Bereshit- Connecting the Last Verse of the Torah with the First Verse
The Sages teach us that there is profound significance not only in the words of the Torah themselves, but also in the juxtaposition between different verses. When we study the Torah, we must examine not only the meaning of each verse, but also the reason why verses appear next to one another.
Additionally, our tradition teaches us that an important connection exists between the final verse of the Torah – “and for all the great wonders and all the mighty hand that Moshe performed in the view of all Israel” – and the first verse of the Torah (imprecisely translated, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth”). This is reflected in the customary Torah reading on Simhat Torah. Immediately after completing the final Parasha of the Torah, even before we recite the half-Kaddish which is normally recited after the Torah reading, we read the first chapter of the Torah. This custom demonstrates that the first verse of the Torah immediately follows the last; the two are considered as though they are written in juxtaposition to one another. It thus stands to reason that the two are closely connected to one another – just as there is a close connection between all pairs of adjacent verses in the Torah.
The great Sadik Rabbi Eliyahu Hakohen of Izmir, Turkey, composed an entire work called Semuchin La’ad to explain the connection between adjacent verses in the Torah. In this work he also offers several insights into the connection between the final verse of the Torah and the first of the Torah. We present here just a few of the approaches he presents.
Firstly, the final verse of the Torah speaks of the great miracles of the Exodus, which occurred “in the view of all Israel,” in the presence of all Beneh Yisrael, who all saw firsthand God’s unlimited power over the natural forces. These events proved that it was God who created the universe. Nobody existed at the time of creation to testify that God is the Creator. It was when God performed the public wonders and miracles of Yesi’at Misrayim that it became clear beyond doubt that He created the natural world, and thus exerts full authority over them. Thus, the final verse of the Torah, which speaks of the miracles that were done “in the view of all Israel,” leads directly to the Torah’s first verse, which tells of the world’s creation.
Another approach relates to Beneh Yisrael’s fears after the death of Moshe Rabbenu. The final verses of the Torah emphasize Moshe’s singular stature, that there was never again a prophet of his caliber, in terms of his closeness to God and the miracles he performed for Beneh Yisrael. Understandably, Beneh Yisrael were concerned about how they and the Torah would continue after his death. He was the great leader, who rescued them from Egypt, brought them the Torah, and prayed to God on their behalf. How would they endure in his absence? The answer to that question is the first verse of the Torah: “Bereshit Bara Elokim Et Ha’shamayim Ve’et Ha’aretz.” The Sages, as Rashi cites in his commentary to this verse, explain the word “Bereshit” to mean “for ‘Reshit’” – meaning, the world was created for the purpose of that which is called “Reshit” (“first”). Several things in the world are called “the first,” including the Torah, Beneh Yisrael, and Teruma (the mandatory gifts to the Kohanim). The world was created for Am Yisrael, specifically, so that they would study Torah and involve themselves in acts of kindness, as represented by Teruma.
This is the response to Beneh Yisrael’s concerns after Moshe’s death. The world’s existence, and Beneh Yisrael’s survival, does not depend upon any single individual – not even on Moshe Rabbenu! The world was created for the sake of Torah and acts of kindness, and so by involving ourselves in these and other Misvot, we guarantee our continued survival and the survival of the world generally.
An additional point of connection between the Torah’s first and final verses emerges from Rashi’s commentary to the final words of the Torah – “in the view of all Israel.” Rashi writes that this refers specifically to Moshe’s act of breaking the Luhot, the stone tablets which he had brought down from Mount Sinai, upon seeing Beneh Yisrael worshipping the golden calf. The Midrash Kohelet comments that at that moment when Moshe shattered the Luhot, the phenomenon of “Shichehat Ha’Torah” – forgetting Torah knowledge – descended into the world. Before Moshe broke the tablets, Torah knowledge was permanent; any material a person studied was retained permanently, forever. It was only once Moshe broke the tablets in response to the sin of the golden calf that Beneh Yisrael became subject to forgetfulness, and did not automatically retain all Torah knowledge that they had absorbed.
Interestingly enough, the Talmud teaches that God applauded Moshe for shattering the Luhot. Even though this act had the effect of causing people to forget their Torah knowledge, it earned God’s endorsement, so-to-speak, and He even announced to Moshe, “Yiyashar Kohacha She’shibarta” – meaning, “Hazak U’baruch” for breaking the tablets!
The reason is that by breaking the tablets, Moshe ensured that Beneh Yisrael would have to diligently apply themselves to master the Torah. Now that we are subject to forgetfulness, we must constantly review the material; we have to learn throughout our lives in order to possess Torah knowledge. There is no possibility of laziness, of excusing oneself from learning by claiming that he already knows what he needs to know. The reality of forgetting requires even the greatest and most brilliant scholars to constantly review, to constantly work to absorb and retain Torah knowledge.
This constitutes yet another point of connection between the Torah’s final verse – which refers to the breaking of the Luhot – and the beginning of the Torah. It is because of the breaking of the Tablets that we must always return to the beginning of the Humash, year in, and year out. The reality of “Shichehat Ha’Torah” is the reason why we begin the Torah anew every year – as we must constantly review in order to retain our knowledge.
Torah is a lifelong pursuit. We are never excused from studying, because no matter how much we learn, we must review the material. The connection between the last verse of the Torah and the first verse thus reminds us of our obligation to continue learning throughout our lives, to make Torah study a lifelong commitment which we must work to fulfill each and every day of our lives.