OU Torah Insights Project
The first and most famous Rashi of the Torah asks why the Torah begins with B'reishit, rather than with the first mitzvah commanded to B'nei Yisrael, the mitzva of Kiddush HaChodesh. Rabbi Yitzchak gives the answer that by starting with B'reishit, G-d makes it clear that he is the Boss, he is the Creator. He gives the land to whom he chooses and takes it away from whom he chooses.
However, there is perhaps another important reason why the Torah begins as it does rather than with a specific mitzvah or with the events of the Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, or the revelation at Sinai.
Why did G-d choose to identify Himself in the Aseret HaDibrot as the one who took us out of Egypt, rather than as the one who created the world? God has identified himself in both of these ways -- one way in the Aseret HaDibrot and the other way in the rest of the Torah.
What is He telling us?
In the beginning of B'reishit, G-d makes it clear to us that we are part of creation. We are human beings, in essence, the special focus of the entire process of creation. And as such, we share this world of his with more than 6,000,000,000 other humans and countless other species of plants and animals. We have privileges as humans, and awesome obligations. We cannot shirk our responsibilities to the environment, to the balance of nature or to a basic humane moral code. This is what G-d is saying to us when he begins his Torah with, "In the beginning..." stood at the foot of Har Sinai, we became a distinct nation. G-d did not just say, "I am... Who created the world." He said, "...Who took you out of Egypt, out of the house of slaves." This was a unique Jewish experience. By identifying Himself in this more exclusive way, He explained that the Torah is not for everyone. There are basic laws of moral conduct that are for everyone, but there are also the additional 613 mitzvot of the Torah that we alone must follow.
It is as if every human being is issued a membership card to be a part of the human race. The card comes with obligations and benefits, and there are dues to be paid. Good people pay their dues, bad people don't. A requirement of gold cardholders is that they meet all their obligations as good people.
We have two sedras, B'reishit and No'ach, to remind us of the "regular world membership" and the requirements it entails. After that, we watch the development of the gold cardholders through the rest of B'reishit. It is not always pleasant to be reminded of, but we have a lot to learn from the actions of our avot and the tribes. Once we get to Sh'mot, we witness the family transformed into a nation.
Had the Torah started with the first mitzvah, it would have been as if God was isolating us from the rest of the world and absolving us of our responsibilities to the larger society. We did not trade Tishrei for Nissan as the New Year when we came out of Egypt and received the Torah at Sinai, hence we have two beginnings to our year.
This idea can be seen in many of our prayers. Look at the two brachot before Sh'ma. The first speaks of Creation and does not specifically mention Torah and mitzvot. The second bracha speaks of the deep mutual love between G-d and his People. The same idea is echoed in Birkat HaMazon. The first bracha refers to our membership in the human race and our identification with all of G-d's creations. The second bracha focuses on the Land of Israel, the Torah, the Covenant of Brit Mila.
This is a pattern that occurs over and over again. We have a dual mandate from G-d. We must relate to Him with b'reishit bara elokim...and also as anochi hashem elokecha.
Each presents its own challenge. We must meet both of them.
Adapted from Torah