SPARK OF THE WEEK

5756 - #1

Completing the Circle: Connecting V'Zot HaBracha to Bereishit

As we complete the yearly cycle of the Torah reading on Simchat Torah, we immediately begin the cycle anew with the reading of Bereishit. At its core, this custom serves to remind us of the never-ending nature of Torah study[1]; conclusion only calls upon us to again begin. The yearly cycle of Torah reading, though, is, also, another facet of the circle that is the rhythm of life. Pesach precedes Shavuot which precedes Succot which, in turn, precedes Pesach again. So it is with Torah study. The study of one work leads us to the study of another work which, in turn, ultimately leads us to return to study the original work anew. V'Zot HaBracha not only calls upon us to again begin Bereishit; within the yearly circle of life, this last parsha of the Torah also leads us to, and precedes, Bereishit.

Interestingly, the Ntziv[2] concludes his commentary to the last verse of the Torah with the three words that begin the Torah: bereishit barah elokim, "In the Beginning G-d created". The last verse of the Torah, in praise of Moshe Rabbeinu, refers to the great wonders that Moshe did before "the eyes of all Israel". The Ntziv explains that the greatness of Moshe lay in his ability to cause all of Israel to recognize G-d as the Creator and Overseer "and that is the very purpose of the creation, to know that bereishit barah elokim". Moshe's greatness, praised in the last verse of the Torah, rested in his ability to clearly present the most basic idea of Judaism as expressed in the Torah's first verse; so the Ntziv connects the two pesukim.

The Sfat Emet[3], in his comments on V'Zot HaBracha, in fact, openly addresses this issue of a bridge between the Torah's last verse and bereishit barah. He explains that the bond is based on yirat harommemut, the awe of G-d. The last verse refers to Moshe's involvement in our recognition, through matan Torah, of the awesome nature of Hashem. This is a recognition that should also be achieved when one contemplates the creation, solely through words, of this world with all its diversity[4]. Yet, while both the Ntziv and the Sfat Emet explain the ties between the first and last verse of the Torah, the nature of the circle still demands some explanation. How does V'Zot HaBracha precede, lead into, Bereishit?

Avot d'Rabbi Natan[5] states that the Torah was created 974 generations before Creation. This theme, that Torah preceded Creation, is, in fact, found in numerous places within the Torah literature[6]. It is an idea that demands much thought. Yet, imbedded within this concept, we also find similarity to the presentation of V'Zot HaBracha as preceding Bereishit. In a way, as we complete the Torah before beginning to read Bereishit, we are also placing Torah before Bereishit.

In essence, legal systems are responses to the problems of life. So, most perceive Torah. We, indeed, analyze and understand Torah in terms of a solution to the theoretical and practical questions of existence. Yet, it is Torah that precedes existence. Torah is not the solution to existence but it is existence that is the stage for the manifestation of Torah. Torah is not re-active but it is, in fact, pro-active. And our entire vision of life changes as we look through the eyes of Torah. Our understanding of Bereishit is, indeed, affected by our knowledge of V'Zot HaBracha.

Rashi[7] explains that the last verse of the Torah is a reference to Moshe breaking the first Luchot, Tablets of the Law; an act,undertaken by Moshe on his own initiative, for which he was praised.[8] Moshe's Torah knowledge was not passive. His understanding of Torah affected his perception of the world - and forced him to call upon himself to act as was necessary. Herein, perhaps, lies the powerful significance of Moshe's act "before the eyes of all Israel". Torah affects our perception of existence and calls upon us to act in line with this perception. Our reading of Bereishit, our understanding of Bereishit, is, indeed, affected by our prior reading of V'Zot HaBracha.

Life is not really a circle. It is, in fact, a spiral that pushes us higher and higher. The Pesach that follows this year's Succot is different than the Pesach that preceded it. On one hand, it is still Pesach with all the meaning imbued within the holiday but it is a wiser Pesach for we are wiser. So it is with the study of Torah. As we study the same themes anew, it is also different. For we now study Bereishit after finishing V'Zot HaBracha; we now look at a Creation that follows Torah - and so every year, we see the world anew because of our growth in Torah.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Notes

[1]For a fuller discussion of the reasons for this custom, as presented in the sources, see Mo'adim B'Halacha, Succot, chap. 6.

[2]Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin in his famous commentary HaEmek Davar, Devarim 34:12.

[3]The Gerer Rebbe (at the turn of the century) in his famous work on the weekly parshiot and the holidays.

[4]The Sfat Emet also presents the power of Torah as another way of explaining the connection between the verses.

[5]Chapter 31. See also T.B. Shabbat 88b.

[6]The most well-known reference in this regard may be the allegorical mention of Torah pre-dating Creation by 2,000 years in the Ela Ezkara prayer of Musaf Yom Kippur.

[7]Devarim 34:12. See also Sifri, V'Zot HaBracha 41.

[8]See T.B. Shabbat 87a and Yevamot 62a.


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