Torah Fax

Thursday, October 28, 2005 - 25 Tishrei, 5766
Torah Reading: Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 - 6:8)
Candle Lighting Time:  5:38 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:38 PM
We bless the New  Month of MarCheshvan

The First Word

Much has been said of how the first word of the Torah, Bereishit, "In the beginning," encapsulates some of the most basic tenets of Judaism. Indeed, the word Bereishit contains within it the word Rosh, which means head. And just as the head contains the brain that generates the energy for and exercises control over all other parts of the body, so too, Bereishit, the "head" of the Torah, reflects the energy of the entire Torah.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer, famed author of the classic work Chatam Sofer, discusses one of the many hints contained in the word Bereishit. Bereishit, he writes, contains the letter shin. The balance of the word Beresihit contains five other letters that numerically add up to 613-the total number of commandments in the Torah.
What is the significance of the letter shin and its juxtaposition to the number 613? According to the Chatam Sofer, the letter shin is an acronym for three Hebrew words that translate as: "the name of G‑d is invoked." Thus the entire word Bereishit conveys the following idea: When we observe the 613 commandments we enable G‑d's name to be expressed through us.
But one may raise an interesting question about the significance of the letter shin appearing in the first word of the Torah. The Zohar states that Shin is also the initial of-and therefore signifies-the word sheker-falsehood. How can it be that the opening word of the Torah should allude to falsehood? And how can the letter shin, which signifies falsehood, be situated in a word wherein all of its other letters correspond to the 613 commandments?
The answer lies in a better understanding of the first word and letter of the Torah. Our Sages raised the question, why the Torah begins with the letter beit-the second letter of the Alphabet-and not with the letter aleph, the first letter? The question is predicated on the notion that the numerical value of the letter beit is two, while aleph is numerically the number one. Why then would the Torah, which is G‑d's wisdom, begin with a number that suggests duality, and not with the letter and number one that suggests unity?
One answer to the question is that, there are two dimensions of Torah: Torah in its pristine form, where it is united with G‑d, and Torah that was "sent" by its Author to affect our fragmented world and bring unity into multiplicity, order and harmony into chaos.
Bereishit thus conveys the message that Torah belongs to our world precisely because our world is inherently false and dualistic, while G‑d's Torah is inherently true and unified. Within Bereishit-the word that introduces G‑d's creation of a world that allows for the emergence of falsehood, one discovers the power of the Torah with its commandments to reverse that reality.
The simple message conveyed to us from the above is: Left to its own devices, the world is devoid of absolute truth. Truth will always elude those who seek it, if they seek it from within the framework of creation itself. In order to introduce truth to the world it must be introduced to the world by the Creator. This is the function of the 613 Divine commandments.
One may still ask: Granted the allusion to falsehood in the first word of Bereishit is to suggest how the Torah and its commandments are designed to transform the falsehood of the world into truth, but wouldn't it have been more desirable to begin the Torah with a word that signifies truth, without reference to falsehood?
To answer this question we must examine the premise of our question. The underlying understanding that the question is based on is that pure truth is superior to truth that is introduced into, and therefore intermingles with the environment of falsehood.
In fact, the reverse is true. When truth is not tested, there can always be a question as to whether it will survive future challenges. And if truth passes all the tests but fails the last one, it is not truth at any point.
Only when an idea encounters falsehood and prevails consistently can it be said that the idea is indeed true. This concept is rooted in Talmudic law that when a contract is challenged and subsequently certified by the court as authentic it is stronger than an uncontested contract. The ultimate test of the Torah's truth is that it has survived untold challenges throughout the ages.
This explains why the Messianic Age follows thousands years of exile. By subjecting Torah to the challenges of exile, where Torah not only survived but flourished, it revealed the utter truth of Torah.
In the Messianic Age, we will be able to appreciate the truth of Torah even more than we were able to fathom it in the pre-exile glorious Temple era. For only after the challenges of exile can we appreciate the full depth the message of Bereishit-how the Torah is absolute truth and is undeterred by the falsehood of existence. Moreover, Torah is empowered to transform the falsehood into truth. That realization will be fully manifest in the Messianic Age of Redemption, when the world will be liberated from its association with falsehood in all of its forms, and unadulterated truth will be revealed.
Moshiach Matters
The "Grace after Meals" is preceded by Psalm 126. This Psalm is said with fervent intention, in the recognition of the fact that we have not been redeemed, and Zion's captivity has not yet ended. Likewise should all of the Grace after Meals be said with fervent concentration, for it contains intense pleas in behalf of Jerusalem; the rebuilding of the Sanctuary; a good life and sustenance, and the coming of the Moshiach. (Book of Our Heritage, by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)

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