The Nature of Torah by Avi Levinson


The very first Pasuk of the Torah reads, “Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim VeEt HaAretz.”  Most people translate this verse as, “In the beginning, Hashem created Heaven and Earth.”  The problem with this translation, as Rashi notes, is that the word Bereishit is in construct form; it means, “In the beginning of.”  This Pasuk is missing an object; what was it the beginning of?

Rashi gives two explanations.  The first, simple explanation is that the implied object is the creation; thus, the verse reads, “In the beginning of the creation of Heaven and Earth…”  It is not significant that the Pasuk does not express a complete thought; not all Pesukim are complete thoughts (see Devarim 2:16).  The second explanation is that the prefix “Bet” on the word Bereishit does not mean “in.”  Midrash Bereishit Rabbah explains that here the prefix “Bet” means “Bishvil” – “for” or “because of.”  The word Reishit refers either to the Torah (as in Mishlei 8:22) or Bnei Yisrael (see Yirmiyahu 2:3).  The verse therefore reads, “For the sake of Torah,” or “For the sake of the Jews,” “Hashem created heaven and Earth.”  The world was created for us to learn the Torah.

Rabbi Leib Kelemen uses this idea of changing the meaning of the prefix “Bet,” but changes it to “with.”  (One example of “Bet” meaning “with” is “BeYad Chazakah,” “With a strong hand,” which is found many times in the first half of Sefer Shemot.)  The Pasuk thus reads, “With Reishit, Hashem created Heaven and Earth.”  Using the two aforementioned explanations of Reishit, two interpretations are possible: “With the Jews, Hashem created Heaven and Earth,” or “With the Torah, Hashem created Heaven and Earth.”  Obviously, the first interpretation can not work here, because the Jews did not exist yet.  According to Rabbi Kelemen’s explanation, the world was created with the Torah.  This means, in effect, that the Torah is a nature creating device; it was used to created the entire natural world as we know it.

A story which took place some time ago in San Francisco, California will help us understand this idea.  The mayor of the city, Mayor Masconi, offended one of his aides in a certain remark he made.  That night, this aide went to a friend who owned a gun shop and purchased a very explosive gun.  The next morning, on his way to work, the aide stopped at a convenience store and bought a box of high-sugar cakes.  He ate the entire box on his way to work.  When he arrived at the mayor’s office, he took out his gun and shot the mayor, killing him instantly.  When the police arrived on the scene, they immediately tackled the aide and arrested him.  Once they had handcuffed him, the aide said that he had killed the mayor because he hated the mayor’s policies.

This aide hired a very clever lawyer, who had his client tested for hypoglycemia, an abnormal reaction to sugar.  The lawyer found that his client’s genes were slightly hypoglycemic.  He therefore pleaded temporary insanity in defense of the aide, because of the huge amount of sugar in the cakes he had eaten for breakfast.  The sugar reaction was timed, and it was found that his blood-sugar level would have been lowest when he was pulling the trigger of his gun, and would have returned to normal at about the time the police were handcuffing him, which is why he had the common sense to admit to the murder.  In his closing arguments, the lawyer stated that the jury could not convict his client because there are only two determinants of human behavior: nature (genes) and nurture (environment).  The aide’s nature was hypoglycemic, and the environment was high-sugar, so he had no free will in his murder of the mayor.  The aide was acquitted based on this argument.

By saying that the Torah is a nature creating device, we can respond to the claim of this lawyer.  It does not matter that nature and nurture predict one behavior; the Torah can change nature to cause a completely different behavior.  Whatever genes might have an effect on human behavior can be reformed and reconstructed by the Torah.  Learning Torah allows us to change our own natures, and become new and better people.  As we start this new year, let us pray to Hashem that He grant us the ability to remove any bad traits we may have, using the Torah as the medium.


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The Flourless Minchah by Jeremy Jaffe