Parshas Bereishis Archive

Parshas Berieshis

Looking Inward


ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו ויהי בהיותם בשדה ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו ויהרגהו (ד:ח).

“Kayin spoke with his brother Hevel. It happened when they were in the field and Kayin rose up against his brother Hevel and killed him” (4:8).


A simple reading of the verse leaves one wondering what exactly Kayin said to Hevel as this is omitted from the details. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089 – 1164) informs us of this missing piece and grants much insight into human nature. He says that Kayin simply said over the last message which had been stated to him from Hashem and redirected it to Hevel.

In the proceeding verses, Kayin was upset that Hashem had not accepted his offering and Hashem rebuked him as to why He was not pleased with him. Hashem said, “if you would improve your ways, then I would accept your offerings… the Evil Inclination is out to get you, but your efforts can fight him off.” Kayin took these words of rebuke that Hashem had just admonished him with and instead of taking them to heart, he delivered them to Hevel! Then, at the end of the verse, he rose and murdered his brother in cold blood.


Who is The Message For?

How often does one hear words of rebuke and think to himself, “if only Reuven Doe (or anyone else) would be present to hear this, he really needs this rebuke.” With this, one pushes off his own acceptance and contemplation of the rebuke. It is easy to be strict on others, and lenient on oneself, but this is not the Torah way. On the contrary, Rabbi Yehudah said (Berachos 22a), “though I am lenient with others, I am stringent on myself”!


Respecting Others

Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenuro (1445 – 1515) explains the maxim in Avos (1:15) of “asay toroschah kevah, make your Torah set”, to refer to this exact lesson. One should ensure that his application of Torah remains consistent, in that he does not act lenient on himself while being strict on others.  One should follow the absolute and set path of truth in all circumstances. The lesson is, as Rabbi Avi Shulman, an expert educator in America, so eloquently cliques, “the wise man demands of himself, what the fool demands of others.” May we merit to use the many opportunities which Hashem presents us with to gain inspiration and to apply it to ourselves, allowing us to grow unlimitedly!



The Greatest Human


…ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה (ב:ז).

“And Hashem blew into Adam’s nostrils a living Neshama (soul) and Man became a living creature” (4:8).


On the sixth day of creation, after Hashem set up the world and all of its components, He then created the pinnacle of His entire creation. Man was the goal of it all! This man would be the focus and purpose of the vast world around him. Man would have the job of connecting to and serving his Creator. What can we learn from the verse’s description of the creation of this great being?

For starters, what is this verse even telling us in the first place? Hashem blew life into Adam by giving him a Neshama, a soul, and then man became a living creature. What does this all mean? Also, why all the repetition, just state that Hashem placed a soul into him, what is the meaning of the concluding words of the verse?

As usual, the answer to this question explains everything!

The animals were created and were also described as being a “living creature”, how then is the soul of man more special and higher than theirs?

Rashi informs us that man’s soul is different from the soul of all other living creatures in that it has the ability to think and talk.

Reb Moshe Feinstein however has a question on this. Although this is certainly true, however, from the  verse itself, it is very hard to see how man’s uniqueness is expressed. The problem is that the words, “living creature” means: a being that can live on this earth, which refers to the ability to stay alive by means of eating, sleeping and self-protection. Animals are able to eat and sleep as well?! How then is man different?

He explains that the difference between a human and an animal is in their motivation. An animal only thinks about its physical existence, it has no noble thoughts beyond that. However, man’s “living spirit” was only found in him after Hashem blew into his nostril, “a living Neshama”. Hence, this connotes the specialness of man. When man takes care of his physical needs, when he eats and sleeps, it is not for selfish reasons, rather, it is l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven.

This is why the verse only calls man “a living being” after describing the fact that Hashem gave him a spiritual Neshama, soul. A true servant of Hashem utilizes the physical world in order to maximize his spiritual growth!


Extra Short and Sweet


The Painful Curse


After eating from the Forbidden Tree, the woman was cursed by Hashem that she would suffer from, “pain of child-rearing and pain of pregnancy” (See Beraishis 3:16 and Rashi (ad loc.) based on Eruvin 100b). The question is that the order listed seems to be backwards? First one gets pregnant and suffers from pregnancy and labor and then the pains of rearing come to the parents?


One simple answer is that Chava already had children at that time and so the next pain she would experience would be that of raising them. Only after that would she suffer pain from any subsequent pregnancy.


Another answer offered is that the girls in the family help out very much by caring for their siblings. Thus, a woman typically gets the punishment of “child-rearing” before she herself marries and has the pain of pregnancy!


[Rav Chaim Volozhin explains that the curse is that while she already has young children she will get pregnant another, which will make the challenge of pregnancy even more difficult.]


I believe that the answer is psychological. If one knew that after nine months of pregnancy all of the pain would end, this would be a comfort. However, Hashem states that it’s only the beginning! After that pain, you will have to raise him/her as well! Hence, knowing first that there will be the pain of raising makes the pain of pregnancy even more strongly felt! That is why Hashem put the curse of difficult childhood first!

May Hashem help us have only simcha and nachas from our families!


Unleashing the Power


A most odd reason for rejoicing indeed. Or was it? Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 9:7) teach us that Hashem was extra happy with His World that He created on the 6th day. Bereishis (1:31): “…it was very good (טוב מאד).” ‘ טוב- Good’ refers to man’s possession of the Yetzer Tov, the good inclination. ‘מאד – Very (Good)’ refers to the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination! Since when is the Evil Inclination a positive advent?

The famous saying, “a wise man’s question, is already half the answer! certainly applies here. But first a story to illustrate the compelling lesson being discussed.

The first time that Rav Shach zt”l came to visit Aish HaTorah, he was in awe to behold the beginning of the mass Ba’al Teshuva movement. Until the 1950’s, it was almost unheard of. Even more impressive to him was that not only had the students given up their previous lifestyles to dedicate themselves to the truth and beauty of Yiddishkeit, but they were also developing themselves into Torah scholars, working on character development, and teaching Torah to others! Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt”l recounted the beautiful words which Rav Shach shared as he spoke to his inspired crowd. He expressed his awe of their development and all that they, a small group, were doing for Klal Yisrael. He wished to encourage them and point out very powerfully how much strength they each had. “If Hitler was able to brutally kill six million Jews, then imagine what one person can build!”

The lesson is clear. Man has unbelievable power. If he uses that power to carry out evil, there is nothing more evil in the world. But if he channels his strengths and vigor to proactively build and create greatness in the world, he will have much success.

Man is a ball of energy and creativity. Time and again we have seen the power of one person revolutionize and change the entire world. Not everyone’s purpose in life is to find a cure for cancer, lead others to war or start the largest company in the world. Some make their impact in their homes, communities or locality. Man’s purpose, though, is to know that he has the power and ability to do great things!

The lesson is best expressed by Chazal themselves. Midrash Tehillim (9:1) asks, how can one call the Evil Inclination, ‘very good’? This was our exact problem. The answer given is, “without the Yetzer Harah, no one would get married or have children or build anything!” This is the expression of the depth that we have come to understand. The Yetzer Harah provides the gusto and passion, while the Yetzer Tov provides the direction to point that energy. Yerushalmi (Berachos 67b) says: Avraham Aveinu turned his Yetzer Harah into good! The depth here is that precisely by means of the passionate and powerful Yetzer Harah, one can focus that liveliness into spiritual and productive pursuits.

This approach answers two other strange lessons which Chazal learned from the words ‘very good’: ‘ טוב- Good’ is Olam HaZeh, this world. ‘מאד – Very (Good)’ is Olam Habah, the World to Come. Also: ‘מאד – Very (Good)’ comprises the same letters as ‘אדם, man’!

Man possesses ‘מאד – Extreme Capabilities’. Naturally and unchecked, it is ‘מאד – Extreme Evil’. There is great danger. But when the strength, passion and vigor are harnessed for Godly pursuits, then it builds the greatest rewards of satisfaction in this world and מאד – the Very Best portion in the World to Come!

Indeed, let us rejoice together with Hashem for this most amazing feat!




In the creation of the world, the Torah sets out (Bereishis 1:5) the formulation of the Jewish “day”, namely that the night comes first followed by its day, “Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker”. Thus, Shabbos starts at sundown of Friday and ends when Saturday is over. The secular calendar has the day preceding the night. First it is Friday morning and then Friday night follows. What is the significance behind this? Interestingly, there is one time in Jewish law that the night follows the day and that is in relation to sacrificial offerings. When someone brought a Korban in the Beis Hamikdash, he had a specific time limit in which the Korban had to be eaten. Some had one day and one night, others had two days and one night. In those cases, the night followed the day. What is this all about?

The Chassam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, 1762-1839) sheds a beautiful insight based on all of the above. He says that as Jews we believe that this world is a means to earn our ultimate reward in the world to come. When a challenge arises for a Jew, he understands and believes with full Emunah that Hashem is testing him in order to make him great and to grant him the ultimate reward in the future. This Jewish outlook is represented by the fact that the night precedes the day. We believe that the challenge and darkness of this world (Pesachim 2b) which comes first is followed by the daylight, clarity and reward of the future world. This ideal is deeply expresses right at the beginning of the Torah by the fact that the day follows the night.

The secular view sees the day as coming before the night. For them the perspective is that this world is the only one of pleasure and enjoyment and that there is no future world of reward. They live life taking in pleasures and steeped in selfishness, thus self-fulfillling the prophecy and making their day one of light now (enjoyment as they see it) and disappointment and darkness in the future.

Why then is it that regarding the Korbonos the night follows the day? The answer, explains the Chasam Sofer, lies in the Mishna in Avos (4:17). There the Mishna explains that all pleasures of this world combined do not compare to a single pleasure of the World to Come. However, one moment of Teshuva and Maasim Tovim in this world can never be made up in the World of Reward and thus in that sense, this world is invaluable.

When someone brought a Korban, he or she was seeking and expressing ultimate closeness to Hashem. One left the Beis Hamikdash inspired and uplifted. The moment was priceless and unmatchable. Thus, in that aspect it was represented by the fact that day preceded the night. The Teshuva and Maasim Tovim of this world was the epitome of greatness and so much more than anything to follow, even the Future World (night).

We start the Torah by expressing the beauty of life and the opportunity for one to see how all of his efforts bring to the ultimate light of enjoyment.


Parshas Berishis

Five Bright Lights


Parshas Bereishis is jam-packed with beautiful lessons that make up the physical and spiritual foundation of the world. In the first few verses the Torah uses the word “ohr, light” five times. Verse 3 thru 5 read: “Hashem said, ‘let there be (1) ohr, light’ and there was (2) ohr, light. Hashem saw that (3) ha’ohr, the light, was good and He separated between (4) ha’ohr, the light, and the darkness. God called (5) la’ohr, to the light, ‘day’ and the dark He called ‘night’. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 3:5) states that these five occurrences of ohr refer to the Five Books of the Torah. Rabbeinu Bechaya adds a most fundamental understanding to this Midrash.


The Five Books

The Midrash states: (1) “Let there be ohr,” refers to Sefer Bereishis which discusses Hashem creating the world. (2) “There was ohr,” refers to Sefer Shemos in which the Jews were redeemed from Egypt and had much light in their vicinity. (Note here that the this makes up one verse. This is because as the Ramban explains, the purpose of creation [Bereishis] was to create a free Jewish nation that would accept the Torah and build a Mikdash [Shemos].) (3) “Hashem saw ha’ohr,” refers to Sefer Vayikra which is filled with numerous laws. (4) “Hashem separated between ha’ohr,” refers to Sefer Bamidbar in which the men were separated from the boys, those who merited to enter Eretz Yisrael were separated from those who would die in the desert. (Note again the fact that these two ohr occurrences are together. This will be discussed below.) (5) “Hashem called la’ohr day,” refers to Devarim which is full of commandments. Rabbeinu Bechaya comments that these five lights refer to the light of creation, redemption, repentance, Beis HaMikdash and Torah and mitzvos. What does this mean?


Five Lights

Life is filled with inspiration. Hashem has embedded into the Torah the greatest treasure of instructions as to how one can succeed in life. Each light represents a significant part of Torah thought and that which one can accomplish in life.

The light of Berieshis refers to inspiration for creativity and originality. Each person has a light which he or she is meant to bring to the world. This is the creative power of innovation, building a family and developing ideas.

The light of redemption refers to the hope that each person has for something that is beyond their grasp. When we turn to Hashem to ask for help He grants us the inspiration to achieve that which we lack. The first two ohr appear together because true creation cannot be accomplished without Hashem’s help.

The light of repentance is a necessary ingredient because we are human. Humans make mistakes. Mistakes are acceptable; the greatest mistake is not to admit the mistake and take responsibility. Hashem gives us the opportunity to correct our faults and to make amends. Rebbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva explains that the way to do a complete repentance is to learn the laws and make sure to keep them. This is why Sefer Vayikra is filled with laws between man and God and man and his fellow.

The Beis Hamikdash is a place where Hashem dwells. This is a message that our personal lives should be imbued with holiness. The Midrash explains the verse commanding the Jews to make the Mishkan as commanding them to create a place in one’s heart for Hashem. Sefer Bamidbar is also called the Book of Numbers by the rabbis because of the many times that the Jews were counted throughout its chapters. Thus Bamidbar celebrates the individual and the goal of being a resting place for the Divine Presence; creating our personal Beis HaMikdash. The last two ha’ohr appear in one verse and with the Hey before it to show the importance of this goal. Man must be able to repent and admit mistakes in order to build a resting place for Hashem. Indeed, the physical Beis HaMikdash was used primarily for sinners who brought sacrifices to repent to God.

Finally, the last ohr is called, la’ohr, to the light with a lamed. It get a verse by itself because of its significance. Devarim teaches about the importance of the ingredient that brings light to the world, the Holy Torah and Hashem’s mitzvos, commandments. Devarim is the recounting of Moshe of the entire Torah in which Moshe implores the Jews to live a happy and productive life by following the Torah and mitzvos. The Torah and mitzvos are the light itself as Chazal explain that Hashem hid the ultimate light inside the Torah itself. Hence, the la’ohr, to the light hints to the fact that all goals point to this objective, for man to connect to Torah and to its beautiful mitzvos. May our lights of inspiration and happiness shine brightly as we continue our quest for greatness and success in life.  (See essay on Devarim)

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