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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bereshit

Are We Grade-A(lef) Material?

Rabbi Stewart WeissTishrei 27 5781
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"Bereisheit Bara Elokim et Ha-Shamayim v'et Ha-Aretz." What a powerful, majestic sentence. While secular school children begin to learn language with "See Jane run. See Dick run. See Dick chase Jane" and so on, Jewish children say, "In the beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth." Is it any wonder we win an astounding number of Noble Prizes - including the prize for Literature this year?!

In these few eternal, magnificent words we begin anew the cycle of reading the Torah. Volumes of commentary have been written, and oceans of ink spilled, just to try to grasp the enormity of this one cosmic pasuk. Indeed, we are told that essentially all of the world's truths can be found within these 7 words; or even in the first word; or even in the first letter!

Bereisheit, for example, can be read as "Bara shayt," He created six, already presaging the institution of Shabbat, a revolutionary concept, when creative M'lacha will pause for a day to recharge our spiritual batteries. The letters can also be re-arranged to spell, "Alef b'Tishrei," the 1st of Tishrei, when the world (or the first man) was created.

But what of that first letter, the Bet? What crucial lessons does it teach us?

Note the physical form of the Bet; it is closed on 3 sides - from above, below and behind. But going forward, it is open. In fact, it "opens up" to every other letter in the entire Torah, and thus to all the Mitzvot and moral lessons contained therein. The Kli Yakar comments that "Bet" is akin to "Bayit," a house; that is, this letter "houses" all the wisdom that is to follow. It is the "house" in which all Jews forever will live, the house of Halacha that will guard and guide us for all of eternity.

But a question should seem obvious: Why does the Torah not begin with the letter Alef, the letter that stands for Ad-nai or Elokim, the names of G-d? Isn't Hashem primary and superior? Why shouldn't He get "top billing?"

Of course, G-d reigns supreme. But I want to suggest that perhaps we are being taught a crucial lesson here: There is G-d, and there is Torah, and the two are not exactly synonymous. For although we love the Torah, we cherish the Torah, we study and follow the Torah - we worship Hashem and only Hashem. He is at the same time a part of the Torah, but also apart from the Torah. We need to constantly ask ourselves, "Yes, we have observed the Torah as commanded, but have we also acted as Hashem would have wanted us to act? Deep down, are we the kind of person that we know G-d would want us to be - above and beyond our performance of the Mitzvot? Do we also meet the standards of the Avot and Imahot, who lived before the Torah was even given?

If we can honestly answer that question in the affirmative, then and only then we can perhaps consider ourselves "Sug-ALEF," grade-A material.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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