“In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It’s one of the most well known lines of any book, written at any point in history. But why does the Torah specifically start there? The word “Torah” literally means “teaching,” so if the whole point is for us to use it to learn how to be good Jews, it should have started with the first mitzvah – Rosh Chodesh! Why start with the creation of the cosmos and then spend several parshiyos on the lives of our ancestors? Why not just begin with what we should be doing?
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the Ramban or Nachmanides) writes that the reason for this is to learn ethical lessons from the lives of our forefathers and foremothers. We learn from them how to live proper lives, and therefore it is relevant to include those historical episodes at the beginning of the Torah. Rav Chaim of Volozhin even writes in his book, Ruach Chaim, that Pirkei Avos teaches that the world stands on Torah, Worship, and Acts of Kindness rather than just Torah because if our ancestors did not find ways to worship Hashem or do acts of kindness, the Torah would never have been given.
The great commentator Rashi, however, provides a different explanation. Rashi says that the Torah begins with cosmic creation for a very simple reason:
If the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan”, Israel may reply to them: “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us”
In other words, since the same God who created the world also gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, no other group can ever legitimately question our right to call it home. And yet we know all too well that others do indeed question that divine right to our homeland. The horrors that have been perpetrated in Israel in the past week demonstrate that all too well.
The question then is how to respond. A great thinker once wrote that the opposite of good is not evil, but indifference. Evil exists and must be vanquished, but indifference is what allows it to flourish. This realization led Elie Weisel to write in his book, Night, that “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Each and every one of us can make our voices heard and stand up against evil in our lives. Even if it seems too small of an act, we can remember that even the smallest pebble creates ripples in the sea. As Rabbi Leo Dee said at the funeral of his own wife and daughters who were murdered by terrorists in Israel, “”If we move forward in doing good, more good will get done this week than last week.” May we all bring more good into the weeks.
Rabbi Gotlib and the JET Team