Thursday, October 27, 2016

Think Jewish Parshat Bereishit

Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Binyamin Kahane- Parshat Bereishit

The Midrash declares that the Torah preceded the creation of the world by 2,000 years (Bereishit Rabba 8:2). This same Midrash also compares the world's creation to the building of a palace and states: Just as a king of flesh and blood consults with an architect before constructing a palace, G-d looked at the Torah and created the world (ibid. 1:1).
What is the Midrash trying to teach us? What does it mean by its strange statement that the Torah existed before Creation?

To answer these questions, we must remember a fundamental principle of Judaism- one which we are liable to forget immersed as we are in the mundane physical matters of this world. This principle asserts that all the ritual mitzvot were given to us by G-d as symbolic expressions of particular ideas. If we distort the ideas, the mizvot lose their significance since they no longer symbolize their essence.

Many of us have lost sight of this principle. Two thousand years of exile amongst the gentiles have transformed us from a nation into a "religion." We have become practitioners of Jewish ritual without grasping the inner concepts. We perform rituals by rote, paying little attention to the meaning of our actions and words. We have become the type of people who declare
G-d's omnipotence in synagogue and immediately afterward ask, "How can we survive if America won't give us money?" The religious world has come to believe in mitzvot rather than G-d!!!

The Rabbis in the Midrash, therefore, emphasize that the "ideas"- that is, the Torah- preceded the existence of the material world. The ideas are crucial. Without understanding the mitzvot's inner significance, they are sterile - like a body without a soul. And a Jew fulfilling the mitzvot without reflection is nothing more than a robot, a practitioner of ritual.
This message is also evident in G-d's instructions a millennia later in regards to building the Tabernacle, which is compared to a "small world." G-d first commands Bezalel to build the ark - symbol of the Torah - and only afterward does He command him to build the altar - the symbol of deed, or the mitzvot. If one does not start from the basics, from the Torah in the ark, one's sacrifices on the altar are of no significance.

It was with this premise in mind that my father, HY"D, called the school he founded "The Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea." He wanted a yeshiva devoted not only to studying "religion," so to speak - Talmud and halacha - but one that also connected the rituals to the concepts they symbolize. Thus, in addition to "regular" subjects, this yeshiva also stresses Tanach and Midrash, the sources of authentic Jewish ideas and concepts.

Not for nothing did the Rabbis set down the rule that five-year-olds should study Tanach. Before a Jew learned the rituals, he must learn to THINK LIKE A JEW. Only in that manner will the Torah he observes be authentic.
Darka Shel Torah, 1992

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