In the beginning (1:1)

QUESTION: What message is conveyed by the fact that Torah starts with the letter Beit and not Alef?

ANSWER: Torah is the wisdom of Hashem. Regarding His wisdom, it is said “Its measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea” (Job 11:10).

Among people who study Torah there are some who presumptuously think they “know it all” and some more modest souls who think they know a lot of it.

In numerology Alef = one (first), and Beit = two (second). The message to man is that regardless of how much Torah one has studied, he should realize that he doesn’t know anything and has not even achieved comprehension of the first page.

To emphasize this, every GemaraTalmud tractate — also starts with Daf Beit — the second folio page.

In fact, the more a person progresses in his study, the more he realizes how much more there is to study and how little he actually knows.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר בשם ר' לוי יצחק זצ"ל מבארדיטשוב)

"בראשית ברא אלקים"
“In the beginning of G‑d’s creating...” (1:1)

QUESTION: 1) The Hebrew alef-beit starts with the letter alef, why does the Torah start with the letter beit?

2) Why, when the 72 Sages translated the Torah for the Egyptian King, Ptolemy II (3476-3515) into Greek (known as the Septuagint — see Megillah 9a), did they reverse the order of the words to read Elokim bara bereishit — “G‑d created in the beginning” — thus starting Torah with an alef?

ANSWER: The prophet Jeremiah (9:11,12) says in the Name of Hashem that “The Jews lost the land because of their forsaking My Torah.” The Gemara (Nedarim 81a) explains that it does not mean literally that they abandoned Torah; rather, “shelo barchu baTorah techilah” — “they did not recite the blessing on the Torah first.”

The Bach (Orach Chaim 47) opines that the Gemara does not mean that they actually did not recite the blessing before studying Torah. Rather, it means that though they indeed studied Torah and recited the proper blessing beforehand, nevertheless, their attitude and approach to Torah study was faulty: They studied Torah merely as a way to gain knowledge, and lacked the true intent of studying Torah. When Torah is studied properly, the person’s soul becomes firmly attached with the spiritual holiness of the Torah and its Giver, and the Shechinah — Divine Presence — is drawn down into this world elevating the person’s soul to a higher level.

This means that there are two aspects in Torah study: 1) The actual study and effort to properly understand it and profoundly comprehend it. 2) The attachment and unification it creates between the studier and the Giver of Torah — Hashem. This aspect is indicated by the wording of the blessing “venatan lanu et Torato” — “He gave us His Torah.” Torah contains His holiness and His infinite wisdom, which is much above our humanly limited seichel — understanding.

The alef — first — and primary way to study Torah, is to first (even before actual study of the text) submit and attach oneself to the essence of Torah which is above our comprehension. Afterwards comes the beit — secondary — purpose, that is, the endeavor to study the Torah text and comprehend Torah according to one’s endowed human faculties. Hence, the actual text of the Torah starts with a beit to emphasize that the actual study to comprehend is secondary, and it must be preceded by the prerequisite alef — the preparatory step of recognizing the holiness and spirituality of Torah, and the intent to achieve the exalted unification between man and G‑d which is accomplished through its study.

The abovementioned applies only to the Jewish people, as indicated in the berachah over Torah: “He selected us from among all nations, and gave us His Torah. However, regarding a gentile, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 59a) says “An idolator who engrosses himself in Torah study is liable death” (see Rambam, Melachim 10:9).

The only Torah he is permitted to study is what relates to him to assure his proper observance of the seven Noachide laws. But the concept of Torah as a means to connect oneself with the wisdom and holiness of Hashem is not relevant to him.

Hence, for King Ptolemy the Sages translated Torah as it pertains to a Noachide, and for him they started the text with an alef because what is secondary to us in Torah study (studying the text merely for sake of gaining knowledge of how and what to do), is primary to him and the only permitted form of study.

(לקוטי שיחות חט"ו)

"יהי אור"
“Let there be light” (1:3)

QUESTION: When Hashem said “yehi ohr — “let there be light,” to what light was He referring, and to what was He alluding?

ANSWER: The original light Hashem created was extremely powerful; one could see with it from one end of the world to the other. Reflecting upon the wickedness of man, Hashem hid that light for the future, when Mashiach will reveal himself (Chagigah 12a). Thus, it is known as the ohr haganuz” — “hidden light.” According to the Midrash (Tanchuma, Parshat Noah 3) it was hidden in the Torah to benefit those who toil in the Oral Torah day and night.

* * *

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4) says that the phrase “And darkness [on the face of the abyss (1:2)]” symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with its decrees, ordering Israel “write on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G‑d of Israel.” The Syrian-Greeks led by Antiochus requested from the Jews a public disclaimer of Hashem and Torah and Mashiach.

When the miracle of the kindling of the Menorah took place in the days of the Hasmoneans, Hashem revealed a semblance of the great ohr haganuz — hidden light — which will radiate in full glory in the Messianic Era.

Immediately following the verse, “and darkness [was on the face of the abyss], the Torah says, “And G‑d said “yehi ohr” — “let there be light” (1:3). The word “ohr” — “light” — is the twenty fifth word of the Torah. Moreover, the word “yehi” (יהי) — “let there be” — numerically adds up to twenty five. Hence, the words “yehi ohr” are alluding that the darkness caused by the Greeks will be illuminated with the light (of the Menorah), which will be kindled by the Jews on the 25th [of Kislev].

(מהר"ל – הגר"א)

Incidentally, every Chanukah when the Menorah is kindled, there is a revelation of that great light in this mundane world. Therefore, the festival is called Chanukah,” because on it Hashem provides chinuch to the Jewish people. He prepares and educates them about the great hidden light by giving a foretaste on Chanukah of that illumination which they will merit to enjoy speedily in the days of Mashiach.

(בני יששכר)

"ויעש אלקים את הרקיע"
“G‑d made the firmament.” (1:7)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (4:6) says that it does not say “ki tov” — “that it was good” — concerning the second day because in it schism was created, as it is written, “and let it separate between water and water.”

But on the first day there was also division, as it says, “and G‑d separated between the light and the darkness” (1:4), and nevertheless it says “ki tov” — “and it was good”?

ANSWER: Light and darkness are opposite and contrasting entities. Separating them is necessary and in proper order, lest there will be confusion. The firmament, however, separated between two things that are alike — water and water.

Separating between two similar things, e.g. people who are friends or members of a family, is schism and is not good. However, demarcation between two opposites, light and darkness, i.e. right and wrong, truth and falsehood, etc., is essential and considered good.

(ספר גחלי אש מהרב גדלי' ז"ל סילווערסטאן)

"לא טוב היות האדם לבדו אעשה לו עזר כנגדו"
“It is not good that man be alone: I will make him a helper against him.” (2:18)

QUESTION: The word “eizer” — “helper” — and the word “kenegdo” — “against him” — are contradictory concepts. How can one be a helper who is a friendly ally, and yet also be against the person he is helping?

ANSWER: Due to this obvious difficulty, the Gemara (Yevamot 63a) explains that the pasuk is describing two different situations: “zachah — if he merits, the wife will be — eizer — a helper, lo zachah — if he does not merit, the wife will be — kenegdo” — against him, to wage war, i.e., to oppose him.

Accordingly, marriage is very speculative and there is a fifty-fifty chance that the wife will be an adversary rather than a helper to him. If so, why does the Torah encourage marriage?

A truly devoted wife is not one who always agrees and assists her husband in whatever he does. At times it is her responsibility to oppose her husband and prevent him from doing things which she perceives as erroneous or unethical. It is her obligation to oppose him and try to restrain him in such instances, and in reality this is the greatest assistance and help she could give her husband.

Thus, the pasuk is telling us, “zachah” — if the husband merited — to live an upright life and conduct himself in a commendable way, then “eizer” — his wife will be a helper — she will be a source of encouragement and assist him in every way to be able and continue in this path. However, if “lo zachah” — he did not merit — to conduct himself properly, and is on the wrong path going astray in his relationship with Hashem or between man and man, she will then be, “kenegdo,” against him — oppose him and endeavor to deter him from doing destructive and harmful things.

Hence, regardless of his situation, the man stands to benefit from his eishet chayil — woman of valor — and therefore the Torah encourages marriage because it is a no lose situation for the man.

(דודאי ראובן עה"ת ר' ראובן ז"ל כ"ץ מפתח תקוה)

"ויפל ה' אלקים תרדמה על האדם ויישן ויקח אחת מצלעתיו ויסגר בשר תחתנה ויבן ה' אלקים את הצלע אשר לקח מן האדם לאשה, ויביאה אל האדם"
“Hashem G‑d cast a deep sleep upon the man and he slept, and He took one of his sides and He closed flesh in its place. And G‑d built the side that He had taken from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” (2:21,22)

QUESTION: Undoubtedly, the deep sleep He cast on the man was some form of anesthesia to assure that Adam experienced no pain during the operation. But why was it necessary altogether? Couldn’t He perform a painless surgery during which Adam would be wide awake and actually visualize what is happening?

ANSWER: Until this time, the concept of marriage was unknown to man. There were no books to read on the subject and no marriage counselors to approach for guidance. Adam had no parents to consult and there were no married couples whose marriage he could analyze and perhaps emulate.

Hashem played a multi-faceted role. He was the shadchan — marriage broker — and the marriage counselor. It was incumbent on Him to educate man. He had to teach him what married life was and also counsel him how to make it a successful endeavor.

Indeed Hashem could have performed the operation without administering anesthesia. He could have made the surgery so painless and speedy that Adam would not have realized what have occurred before it was all done and over with. Hashem, however, did it specifically this way because he was imparting a lesson to Adam.

When one is in a deep sleep he is insensitive to whatever is happening around him. He does not hear anything that he should object to, nor does he see anything that he should oppose. A person in a deep sleep cannot offer an opinion or register protest.

Hashem’s message to Adam was that for a successful marriage a man must not always be alert and react immediately to what his wife says or does. At times it is healthier that the husband appear to be in a deep sleep and close his eyes, ears, and mouth for the time being.

Immediate reactions often provoke counter-reaction, which may turn into argument. By being patient and temporarily oblivious the husband gives the wife a chance to think over her actions. Later, when the husband and wife discuss the matter at hand rationally, the husband’s opinion and even criticism or rebuke will be well received and appreciated. (The above lesson also applies to the wife as well.)

(ילקוט מעם לועז)

"וישע ה' אל הבל ואל מנחתו ואל קין ואל מנחתו לא שעה"
“And Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering, but to Kayin and his offering he did not turn.” (4:4,5)

QUESTION: Why was Hevel’s offering accepted and Kayin’s rejected?

ANSWER: While man must have an occupation to provide sustenance for himself and his family, his yearning should be to achieve spirituality. A livelihood will, of course, facilitate a person’s transitory stay on this mundane world, but the pursuit of spiritual attainment will earn one eternal life in the World to Come, which is definitely superior.

The Torah lists Kayin and Hevel’s respective occupations in the following way: “Vayehi Hevel ro’eh tzon veKayin hayeh oved adamah” — “Hevel became a herder of flocks, while Kayin was a tiller of the ground” (4:2).

This is not merely a description of their occupations but an analysis of their attitudes and outlooks.

The Gemara (Megillah 10b) says that the term “vayehi” — “and it was” — is an expression of pain i.e. the preface to a painful narrative, and the Midrash (Rabbah Vayikra 11:7) says that the term “vehayah” is an expression of joy.

With the expression of vayehi in regard to Hevel, the Torah is indicating that though he was forced to be a shepherd, nevertheless every minute be spent at it was painful and distasteful. To him spirituality was pre-eminent, and if possible, he would have loved to engage in spiritual pursuits the entire day.

On the other hand, Kayin was content with his material success and had no yearning for anything spiritual. He dedicated all his efforts to achieving financial success and had no remorse for living a life void of holiness.

Obviously, Hevel’s offering was the one Hashem found acceptable.

(ר' ישראל זצ"ל מריזין))

"ותהר ותלד את חנוך ויהי בנה עיר ויקרא שם העיר כשם בנו חנוך"
“She conceived and bore Chanoch; he became a city-builder, and he named the city after his son Chanoch.” (4:17)

QUESTION: Why did he give the name “Chanoch” to both his son and the city?

ANSWER: After Kayin committed the heinous crime of killing his own brother, he realized his demoralization and debased status. After much contemplation, he concluded that without proper education from early youth, a person can easily go astray and commit the most gross and inhumane crimes. To rectify this, he made it his mission to propagate the importance of education.

When his son was born, he named him Chanoch, which stems from the word “chinuch” — “education” — and also called the entire city by this name. Kayin was stressing that parents are obligated to educate their children as soon as they are born. Moreover, one should not suffice with this, but also see that the entire city receives a proper education.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)