[Numbers] are mitzvot in Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen – First Aliya – 34 p’sukim – 1:1-2:3
This Aliya contains the first account of Creation.
FYI – The first portion of Breishit is seldom read at Mincha of the previous Shabbat. Only when Simchat Torah is Shabbat, is it read on the previous Shabbat, and in that case, at Shacharit and Mincha. Simchat Torah cannot fall on Shabbat in Chutz LaAretz, but it happens here every so often. It is scheduled to happen next year, 5760. This year, we read from B’reishit on Monday morning, but not as a Monday, but rather as Simchat Torah. On Simchat Torah we read the whole 34-pasuk portion.
On a regular Monday and Thursday, we read just the first three days of Creation, a total of 13 p’sukim. Some shuls have the custom of reading through the 5th day of Creation (a total of 23 p’sukim) on Thursday. Get it? Thursday – Yom Chamishi – nice, huh? This paragraph is included in TT to give the Torah-stat-heads something to chew on. It is also good material for riddles. Enjoy.
There is a dispute in the Gemara as to when the world was created – in Tishrei or Nissan. The word B’REISHIT is an anagram of ALEF B’TISHREI. If anagrams were an acceptable source, then we might be able to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, it’s a nice anagram.
The Baal HaTurim points out that the G’matriya of B’REISHIT BARA is 1116, as is the numeric value of the phrase: B’ROSH HASHANA NIV’RA – on R.H. it (the world) was created.
How Old is the World?
The following is one of many ways of explaining the age of the Earth. There are many ideas which input into a more complete presentation; here is just an appetizer… or shall I say, a tidbit.
One traditional view holds that the first day of Tishrei of year number 1 was Day Six of Creation, the day that mammals, including humans, were created. The day that Adam and Chava were placed in Gan Eden. The day they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The day they were expelled from Gan Eden. Assuming that the days of Creation were days as we know them (maybe they were and maybe they weren’t; it is not a point that is included in this piece), we can backtrack to Day One of Creation and date it as 25 Elul, before year one began (let’s call it Year Zero).
There are significant opinions that the account of Day One of Creation begins with the third pasuk of the Torah, And G-d said – Let there be light. What about the first two p’sukim. B’reishit (let’s say, in the beginning) G-d created the Heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void… When? When did B’REISHIT happen?
One way to understand creation is to divide it into two phases. The first is the creation of something from nothing – YEISH MEI’AYIN – Creatio ex nihilo. This act of creation by G-d brought the Heavens and the Earth – in other words, everything into existence, but in a chaotic mixture.
Matter and energy and time and nature and ideas and laws of nature and who knows what were there, without function and order, pending the second phase of creation. The first phase of creation is summarized by the first pasuk of the Torah; the result of that creation of something from nothing is described by the second pasuk.
From the third pasuk, we see the description of the second phase: Creation of something from some thing. G-d, so to speak, commanded different components of the Creation- mixture to diffrentiate, to separate themselves from the TOHU VAVOHU and assume a distinct identity. Light was not commanded into existence on Day One (according to this view of Creation), it had already been created B’REISHIT; light was distinguished from the primordial mixture and the laws of physics that apply to light were inaugurated, so to speak, on Day One. So too for the rest of Creation Week.
When was Day One of Creation? A bit more than 5759 years ago (let’s say). When was B’REISHIT? The Torah does not say. In fact, it is really a meaningless question, since time was also part of the mix and not opera tional until Phase Two of Creation. One need not “wait” for Day Four and the placement of the heavenly bodies to consider questions of time – Vay’hi Erev Vay’hi Voker… will do fine. But not from B’REISHIT. That was before time had meaning.
The First Rashi
Rashi quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who explains why the Torah begins with B’REISHIT and not with the mitzvot and halachic texts in Parshat BO. He says that if the nations of the world will accuse us of stealing the Land of Israel from others who have occupied it through the generations, we will be able to point to the events in the historical portions of the Torah and see that G-d takes land from whom He pleases and gives it to whom He pleases.
But what happens if the nations of the world do not accept the lessons of the Torah? Perhaps, they are not the ones that need convincing. We have confidence in the prophecies of the time when the nations will recognize the G-d of Israel and accept our role in this world and our relationship with Him.
We are the ones who need to see in the Torah that G-d is in control. This goes for Jews who feel that we are usurpers here, and this goes for proud Jews who feel that they have accomplished everything here with out the help of G-d and without His okay. Whether the Arabs and other people accept what we claim from the Torah is one thing. Do we, the Jewish People, really believe that this Land is ours. It is. And we should not be squeamish about asserting our possession of Eretz Yisrael.
The lesson of the famous first Rashi is for us. The Torah is not just a book of mitzvot and laws. It tells us other things. Hebron belongs to the Jewish People because Avraham Avinu bought it and passed its title to Yitzckak. It does not matter how many Arabs live there and how many Jews. Hebron is ours, Jerusalem is ours. Eretz Yisrael is ours. We do not have to apologize for it. We should seek out ways of living peacefully with our neighbors, how to deal fairly and safely with the Arabs who live among us.
We have to continuously pay our rent to the Landlord, in the form of faithfulness, keeping of the mitzvot, learning and living Torah. This is our commitment to G-d, our deal with Him. Let us hope that more and more Jews will make a stronger commitment to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael.
I know that this has been a lot of editorializing and sermonizing, but…
G’MATRIA based on L’ORA SHEL TORAH by R. Yaakov Auerbach z”l
Mishlei (3:15) describes the preciousness of Torah as being greater than that of rubies (or pearls), and all things that one can desires cannot match the value of Torah. (Two p’sukim later in the same context, we find the famous D’RACHE’HA DARCHEI NO’AM… and EITZ CHAIM HI…)
Y’KARA HI MI’P’NINIM – she (the Torah) is more precious than rubies (pearls) = 10+100+200+5 (315) + 5+10+1 (16) + 40+80+50+10+50+10+40 (280) = 611, which is the numeric value of the word TORAH.
The G’matriya of the first phrase in the Torah – B’REISHIT BARA is 1116. The BET of B’REISHIT is written extra-large, so Rabbi Auerbach writes that we may add another 2, bringing the total to 1118. This is the G’matriya of the pasuk, SH’MA YISRA’EL, HASHEM ELOKEINU, HASHEM ECHAD. In a certain sense, both the Sh’ma pasuk and B’reishit Bara make similar statements of our belief in G-d’s existence and His creation of the world.
Due to lack of space and time, we will suffice it to say that the first Aliya describes Creation and G-d’s resting on the first Shabbat. I’d feel more guilty about skipping this portion, if I thought an extra page or two and a couple of hours could do a decent job on this portion. But that would be insufficient. Let’s move on…
Levi – Second Aliya – 16 p’sukim – 2:4-19
Next we have a restatement of Creation, focusing on Gan Eden, the formation of Adam, Adam’s dominance over Nature, and his first prohibition – eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.
“It is not good that man shall be alone” is explained in different ways, including that only G-d is singular. man needs to know that as great as he can become, as much as he can accomplish, he is not a god.
All creatures were brought before Adam as “candidates” for partner-to-Adam. None was suitable, but Adam named them all (as people have done throughout the ages).
In the first account of Creation, Man was the final creation, but not so much the purpose and focus of creation. In this second account, Man seems to be the focus of creation. We have to see things both ways.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 27 p’sukim – 2:20-3:21
The wording of the Torah implies that Adam was first created as a combined male-female being, then (still on Day Six) he was physically separated as Adam and Chava, with the command and challenge of recombining spiritually, emotionally, and in some ways, physically – “and they shall become one flesh”.
Next the Torah tells us cryptically of the episodes of the Serpent’s enticement of Chava, the eating from the Tree, the punishments for the Serpent, Chava, and finally, Adam.
The sin(s) of Adam and Chava are not just personal sins, but more importantly, they help us define human nature.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 21 p’sukim – 3:22-4:18
This Aliya begins with the expulsion from Gan Eden, which is also seen as a metaphor for a re-definition of the role of humans in this world and of their (our) relationship with G-d.
The Torah continues with the “births” of Kayin and Hevel and Kayin’s killing of Hevel following the attempt of each to make an offering before G-d.
Kayin’s punishment and fate is presented, as is his lineage. It is possible that Kayin sired different species of humanoids.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 8 p’sukim – 4:19-26
This portion contains the story of Lemech, the great-great-great-grandson of Kayin and his accidental killer, Lemech’s two wives Ada and Tzila. The Torah mentions more descendants of Kayin and their roles as the “firsts” in various fields of human activity.
This portion also contains Lemech’s lament for having killed Kayin.
Noteworthy among the descendants of Kayin that are mentioned by the Torah is the sister of Tuval-Kayin, Na’ama. Rashi (quoting B’reishit Rabba) says that she was the wife of No’ach. What is significant about that is that Kayin’s line was not completely severed by the Flood. Although we refer to all of mankind as Bnei No’ach who descended from Adam through Sheit, on the mother’s side there is Na’ama and before her, Kayin.
Kayin and Hevel were not born in the conventional way, as we know it. Sheit is the first mentioned human to he conceived and born in the way all the rest of us were. His birth is mentioned in the end of Chamishi
In case your Chumash does not have the same Aliya breakdown as is presented here, don’t worry. There are different opinions.
Reading B’reishit after the long haul of the Holidays truly gives us the feeling of a clean start each year. A good feeling.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 24 p’sukim – 5:1-24
The lineage from Adam through Sheit (Seth) to No’ach (into the next Aliya) is set down, with the age of the father at the birth of the son, and each person’s age at his death. These numbers help us construct the first part of our timeline. Although many sons and daughters are born to this list of patriarchs of the world, only one representative of each generation is named. Some say that only the named individual had the longevity that is recorded; the “average man and woman in the street lived much shorter lives. Others say that the lifespan of the human was much longer before the Flood (in antediluvian times – how’s that for an old SAT word, like akimbo & pusillanimous).
Shishi concludes with mention of Chanoch, who was taken from this world (possibly not by death) at the relatively young age of 365.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 16 p’sukim – 5:25-6:8
Metushelach lived to 969 years, the oldest age recorded in the Tanach. According to Tradition, he died immediately prior to the Flood, which was held up for 7 days of mourning. The generations continue to be counted until No’ach appears on the scene. The Torah describes the deteriation of society and G-d’s “regret” for having created Man. No’ach alone found favor in G-d’s eyes.
Haftara – 31 p’sukim – Yeshayahu – 42:5-43:10
The Navi proclaims G-d as the creator of Heaven and Earth. An appropriate passage for Shabbat B’reishit. Again and again the omnipotence of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is emphasized. The plight of Israel is do to our lack of faith in G-d and our turning away from the path of Torah and mitzvot.