Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Bereishis: Dveikus-Learning Torah for the right reason

Parshas Bereishis

Dveikus-Learning Torah for the right reason

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 15 1st Sicha)

Every Jewish child is aware starting from a very young age, that the first word of the Torah is the word Bereishis, which means “in the beginning”. An interesting question that is delved into in this talk of the Rebbe is regarding the reason for why the Torah begins with the letter Beis. After all, the letter Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and therefore should rightfully receive precedence in its use. Now, while one can argue that the content of the first sentence of the Torah requires a letter Beis to be used, in truth, the Torah could’ve perfectly chosen to rewrite the first three words as Elokim Bereishis Bara which would not only convey the same content but furthermore would even be more grammatically correct and have the benefit of beginning with the letter Alef. The decision to notwithstanding begin with the letter Beis is further complicated by the fact that when the 72 Jewish translators, translated the Torah into Greek during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Greek king of Egypt, they miraculously with divine spirit all translated it in a way that it read “God in the beginning created”, where the letter Alef comes first, and not “in the beginning God created”, in which the letter Beis comes first. It thus seems that the Torah is going out of its way to avoid beginning with the letter aleph. In research for the answer to this anomaly the Rebbe goes on to explain that the Torah is coming to teach us a major lesson in its choice to begin with the letter Alef. Its lesson is that the study of Torah is only the second stage of one’s religious observance, represented to in the beis, and it must be prefaced by a prior stage of service of God represented to in the letter Alef. This prior stage is the major teaching and revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, based on the Talmud and Zohar and classic works of Mussar and Kabalah, that the study of Torah must be done for the sake of heaven, which means it must be studied for the sake of Dveikus, attachment to God. One who skips this step, although he may become a great Torah scholar due to his vast comprehension of the details of the Torah, he misses the entire purpose and function of his study, which can heaven forefend lead to behavior which is contrary to God and his Torah.

 

Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      Why does the Torah begin with the letter Beis and not with the letter Alef?

2.      Why did God divinely inspire the 72 translators of the Torah who wrote the Greek Septuagint to change around the order of the first verse of the Torah and translate it as if it was written with an Alef first?

3.      How important is the motive and purpose behind one’s study of Torah in relation to the study itself? Does it suffice to study Torah simply for the sake of understanding its intellectual points, or must one strive for something deeper in his study?

4.      Why do we spend our entire day dancing on Simchas Torah, as opposed to studying the Torah, if the entire celebration is to celebrate its study?

 

  1. The reasons recorded for why the Torah begins with the letter Beis?

As for the reason that the Torah begins its first word with the letter Beis and not with the letter Alef, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, we find several explanations:

  1. The letter Alef spells out a curse, while the letter Beis spells out a blessing: The Jerusalem Talmud[1], as well as other sources[2], state that the letter Alef is the first letter of the word “Arirah” which means curse, and therefore was not chosen to be used as the first letter of the Torah. The letter Beis however is the first letter of the word Bracha, which means blessing, and therefore the Torah began with a word that has the letter Beis and not with a word that has the letter Alef.
  2. The letter Beis is similar to the world: The Midrash[3] states that the form of the letter Beis represents the world, as the letter Beis is closed by three sides and open from the fourth side, which is considered the northern side, and so too the world contains three closed directions with the north direction remaining open.[4] This serves as a message that if a person claims to be God, then he should be challenged to close up the fourth direction which God left open.[5]
  3. Our Torah below is the second level of the Torah: It is explained in Kabbalah[6], that the Torah which we learn here in this world is the Torah as it descended from the upper world of Atzilus into the lower worlds of Biyah. Hence, the Torah hints this idea to us by beginning with the letter Beis, which relays to us that our Torah is the second level of the Torah, as the first level of the Torah remains the Torah as it exists in the world of Atzilus. Likewise, the letter Alef stands for Atzilus while the letter Beis stands for Beriyah, and hence the Torah begins with a Beis.

 

  1. The questions on the above explanations:

There are several questions which can be asked on the above explanations:

  1. Question on the first explanation:[7] On the first explanation that the letter Alef represents a word of curse, one can ask that there are many words that begin with the letter Alef which represent positive matters, and many words that begin with the letter Beis which represent negative matters, and hence how can finding a word that begins with an Alef that represents something negative be a justification for not beginning the Torah with that letter when that same claim can be raised against the letter Beis.
  2. Question on the second explanation: According to the second explanation it does not make sense why the Torah, which is the intrinsic purpose of creation, would need to give up on the order of precedence that the Torah itself prescribes, which is that the letter aleph is more significant than the letter Beis and hence comes first, just in order to adapt itself to the world. After all, the world was created through the Torah and for the sake of the Torah, as it states[8] that God looked in the Torah and created the world, and hence how can it be that the Torah forfeits its order of precedence simply to adapt to the world.
  3. Question on the third explanation: The question on the third explanation is that in truth God gave us the same exact Torah as the Torah that exists in the world of Atzilus, and hence if our Torah begins with the letter Beis then so too the Torah in the world of Atzilus begins with the letter Beis, and therefore the question is asked as to why does the Torah in Atzilus begin with the letter Beis if it is the first level of the Torah?
  1. The translated Torah began with an Alef:

Another wondrous matter relating to all the above which has yet to be mentioned, is regarding the Talmudic[9] story of the translation that the sages performed on behalf of the Gentile king Talmai [King Ptolemy], in which they translated the Torah from its original Hebrew into Greek [known as the Septuagint]. This translated work involved 72 translators of the greatest sages of Israel who were each given their own separate rooms [72 rooms in total] to write the translation unaware of each other’s presence, thinking that they were the only translator involved. Miraculously, all the translators translated the first verse as if it were to be written Elokim Bara Bereishis, and not Bereishis Bara Elokim. Hashem placed into the hearts of each of the 72 translators to change from the normal version which begins with a Beis, and instead rearrange the words so that it begins with an Alef. From this miraculous event we can deduce that there is strong reason for the Torah to begin with the letter Alef, and that if the translators would have translated it according to its actual start with the letter Beis, then the king would not have accepted any explanation behind why it did not begin with an Alef, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, God had to make a miracle and give divine inspiration to each one of the translators to translate it as if it begins with an Alef. It is most wondrous that none of the above reasons which explain why the Torah had to begin with the letter Beis would have been accepted on Talmai the king.

  1. The explanation –The two aspects in Torah study, comprehension and attaching to that which is above it:

In the book of Jeremiah[10], G-d, in a prophecy to him, laments over the fact that the land of Israel was destroyed, and the Jewish people were exiled due to the Jewish people leaving the Torah.[11] In the words of the verse, “Due to what reason has the earth been lost…due to them leaving my Torah.” Now, the sages[12] explain that the verse does not refer to a mere lack of Torah study, but rather to the fact that the Jewish people were not careful to recite the blessing over the Torah prior to its study. According to this explanation, it is quite puzzling that such a great punishment would be given for something which seems minor, as they did not leave the study of Torah but simply did not say blessing. The Bach[13] and other Poskim[14] explain this as follows: Although they learned a lot of Torah, they did not do so with intent to fulfill the purpose of the study which is to attach to God through binding oneself with the holiness and spirituality found within the Torah. It is only when the Torah is studied with this intent that it has the ability to draw down the divine presence into the physical world. Thus, being that they did not have this intent in their Torah study, therefore, the world remained spiritually desolate being that it did not contain the divine presence, and this is the intent of the verse which states that the land was desolate. From all this it is understood that the Torah contains two aspects: 1) Its study and intellectual understanding and comprehension; 2) Its intent to attach oneself and unite oneself with God, who is the giver of the Torah and is beyond all forms of intellect and comprehension. Now, the order that must be followed regarding these two aspects, is that of the second aspect, which is fulfilled by first saying a blessing over the Torah and only afterwards studying it. Prior to sitting down to study Torah one must first preface this study with a general intent to attach oneself to G-d and unite with Him.

 

The Bach-The true reason behind learning Torah and the punishment for lack of the blessing:

The famous codifier, the Bach, writes the following in his Halachic commentary on the Tur, [chapter 47]: Why did G-d give such a severe punishment simply for not saying the blessing prior to learning Torah? Isn’t this a merely minor sin? The explanation is as follows: The purpose of Hashem commanding us to learn Torah is for us to attach our souls to the Atzmus, spirituality and holiness of the source of the Torah, [which is G-d]. Therefore, Hashem gave us the Torah so we attach all our 248 limbs and 365 sinews to the 248 positive commands and 365 negative commands. If one learns Torah with this intent, he will become a chariot and chamber for the Divine presence, as the Shechina itself becomes invested within one’s soul and he would thereby make a dwelling place for G-d below. If, however, one does not learn Torah for this purpose, but rather for personal gain, then it causes the Shechina to be repelled from the earth which consequently causes the land to become desolate.

 

Segula for memory:[15]

Reciting the blessing over Torah with proper concentration is a Segula to not forget one’s learning.

 

  1. The learning of Torah must be prefaced by an “Alef”:

Based on the above, one can understand why the Torah chose to begin with the letter Beis and not with the letter Aleph. The Torah begins with the letter Beis to emphasize that the study of the Torah and its intellectual comprehension is merely a secondary aspect and is the second stage of Torah study. However, the first and primary aspect of the Torah, that must be prefaced to the study of the Torah and its comprehension, is the will and desire to connect and attach to the giver of the Torah, which is God and which is above intellect and comprehension. It is for this reason that all the levels of Torah, even the level of Torah that exists in the spiritual world of Atzilus, begins with the letter Beis, as even in this world one must the intent of attaching to the giver of the Torah, to the actual study of Torah of that world.

  1. The danger of studying Torah without prefacing the intent to attach with God:

When a person study of Torah is not first prefaced with a desire to attach to the giver of the Torah, then the Torah which he studies becomes separate from Godliness, to the point that it can actually serve as fuel to the side of evil and powers of impurity.[16] This too is hinted in the fact that the Torah begins with the letter Beis, which stands for the world of Beriya, and is the first world of separation from Godliness. It is coming to tell us that if you study Torah simply for its understanding and comprehension which is its second aspect, then it can lead to separation from G-d. However, when one prefaces the study of Torah with its blessing, representing a desire to attach to the giver of the Torah, then one’s Torah study is on the level of Atzilus, in which it does not have any separation from God, and is represented in the letter Alef. The sages[17] state that when a person’s study of Torah is in a way of refinement, then it becomes for him medicine of life. However, if it does not refine him, then it becomes poison for him. This means as follows: When a person studies Torah for the right intent, and prefaces the aspect of Alef, then his Torah study leads to blessing, which is represented in the word Bracha. However, when a person’s study of Torah is without any intent of attaching to God, and he thus skips the first aspect of Torah study, then his first and only aspect of Torah study is its understanding and comprehension. In such a case the understanding of Torah becomes represented in the Alef, although in this case it stands for the word Arur, which means cursed. It is for this reason that the Torah begins with the letter Beis which stands for blessing and not the letter aleph which stands for curse, as when one prefaces the aspect of Alef to one’s Torah study, then the Beis represents blessing, and the eternal message of the Torah in its starting with the letter Beis is to emphasize this point upon the learner, that his learning should always be one of blessing, and that this can only be accomplished if he prefaces it with the aspect of Alef. If, however, the Torah would have begun with the letter Alef, then it’s message would be that it suffices to simply study Torah for its intellectual comprehension, and such a study of Torah is cursed, Arur. This answers the first of our original questions [see 2], on why the letter Beis was chosen due to it standing for the word blessing, if also the letter Alef is the first letter of positive words.

  1. Why the translated version of the Torah was translated to begin with the letter Alef:

The concept of prefacing the study of Torah with the desire to attach to the giver of the Torah is something only relevant to the Jewish people. However, the Gentile nations, are prohibited from studying the Torah for this purpose, as the sages[18] state that a Gentile studies Torah is liable for death, and hence they may only study those parts of Torah that are relevant to them, such as the seven Noahite laws. For the Gentile, the entire concept of Torah study is simply to understand and comprehend and know the do’s and the don’ts. However, to study it for the pleasure of attaching to God is forbidden, and therefore it is prohibited upon them to study the other sections of Torah that they have no relevance to, being that the entire purpose of those sections is simply to attach to God, which is something that a Gentile is not allowed to engage in, in this intimate level. [In fact, it is considered similar to adultery if a Gentile were to do so.] It is for this reason that we emphasize in the blessing over Torah study the fact that God chose our nation from amongst all the other nations and gave us His Torah, as only we were given the rights to attach to God through studying it [similar to the exclusive marital rights of intimacy shared between a husband and wife upon getting married, which cannot be shared with any other individual]. It is for this reason that when the elders of Israel were called upon by Talmaiy the Greek king to translate the Torah on behalf of the Gentiles, that they translated it to begin with the letter Alef. This was done to emphasize to the Gentiles that their study of which he endears so much and conveys in his poem Torah is merely an intellectual exercise of comprehension and understanding and is not an intimate experience with God. Therefore, it begins with the letter Alef to say that their only purpose of Torah study is for intellectual purposes, and there is no need or allowance for them to preface its study with a desire to attach to God.

 

A parable:

A husband writes a two-page love poem for his wife on behalf of her 40th birthday. The poem is filled with emotion and feelings of love which is conveyed in the various sentences of poetry that he has written, and will touch the deepest and most sensitive parts of his wife’s soul, bringing them to a new level of bond and love. He does not mention his wife’s name in the poem, but simply refers to her as “you”, as if he were speaking to her directly. Now, being that he desires the poem to be on the most professional level in English vocabulary and spelling and grammar, he hires a female professional editor to edit the poem for him. Of course, the relationship between him and the editor is purely professional, and simply for the sake of correcting the English grammar and mistakes, and understanding the flow of the poem to make sure it is comprehended. It would be a fatal career mistake if the editor were to somehow begin developing emotions for the husband upon reading the poem, making believe that it is intended for her. This parable is an exact replica of the difference between the Torah study of a Jew versus that of a Gentile. The Torah study of a Gentile is simply for technical purposes, to understand the technicalities of the laws relevant to them, and it is thereby forbidden for them to study other sections that they have no relevance to. However, for a Jew the Torah is a poem of love between God and the Jewish people, and is to be understood as such. When a Gentile studies the Torah for the sake of enjoying intimate love with God, it is as if he has committed adultery and is liable for death as this intent is the sole rights of the Jewish people. In contrast, when a Jew studies the Torah simply and only for the sake of understanding its laws, he is likened to the wife who after receiving the poem from her husband begins making editorial corrections, focusing on its grammar and English, and completely misses the emotions that it was meant to create as she read it like an editor and not like a wife. A Jew must study the Torah like a spouse reads a love poem from her husband, and not like an editor reads a poem that she was paid to edit.

 

  1. The connection between Parshas Bereishis and the festival of Simchas Torah:

We begin reading Parshas Bereishis on the festival of Simchas Torah, from which it is understood that there must be an internal connection between the message of this Torah portion and the vibrant celebration of this festival. Seemingly, they represent the exact opposites, as the act of celebration and dancing involves the expression of ecstatic joy and emotion which forces one’s intellectual powers to remain dormant, while the reading of the Torah represent its intellectual comprehension and study. However, based on all the above, the connection can be understood: The first message of Parshas Bereishis and the entire Torah is that the main purpose of Torah study for a Jew is to attach to God, as explained above. Meaning, that there is an aspect which is higher than the intrinsic value of comprehending the Torah and is the entire purpose of its study, which is to attach to God. On the festival of Simchas Torah we celebrate this higher aspect by dancing with the Torah, and expressing our joy and fervent pleasure in being united with God through studying it. It is for this reason that on Simchas Torah we make an emphasis on dancing with closed Torah scroll, as opposed to simply sitting altogether and studying it, as through this dancing and joy we fulfill the first aspect of Torah study, the Alef, the purpose and desire to attach to God. Only after the dancing concludes do we then commence with the Torah reading of Parshas Bereishis, as then we are ready for the second step, the letter Beis, to begin understanding the Torah, in a way that it will be a blessing, Bracha. [Using the parable explained above, the dancing on Simchas Torah represents the wedding celebration between the bride and groom, God and the Jewish people, and is the culmination of the studying of the poem that the husband wrote his wife. The day of the wedding is a time to celebrate the marriage and so too it is on Simchas Torah that we celebrate our unity with God through the study of His Torah.]

 

The divine lesson:

·         The lesson for those who are not intellectually stimulated: The importance of Torah study is not just due to the fact that it is required in order to be knowledgeable in the requirements of Jewish law and order so when be an observant Jew, but is also and primarily for the sake of bonding with one’s creator. Don’t view the study of Torah and Jewish law as a boring and stale activity of technical details, but rather as a tool to express your love and passion for Hashem.

·         The lesson for those who are intellectually stimulated: Assiduous learners who are intellectually stimulated to comprehend the depths of the Torah and its teachings in the Talmud and Jewish law, must be aware that they cannot suffice with this mere thirst for intellectual experience, and must introduce an emotional aspect into their learning of Torah, which is to bond with their creator.

·         How to achieve emotional stimulation: Both those who are intellectually stimulated and those who are not, need to perform exercises to help develop their emotional connection with God so that they indeed study the Torah for its right purpose. This emotional development is accomplished through the study of the inner dimensions of Torah, which is the teachings of Chassidus, in which one gains the intellectual properties to help one develop an emotion. The actual development of the emotions is meant to transpire during prayer, and hence it does not suffice to simply learn the teachings of Chassidus, but one must place it into practice in Avodas Hatefila. In this way once Torah study becomes a medicine of life and not God forbid a possible potential poison of death.

[1] Chagiga 2:1

[2] Tanchuma Bereishis 5; Bereishis Raba 1:10; Tana Divei Eliyahu 31; Zohar Parshas Vayigash; See Likkutei Torah Reieh 19b

[3] Chizkuni beginning of Bereishis; Midrash Hanelam Shir Hashirim in Zohar Chadash; Daas Zekeinim of Baalei Hatosafus; See also Bereishis Raba ibid

[4] See Bava Basra 25b

[5] Pirkei Drebbe Eliezer 3; See also Hadar Zekeinim and Chizkuni ibid

[6] Likkutei Torah of Arizal beginning of Bereishis; Midbar Kedeimos of Chida Mareches Taf Os 9; Sefer Hamarim 5700 p. 68 in footnote

[7] Even Ezra in his Hakdama; Tana Dvei Eliyahu Raba; Tiferes Yisrael of Maharal chapter 34

[8] Zohar Vol. 2 161

[9] Megillah 9a

[10] Yirmiyahu 9:11-12

[11] For 51 years in the era after Tzidkiyahu until the era of Koresh the land of Israel was desolate. [Jeremiah 9:9 Rashi ibid] The Talmud in Nedarim 81a explains that the prophesy of Jeremiah in 9:9-12, that Israel would become desolate of its inhabitants, is in fact a result of them not having been careful in saying the blessing over learning Torah. This is what the verse there [in Jeremiah] means by saying “The above will occur since they left my Torah”.

[12] Admur 47:1; Nedarim 81a; Bava Metzia 85b

[13] Bach 47

[14] Rabbeinu Yona in Ran Nedarim ibid; See Admur 47:1

[15] Tzlach end of Brachos

[16] See Hilchos Talmud Torah of Admur 4:3; Yuma 72b

[17] Yuma 72b

[18] Sanhedrin 59a; Rambam Melachim 10:9

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