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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 1:26 image

[He is called …] one who loves the Omnipresent G-d, one who loves mankind.  Pirkei Avot VI:1  This is the ultimate reward that the Torah student seeks, and achieves: that from him too should emanate some of the Divine aura which is the Almighty’s presence.  So does he love mankind and receive its love in return; for his very being, his life and ways reveal the nature and immanence of the Heavenly Father.  He is a living channel for the sh’chinah, indeed beloved by all, as R. Isaac of Toledo comments, “because everyone learns from him every good thing, and no harm comes to anyone from him.”  For the very Torah he studies will teach him to “love our neighbor as yourself,” since all humans are created “in the image of G-d.” [this verse]. Since his study is lish’mah, for its own sake, he has no reason to hoard or withhold his knowledge; seeing others going blindly astray, he will gladly share his knowledge with them out of love, if they will listen.  SINAI3 269

GENESIS — 1:26 us

In Jewish tradition, man is a microcosm, a world in miniature. Think, if you will, of a military general planning a campaign. Before him lies a small-scale representation of the field or theatre of battle, and on it he places and moves little objects.  Is he amusing himself with some innocent child’s game? -- hardly.  The little objects represent soldiers and equipment; the little movements that he makes with them will be translated into large-scale action.  And as a result, men will live or die, emerge whole or injured; battles—perhaps an entire war—will be won or lost.  Even so, Jewish tradition indicates, is man the micrososm in relation to the world without.  All that goes on within him is translated into far-reaching effects; his influence radiates into the far reaches of the macrocosm.  In Jerusalem stood the Sanctuary, the Holy Temple. When the people grew thoroughly wicked and would pay no heed to the prophets of the Almighty, the Temple was destroyed, the people were expelled, the entire land became desolate.  Similarly, man is the temple of creation so to speak, and the human heart is the holy of holies.  If we entertain thoughts that are immoral or emotions that are unworthy, it is as if we had defiled the holy of Holies itself.  To do this is to call down destruction upon the entire world.  For man is the sole connecting link between heaven and earth, bearing within him the essence of all life on earth and all the spirituality in heaven.  Indeed, when the Almighty said, “Let us make man in our image,” one Safe explains that He addressed the creations of heaven and earth: [this verse] as it were, He invited them to join in making man.  Thus only the human is both spirit and matter, a mind functioning in and through a physical organism.  He alone can bridge the division between spirit and substance that cuts the world in two.  Only man can bring sanctity into the world of brute matter, can infuse the light of spirituality into an animalistic realm, by translating into action the Divine guidance of Torah. As the Almighty’s ambassador on earth, if he fails in his mission, he fails the King.  SINAI3 8

GENESIS — 1:31 very

By ten pronouncements … Pirkei Avot V:1 Fashioned with care and supervision, this world is surely valuable and precious to its maker.  Then malicious indeed are the wicked who, with the heedless cruelty of the short-sighted, in any way destroy it.  As the Psalmist hymns, “let the Lord rejoice in His works”” Psalms 104:31.  At creation’s end, we read, “G-d saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.” [this verse]. He had joy and He seeks joy in His splendid creation.  When the righteous fulfill His purposes, they uphold the world and justify its existence: the Almighty can truly “rejoice in His works.” How great must be their reward.  SINAI3 5

GENESIS — 2:3 do

Tongs made with tongs.  Pirkei Avot, V, 8.  Tongs are like scissors; but instead of cutting, they are used to grasp and hold things. To make a pair is not too difficult. You can grasp a piece of metal and hold it over the fire until it becomes pliable; then you can work and hammer it into proper shape. But you would need something to hold the metal to the fire to soften it. You could not use your bare hands. In fact, you would need an existing pair of tongs. But then, the canny thinker will ask with a sly smile, “How was the very first pair made, when none existed yet to let a man hold metal to the flame?” As with the problem of the chicken and egg (which came first?) we find the solution in the Almighty’s six days of creation.  Herein lies a cogent thought about man’s capacities and limitations.  The human has not only a right but an obligation to master and use his world creatively, to invent, refine, transform. Scripture states: “the Almighty blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because in it He rested from all his work which He had created to act” [this verse] – i.e., for man to act. He must continue the work of creation, to bring it ever closer to perfection. Thus each generation has an obligation to improve the world it finds.  We read, “One generation to another shall praise (y’shabach) they works. [Psalms 145:5]  In Rabbinic usage, though, the verb could also mean to improve, to make better. Then the passage can be rendered, “Generation after generation shall improve Thy works.”  Certainly Western man in the last century or two has been doing so with accelerating speed. Electricity, the entire range of products created by technology, atomic power, were not known to previous generations.  In the physical, material realm man hastens to improve things. But by contrast there is the quiet reflection that man for all his inventiveness can only work with what is given, with reality as he finds it.  Man cannot account for the origin or beginnings of things.  Where did the first atom or electron come from? Why is there something rather than nothing?  To render a Biblical verse periphrastically, “The beginning is the wisdom which is reverence of the Lord” Psalms 111:10 Seek the “beginnings” of things, basic origins, and you will find the wisdom of reverence for the Almighty.  SINAI3 96

GENESIS — 6:6 sorry

He brings joy to the Omnipresent G-d, and joy to mankind. Pirkei Avot VI:1 The Almighty’s is a beautiful and useful world, where humanity can benefit. But only the Torah brings harmony with His world and His plans.  When man veers fro the path of righteousness, he upsets the Divine plan.  How does the Almighty react? When sin once filled the world, “the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.” [this verse] The language is of course analogical, not literal; but if we live as children in the world of our Creator, the deepest truths of His relationship to humankind can be described through human imagery, as it might apply to a father an children.  Think, if you will, of a mother who spends hours over a hot stove preparing a wholesome meal for a child.  If the child spoils his appetite by eating candy, and at the table finds he cannot eat, the mother is justifiably irritated.  But if the child rather enjoys what mother has prepared, she is happy. So, when a man learns the Torah for its own sake, instills in his children a loyalty to it, until for him the Torah is a living entity, he makes the Almighty rejoice: he fulfills the purpose of creation and earns the Almighty’s store of blessings.  But not only the Creator will be happy (so to speak).  The joy will overflow to others, as he brings them a palpable awareness of the Divine Presence, and sows how true lasting joy may be found.  For the pleasures of the mind in spiritual quest and growth are the purest and most enduring.  In physical pleasures, as a rule, Shakespeare was only too right when he wrote, “Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour”; and more: “The sweets we wish for turn to loathed sours / even in the moment that we call them ours.” Richard II (1595), I, 3, 236; The rape of Lucrece (1594), line 867. Such joys do not make us really or lastingly happy; before them there is usually a hunger and after them a surfeit bordering on disgust. The pleasures of Torah bring a genuine satisfaction and a lasting happiness. SINAI3 270

GENESIS — 6:9 Noah

There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, which informs [us] how great is His patience: for all those generations continued to anger Him, until Abraham our Father came and received the reward that was due them all. Pirkei Avot V:3  This mishnah is apparently very similar to the previous one. [There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, which informs [us] how great is His patience: for all those generations continued to anger Him, until He [finally] brought upon them the waters of the Flood.]  Both tell how the Almighty waited patiently through nine evil generations for the righteous man in the tenth. Yet how differently the two instances end: Abraham received the reward of all, but there was no cosmic destruction.  For Noah no reward is mentioned; he merely saved himself and his family, as the rest of the world was destroyed. What lay behind these two instances, to make the outcomes so very different?  As the Sages discern their characters, Noah and Abraham were utterly unlike in their senses of responsibility toward the people about them. When the Divine Ruler wanted Noah to build an ark because the deluge was coming, Scripture notes that this is about all he did: he built the ark.  We find no hint that he tried to change his fellow-men or save humanity.  At G-d’s awesome decision, he uttered not a word to implore the Creator to spare his fellow-men. He simply went and built his ark.  In Scripture we read, “These are the generations of Noah: Noah …. “ [this verse] One commentary wryly notes: This was the tragedy of Noah—he gave birth only to himself.  In Yiddish we might call Noah a tzaddik in peltz, a righteous person in a fur coat. The phrase derives from a parable of a group that finds itself freezing in an icy-cold room, whereupon one decides to achieve warmth.  Now, he can either build a fire in the grate or stove, which will warm everyone; or he can wrap himself in a sturdy fur-lined overcoat, to warm him alone.  If he chooses the fur-lined coat, Yiddish folklore dubs him (and by extension, anyone who acts to take care of himself alone), a tzaddik in peltz. Noah chose the peltz: he built an ark.  Abraham, however, was concerned with his fellow-men.  SINAI3 5

GENESIS — 9:2 beast

Ferocious beasts come upon the world on account of false oaths. Pirkei Avot V:10-11 As Noah and his sons stood before the Almighty after the Flood, the world ready to begin afresh, He gave them His word: “And fear and dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth …” [this verse]. But when the Almighty speaks to the Israelites through Moses we learn that this dominion and subjugation is conditional: “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments and do them … I will banish evil beasts from the land.” Leviticus 26:3,6. If man is to be superior to the wild beast so that it keeps away from his habitations in awe, in his way of life he must be far more than an animal: only then is he truly man, and need fear no beast.  Without the Torah’s precepts to give his life human dignity, in the realization that he was created in the Divine image, man remains another species of animal.  Many a wild beast will then be superior in its prowess, and man one more species available for prey.  The touchstone of Torah is truth. It requires us to acknowledge the Creator as the ultimate verity; it bids us worship Him in utter honesty.  In a life spent in His presence, lying has no place; especially is a false oath an effrontery to Him, when His name is used to make it seem valid. For His Name is thus profaned.  No animal ever acts “falsely” or lies. … It never desecrates the holy Name by betraying its Creator and acting “out of character.” Man alone has speech and the power to choose what he will do with it – whether he will love with truth or swear falsely for small immediate gains; whether he will bring dignity to himself and Creator’s Name, or betray his own human potential and descreate the holy Name. If his choice is bad, he ends his superiority and dominion over the wild best; it becomes his superior; and “ferocious beasts come upon the world.” (The person who swears falsely sins with his mouth; the beast likewise destroys with its mouth.)  SINAI3 131-2

GENESIS — 12:5 made

When the time came to leave Haran for Canaan, we read that Abram and his wife Sarai took with them “the souls that they had made in Haran.”  And the Midrash asks eloquently, “If all who came into he world would gather to create even a single gnat, they could not instill life in it; yet Scripture speaks of the souls they had made!  [this verse] This rather means, then, the converts whom they brought into their faith … which teaches you that when someone brings an unbelieving outsider near [to G-d] and converts him, it is as if he created him …”  Genesis Rabbah 34:14 and other citations.  Abraham “created life”: he freed people from bonds of fear and superstition to find a sure path of faith and a confident, blessed life.  SINAI3 16

GENESIS — 12:10 famine

With ten trials was Abraham our Father proved. Pirkei Avot V:4.  “From the day that heaven and earth were created, no famine had ever come, until the days of Abraham – and then not in all countries, but only in Canaan – in order to test him, and to bring him down to Egypt; for it is stated: there was a famine in the land; so Abram when t down to Egypt.” [this verse. The verses which follow are ibid. 12:1-3, 7.]  Why was this a test? Consider: Before it tells of the famine, Scripture records what the Almighty told Abraham: “Go you out of your land … kindred … father’s house, to the land I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing … and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  Soon afterward the Patriarch heard the Almighty’s words again: “To your progeny will I give this land.” So we find Abraham solemnly promised that he would give rise to a great nation, be blessed, etc. and the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants.  Yet soon after he arrives in the promised land, famine strikes it, and he must go to Egypt to live! What sort of fulfillment of the promise was this? How would we have reacted?  Scripture records not a word of protest or complaint by Abraham.  His faith unshaken, he continued trusting the Almighty, that every promise would yet be fulfilled, no matter what he faced now. To the Jewish people, such a test is familiar.  The promises and assurances of the Torah have not come true automatically.  Blessings and riches, wealth and fortune, have not always followed observance as readily as the Torah might have led us to hope.  But as Abraham withstood the trial, so must we.  The way of the Jew is never to lose hope or relinquish trust.  If we cannot have what we like, we must learn to like what we have.  But patiently, serenely, we are ever to accept, with the faith of our Patriarch, that every promise by G-d must come true in its own time.  SINAI3 31

GENESIS — 12:13 sister

Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa said: Any person in whom the fear of sin comes before wisdom, his wisdom shall endure; but anyone in whom wisdom comes before fear of sin, his wisdom shall not endure.  Pirkei Avot III:11.  Here we have a clear, superb statement of one of Judaism’s basic insights:  Wisdom, thought is subservient to the will, which is so inextricably bound up with the motions; therefore, unless a person be first imbed with “fear of sin,” a strong moral sense, his wisdom cannot itself be influential in any fundamental way, no matter how marvelously developed it may be.  For sooner or later the mind and its wisdom become a rationalizing handmaiden, subservient to the wishes and demands of the self that wills.  When Abraham journeyed to the Land of the Philistines, as a measure of self-defense he concealed the fact that beautiful Sarah was his wife, and announced instead that she was his sister. [this verse]. Later Abimelech king of the Philistines felt hurt that Abraham should have suspected his people of being wife-snatchers, wince taking another man’s wife was forbidden, under one of the Seven Noachian Laws, as a crime punishable by death. Abraham replied, however, that “I though: there is no fear of G-d at all in this place, and they will kill me on account of my wife.” Genesis 20:11 By this he meant: Of course you have a law that no one may take another man’s wife. But where there is no “fear of G-d,” no wisdom, no abstract knowledge of the law is enough to overcome the evil inclination. You would probably find some way of disposing of me, and then there is no law to prevent you from marrying Abraham’s attractive widow!  Where “fear of sin” does not come before wisdom, to form a basis and background for it wisdom cannot endure. Consider the man who swears that he will never touch a single dollar that belongs to the next fellow. Under his breath he may well add, “Try to convince me that this dollar really belongs to the next fellow.”  SINAI3 273-4

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