The word Torah means "teaching,"1 and as we should therefore expect, much of the Torah consists of God's instructions regarding how He wants us to relate to Him, to our fellow human beings, to the world around us, and even to ourselves.

Yet, if we carefully examine all Five Books of Moses, we see that God's explicit instructions are addressed exclusively to the Jews, and, more specifically, to the Jews as they constitute a people, that is, a collective entity formed for a specific purpose and sharing common responsibilities. True, the Torah does also contain God's instructions to the rest of humanity, but these instructions are presented solely in the context of the Jewish people's responsibility to impart them to the non-Jewish world. It is thus clear that the Torah is a book of instruction addressed primarily to the Jewish people.

It is therefore intriguing to note that the intended recipients of the Torah's message, this entity known as the Jewish people, does not technically come into being until well into the second of the Five Books, Exodus. Only when God gives them their first commandment, as He is about to redeem them from Egypt,2 do they officially begin to be identified as a nation. And only when God announces at Mount Sinai, some two months later, that He is transforming them into "a kingdom of nobles and a holy nation,"3 are they forged forever into a collective unity suitable to receive the Torah. Until that point, there is no such thing as a Jew; there are only people. True, long before this, God starts to focus His attention on the bloodline from which the Jewish people will eventually emerge—saving its bearers from the Flood, settling them in their homeland, giving them a few practices to distinguish them from the rest of humanity, weeding out their less worthy offshoots, and so on. But legally and practically, this developing family still remains a group of people, no different than any other, until the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah transform them into the Jewish nation.

This being the case, why is the Book of Genesis—which is devoted to the creation of the world and the early history of humanity in general, and which is altogether bereft of any explicit Divine instructions to the Jews as a people—included in the Torah?

The most fundamental answer to this question is that it is in the Book of Genesis that God "presents His credentials," as it were, establishing Himself as the Creator of the World who, as such, has the right to define and demand a certain standard and mode of behavior from His creations. Still, for this purpose, it would have sufficed for the Torah to document the creation of the world and then skip the intervening history of humanity.

A seemingly more fitting answer, then, is that in the Book of Genesis, we are introduced to the patriarchs and matriarchs, whose righteous behavior is the model upon which we are supposed to fashion our own.4 It is for this reason that the Book of Genesis is called, later in the Bible, "the Book of the Upright,"5 in reference to the patriarchs and matriarchs. But to this end, it still would have sufficed to jump from the account of creation directly to the account of the lives of these great personalities. Why the detailed chronicle of humanity as a whole, from creation down to the genesis of the Jewish people?

The answer to this question is provided by the Midrash: "God desired to make His home in the lower realms."6 That is, God created the world as a "lower realm" with regard to Divine consciousness—initially devoid of it and even antagonistic to it—intending that humanity then introduce Divine consciousness into the world and ultimately fill it with this consciousness. As a result, God would become "at home" in this physical world; He would be able to be as "present" in it—that is, as revealed in it—as easily and naturally as we are in our own homes.


God, of course, did not "lack" anything before creating a lowly world to dwell in. Why, then, did He nonetheless desire this home?

By way of analogy, we can point out that we experience the greatest satisfaction when we meet a seemingly impossible challenge; we are most intrigued when the seemingly incongruous occurs. Making the world into God's home, being the most impossibly incongruous challenge of all, would afford God the greatest imaginable satisfaction.

Ultimately, however, this answer is insufficient, since the correlation between challenge and satisfaction is itself God-made. Therefore, the ultimate answer can only be that this desire was somehow rooted deep within God's essence, and as human experience bears out, there are some desires for which no logical reason can be given.

The tool God gave humanity to enable it to perform this feat is the Torah. By living life according to the Torah's instructions, humanity would be able to transform a world initially antagonistic to Divinity into one conducive to Divinity. The drama of creation thus required three elements: the world, the human race, and the Torah, serving respectively as the setting, the actors, and the script.

This being the case, it is clear that the physical, "lower" world was created for the explicit purpose of fulfilling God's vision for it as expressed in the Torah, as the "setting" in which the Torah's drama would be acted out. Put another way, the Torah preceded creation; in the idiom of the Midrash, the Torah was God's "blueprint" for creating the world.

The originality and audacity of this claim form the essence of the Torah's opening verse: by recounting the creation of the world, the Torah is boldly asserting that the world and everything in it, as well as all of history, exist "within" the Torah, meaning that their significance is determined by the Torah rather than vice versa. The Torah is not a part of the world, one of many features or components of life; rather, the world is a part of the Torah.

It follows directly that neither the world nor anything in it can ever constitute an obstacle to fulfilling the Torah's directives. That this may not always seem to be the case is only a mirage, a test of our dedication and belief. But the truth is exactly the opposite: God, in fact, created the world and everything in it precisely to aid us in fulfilling the Torah's directives.7

But precisely because the world was created in such a way as to obscure God's presence, we are given the free choice to ignore Him and His intentions for the world. This is exactly the choice that humanity made in parashat Bereishit, and for the most part has continued to make ever since—whether knowingly or unwittingly, and despite any lip service it may pay to the contrary. The early history of the world is the record of humanity pushing God further and further out of the picture, out of life, so it could be free to pursue a life of immediate gratification without having to address the issue of His possible existence and/or involvement. Rather than come to terms with a transcendent yet personal God, humanity chose to lavish its devotion on the spurious gods of nature (teva, in Hebrew), in which God has hidden and submerged (tava) His presence under the guise of the immutable laws of causality. In keeping with His own decision to allow free choice, God obliged, so to speak, by retreating to the spiritual realms, leaving humanity increasingly to its own devices while hiding His presence even further behind the façade of nature.

Yet God did not despair of His original vision of being welcomed by humanity into the apparently mundane world; rather, He implemented His contingency plan. He took the one family that continued to nurture the original ideal of Divine consciousness and forged it into a nation—the Jewish people—whom He then entrusted with the mission of fulfilling His original purpose for creation. The Torah, the tool originally intended to enable all humanity to accomplish this mission by leading a God-imbued life—thereby transforming the mundane world into God's "home" by supplanting material consciousness with Divine consciousness—was now given specifically to this family and its descendants. To the rest of humanity God gave a subset of the Torah's directives, which they would use to establish and maintain an orderly, civilized, and just society.8 The Jewish people would both serve as an inspiration and example for the rest of humanity and encourage them to play their role in His scheme for transforming the world into His home.

The Book of Genesis, then, and particularly its first parashah, Bereishit, is not merely a chronicle of historical facts; it documents God's original vision for the world and humanity, and why it became necessary—because of the choices made by humanity—to transfer the role originally intended for humanity in general to the nascent Jewish people in particular.

The imperative to make the world into God's home by sanctifying mundane reality extends beyond the physical façade of creation. Every one of us possesses an inner soul, but by virtue of having been born into a physical body, we naturally relate to reality in purely physical terms—and as we learn to cater to our physical needs, our souls become further encrusted by acquired materialism. Freeing our souls from the shackles of this materialistic perspective is an additional aspect of our Divine mission to reveal the inner intent of creation.9

In this context, the Ba'al Shem Tov—translating the word for "created" (bara) according to its additional meaning of "outside"—interpreted the first sentence in the Torah as follows: "The beginning [of our Divine mission is] to draw out [the inner,] Divine [dimension of everything in] heaven and earth." Our challenge in life is to refuse to take the world at face value, but rather to peer behind the veil and reveal God's inner intent in everything.10

So we see that rejecting the world's material orientation and revealing the Divinity within it is not an attempt to impose an artificial perspective on a perfectly functioning world; it is rather an endeavor to restore the world to its intended and true state. The materially oriented world, overburdened with its own egocentricity, is sick, and it is our task to heal it. This fact is also alluded to in that same first verse of the Torah, if we translate the word for "created" (bara) according to yet another of its meanings, "healthy" (bari): "The beginning [of our Divine mission is] to heal the heavens and the earth."11

Needless to say, we are able to heal the world of its materialistic, egocentric outlook only to the same degree that we purge our own selves of that very outlook. It is therefore essential for us to always keep in mind that God is the source of all the blessings we have at our disposal, both spiritual and material. It is thus fitting that the Torah alludes to this very perspective on life in its first verse: "The beginning [of our Divine mission is to constantly recall that] God created the heavens [i.e., all our spiritual blessings] and the earth [i.e., all our physical blessings]."12

Healing the world by putting it back "into" the Torah is a lifelong task requiring both our fullest dedication and the best of our abilities. But aside from the satisfaction inherent in the knowledge that we are fulfilling our true life's purpose, and indeed, the purpose of Creation altogether, we are assured that our efforts, in the messianic future, will bear the ultimate fruit: the world's consummate transformation into God's intended home.13