Torah

Parshat Bereishit: Echoes of God, Beginning to End

October 5, 2007

Parashat Bereishit 5768

  • Part One: Echoes of God
  • Part Two: The End, From the Beginning

Part One: Echoes of God

The Days of Awe (ha’yamim nora’im) coalesce with the verses in Bereishit in their essence of beginning, in their activities and in speech; it is the speech which intrigues me, not of Man but the sounds of Hashem.

Pirkay Avot chapter 5:1 states

בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם

Hashem created the world with ten utterances

What do the utterances of Hashem sound like?

We recite in the hauntingly beautiful prayer of U’netaneh tokef:

ובשופר גדול יתקע, וקול דממה דקה ישמע ומלאכים יחפזון, וחיל ורעדה יאחזון ויאמרו: הנה יום הדין לפקד על צבא-מרום בדין כי לא יזכו בעיניך בדין
A great shofar is sounded and a barely audible sound is heard. The angels hasten and fear. Trembling grips them and they proclaim, “The day of judgment is upon us when all heavenly creatures are remembered in judgment, for none will escape your judgment.”

The same barely audible voice of Hashem is referred to in the Tanach when Eliyahu Hanavi escapes to Mount Sinai (Melachim 1 chap. 19:11-12):

ויאמר צא ועמדת בהר לפני ה’ והנה ה’ עבר ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים ומשבר סלעים לפני ה’ לא ברוח ה’ ואחר הרוח רעש לא ברעש ה’ ואחר הרעש אש לא באש ה’ ואחר האש קול דממה דקה

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before Hashem .” And behold, Hashem passed by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking the rocks before Hashem , but Hashem was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but Hashem was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but Hashem was not in the fire; and after the fire a thin sound.

Hashem’s utterances are inaudible, yet they shake the myriad heavenly creatures who occupy the seven levels of heaven.

However, the voice of Hashem is thunderous, as stated in Tehilim 29:4:

קול ה’ בכח קול ה’ בהדר

The voice of Hashem is in strength

Rashi in Vayikra 1:1 explains that when Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Ohel Moed (the tent of the covenant) the Voice of Hashem was not audible for anyone standing outside. Yet, for Moshe inside the tent, the voice resonated in the most awesome way, as stated in Tehilim 29:

The voice of the Hashem is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Hashem thunders over the mighty waters The voice of the Hashem is powerful; the voice of the Hashem is majestic. The voice of the Hashem breaks the cedars; the Hashem breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon… The voice of the Hashem strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Hashem shakes the desert; the voice of Hashem shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Hashem twists the oaks and strips the forests bare and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

So is Hashem’s voice as the clapping of a million thunders or is it barely audible?

The answer rests in the way Hashem created the speech of human beings.

Our vocal chords are incapable of uttering more than a barely audible sound. What we hear is the echo of that small sound reverberating in a resonance box composed of one’s face and head. Hence, what creates the sound of the world’s most powerful tenor or soprano is the environment of the voice and not the voice itself.

On Rosh Hashana, the inaudible voice of Hashem – the “kol demama daka” – resonates from the pillars of the universe creating the acoustics which paralyzes the heavenly creatures.

Hashem, the Law-Giver, is perceived by Moshe as a thunderous voice because of the Ohel Moed environment.

From here, we can draw a very important conclusion which reaches into the lives of every Jew.

The Jewish world has just concluded an extended period of tefila. How many words of supplication to Hashem did our people utter since the beginning of the month of Elul, on to Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, the seven days of Succot and Shmini Atzeret? Countless!

Yet the aggregate sounds of all our prayers are thin, barely audible sounds in the cacophony of life. What makes them audible before the Holy Throne is the environment in which they are sounded.

The Kohen Gadol (High Priest), upon departing from the Kodesh Kadashim (Holy of Holies) in the Temple, uttered a short prayer for the welfare of the nation. He had no microphone at his disposal, nor did he scream out his supplications before Hashem. It was the environment of the Holy Temple which carried his small voice to the nth degree of Hashem’s world.

What you pray in Hashem’s Holy Land resonates up to the Heavenly Throne; what one prays in the tuma of foreign lands remains an inaudible whisper.

That is why there is no prophecy in Chutz la’aretz and why many readers of this message will not hear what I am saying; for even though it resonates in Eretz Yisrael, the voice stops at the gates of the Holy Land, just as those who stood outside the Ohel Moed could not hear the thunder of the Torah beyond the thin walls of the tent.


Part Two: The End, From the Beginning

The deluge which destroyed mankind at the time of Noach, indelibly engraved the fear in human consciousness that an event of comparable proportions could again occur. There are those who hypothesize that another world-wide catastrophe or pandemic could occur and others who believe that it will definitely occur.

Every generation produced its seers who predicted the day and even the moment when Hashem’s wrath will again break out in all its consuming fury to take down the helpless species called Man, and although their predictions have been time and again frustrated, they go on predicting the day when life will cease to be.

The pursuit of predicting future devastating events has an opposite parallel – the pursuit of predicting when Hashem will send the Mashiach to save His people Israel and the world. And, we too, have been disappointed, time and again, when the date arrived and we found ourselves in an even more precarious situation than before.

It is as if there is a competition between the two camps which will arrive first: the Mashiach, who will save the world from destruction, or the unspeakable catastrophic event which will decimate all human life.

In truth, each camp is frustrated in its efforts to arrive first, because they err in their perception and evaluation of the reality.

The future salvation or annihilation of billions of people are not separate events; they are inexorably bound together. At the time when Hashem will send down His fury on the world’s wicked, that will be the time when the righteous will find salvation.

This fundamental principle is articulated in the gemara Sanhedrin 98b when discussing the generation of the Mashiach’s appearance. The great amora, Ula, declares “yay’tay ve’lo ach’me’nay” (let him come but I don’t want to see him,” because of the great human suffering which will abound at the time.) His fellow amora, Rav Yosef, declares that he wishes to be present at the time and is even willing to suffer so much as to “sit in the shadow of his donkey’s dung.”

Two approaches; two attitudes. But both agree that Armageddon and the Mashiach will share center stage together.

How will it play out? Who are the major players?

Rashi on the first verse in the Torah quotes Rabbi Yitzchak in the Midrash Tanchuma, who poses the question: The Torah is the book of mitzvot (commandments) of the Jewish nation, and as such it should begin with the first mitzva which God commanded us – to calculate and declare the arrival of new months and years, not the story of creation?

And Rabbi Yitzchak explains that God began the Torah with the act of creation, so that the nations of the world who will, in the future, accuse the Jewish people of “stealing” Eretz Yisrael, should know that since God is the creator of all that exists, He has the absolute right to grant Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish nation to the exclusion of any other nation.

Rashi’s choice to begin his commentary with this quote from Rav Yitzchak leaves us suspended between heaven and earth. Rabbi Yitzchak is informing that the nations will accuse us of imperialistic motives associated with evil regimes, and we will answer them with Torah based principles.

Here Rabbi Yitzchak stops. How will it play out? Will the nations be convinced by our presentations; or will they cast our claims aside and mete out their idea of justice through war or other sanctions? Rabbi Yitzchak and Rashi, what comes next?

Yalkut Shimoni at the end of the book of Yeshayahu (#499) quotes a tana who states that in time Paras (Persia-Iran) will be the dread of the entire world.

The world’s leaders will be frustrated in their efforts to save what they can, to no avail; and the people of Yisrael will also be petrified by the pending danger. And Hashem will say to us, “Why are you afraid? All of this I have done in order to bring you the awaited redemption. And this redemption will not be like the redemption from Egypt which was followed by suffering. This redemption will be absolute, followed with peace.”

It is fascinating to note that the tana with whose words Rashi begins his commentary and leaves us suspended in our ignorance of the future, is the same Rabbi Yitzchak in the Yalkut Shimoni who spells it out: Yisrael, Iran, the nations of the world – its all there.

Rashi, when he chose the midrash Tanchuma knew what Rabbi Yitzchak says in the midrash Shimoni, but Rashi let us “hang in mid-air”, because when discussing the creation of the world it makes no sense to discuss its finale

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.