Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bereshit
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

All of the problems of humankind and life itself are revealed to us in this opening parsha of the Torah. Desire, greed, violence, murder, jealousy, paganism and tragic disappointment mark the events of this parsha. The human story and its history over the ages is not necessarily a pleasant one. All of the disappointments that appear in this week’s parsha recur in every generation of the descendants of Adam and Chava. Nevertheless, we see that the Lord Himself, the Creator and sustainer of all life, so to speak, never loses heart. The Torah emphasizes that out of the original mess that mankind has made of its beginnings there does emerge a righteous individual. The final words of the parsha are that Noach found favor in God’s eyes. Thus at the beginning of the Torah itself, we are taught a basic lesson in Jewish thought and values - the worth of one individual. As the rabbis in Avot phrased it: "There were ten generations from Adam to Noach and each generation was more corrupt and provocative than the one before it until Noach came along and reaped the potential reward of all of those generations." One person can collect the reward for millions of others who do not appreciate or obtain that reward that awaits them. In fact the entire book of Bereshith whose reading we have just embarked upon in the synagogue is a story of individuals. The backdrop to the story are great world events - floods, wars, famines and changing social societies - but the main story and certainly its heroes and heroines are individuals.

The Talmud asks: "Why was only a single human being created to begin life on this earth?" The Talmud gives a number of important answers, mainly that no one should be able to lord it over another human being because of ancestry or genealogy. But one of the ideas implicit in the creation of only one individual is to teach us that very fact of the worth and importance of an individual. In our world of billions of people it is quite easy to forget this basic lesson of the Torah - that a person is worth everything. In the past century we were witness to ideologies and their protagonists who destroyed tens of millions of people in order to implement a concept, philosophy or social order. This complete disregard for the worth of an individual and the human life that that individual possesses is one of the sorriest stories in the human saga. The Jewish people are small in number relative to other nations and faiths. Yet our value is counted in our worth as individuals, in our personal behavior and in our devotion to our eternal Torah values and its way of life. We truly believe that there are great things that each individual can accomplish, achievements that can and will live on long after one’s years on earth are ended. At the beginning of this great and good year that is now upon us let us resolve that we value ourselves and others as individuals of worth and abilities. This will mark a very good beginning to our year.
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