Parashat Bereshit: There is No World Without Torah
The first Pasuk of the Torah tells us that God created the heavens and earth “Bereshit,” which is commonly understood to mean “in the beginning.” Rashi, however, comments that the letter “Bet” can sometimes mean “because of” or “for the sake of.” The word “Bereshit,” then, may be read to mean, “because of Reshit.” The term “Reshit,” Rashi proceeds to explain, can refer either to Am Yisrael, or to the Torah. And thus right at the very beginning, we are told that the world was created for the sake of the study of Torah. The earth exists to facilitate the study of God’s wisdom, and thus theoretically, if Torah study would cease to occur throughout the world, the world would cease to exist. And it thus follows that through our study of Torah, we help sustain the world and ensure its ongoing survival.
Rashi returns to this theme later in the Parasha, toward the end of the creation story. After describing the events of the first day of creation, the Torah concludes the section by saying, “It was evening and it was morning of the first day.” After the events of the second day, the Torah concludes, “It was evening and it was morning of the second day,” and then again after each of the subsequent days of creation. Rashi notes that after the sixth and final day of creation, rather than concluding with the phrase, “Yom Shishi” (“the sixth day”), the Torah instead writes, “Yom Ha’shishi,” adding the seemingly superfluous letter “Heh,” which means “the.” The word “Ha’shishi,” Rashi explains, should be understood as referring to the “the sixth day,” the sixth day of Sivan, when we received the Torah at Sinai. The Torah is alluding to us that although it appears that the process of creation ended after the sixth day of creation, this is not the case. Creation was completed only some 2,500 years later, when Beneh Yisrael stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. Even after the natural world was in place, it wasn’t until the Torah was given that the purpose of creation was realized and thus the world could be said to have reached completion.
This also explains the Talmud’s famous remark that when Beneh Yisrael stood at Mount Sinai, God lifted the mountain over their heads and said that if they would not accept the Torah, “Your grave shall be there.” If Beneh Yisrael had not accepted the Torah, quite simply, the world would not have continued to exist. Since the entire purpose of creation was for us to observe the Torah, there would be no purpose for the world if Beneh Yisrael had chosen not to accept it.
The question, however, arises, why did God wait nearly 2,500 years before giving the Torah? If Torah is the purpose of creation, why did He not give mankind the Torah immediately at the time of creation?
As we all know, Torah observance is not easy. Even nowadays, when many of the Torah’s commands do not apply due to the absence of the Bet Hamikdash, properly fulfilling the Torah’s obligations is an immense responsibility. It’s a responsibility we are happy to accept, but there is no denying that it is a formidable challenge. Given the difficulty entailed in observing the Torah, a foundation had to be laid before the Torah could be given. The lives of our righteous ancestors, of the patriarchs and matriarchs and Yaakob’s twelve sons, provided the “infrastructure” that we need to properly observe the Torah. Abraham Abinu, for example, embedded within our nation a natural sensitivity to Hesed and to selfless, unquestioning devotion to God. Yishak implanted within us the notion of sacrifice. Rahel and Leah, who remained righteous despite being raised in the house of Laban, bequeathed to us the ability to remain firmly committed even in the face of negative influences. These great figures built the backbone that we need to observe the Torah and live lives of genuine religious commitment.
Indeed, although there have been periods in our history when our nation failed to live up to its obligations, and its commitment to God was shaky, the spark kindled by our righteous forebears remained. The solid foundation they built for us has always remained and will always remain firmly intact. We see this phenomenon even in our times. Many of our parents or grandparents, who were raised in the early years of the Orthodox Jewish community in America, were forced to attend public school. Outwardly, it seemed that Jewish tradition would not survive on these shores, that the Jewish schoolchildren of that time would grow up to be indistinguishable from their gentile neighbors. And yet, lo and behold, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren now attend outstanding yeshivot and are receiving a thorough, comprehensive Torah education. This survival of Torah commitment against all odds is a function of, and testament to, the foundation built by our righteous ancestors. God waited before giving us the Torah to ensure that this foundation would be in place, thereby ensuring the survival of Torah even amid the upheavals and turmoil that we would endure throughout the centuries.
Building upon that foundation, our job is to continue sustaining the world through our unwavering commitment to Torah education and Torah study. Without it, there is no Jewish people, and there is no world. This is our duty, the responsibility that is charged upon us right at the very beginning of the Torah, which teaches “Bereshit” – that the very purpose of the world’s creation is for us to involve ourselves in Torah study.