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Parashat Bereishit 5780 — 10/26/2019

Parashat Bereishit 5780 — 10/26/2019

Bereishit 1:1 – 6:8

For this year’s series, I’ll be using the Or haChaim haKadosh for source material. This commentary on the Torah, written by R. Chaim ibn Attar (Morocco 1696 – Jerusalem, 1743), is one of the very few works given the appellation “the holy” by the Jewish people. In the words of Artscroll: Or HaChaim’s commentary is so rich, so profound, so wide-ranging, so broad and deep — it has been one of the foremost, most revered commentaries on Chumash for nearly three centuries. The 10-volume Artscroll translated, elucidated and annotated set is on sale for $270 at (regular price: $300 and amazon is the same). Having been forced to leave his native Morocco due to persecution, he set out for Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire. He stopped in Livorno, Italy, where the local Jewish community made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, including support for writing and publishing his works, the Or haChaim (“Light of Life”) among them. He stayed about two years, then resumed his journey, arriving in the Land of Israel in 1742. He died the next year and is buried on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. His commentary is characterized by multiple approaches to the same verse or passage, all of which view it from a different angle, and all of which are correct. He uses the four levels of explanation given by the acronym PaRDeS (P = Pshat = plain meaning of the verse, R = Remez = “hint” or deep allegorical meaning, D = Drash = homiletical meaning, S = Sod = “secret” = hidden, esoteric meaning). He also alludes to a 5th way of interpretation, which I understand to be a kind of cognition of the transcendent in the words of Torah, but so far I haven’t come across any such approaches. Perhaps it will only be available at all when Mashiach comes. The Or haChaim is quite extensive – the elucidated Artscroll version is 10 volumes – and I will only be able to pick one or maybe two points per parashah. I hope this will be enough to whet your appetite for more. (Full disclosure – I am not on Artscroll’s payroll!)

Parashat Bereishit deals with fundamental issues such as the creation of the universe, the creation of human beings, and the relationship between Gd and humanity. As is to be expected, the commentators expound at length on these issues, and the Or haChaim is no exception. He gives 22 approaches to the first verse alone, some of which are quite unusual, as we shall shortly see.

For the Master, blessed is He, can utter speech that is unfathomable to the beings He created, as the Sages of blessed memory said in explaining the verse, Gd spoke all these statements (Ex 20:1) which introduces the Ten Commandments: [Gd spoke His] words in a way that the human mouth is not capable of speaking, that is, He said all Ten Commandments in one utterance, and no utterance preceded another.

Applying this idea to the first verse in the Bible he writes:

The Master, exalted be His Name, all that He created in the world, which includes the [4 elements] building blocks of matter, as well as everything that is in existence, as well as heaven and earth, everything, but everything, was created by Hashem in one Utterance. This is what our verse means when it says: In the beginning Hashem created et haShamayim and et haAretz – it is particular to say et twice, to include everything that exists in the world.

But, you argue, in Pirke Avot (5:1) it says that Gd created the world with ten utterances, and indeed if you count up the and Gd said‘s, you get 9, and the Sages tell us (Megillah 21b) that the word Bereishit is itself an utterance. In fact, of course there is massive diversity in creation. Where did this diversity come from? How could it have come from one utterance (it’s hard to imagine how it came from 10!)? Or haChaim goes on:

With the first of all [the Utterances, i.e. Bereishit] everything was created. However, the world was not organized; all the creations were in existence but they lacked order. [With the other 9 Utterances] the Holy One, blessed is He, arranged each on its day: On the First Day He established and separated light from darkness, and darkness acquired its place and light its place.

A reliable confirmation of this explanation of ours is that which the Torah says (2:3) because on it [the Seventh Day] He abstained form all His work which Gd created to make. For this phrase [which Gd “created to make”] has no meaning, but with what we have explained, it comes together “as pleasingly as a string of pearls”: because on it He abstained from all His work – that He had created – on the First Day which was the day of actual “creation” [RAR: i.e. ex nihilo]to make meaning “to develop” during the six-day period, as it says (Ex 31:17) that in a six-day period Hashem “made” the heavens and the earth – meaning He developed and arranged everything He had created; for “creation” was created on the First Day with one Utterance, only it was lacking development and organization.

I should first note that this view comports very well with the Big Bang theory. In the Big Bang theory, contrary to what you sometimes hear, there was not a tremendous explosion at some time and at some point in space. Rather, there was a singularity – a point, not in space and time but transcendental to space and time – which somehow began to expand. All space and time, all matter and energy, were somehow bound up in this singularity. Thus, at the moment of creation, everything was there at once. It only lacked development. The subsequent expansion, cooling, and symmetry breaking provided the structure of nuclei, atoms, molecules, stars, planets, and, at least on one planet, sentient life. In some way, all this structure was inherent in the transcendental singularity, and was expressed at the moment of the Big Bang, and then was elaborated subsequently, in much the same way that the entire tree is contained within the seed, and is elaborated as it grows.

It seems to me that Or haChaim’s approach makes sense in another way. The transcendent is unified – a unity whole unto itself, not made up of parts. It is, in fact, a singularity. Creation on the other hand is full of diversity. Where does this diversity come from? The first step is that from One, we have to create two. Once there is duality, all multiplicity can follow, because multiplicity is not really different in kind from duality. In other words, once there is duality, everything is there, created at once, only requiring elaboration and ordering.

Where does duality come from? I think the answer is in the concept of Gd’s speech. Here is the question? To whom is Gd speaking, especially with the very first Utterance?  It can only be that Gd is speaking to Himself. In other words, Gd, within himself, takes on the role of Speaker and Listener, as it were. This is a kind of virtual duality – virtual because Gd is completely non-dual, and yet a kind of duality nonetheless, a duality which admits of a relationship between its two poles. Thus, in a sense, it is the first Utterance itself, bereishit, that creates the (virtual) duality out of which all of the diversity of creation will be elaborated, and this virtual duality is, in some sense, inherent in Gd’s nature as it were. We have seen that Gd’s speech is Torah. Now we can look forward to the elaboration of the first utterance as explained by Or haChaim for the rest of the year.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Bereishit

Torah is beyond language, beyond verbal definitions and grammar — it is the fundamental liveliness of God. On our level of life, of awareness, the sound value of Torah comes closer to the transcendental and all-pervading quality of Torah.

From this standpoint, here are two sources to listen to the beginning of Bereishit: the first is traditional; the second is creative.

1. Bereishet 1-8 with cantillation: Very sweet, easy to listen to.

2. Very lively. Award-winning singer Noa sings Bereishit with Philarmonic Rishon Le Tzion.
Noa sings “Bereshit” with the Philharmonic Orchestra Rishon Le Tzion

Consider Bereishit the seed of Teshuvah—return to Oneness–and V’zot HaBeracha, the last parshah of the Chumash, the fruit: Do we see that the seed has borne fruit?

If we take it on plain level of meaning, no: the children of Israel (that’s not only long time ago but today and in all times) have not yet entered the Promised Land, and Moses, the great leader, never will.

But perhaps we can say that Moses, one of the guests that visits the sukkah during Succoth, has entered Gan Eden, as tradition has it, and so the human race has returned at least a few people to the Gan Eden from which Adam and Eve were evicted: not quite Teshuvah but definitely a return to a higher status.

And later in Bereishit, we see Enoch mentioned as walking with Gd — definitely teshuvah — and Noah as being a righteous person, one who Gd trusts to maintain life on our planet when the rest of humanity, due its wickedness, is destroyed in the flood.

So even early in Torah, taken on the level of meaning, we see examples of the fruit of the seed appearing: people who walk with Gd, who are righteous.

And also, very importantly, Gd’s Torah, One with Gd flowed though Moses — what wonderful Teshuvah! P

unctuated by the Kiss of Gd’s mouth, as Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah tells us Moses did.

Perhaps, also, we can say that in Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah, we learn that through Gd’s blessings, given by Moses to each of the 12 tribes, the tribes were united, and became One, symbolic of Teshuvah, return to Unity, to Oneness.
Having considered the fruit, let us consider the seed:
Bereishit begins in Hebrew: “Bereishit bara Elohim et HaShamayim v’et Ha’aretz…”

The way this is commonly translated to English, Bereishit reads: “In the beginning, Gd created heaven and earth…”.
The way the ArtScroll Chumash and translate it, it reads, “In the beginning of Gd’s creating the heavens and the earth…”

This is not only according to scholars more grammatically correct but makes more sense because Gd is without beginning or end, so what does “beginning” refer to?

In addition, Wikipedia notes that not only is “bara” a verb that is only used in reference to Gd but it doesn’t mean “create”, it means “differentiate/separate, assign roles to.”  From this standpoint, the heavens and the earth already existed but they were not separated/distinguished from each other until Gd did so. So Bereishit refers to the beginning of distinguishing “heavens”, the inner, subtle, abstract levels of the details of God, from “earth”, the concrete aspect.

Gd is always One, Unity in Diversity, as it is described in Maharishi Vedic Science, so it is necessary to consider what Torah means by “beginning.”

The best way of looking at the meaning of ‘beginning” is that it refers to any point in the infinite liveliness of Gd — separation and unification are always going on, everywhere and so at any point heaven and earth are always being separated and united.

Within every point is the Whole Unbounded Ocean of Gd and everything is always going on everywhere, in sequence and also in simultaneity. To Gd, Gd is always Totally Present, Infinitely Lively, Infinitely Silent, Omnidirectional, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnijoyful, Omniloving, and so the idea of beginning is just part of Gd’s “let’s pretend” to be limited.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in his “Body, Mind and Soul: Kabbalah on Human Physiology, Disease and Healing”, notes that “create” and “heal” in Hebrew have the same root: b-r-a: from this angle, we can say that the beginning of Torah is always the beginning of healing, of Teshuvah, of healing individual humans of their limits and restoring us to our unlimited status as impulses of One in which the Full Ocean of One functions and also restoring us to full memory of the reality that only One exists and we are This.

So creation, healing begins, when Torah, which in its fullness is the fundamental liveliness of Gd, beyond language, beyond grammar, definitions, Gd conversing with Gd, begins to be perceived by individual humans.

We humans are individual impulses of Gd who pretends to be limited for the fun of playing Hide and Seek, Peek-a-Boo in us, so He, pretending to be we limited souls, can have the fun of seeking as us, and Gd as Gd, can have the pleasure of Hinting and Revealing, through Torah sounds, Torah stories, Torah mitzvah and whatever way He wishes.

In this game, this Game, little by little, and also suddenly, we find.

Gd dissolves the veils of limits and reveals to us that Gd is All, within us and all around us, everywhere, One without a Second.

And this can happen with any sound of Torah, any word, any parshah, even the last one as we suddenly See and Know the Truth within the Stories.

And because Torah in a written book is only the most infinitesimal aspect of Torah as One with Gd, Torah can hint to us and reveal to us when we’re eating breakfast, walking down a street, snoozing—at any time, any place.

Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good And Evil as well as the serpent, are within us, ready to be clearly experienced as Omnidirectional, All-in-All Points of One, and the duality between Gd and the uncreated creation, is ready to be experienced as the Fun of Gd, always within Gd as One.

So, too, are the all the details of Torah as the Book and Torah as Gd.

We do our best to “Be still and know!”, “to love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and all our might”, to “love our neighbor as our self”, as our Self, and we begin to see, hear, taste, touch, smell the Beauty of Gd in every leaf, every sound, every bite of food—everywhere.

Very encouraging!

Let’s keep on doing it.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Baruch HaShem.