1. We are found in the concluding days of the month of Tishrei, the period when “Yaakov went on his way,” i.e., the time when a Jew makes a transition from the festive atmosphere of Tishrei and enters his day to day routine and in this manner completes the unique individual mission with which he as a person has been charged.

The transition between these two conflicting periods of time is reflected in Shabbos Bereishis which contains two opposite thrusts. On one hand, as the final Shabbos of Tishrei, it represents the completion of the service of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah which were celebrated in the previous week. Since these holidays represent the completion of the service of the previous holidays, Shabbos Bereishis is associated with the completion of the service of the entire month of Tishrei.

Conversely, Shabbos Bereishis represents the beginning of the service of the new year. It is the Shabbos on which we bless the month of MarCheshvan, a month associated within mundane activities (as evidenced by the absence of festivals within it). Similarly, the connection between Shabbos Bereishis and the service of the coming year is evident from the statement of the Rebbeim: “The entire year reflects the way we present ourselves on Shabbos Bereishis.” Indeed, the very meaning of the word Bereishis, “beginning,” implies the start of a new phase of service.1

Shabbos Bereishis’ position as an intermediary phase between the holidays of Tishrei and the coming year is essential to the function of the month of Tishrei as a whole. The Hebrew letters of Tishrei (תשרי) can be rearranged to form the word Reishis (רשית) meaning “head of.” The holidays of Tishrei are of general importance, serving as a source of influence for the entire year. This influence is transmitted through the medium of Shabbos Bereishis which connects these two opposite periods together.

The question, however, arises: How is it possible for Shabbos Bereishis to connect these opposite services? How can the heights of Tishrei be related to the day to day service which is carried out throughout the year?

It can be explained that this potential is derived from the Torah reading which begins with Bereishis, the story of creation and concludes “and Noach found favor in G‑d’s eyes.” As will be explained, the interpretation of both these verses is at the outset problematic and their explanation provides us with fundamental Torah concepts that relates to the nature of Shabbos Bereishis.

In regard to the opening verse, Rashi explains that the word Bereishis — בראשית — suggests a homiletic interpretation; that it be read as ב רשית. Thus, it alludes to two (ü) entities, the Jewish people and the Torah, which are described as רשית. Afterwards, he explains that the simple meaning of the word is “In the beginning,” i.e., in the beginning of G‑d’s work of creation.

The question arises: Why does Rashi — who explains that his commentary is intended to reveal the simple meaning of the Biblical text — begin his commentary with a homiletic point. Even if it is necessary for him to mention this concept, on the surface, it seems that it would have been more appropriate for him to begin with the verse’s simple meaning and afterwards, quote the homily.

The final verse, “and Noach found favor in G‑d’s eyes,” also raises a question: How is it possible for a limited human being to “find favor in G‑d’s eyes,” relating to Him within the context of His infinity. (There is also a point of connection between this verse and Rashi’s interpretation of the word Bereishis. The Jewish people and the Torah are essentially above this world. Thus, their function as the reason for the creation of the world also represents a connection between infinity and finiteness.)

These points can be explained as follows: Though “in the beginning, G‑d created the heavens and the earth,” G‑d, Himself, stands above this creation.2 Indeed, the entire concept of existence and even G‑d’s own potential to create do not relate to the essence of His being. Were He to relate to the creation, one could rightfully ask: How does He possess the power to create?

This concept is emphasized by the Torah’s use of the term ברא for “create.” ברא refers to creation ex nihilo, “something from nothing.” There are two interpretations of the expression “something from nothing”: a) The source is referred to as “nothing” because it is beyond the conception of the existence which is brought into being from it; b) The transition from non-existence to existence is complete and absolute. Even the potential for its existence did not exist before its creation.3

For this reason, creation could only have been wrought by G‑d’s essence. Since G‑d’s essence exists independently and absolutely, without having been brought into being by another cause, it has the potential to bring into being an entity — our framework of existence — which has no apparent connection to the cause of its existence. Indeed, in order to bring our existence into being it was necessary for there to be an absolute Tzimtzum (“condensation”) of G‑dly light.

Since the creation has its source in G‑d’s essence, it follows that just as G‑d’s essence transcends all intellect and thought,4 so too, His rationale for creation transcends the limits of comprehension. For this reason, the Alter Rebbe explained that G‑d created the world because “He desired to have a dwelling in the lower worlds” and clarified that “desire” is not a subject that can be explained.

Since the creation has its source within G‑d’s essence — to quote the Rambam, “All existence... came into being from the truth of His Being alone” — and G‑d’s essence “desired” our existence, it follows that the despite the absolute distance between our existence and Him, there is the possibility for a connection to be established.

That connection is established through the Jewish people and the Torah. The Zohar states that the “Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.” G‑d is essentially above our existence and yet, desired to connect Himself to that existence. A similar fusion of opposites exists in regard to the Jews and the Torah. Despite the fact that they are essentially above the nature of our existence, they also function within the world. They are the mediums which bring about and reveal the oneness shared by G‑d and the world. Through them, the world is transformed into G‑d’s dwelling.

To explain: G‑d chose the Jewish people. Free choice in its truest sense transcends any intellectual rationale or personal tendency. [Therefore, in its ultimate sense, the only one capable of genuine free choice is G‑d.] Thus, His choice — like His desire mentioned above — expresses that dimension of Him which absolutely transcends all existence. Similarly, in regard to Torah, the Torah is G‑d’s “will and His wisdom,” totally united with Him. From this perspective, the Jews and the Torah are “firsts,” totally above the context of worldly existence.

G‑d, nevertheless, caused the Jewish people and the Torah to descend within this world. Accordingly, on this level, G‑d’s choice of the Jews is also reflected within the context of intellect and there are reasons — because the Jews are “a wise and understanding nation” and because they are “humble, merciful, and kind” — which explain G‑d’s choice. Similarly, the Torah is “your wisdom before the eyes of all the nations,” i.e., on this level, the Jews and Torah are “firsts” whose unique qualities can be appreciated by the world.

This process which brings the infinite expression of G‑d’s choice within the limited sphere of our worldly definitions also gives a Jew the potential to reveal G‑d’s oneness within the world through fulfilling the directives of the Torah and thus, transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d.

In this context, we can understand the point from Rashi’s commentary quoted above: Since G‑d’s intention in creating the world was to establish “a dwelling” for Himself,” He created the world in a manner in which it is apparent that the world appreciate that the Jews and the Torah are “firsts;” the Jews are the first of all nations and the Torah is the first of all wisdom. Ultimately, the Jews’ service will transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d and reveal how the Jews and Torah are “firsts” as expressions of G‑d’s essential choice.

To clarify and give focus to this concept, Rashi mentions it before the simple meaning of the verse. Furthermore, this interpretation does not represent a contradiction to the simple meaning of the verse which describes the creation of the world. Rather, it reveals and emphasizes the ultimate purpose of that creation.

A similar concept can be explain in regard to the verse: “And Noach found favor in G‑d’s eyes.” “Favor” refers to an affection that transcends intellectual thought and relates to the concept of essential desire and choice5 described above. It is granted to a person without consideration of his service, regardless of the qualities he possesses. Nevertheless, the Divine favor granted to Noach provided him with the potential to attain rungs of service far above the remainder of the people of his generation.

On this basis, we can understand the unique nature of Shabbos Bereishis. Tishrei (whose letters can be rearranged to form the word רשית) is, like the Torah and the Jewish people, a “first” when compared to the months of the year. As explained above in regard to the Torah and the Jewish people, its being a “first” possesses two dimensions: one which transcends entirely worldly existence and one which relates to worldly existence. Both of these qualities are reflected in Shabbos Bereishis.

Thus, Shabbos Bereishis serves as the conclusion of the month of Tishrei (“first” in an essential sense) and the Shabbos which blesses MarCheshvan (“first” in relation to worldly matters). Shabbos Bereishis has an effect on our service throughout the year — “The entire year reflects the way we present ourselves on Shabbos Bereishis” — not only in regard to matters of holiness, but also in regard to one’s everyday matters as implied by the phrase “Yaakov went on his way.”

Furthermore, the two “firsts” influence each other. Thus, even the service of the Jews within the world, the second aspect of “first,” reflects the quality of “first” which transcends all relation to worldly existence.6 Thus Shabbos Bereishis includes within itself the service of the entire month of Tishrei7 which emphasizes G‑d’s oneness and sovereignty over the totality of existence (including the coronation of G‑d as King of the world on Rosh HaShanah and the expression of His choice of the Jews which is revealed on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah). This gives the Jews the potential to reveal this oneness within the everyday aspects of our existence, demonstrating how “All existence... came into being from the truth of His Being alone.”

2. The potential which a Jew has to transform the world into a place for the revelation of G‑dliness should not be expressed in a manner which destroys and breaks the world. One should not negate he world’s existence, but rather should find a way — according to the guidelines of the Torah — to use each element of existence as a means to express G‑d’s glory. This is possible since, as explained above, every element of the world’s existence originates in “the truth of His Being.”

This concept is reflected in a story told about the Alter Rebbe. A Chassid once presented the Alter Rebbe with a silver snuffbox. At first, the Alter Rebbe did not want to accept the gift. Afterwards, he changed his mind and took it. He did not, however, use it for snuff. Rather, he removed the cover of the box and — because it was shiny — used it in place of a mirror to see whether his Tefillin were positioned properly on his head.

Once when this story was related in the presence of the Tzemach Tzedek, the narrator stated that the Alter Rebbe broke the box to use it for this purpose. The Tzemach Tzedek objected, saying, “My grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) did not break things. He did not break himself, nor did he break others. Most likely, the cover was connected to the box by a wire and my grandfather merely removed the wire.”

This story shows that we must make an effort to use every element of existence for a positive and holy purpose even if the matter in question is not so valuable. The Alter Rebbe had no need for a snuffbox. Nevertheless, instead of ignoring the gift, he sought a way to use it (without destroying it) for a holy purpose.

The same applies to every Jew. Even a person for whom “the entire world is not worth a pinch of snuff” should try to use the worldly things with which he comes in contact for the service of G‑d. Surely this applies for someone who attaches value — at least the value of “a pinch of snuff” — to the material entities in this world. Most people today feel at least this much — and generally an even greater — connection to worldly things. Hence, they must do whatever they can to use them for a positive purpose.

{For example, a person who has a chest (and unlike the Alter Rebbe, he has a desire to use it for his personal reasons): Instead of using it to hold his own jewels and gems, he should use it to hold tzedakah which will be given for jewels to bedeck a bride and the like.}

The above concepts should be taken into consideration within the context of the resolutions we take on regarding our behavior in the year that follows. We must make resolutions to behave in a manner that reflects the principles “Know Him in all your ways” and “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.” These resolutions should be made cognizant of the fact that “The entire year reflects the way we present ourselves on Shabbos Bereishis.” Now is the time when we begin the service of “Yaakov went on his way,” unpacking all the merchandise which we were able to collect in the month of Tishrei.

The resolutions we take on should also include a reinforcement of our commitment to Torah study, each person according to his abilities, in particular, the study of Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim, and Tanya), the fulfillment of mitzvos in a careful and beautiful manner (b’hiddur) and in particular, the mitzvah of tzedakah.8

Also, these resolutions should include a stress on the service of spreading the wellsprings of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus outward, reaching out to other Jews who were not given the proper Jewish education.9 There is a special emphasis on the need for this service at present. It appears that the only reason Mashiach is delaying his coming is to allow another Jew a chance to come close to Torah and mitzvos.

This service can be performed by every Jew, man, woman, or child. Indeed, we see that sometimes a child’s sincere words can transform the nature of an entire home. Even if we do not see the effect of our efforts immediately, we can be sure that ultimately, when the person has time to consider the matter in depth, he will appreciate the truth.

Surely, the above is true when one speaks with true sincerity, with words that come from the heart and when one emphasizes that Judaism is not a new and foreign thing, but one’s own heritage, the reflection of one’s inner being, the way to give expression to the G‑dly spark each person possesses. How much more so will the other person respond when he becomes aware that Mashiach’s coming and the emergence of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) from exile is dependent on his deeds.

Now is a time when each person must ask himself: “How many Jews have I brought close to Yiddishkeit recently?” and “What more can I do to hasten Mashiach’s coming?” May the new service that is aroused from this process of introspection hasten the coming of a new era, the Messianic age when G‑d will reveal “a new heaven and earth” and “a new Torah will emerge from Me” and when it will be revealed throughout the world that “Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.”