BeReishit and Tishrei by Moshe Kollmar


Every year, on the first Shabbat after Simchat Torah, we read Parashat BeReishit. Normally, the Torah reading for any given day is connected in some way to either the previous Parashah or the themes special to that day. Parashat BeReishit, however, seemingly has no connection to any of the Torah readings of the previous month, as it is neither a continuation of the stories of the end of Sefer Devarim nor of the Torah readings of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, or Sukkot. Furthermore, Parashat BeReishit logically should be read on Shabbat Shuvah or Rosh HaShanah, starting the new year with the beginning of the Torah, not three weeks later. Also, although we do read the beginning of BeReishit on Simchat Torah after finishing VeZot HaBerachah, we do so to show that we are not actually finished with the Torah but are rather starting anew. Thus, because the themes of Vezot HaBrachah do not match those of Simchat Torah, every Parashah could logically be read a few weeks earlier, in order to finish the Torah at the end of the year and start it at the beginning of the year.

With further consideration, however, BeReishit and Simchat Torah do seem to have a deep connection.  The end of the section of BeReishit that is read on Simchat Torah discusses how Hashem completes the creation of the world and rests on Shabbat.  Similarly, Simchat Torah concludes a period of several weeks containing many holidays, many of which have comparisons to the stories detailed in Ma’aseh BeReishit.  Before Rosh HaShanah, every person is in a state of limbo, having gone a full year of sinning without proper Teshuvah (similar to how the universe was “Tohu VaVohu” (BeReishit 1:2)); holiness, however, hovers out of reach of sinners [“VeRuach Elokim Merachefet” (ad loc.]).

Then comes Rosh HaShanah, the day when the Shofar wakes everyone from his slumber commanding him to do Teshuvah (Rambam describes the message of the Shofar as “Uru Yesheinim MiSheinatchem” “Wake up, you sleepers, from your sleep.” (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4)).  This corresponds to the creation of light, which, if shined in the face of a sleeping person, would wake him up.  Every one of Hashem’s creations passes before Him in judgment (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2).  Also, on Rosh HaShanah the righteous are judged immediately for good, and the wicked are judged immediately for bad, but judgment is withheld  from those people who fall in the middle, known as Beinonim.  Similarly, Hashem sees that the newly created light is good, and separates it from darkness (“VaYar Elokim Et HaOr Ki Tov VaYavdeil Elokim Bein HaOr UVein HaChoshech” (BeReishit 1:4)).  Rashi (s.v. VaYar Elokim) explains that Hashem sees that the light is too good for the wicked and separates it for the use of the righteous, leaving the wicked with darkness.  The Beinonim remain in limbo between dark and light.

Next in the calendar comes an intermediary week between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  During this time, Hashem filters through the Beinonim, dividing them by what their judgment will be; however, this division is not set in stone until Yom Kippur.  Similarly, on the second day, Hashem creates a division between upper and lower waters, but this division was not strong, as the upper waters frequently drop in the form of rain, and the lower waters frequently evaporate and join the upper waters.  Furthermore, Rashi comments that Hashem didn’t “see that the creation of the second day was good” until the third day, another analogy to the incompleteness of the judgment before Yom Kippur.

Further along in the Yamim Nora’im, on Yom Kippur, the judgment of Rosh HaShanah and the subsequent week is completed.  The Beinonim are gathered into set groups of those who have and have not been judged for good.  Over the course of the day, Hashem grants atonement to everyone, granting new life for spiritual growth.  Similarly, on the third day of creation, Hashem gathers the waters into seas 1:9)).  Afterwards, the ground became visible (“VeTeira’eh HaAretz” ), and began sprouting with growth (“VaTotzei HaAretz Desheh Eisev Mazria Zera LeMineihu VeEitz Oseh Pri Asher Zaro Vo LeMineihu” (1:11)).

The following week, before Sukkot, is a period of happiness, celebrating the newly granted atonement and attempting to take advantage of the new potential for spiritual growth, using the spiritual heights attained at Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur for guidance.  However, the ability to plummet from spiritual heights still exists.  In Ma’aseh BeReishit, on the fourth day, Hashem creates the sun, moon, and stars for a variety of functions, such as lights and signs (1:14).  Rashi points out that the way the word “Me’orot,” meaning things that give off light, can be read as “Me’eirat”, meaning “the curse of” (ad loc. s.v. Yehi Me’orot).  While these luminaries can serve as guidance, there remains the ability to be misguided, turning the luminaries of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur into a curse and being deceived that one can sin and then rely on the Yamim HaNoraim for atonement.

On Sukkot, the world is judged with regard to water (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2).  In addition, we have many unique Mitzvot, including happiness (although most holidays  this Mitzvah, it is emphasized in regards to Sukkot to a greater extent, as it is also named “Zeman Simchateinu”, the time of our happiness), taking the Arba Minim, and sitting in the Sukkah.  The connection to Ma’aseh BeReishit persists: On the fifth day, Hashem creates many types of Sheratzim out of water.  The largest of these Sheratzim are the Taninim HaGedolim, also known as the Livyatanim or Leviathans, whose skins Hashem used to make a Sukkah for the Tzaddikim (Bava Batra 75a).

The last day of Sukkot is Hoshanah Rabbah, the day that concludes the cycle of judgment, as the judgments that were sealed on Yom Kippur are given to the angels to enact.  The Mitzvah of happiness does not conclude with sunset at the end of Hoshanah Rabbah, but continues through the following night of Shemini Atzeret (andoutside of Israel, until the night of Simchat Torah).  Similarly, the sixth day concludes the creation of life, as Adam and Chavah are created.  However, creation does not conclude at sunset but rather proceeds into the period of Bein HaShemashot (the time between sunset and when three stars become visible), during which time at last ten things are created (Mishnah Avot 5:8).

With the start of the new year, we start the Torah not just by recounting the creation of the world, which happened millennia ago, but also, metaphorically, what happened over the past month. But even after the ultimate high of Ma’aseh BeReishit and the renewal of the world for another, the Torah brings us back down to earth, proceeding to warn us of the severity of sinning over the next year: first, it describes the tale of Adam, Chavah and the snake, detailing how even something that appears as minor as eating a piece of fruit from the wrong tree may result in an eternal punishment, and then the tale of Kayin and Hevel, teaching how severe it is to fight with another person, even over a spiritual matter.

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