Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 October 2014 / 24 Tishri 5775

Parshat Bereishet

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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In the beginning, G-d creates the entire universe, including time itself, out of nothingness. This process of creation continues for six days. On the seventh day, G-d rests, bringing into existence the spiritual universe of Shabbos, which returns to us every seven days. Adam and Chava - the Human pair - are placed in the Garden of Eden. Chava is enticed by the serpent to eat from the forbidden fruit of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," and in turn gives the fruit to Adam. By absorbing "sin," Adam and Chava render themselves incapable of remaining in the spiritual paradise of Eden and are banished. Death and hard work (both physical and spiritual) now enter the world, together with pain in childbirth. Now begins the struggle to correct the sin of Adam and Chava, which will be the main subject of world history. Cain and Hevel, the first two children of Adam and Chava, bring offerings to G-d. Hevel gives the finest of his flock, and his offering is accepted, but Cain gives inferior produce and his offering is rejected. In the ensuing quarrel, Cain kills Hevel and is condemned to wander the earth. The Torah traces the genealogy of the other children of Adam and Chava, and the descendants of Cain until the birth of Noach. After the death of Sheis, Mankind descends into evil, and G-d decides that He will blot out man in a flood which will deluge the world. However, one man, Noach, finds favor with G-d.


What Is Faith?

“In the beginning…” (1:1) Rashi: “The entire Universe belongs to G-d. He created it….”

The whole Torah is predicated on a belief that there is a G-d and that He created the universe ex nihilo.

But belief can be a delicate thing.

There were two young Jewish boys, Yankele and Shloime, who sat on the bench of the cheder in a small shtetl in Poland. In 1941, those two little Jewish boys were herded into a cattle car that took them and so many other innocent victims to Auschwitz.

By some miracle, they both made it through the War. Yankele carried on in the tradition of our forefathers and built a home of Torah Judaism.

Shloime’s Judaism, however, got left on Ellis Island. As soon as he got of the boat, he dropped everything.

Many years later, the two met on Fifth Avenue.

“Shloime, is that you?” asked Yankele, barely recognizing his childhood friend.

“Yes, Yankele, it’s me.”

“But Shloime, what happened to you? I can hardly recognize you. You don’t seem Jewish anymore!”

“Yankele, don’t be so hard on me. When I got to Auschwitz and I saw what was going on there, I couldn’t believe anymore. I lost my faith in Auschwitz.”

“Shloime, you know, the exact opposite happened to me. When we sat on the same bench in cheder and we learned the Torah portion of the “warnings” about all the terrible punishments that the Jewish People would suffer if we don’t keep the Torah, I thought to myself: “Come on… This stuff isn’t for real. They’re just telling us this to keep us observant.”

“Shloime – when I got to Auschwitz, I saw it was all true. I found my faith in Auschwitz…”

Faith is a delicate thing.

Two people can experience exactly the same physical reality and draw totally opposite conclusions.

The Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot begins with the mitzvah “to believe that there is a G-d”. In other places, he uses a slightly different phrase: “to know there is a G-d.”

Why does he use both words, to believe and to know? Aren’t they the same thing?

Also, how can you have a mitzvah to believe? If you believe, you don’t need a mitzvah, and if you don’t believe, all the mitzvot in the world aren’t going to make you believe?

Emuna, faith, has two parts. We have to be intellectually assured that there is a G-d. But that won’t affect our life in any way unless we translate that intellectual knowledge into an emotional reality.

For example, let’s say you’re an angry person. Not just that you get angry now and then, but you have a problem with anger. You can honestly believe that it’s a very bad thing to be an angry person, but you will carry on being that angry person until the day you die unless you’re prepared to change yourself; to work on that character trait called “anger”.

Faith is the same. We could sit through any of the excellent classes that demonstrate that intellectually a belief in G-d is the most logical interpretation of the world as we see it, but that knowledge won’t affect our lives until it becomes part of our emotional reality. A person can listen to a historical verification of the Torah and still drive off to the nearest McDonald’s.

Faith is not just intellectual. It is a personality trait. And like all traits it can strengthened or weakened.

The Path of the Just (by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) says that the first duty of a person is “to clarify” and also “to make true” his obligations in this world. This means that we must live the truth of what we have previously clarified intellectually.

Similarly every day we say in the Aleinu prayer, “And you should know today and return it to your heart that G-d is the only G-d…”

It’s not enough to know intellectually there is a G-d. We must return this knowledge to our heart to make, “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth” part of the emotional reality in which we live.

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