SHIVIM PANIM LATORAH, said our Sages. There are seventy faces to the Torah, seventy ways to explain and understand; seventy paths to plumb the depths of G-d’s Divine Wisdom. And no matter where or when we open the Book anew, no matter how often we’ve read or learned it before, no matter if we are in the Land of Israel or in the Diaspora, during the time of the Prophets or in the Atomic Age, we inevitably find something in each week’s parsha – the weekly Torah reading – to engage our minds, speak to our hearts, and lift up our souls. Something which seems to have been written here and now, especially for us.
BERESHIT – IN THE BEGINNING… What evocative, majestic words! They take us back to a time which precedes time itself – to that very first, cosmic beginning. But a beginning need not be cosmic in order to cast its spell. All beginnings are a gift and a blessing. They radiate an air of expectancy, of anticipation, of promise. A new baby, a new job, a new home – even a clean, fresh sheet of paper waiting to be written on – each offers a tantalizing opportunity to build, shape, or create a piece of our world.
The Torah teaches us that a good beginning augurs well, setting the foundation for all that will follow. Which is why G-d, upon the completion of the world, proclaimed: “And the L-rd saw all that He had done and behold, it is very good.” The Hebrew uses the present tense, rather than the past: the world is very good. Despite all the problems which would soon surface, the initial act of creation was forever deemed very good. No matter what followed, nothing would change this basic, universal premise.
What wonderful reassurance this is! Life has a nasty way of playing havoc with our fine intentions and carefully formulated plans. But, as the Sages teach us, G-d always provides a cure before He sends forth the malady, and at the very beginning of time, knowing full well that Man would err, stumble, fail, He nonetheless proclaimed an eternal message of hope. Life, our world is inherently “tov meod” – very good.
Each year, each month, each day presents new opportunities to try again. To erase yesterday’s sorrow and mistakes. To repair and rebuild. This optimistic refrain reverberates in the words of the Modeh Ani – the daily morning prayer of thanks for a new day and new life.
But new days, new chances, new hopes – even when filled with brave resolutions – are insufficient if they rest on poor foundations or faulty “beginnings”. The midrash tells of the famed Rebbi Chiya and his formula for teaching Torah to the children of Israel. Rebbi Chiya’s preparations began in the fields. He would plant the flax he needed to weave the ropes for fixing the traps to catch the deer to prepare the parchment upon which he would write the words of the Holy Torah. Each step would be personally executed by Rebbi Chiya himself. Then and only then, would he finally be ready to teach.
Rebbi Chiya’s program doesn’t sit well with contemporary concepts of mass production, efficiency and deadlines. But he knew that to insure the success of so important a project, the “beginnings” had to be perfect – solid and holy and pure. For teaching Torah, nothing else would do.
As we begin another yearly cycle of Torah readings with Bereishit, we pray that this year, as well as our other “beginnings”, be auspicious, their foundations solid, untainted and strong. And like G-d’s world, we hope that our world – our projects, activities, undertakings and affairs – be deemed “very good”.
Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.