It's a strange, strange thing, but the Torah opens with a bet. No, not that sort of bet. Well, maybe it does that too. But what I meant is that the first letter of the first word of the opening verse of the Torah is the second letter of the alephbet—the letter bet. Why the Torah doesn't open with an aleph is explained in The Aleph Files. But why a bet?

Now you're asking, "Why does this long-bearded Kabbalist who's kind of a little strange himself think it so strange that the Torah starts with a bet? What's the big deal anyways? It had to start with something."

The point is that if the Torah starts with a bet when describing the emergence of a created world, that means the world itself begins with—and is contained within—the letter bet.

Because, you see, the Torah is not like other books about the world. With other books, first there's a world and then the book tells a story about that world. But the story of the Torah preceded the world. First there was the story, then G_d said, "Great story! Let's do it!" and then it came to be.

So if the Torah starts with a bet, the bet contains everything that will happen from that point on.

They say that when the Alter Rebbe and many of his followers were being escorted by the Russian Army away from the battlefront with Napolean, they would stop at each fork in the road, the Alter Rebbe would lean on his staff and ponder and then say which way to go. One time, when he pondered quite long, his grandson asked what was the problem. He answered that it all depended on which way to learn the first bet in the Torah.

Starting the Torah with the letter bet means to say that there was something before, but we can't see it from here. That's crucial. If we could see what came before the world, there would be no world. It would be like living in a house where all the walls were transparent and allowed you to walk right through them. There would be no house. So too, a transparent universe is not a real universe. That's why the word we use for world in Hebrew is olam--which means "a concealment." To be a world, it must conceal its origin. It cannot tell you about the aleph, only about the bet.

Yet, the world was made with compassion. It could have been made with a samech or a closed mem--a perfectly closed system with no view in any direction except within. All would be driven by fate, like a pre-programmed mechanism, and we would be nothing more than the mechanical dolls going through our motions for the entertainment of our Maker. Who would probably get quite bored after a few thousand years of this.

Instead, we live in a bet. Bet is related to bayit, meaning a house. And a house has windows and doors. This house also has windows—the tzadikim who draw light into our world and the miracles that scream at us, "There's something more here than your little universe! Look up! Look yet higher!"

There's also a door, and the door is not locked. True, the door only opens in one direction—not to what came before, not to what is above or what is below, but only to what will be. But that is all we need for our escape to freedom: The power to open the door, to walk outside of our defined little universe, and to plant a garden and grow the future.

We live in a world not of what is, but of what could be.