SALT - Friday, 23 Tishrei 5778 - October 13, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Commenting to the opening verse of the Torah, which tells of God’s creation of the world, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba, 1) writes, “The Almighty would look into the Torah and create the world.”  The Midrash interprets on this basis the first words of the Torah – “Bereishit bara Elokim” (literally, “In the beginning, God created”).  Noting that the word “reishit” (“first”) is used elsewhere in reference to the Torah (“Hashem kanani reishit darko” – Mishlei 8:22), the Midrash understands this phrase to mean, “God created [heaven and earth] with the Torah.”
            Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, explains the Midrash’s comment as intended to dispel the notion that Torah observance is incompatible with ordinary life here in this world.  Some people might think that the Torah’s laws are so restrictive and overbearing that they prevent us from living normal, productive and fulfilling lives.  Indeed, as Rav Ginsburg cites, the Midrash later (Bereishit Rabba 16:4) tells that during the period of Greek oppression, the Greeks ordered the Jews to inscribe on the horns of their oxen, “We have no share in the God of Israel.”  The meaning of this decree, Rav Ginsburg writes, is that the Greeks waged war against Judaism because they perceived it as a force that undermines worldly progress.  They set out to abolish Torah observance because they thought it could not accommodate normal pursuits such as agriculture, an industry symbolized by the ox.  And so they ordered the Jews to proclaim that if they owned oxen, if they worked in agriculture, then by definition, they had no share in Jewish belief or practice.
            To dispel this misconception, Chazal teach us that to the contrary, God created the world with the Torah in mind, with the objective that it would be studied and applied in normal living.  The Torah does not undermine ordinary worldly living, but rather seeks to enhance it.  It directs us to work towards developing the world within the framework of avodat Hashem, as opposed to directing us away from developing the world.  Chazal here impress upon us that Torah lifestyle is fully compatible with worldly pursuits, and the two should never be seen as mutually exclusive.