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Date : 24 Tishri 5758, 25-10-97

The Best of Parshat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)

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Dedicated to the loving memory of Avi Mori

Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l
For credits & copy right notices please see last page.


1 - TORAH TIDBITS (Israel Center)


  • First of 54 sedras in the Torah (1st of 12 in Book of B'reishit)

  • 146 verses (8th) = Miketz

  • 1931 words (8th);

  • 7235 letters (11th)

  • Ranks 5th in B'reishit

  • Contains 1 of the 613 (positive)

The Book of B'reishit has the most sedras, the most verses, the most words, the most letters; the longest sedras in words & letters but not verses; shorter than average verses; and the least mitzvot - three.


The first letter of the Torah is written extra large. There are about 11 such letters that Tradition has the Sofer write large, and around a half-dozen letters that are written small. These numbers are only approximations because of different minhagim.

The Torah begins with a BET, a big BET. The Talmud Yerushalmi and various Midrashim, among other sources, offer different reasons for the significance of the BET.

BET is the initial letter of the word BRACHA, blessing. ALEF, as the first letter in the Alef-Bet, would have been the favored candidate to receive the honor of beginning the Torah, but it is the initial letter of ARUR, curse. The Midrash states that G-d wanted to give this world the best chance of survival, it therefore begins with a blessing.

It is more than just the letters and words. BET represents MANY, two being the minimum plural. ALEF represents ONE, which for G-d is okay, but for people is restricting.

The BET represents the TWO worlds that were created, this world and the World-to-Come. It is important for us to know that there is more than this world and this life only. Hence, the big BET.

The letter BET forms three sides of a rectangle. It is closed on the top, bottom, and at the back, and is open only in the forward direction. This is taken as a reminder that one should not ask (too many) questions nor waste too much time about what is above us (Heaven), below us (Gehinom), or behind us (previous worlds and/or before Creation). Our attention and pursuit of knowledge should be in the area of what lies ahead of us, this world, from Creation onwards.


KOHEN - 34 verses (1:1-2:3)

This Aliya contains the Torah's first account of creation.

SDT The letters of the word B'REISHIT rearrange to spell "Aleph b'Tishrei", the date corresponding to the 6th day of Creation, the day human beings were brought into existence. This supports the opinion in the Talmud that the world was created in Tishrei (which is the commonly held opinion), as opposed to the other opinion that the world was created in Nissan. This might strike the reader as strange, but there are areas in halacha that take that second opinion into account.

SDT One way to understand Creation is to consider it as consisting of two distinct phases: Creatio ex nihilo - creation of something from nothing, YESH Mei'AYIN, represented by the word BARA, and the forming of the elements of nature from the existing "raw materials" - YESH Mi'YESH, something from something.

It can be understood that the first two verses of the Torah describe the first phase: In the beginning, G-d brought the "heavens and the earth" (i.e. everything) into existence, before which there was NOTHING. The result of this first phase was the chaotic mixture described in the second verse as TOHU VaVOHU.

The second phase of Creation is described beginning with the third verse, when G-d commanded LIGHT to be formed from (or possibly separated from) the primordial mixture.

A significant idea that can be understood from this "split view" of Creation, is that the first phase is untimed. Not only does the Torah not say when and how long it took, but it would be meaningless to place it into any kind of time-frame. The concepts of time, days, etc. themselves only have meaning beginning with the second phase. When the Torah tells us that Light and Darkness, Day & Night, were created (formed) and it was ONE DAY, only then, if yet, can we begin to see things as fitting into a time schedule.

This view of Creation can help us understand apparent discrepancies in the "age of the earth" between scientific theories and findings on the one hand, and Jewish tradition and chronology on the other.

THE FIRST RASHI It's famous; most readers of TT will know this Rashi, but it bears repeating today, possibly as never before.

R. Yitzchak asks: Why did the Torah start with the stories of B'reishit rather than the mitzvot in Parshat Bo? To teach us that if the nations of the world will call us thieves (or demand of us that we give away any part of the Land of Israel), that we need only look into the Torah and see that G-d, Who created the World, gives it to whomever He chooses. And He gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People, the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. That's it. This Land is ours. Period. Full stop. Whether the nations will admit to this truth now or not is one thing. They will probably come to that point only in Messianic times. But every Jew must take the Torah's lessons to heart.

G'MATRIYA VAYAVDEIL - And He (G-d) distinguished (between Light & Darkness). The numeric value of the word is 6 + 10 + 2 + 4 + 30 = 52, the number of weeks in a year, the number of times each year that we "follow G-d's lead" and distinguish between the Sacred and the secular, light and darkness, Israel and the other nations, and between Shabbat and the rest of the week.

SDT B'reishit - First and foremost, a person must know that G-d created the Heavens and the Earth. This is Rambam's Mitzva no. 1, to believe and know that G-d exists and that He brought everything into existence.

On the second day: the Heavens were formed (sky? atmosphere? Outer space?), the upper and lower waters, (angels & spirits as well, according to tradition).

On the third day: Bodies of water, land masses, plant life.

Note: This time it is not SHABBAT PARSHAT B'REISHIT, but the Shabbat is called SHABBAT B'REISHIT. It is the only Shabbat so named. The term is not only used for this specific Shabbat, but it is a term used as a synonym for Shabbat, in general.

On the fourth day: Sun, Moon, stars - the Heavenly bodies - were set in place and given their functions and orbits.

In addition to the suggestion above, there are textual inferences to certain aspects of "original" creation not being exactly the same as today's "laws of nature". Conditions that prevailed during the Six Days do not necessarily match those of the antediluvian period from Adam to Noah, nor does either period necessarily match the world as we know it in all details. This should be kept in mind when studying some of the early episodes reported in the Torah, such as the serpent's enticement of Eve, and the like.

SDT In the account of the fourth day of creation, the Sun and Moon are referred to as the "two great luminaries", but then, within the same verse, the sun retains that title, but the moon is called the "small luminary". In fact, both descriptions are correct for the Moon. When considered from our human perspective, both the Sun and the Moon are large. They are the only two sources of light that appear to the naked eye as more than a point of light in the sky. (Planets appear as disks only when viewed with telescopes; stars, even giant ones, remain "points" even under very high magnification.) In fact, the Sun and the Moon appear to be almost exactly the same size, as seen from Earth. This results from the Sun having a diameter approx. 400 times that of the Moon, while being approx. 400 times as distant. On the other hand, the Moon is actually quite small in comparison to the Sun.

One commentator noted that when the Sun and Moon are referred to as "M'orot birkiya hashamayim", luminaries in the heavens, the word "M'orot" is spelled "deficiently", without a "vav", indicating that in the heavens, they are not on equal footing. The Moon doesn't even provide its own light. There really is only one (major) luminary in the heavens. However, when the phrase used is "M'orot birkiya hashamayim l'ha'ir al ha-aretz", luminaries to illuminate the Earth, then the word "M'orot" has a "vav", since from our perspective, there are two (major) sources of light in our sky. The Torah speaks (mostly) in terms that fit our perspective.

On the fifth day, the lower classes of animal life were formed: birds, fish, and insects.

The highest class of animal life, mammals, were created on the sixth day. Later that day, the first human was formed - Adam HaRishon. It was to him/them (Adam & Chava) as representatives of all humanity, that G-d commanded the first of the Torah's mitzvot: Be fruitful & multiply. This technically applies to all of G-d's creations, but the human being is charged with the responsibility of populating the world, raising a family, and educating his children to be beneficial members of society.

MITZVA WATCH The first mitzva in the Torah is P'RU U'R'VU, Be Fruitful and Multiply. The last mitzva in the Torah is that of writing a Sefer Torah (and teaching the Torah).

R. Menachem Ben Tzion Sacks z"l (whose Torah Prizes Foundation recognized Torah Tidbits and its contribution to the Jewish Community with a prize this past year) points out a very significant connection between these two mitzvot. The former mitzva involves the populating of the World in a physical sense, satisfying G-d's wish: (The World) was not created to remain empty; it was formed to be inhabited (Yeshayahu 45:18). The latter mitzva commands us to be fruitful and multiply on a spiritual level. This in essence is the result of writing Torah scrolls and printing Sifrei Kodesh AND teaching Torah to our fellow Jews.

The Talmud says: He who teaches someone Torah, it is as if he gave birth to him. Aharon's sons are also considered to be Moshe's, because Moshe taught them Torah.

Halachically, a Sefer Torah cannot be sold except for two purposes: to marry and to learn Torah. Here we see these two mitzvot sharing a common high regard in Jewish Life.

There is a verse in Kohelet: In the morning plant your seeds and in the evening do not rest your hand... (11:6). There are two interpretations of this verse in the Talmud: R. Yehoshua says that a man should marry and have children at a young age, and if the opportunity presents itself, he should also marry and have children when he is old. R. Akiva says that a person should diligently study Torah and have students when he is young AND when he is older. Here again, we see an equation between physical and spiritual procreation.

Thus, the Torah's list of 613 mitzvot becomes a cycle of mitzvot as the final mitzva links beautifully with the first.

Pirkei Avot records many special items that were created in the instant before the first Shabbat.

Next follows the introduction of Shabbat and its major theme. This portion and some (or all) of the preceding verse comprise the introduction to Friday night Kiddush.

LEVI - 16 verses (2:4-19)

Next we have a restatement of Creation, focusing on Gan Eden, the formation of Adam, Adam's dominance over Nature, and his first prohibition - eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The well- known statement "it is not good that Man should be alone" is explained by Rashi, that only G-d should be singular; none of the Earth's creatures, including Man who was "created in the Divine image", should possess this quality of Oneness.

All creatures were brought before Adam as "candidates" for partner-to-Adam. None was suitable, but Adam named them all (as a sign of his dominance over all other creatures).

And the little "HEI"

The second account of Creation begins: These are the annals of Heaven and Earth when they were created - B'hI'BAR'AM... The HEI in the word is written smaller than the other letters. This permits the word to be "re-interpreted" on a drash level as B'HEI BAR'AM - with a HEI they were created. Some say this is a reference to the Five Books of the Torah which preceded the Creation of the World and served as the blueprint of Creation. Others explain that this world is guided by the HEI of G-d's Name, and the World to Come was created with the YUD.

The Midrash says that the World was created in the merit of Avraham Avinu who would repair the defects brought into this world by Adam HaRishon and subsequent generations. The letters of the word under examination rearrange to spell B'AVRAHAM, with Avraham. The miniature HEI fits perfectly - Avraham's original name did not have the HEI.

SH'LISHI - 27 verses (2:20-3:21)

The wording in the Torah indicates that Adam was first created as a combined male-female being, then (still on day #6) was physically separated as Adam and Chava, with the command and challenge of recombining spiritually, emotionally, and in some ways physically - "and they shall become one flesh". (Some say that a child produced by a couple is the "one flesh" referred to in this passage.)

Next comes the cryptic episodes of the Serpent's enticement of Chava to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam's eating from the Tree, and the curses on the Serpent, Chava, and Adam Interpretations abound. Many facets of the Biblical account serve to characterize human nature.

SDT Some commentaries say that humans had free will to choose between good and evil BEFORE eating the forbidden fruit, but the choice was always obvious and the distinction between good and evil was well-defined. Eating from the Tree, "internalized" the conflict and created the potential of the person actually choosing "evil" because of confused priorities and ulterior motives.

R'VI'I - 21 verses (3:22-4:18)

This Aliya begins with the Expulsion from the Garden, which is also seen as a metaphor for a re-definition of the role of humans in this world and of their relationship to G-d.

The Torah continues with the births of Kayin and Hevel (Cain & Abel) and the episode of Cain killing Abel after each offered different sacrifices to G-d. Cain's punishment and fate is presented, as is Cain's lineage.

CHAMISHI - 8 verses (4:19-26)

There are different arrangements of the portions

This portion contains the story of Lemech, great-great-great-grandson of Cain (and his accidental killer) and his two wives, Ada and Tzila. It mentions more of the descendants of Cain and their "roles" as the "firsts" in various fields of human endeavor. This portion also contains Lemech's lament to his wives for his having killed Kayin.

SDT In light of the fact that all his descendants died in the Flood, why does the Torah name the generations from Cain. According to some opinions, Tuval-Kayin's sister, Naama, was Noach's wife. This means that the human race, which we refer to as "Bnei Noach", came from both Seth as well as Cain. Among other things, this might help us understand some anthropological findings.

It is generally considered that the births of Cain and Abel were not "conventional". Not so with the recorded birth of Sheit (Seth) at the conclusion of this Torah portion..

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