Parshas Bereishis

Upon the leave of Succoss, and winters setting in, we start to mention in our Shmoneh Esrei prayer, Gvuras G’shamim. We start to mention or “praise” Hashem for the power of rainfall. Interestingly, as we all know, we don’t actually start asking for rain or precipitation until later on in winter.

The gemarah in messechtas Taanis, continuously differentiates between mentioning or praising Hashem for this awesome power of rainfall, and actually requesting from Hashem rain.

The gemarah however, after it makes this clear distinction between hazkara/mentioning, and sheaila/requesting, seems to utterly ignore its own dictum by equating the two. The gemarah (4a.) quotes a brief excerpt from the Mishnah at the beginning of the tractate, “we don’t ask for rain until we are close upon the appropriate season”. the gemarah  suggests, (for various reasons that are self evident in the sugyah) that it must be, the authors of this Mishnah must have maintained that mentioning and requesting, are one and the same. The gemarah, however, does ultimately revert, and say that it is perhaps only a reference to mentioning, and not to requesting rain.

Aside from the fact that it has already been established that they are not one and the same’ but rather two separate entities (hence a problematic suggestion) there is a far greater problem. How could the gemarah say that the mishna’s Sheailah/requesting, is merely a Hazkara/mentioning?

Perhaps we can answer this seeming contradiction, with a fundamental insight on tfillah.

Reb Chaim Vellozhiner in Nefesh-HaChaim (sha’ar Beis chapter 2) explains; when we bless Hashem it isn’t that we are lending him credence, or even merely praising him. We are his creations, and thus cannot lend anymore credence to Hashem above and beyond our existence. Our praises are frivolous and superfluous, all at once. Hashem doesn’t need our praises.

The Nefesh Hachaim therefore explains that blessing Hashem is in a way actualizing Hashem’s presence and strength; making it a more tangible element in our realm, in our world.

Blessing Hashem for his power of rainfall is in a sense asking for rain. We may have merely be mentioning the fact that Hashem makes rainfall, and not directly asking for it at all. Nonetheless we have influenced the power of rain, in a constructive manner.

May Hashem indeed grant us this year, an abundance of rainfall, L’tovah V’livracha!

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In this week’s Sedra we come into contact with the very first sin ever. Our view on sin is shaped by a world that is full of sin. Our perspective on chet is that it is common place to sin and merely ideally better not to do so. Perhaps because we take evil and sinning for granted we cripple ourselves from fully understanding the driving force behind sin.

Hashem gives Adam and Chava one singular command not to eat from one singular tree in the middle of Gan-Eden. Along comes the serpent, accosts Chava, and lures her into eating from the Tree of Knowledge by exciting appetite. The Nochash (serpent) explains to Chava how great she would become if she would eat from the tree of knowledge. He tells her that she will know right from wrong. The next thing the Passuk tells us is that Chava saw the tree was good to eat from. It seems that somehow the mere assertion by the Nochash that some greatness would come from her eating the fruit of this tree it suddenly transforms the tree into something wonderful. The seeming difficulty with this is : what’s so wonderful about knowing right from wrong? Why was this aspect of knowledge so enticing to Chava? How did the prospect of being able to decipher good from bad tempt Chava into sin?

Rashi comments on the words “and she saw that the tree was good…” – that she saw the words of the Nochash.  The obvious question with Rashi is what does seeing the words of the Nochash have to do with the fact that ‘she saw it was good to eat’?

We now all know that knowing good from bad isn’t anything so phenomenal. We accept this knowledge as basic and we thus find ourselves in constant dilemmas based on our own internal debates between right and wrong. It is something that continually complicates our lives. It would seem that somehow Chava listened to the words of the Nochash and fantasized this concept of knowing right from wrong to its being something incredible. To Chava the Tree of Knowledge became so tempting that she changed the way she viewed it. Before the Nochash had talked to Chava this tree was just some ordinary tree, but afterwards it was transformed into something quite extraordinary.

Chava saw the words of the Nochash; she saw what she wanted to see. The tree all of a sudden was tasty, beautiful, and everything else. Such is the strength of the evil inclination, that it deludes us into seeing our fantasies as actual beings. We interpret the pleasure of sin. The real truth is that there is no greater pleasure involved in sin than in good other than our own pure fantasies.

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At the end of this week’s Sedra the Torah tells us that Hashem decided that He was going to wipe out mankind, and not just mankind, but all animals and living creatures. The Torah had prefaced this by telling us that Hashem was kiveyachol (so to speak) disturbed with how mankind was acting. Rashi asks the obvious question: why did the animals need to be destroyed? Rashi offers two answers. Rashi’s second answer is that since everything was created for the purpose of serving mankind the animals would no longer serve a purpose. This, however, doesn’t seem to answer the question. Firstly: just because they no longer serve a purpose must they be destroyed? Secondly: the next passuk tells us while Hashem disdained mankind as a whole, Noach found favor in Hashem’s Eyes – and as we know Hashem therefore was going to save Noach. And if Hashem was going to save Noach then indeed there would be a purpose in the animals. Once again the question remains: why must the animals be wiped out (or even nearly wiped out)? Why couldn’t Hashem leave an abundance of animals for Noach and his family?

The Torah tells us in Parshas Vayakhel that Moshe Rabeinu told Am-Yisroel to stop bringing their riches for the construction of the Mishkan because they already had sufficient material for the Mishkan to be built. Anyone who runs a Mosad (institution) knows that there is no such thing as turning down a donor; why was it that Moshe Rabeinu turned down more donations then what was absolutely necessary?

There is with regard to Korbanos (sacrifices) a concept of leftovers needing to be destroyed (Pigul and Nossar). The general idea is that whatever is left over from a Korban and wasn’t eaten within the amount of time the Torah allotted for it to be eaten must be destroyed.

We can see a pattern beginning to form here. Leftovers, extras, are not desirable. Something that serves no purpose,  even if this is just because it’s excessive, is worthless.

The Torah seems to be teaching us a very important lesson: everything in the world should have a purpose. Something without purpose doesn’t justify its existence and therefore should be destroyed. We must strive to find meaning and purpose in everything and to utilize it.

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The Haftorah we read this Shabbos is a Nevuah from Yishayahu regarding the Geula Asida (Final Redemption). As a general rule the Haftorah is supposed to reflect the Parsha on some level (unless it is a Haftorah for a particular Yom Tov or the like, which is then supposed to reflect the current Yom-Tov). Many of the standard Chumashim contain the explanation (in the name of the Levush and the Avudraham) that the reason this Haftorah is read is because it commences with Hashem declaring that He created the entire world; this idea reflects the Sedra’s discussion of Maaseh Bereishis (Hashem’s Creation of the world).

Such an explanation, however reasonable still leaves us with a very simple and basic question: why specifically this passage? Is this the first or only time in Navi in which mention is made of Hashem creating the universe?

If we glance over the Haftorah there are two obvious observations to be made: 1) that it doesn’t merely mention the fact that Hashem created the world.  It is a constant theme throughout the portion we read; 2) the entire section in effect consists of the Navi telling us that there will be a Geula Asida. What is the direct correlation between the Geula  Asida and Maaseh Bereishis?

This week (Bereishis 5773) I was Zoche to take my Rebbe HoRav Belsky Shlita to the Kossel. Rabbi Belsky recited a number of Tehillim lamenting over the Galus, as well as Tehilim that request the redemption. As Rabbi Belsky finished reciting Kapitel 49 he showed us a Rashi that explains the Pessukim there in the following manner: the Pessukim are telling us, Rashi says, that Bizman the Geula many Judean cities will be built. This is an act of Hashem’s Beginning to redeem Eretz-Yisroel. Rashi explains that while Hashem is remembering the Land and the Land is being rebuilt and ressetled Dovid Hamelech (Mashiach) will be crying out to Hashem to remember his malchus as well and to allow him to come and complete the redemption. Rabbi Belsky explained that we are currently witnessing the cities being rebuilt and being built. He explained that it is obvious that Dovid Hamelech is crying out that he (a descendant who will be Mashiach) should be remembered and Hashem should allow for the redemption to be completed.

The Radak explains that the reason Yishayahu is compelled to mention the fact that Hashem created the world is because in the times of Yishayahu many people denied the fact that Hashem created the world and (even more so) that Hashem had any continued involvement in the world. Thus Yishayahu repeatedly came back to the mention of the creation of the world.

The rebuilding of Eretz-Yisroel, and the return to Eretz-Yisroel, that we are now witnessing is being interpreted by many as a natural historical phenomenon.  What the Navi is really telling us is: no! The Geula will happen, but it will happen because it is Hashem’s Divine Will that we should be redeemed. The Navi is driving home that the Geula is something that has been in store since Hashem created the world as a most crucial element to Hashem’s Divine Plan.