בראשית ־ BEREISHIT
“In the beginning…” (1:1)
QUESTION: Wh y does the Torah start wit h the letter beit,
the second letter of the Hebrew alef-beit, rather than wit h the
first letter, alef?
ANSWER: The Torah consists of two parts, the Written
Torah and the Oral Torah. The Written Torah starts wit h the
word “bereishit,” and the Oral Torah starts wit h the wor d
“mei’ei’matai” (מאימתי .(Thus, the first letters of the Written and
Oral Torah spell the word “bam” . This alludes to what our
sages tell us (Yoma 19b) on the words “vedibarta bam” — “and
you shall speak of them.” A person should use his speech and
conversation for the study of the Written Torah and the Oral
Torah and not for idle or forbidden talk.
Actually, the Midrash Tanchuma (Berei shit 5) asks this question and answers as follows: “Because alef is the first letter of the word “arur” — “cursed,” whereas beit is the first letter of
the word “baruch” — “blessed.”
But this explanation is difficult to understand. Alef is also
the first letter of beautiful words, such as “emet”— “truth, ” or
“ahavah” — “love,” while beit is also the first letter of bad words
such as “barad” — “hail ” (seventh of the ten plagues of Egypt),
and “bli’ya’al” — wickedness. Why then does the Midrash offer
an explanation that doesn’t seem to fully answer the question?
The Midrash may be alluding to the following: The letters of
the Hebrew alef-beit also serve as numbers. Each has a number-
value — alef equals one, beit, two , and so on. By extension, alef
can mean to care about only one person, oneself, and to forget
about others. Beit, on the other hand, means coexistence, caring
and getting along wit h another.
The Torah starts wit h a beit to teach us that caring about
others is baruch — the source of all blessing, and that alef —
selfish caring only about oneself is arur, cursed.
The explanation of the Midrash thus shows how the very
first letter of the Torah teaches us the importance of ahavat
Yisrael, loving one’s fellow Jew!
A similar idea is expressed in a story told i n the Gemara
(Shabbat 31a). A non-Jew came to Hillel, the great sage and leader
of the Jews in his time, and said to him, “Convert me to Judaism
on the condition that you will teach me the entire Torah while i
stand on one foot.” To do this, Hille l chose a brief teaching that
summarized all of the Torah: “What you dislike, do not do to
others, this is the entire Torah. The rest is an elaboration [of what
is hateful to others and should be avoided].”
Hille l wanted to show this proselyte, at the very beginning
of his journey to Judaism, that the basis of the entire Torah is to
avoid selfishness and to care about others.
״ בראשית ב רא א לק״ם…״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…” (1:1)
QUESTiON: On Simchat Torah, when we finish reading all
five books of the Written Torah, we immediately start reading
all over again from Bereishit. This shows that the Torah has no
end, like a circle which has no beginning or end.
i n this spirit, it is customary when finishing a volume of the
Gemara to explain some connection between the start of the trac¬
tate and its end. The same is true of the Written Torah; how are
the very first word of the Torah and the last words connected?
ANSWER: One connection between the beginning and the
end of the Torah can be understood according to a famous
story related i n the Gemara (Megillah 9a). The Egyptian king,
Ptolemy I I (3476-3515 or 246-285 BCE) commanded 72 Torah
sages to translate the Written Torah into Greek.
He placed them in separate rooms, where they would be
unable to communicate with each other. By placing them in
solitary confinement, he hoped to demonstrate that their
separate translations would reflect many differences of opinion,
proving that the Torah is not Divine in origin (G-d forbid).
Hashem inspired them all to produce the exact same
translation, known among non-Jews to this day as the
Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning “seventy.” Al l 72
sages made certain identical changes from the literal meaning
of the Torah in several places to forestall possible
misunderstandings by non-Jews seeking to confirm their own
One of these changes was at the beginning of the Torah, i n
the words, “Bereishit bara Elokim.” The sages were worried that
non-Jews, seeking to prove that our Torah substantiates their
belief in the existence of more than one god, would try to bring
proof that some other god called “Bereishit” created G-d!
Therefore, all the sages individually reversed the order of
these words to read, “Elokim bara Bereishit” — “G-d created i n
the beginning.” This shows that G-d is but one, and He was the
First Being and the sole Creator of the world and all other
This change, however, was only for the sake of non-Jews,
whose mistaken beliefs could bring them to a false
interpretation of the verse. But when Hashem commanded
Moshe to writ e down the words of Torah that He taught him,
He knew that the Jewish people would not misinterpret these
words. He, therefore, told Moshe to write them in their true
order. (Many profound meanings lie in the order of the Torah’s
words and letters.)
This, then, is the connection between the very first words of
the Torah and its last phrase: “Le’einei kol Yisrael” — “before the
eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34:12). Hashem told Moshe that
“le’einei kol Yisroel” — “before the eyes of all Israel,” [he should
write ] “Bereishit bara Elokim,” and there is no need to reverse the
order of the words, since the Jewish people believe i n only one
G-d, and He alone created everything.
(שרית תירוש ויצהר סי קס״ג בשם ספר מגדל דוד)
״ בראשית ב רא א לק״ם״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating.” (1:1)
QUESTION: On this first pasuk of the Torah, the Midrash
(Yalkut Shimoni) says that it will be understood with the saying
“Rosh devarcha emet” — “Your very first utterance is truth “
(Psalms 119:160). What is the connection between these two
ANSWER: The final letters of the words רא ב בראשית ״
spell the word — “truth. ” The Gemara (Shabbat
55a) says, “Hashem’s signet is .” Hashem exists simultane¬
ously i n the past, present and future. Likewise, the word
is made up of the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew
alef-beit to indicate that truth does not change, it is consistent in
the past, present and future.
The word אמת״ ״ adds up to 441, whose numerals (4+4+1)
add up to 9, and i n mispar katan (“single numerals” —
disregarding the “0” in the numerical value of a Hebrew letter
so that is 2 and is 3, etc.), it also adds up to 9. The
uniqueness of the number 9 is that the digits of all its multiples
always add up to 9 (e.g., 9×73 = 657, 6+5+7 = 18, 1+8 = 9).
Likewise, truth always remains the same and can never be
altered. Similarly, Hashem is true from beginning to end.
Moreover, taking the letters of the Hebrew alef-beit, begin¬
ning with , every three letters together add up to 9 (e.g.
9 = 2+3+4 = ד+ג+ב , and 9 = 2+7 ,27 = 8+9+10 = י+ט+ח , etc.).
The word — “falsehood” — in single numerals
(3+1+2), adds up to 6. Starting with , the alef-beit can be
divided into sequences, each of three consecutive letters, each
of which adds up to six, (e.g. = 1+2+3 = 6, and =
7+8+9 = 24, 2+4 = 6, etc.).
The Midrash is questioning why the Torah begins with and not with . i t answers, since the beginning of Hashem’s
words (לקים״ א רא ב ״בראשית (emphasize the concept of truth,
therefore, the Torah starts wit h , as it is the beginning of the
sequence of groups of letters adding up to 9.
(פון אונזער א לטען אוצר – ד ת ודעת)
״ בראשית ב רא א זיקים א ת ה שמים ו את ה ארץ, ו הארץ ה יתה ת ה ו
ו בהו ו חשך עזי פ ני ת הום… ו יאמר א זיקים יהי א ור״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. And
the earth was formless and empty, with darkness over the
depths…And G-d said: ‘There shall be light.'” (1:1-3)
QUESTION: The word “Torah” is derived from the world
“hora’ah” — “teaching” (see Psalms 19:8, Radak. Zohar Vayikra
53b). What lesson do these very first words of the Torah teach us?
ANSWER: I n a letter to a Bar-Mitzvah boy, the Lubavitcher
Rebbe once wrote that these opening words of the Torah teach
the approach all Jews should take i n serving Hashem. Every
Jew should always remember the three lessons he or she can
learn from these three verses:
1) It was Hashem Himself who created heaven and earth,
and therefore He alone is Master of the world and of
everything within it.
2) A t first the world is dark and empty of Hashem’s light,
but every Jew has his ow n share of the world , which he has to
improve and illuminate.
3) The way to brighten his share of the world is through
“and G-d said” — fulfilling the word of Hashem by studying
Torah and keeping mitzvot. Through this, the Jew accomplishes
his purpose in the world and “There shall be light ” — the
world becomes illuminated with the light of G-d’s Torah.
(אגרות קודש ח״ז להב״מ של א חי הרב שמואל פסח שי׳ באגאמילסקי)
״ויה״ ע רב ויה״ ב קר יום א חד״
“It was evening and it was morning, one day.” (1:5)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah say “yom echad” — “one
day” — and not “yom rishon” — the “first day” (as for the next
five days, which it calls “second,” “third, ” etc.)?
ANSWER: The Midrash calls the Yeitzer Hara, the inner
voice and evil inclination that tells us to do wrong , “evening”
because it brings darkness to the world . “Morning, ” on the
other hand, refers to the Yeitzer Tov, our inner voice that tells us
to do good, for it brings only light to the world .
The innate selfish instincts every child has at birth come
from the Yeitzer Hara. The Yeitzer Tov begins to express itself
only gradually in the child, and is first fully expressed when a
boy turns thirteen years old — Bar Mitzvah. (See Shulchan Aruch
This, then, is the meaning of the verse: I n man’s life,
“evening” — the Yeitzer Hara — comes first: Then “morning, “
the Yeitzer Tov, comes. When do they first meet, both being
fully expressed? On yom echad: the day a Jew becomes echad, of
which the three Hebrew letters (alef equals one, chet, eight and
daled, four) total thirteen!