world of sin and darkness, and emerge into a new world, as pure as a newborn child.
Eyes of Israel
The Torah begins with the word, “Bereishis,” rather than “Elokim,” to teach us that even when “Elokim” is hidden, and we cannot see Hashem’s loving-kindness surrounding us, we still have the power of “Bereishis” to rebuild a better world for ourselves. Although we cannot see Hashem’s hand, or understand the meaning of our difficulties, we must have emunah, that there is indeed meaning behind it. The old world had to be destroyed, in order to make room for a better world to follow.
It is customary to find connections between the conclusion of the Torah and its beginning. “L’eini kol Yisrael … Bereishis” means that Klal Yisrael was granted a special insight to recognize Hashem’s presence through our mind’s eye, even when we cannot see His presence or fathom His plan. Emunah is the special Jewish vision that Hashem granted us, allowing us to understand that although He is hidden, He is still there, guiding and protecting us, and building for us the best possible world.