Starting all over – the Torah portion of Beresheet

The first Rashi on the Torah is so bizarre, it’s worth bringing it in its own words (with Sefaria’s help):

בראשית IN THE BEGINNING — Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah which is the Law book of Israel should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:2) “This month shall be unto you the first of the months” which is the first commandment given to Israel. What is the reason, then, that it commences with the account of the Creation? Because of the thought expressed in the text (Psalms 111:6) “He declared to His people the strength of His works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation), in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations.” For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan”, Israel may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us” (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).

Rashi’s question is, if the Torah is a book of laws, it should have started in Exodus 12:2; where the first mitzvah given to the People is mentioned. For what use to us are all the stories before that? His answer is, so that one day, when anyone might show up and wonder why we “took” the Land of Israel, we’ll be able to say something like, you know G-d who created the whole world? He is the One who gave it to us’.

Of course, the answer suffers from an internal logic paradox: why would someone who doesn’t believe in G-d or the Torah ask us this question and accept such an answer, but to me, that’s the least of it. What’s mind-boggling, is that Rashi, who lives in 11th century France, caring for his vineyard and busy writing extensive commentary (without electricity and word-processors…), 1000 years after the Second Temple was destroyed, and just prior to the Crusaders who are about the sweep through Europe in deadly marches, looks at the whole “diaspora-experience” is just a little accident on our history but the real thing, the whole reason for the Torah, and why it begins where it does, is for our connection with the Land of Israel.


A fantastic conversation took place between the House of Shamai and the House of Hillel. Here it is (from Tractate Eruvin 13:b, with Sefaria’s help):

תנו רבנן שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל. הללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא, והללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שנברא יותר משלא נברא. נמנו וגמרו נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא….

The Sages taught the following baraita: For two and a half years, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These say: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. And those said: It is preferable for man to have been created than had he not been created. Ultimately, they were counted and concluded: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created.

What does that mean? And how come Beit Shamai is “wining” this argument? In the Psalms   (133:1), we find the famous song: hine ma tov uma na’im… הנה מה טוב ומה נעים behold, how good and pleasant… because we know things that are good but not pleasant, or pleasant but not good… Likewise, we just finished wishing each other, Shana Tova U’metuka, both a good and sweet year, because sometimes those two don’t come together. Why were humans created? We don’t know! Indeed, as the Mei Shiloach explains, it might have been “more comfortable”, more no’ach, easier or “preferable” in the above translation, if the human being was not created, but possibly not “more good”. That piece is left for us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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