Parashat Bereshit: Becoming the People We are Meant to Become
The Midrash tells that the scholars of Athens once approached Rabbi Yehoshua with two white pieces of cheese. They told the Rabbi that although these two pieces of cheese looked identical, one was made from milk taken from a white goat, and the other from milk taken from a black goat. The scholars challenged Rabbi Yehoshua to identify which piece came from each kind of goat.
Rather than answer their question, Rabbi Yehoshua brought the scholars two outwardly identical eggs. He told them that one came from a black hen, and the other from a white hen. The scholars did not respond, and the conversation ended.
Undoubtedly, there is a deep message which the Midrash here seeks to convey. Indeed, some have explained the Greek scholars’ question as addressing the Jewish People’s special status as G-d’s treasured nation. This exchange occurred at a time when the Jews were not committed to Torah observance, and acted in a manner similar to the lifestyle of the other nations. The scholars thus asked Rabbi Yehoshua why there was any difference between his nation and theirs. The two peoples were more or less the same, just like cheese produced from the milk of different kinds of goats. The nations’ pasts are very different from one another, but right now, they are the same. And thus just as there is no difference between the cheeses, there is likewise no difference between the Jews and the Greeks.
Rabbi Yehoshua responded that the proper analogy is not two cheeses, but rather two eggs. The two eggs look identical, but once the shell cracks and the chicks are born, it will become clear which egg came from a black hen and which from a white hen. Similarly, although the Jewish Nation might currently resemble the other nations, eventually, once we manage to rid ourselves of our outer “shell” and return to our roots and origins, it will become clear that we are special, the descendants of Abraham, Yishak and Yaakob. Despite our appearance in the present, one day we will show how we are, in truth, worthy of our special status of distinction.
Rashi, in his commentary to the first verse of the Torah, explains the phrase, “Bereshit Bara Elokim” to mean that G-d created the world for Torah; learning Torah is the purpose of creation, and it is what sustains the world. We need to learn Torah in order to learn who we are supposed to be and what Hashem expects of us. We cannot lay claim to the distinction of being Hashem’s “chosen people” if we do not act special, different, and on a higher level of conduct. And the only way we can act on this higher plane is by learning and studying. This is especially relevant to the study of Sefer Bereshit, which we begin this Shabbat. Sefer Bereshit tells us of our nation’s origins, of the greatness of our patriarchs and matriarchs, who laid the spiritual foundations and gave us the spiritual “genes” which enable us to become great. The more we delve into this study, the better able we are to crack the “shell” which makes us appear similar to other nations, so we can shine and radiate with the Kedusha invested within us by our saintly forebears.