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With gratitude to Hashem, we now begin the 26th cycle of Hamaayan / The Torah Spring. Thank you to our readers for your continued support.

In this week’ parashah, we read of the creation of the world. R’ Shlomo ibn Gabirol z”l (Spain; approx. 1021-1058) writes: “The wisdom of wise men causes them to pay attention to the kindness of the Creator.” (Others translate, “The wisdom of wise men leads them to pay the debt that they owe to the Creator.”) “In turn,” R’ ibn Gabirol continues, “this causes man to serve G-d as long as he lives, and to leave a good name behind him when he dies.” (Mivchar Ha’peninim 1:1)

R’ Shimon Medar shlita (Israel) elaborates: The nature of a wise man is to be looking at all times for ways to improve himself. On the other hand, a person who is not alert to ways to improve himself cannot be called wise. As well, wise men want to fulfill their obligations. Therefore, they pay attention to the deeds of the Creator, His wonders, and His kindness, and this causes His praises to become greater in their eyes every single day. Then a cycle begins: As these wise men praise G-d and carry out their obligations to G-d, He bestows His kindness on them, which causes His name to become even greater, and so on. This is the meaning of the verse (Tehilim 40:17), “They will rejoice and be glad with You, all who seek You; those who love Your salvation will always [repeatedly] say, ‘Hashem be magnified!’” On the other hand, there are those about whom it says (Yeshayah 5:12), “There are harp and lyre and drum and flute, and wine at their drinking parties; but they do not contemplate the deed of Hashem, and do not look at the work of His hands.” (Ohr Ha’peninim pp. 9-10)

“In the beginning, Elokim created . . .” (1:1)

Since G-d’s existence preceded Creation, why doesn’t the Torah begin with His name–“Elokim created in the beginning . . .”? R’ Shlomo Ephraim of Lunschitz z”l (1545-1619; author of the Torah commentary Kli Yakar and other works) explains: G-d’s essence is beyond our comprehension. To the extent we can know Him at all, it is only through His deeds. Therefore, only after we are told there was a Creation can we speak of Elokim. (Orach L’chaim: Drush L’Pesach, ma’amar 3)

“Elokim saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” (1:31)

The midrash Yalkut Shimoni states: “Good” refers to life. “Very [good]” refers to death. Alternatively, “Very [good]” refers to suffering.

R’ Avraham Schick z”l (Lithuania; 19th century) explains: Our Sages did not mean that death or suffering is good in and of itself. Rather, as part of “all that He had made,” i.e., as part of the big picture, they are good. This, writes R’ Shick, is the meaning of the verse (Kohelet 5:8), “Yitron eretz bakol hee” / “The value of [creation] is in the whole.” (Eshed Ha’nechalim: Tahaluchot Ha’midrash, no.10)

R’ Avraham Gedaliah z”l (Eretz Yisrael and Italy; approx. 1600-1672) writes: The midrash says that death is good because it prevents the wicked from sinning further and, in some cases, the knowledge that they will die causes them to repent. It is good for the righteous as well because it enables them to enjoy the pleasures of the World-to-Come, to which this world cannot compare.

The midrash Yalkut Shimoni continues: Adam should not have died. However, because G-d foresaw that Nevuchadnezar, king of Bavel, and Chiram, king of Tyre, would deify themselves, He decreed death on the human race. This, says the midrash, is the meaning of the verse (Yechezkel 28:12-13), “Take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre; say of him, ‘. . . You were in Eden, the garden of G-d’.” Was Chiram ever in Gan Eden? Rather, because of you, Chiram, the one who had been in Gan Eden died. [Until here from the midrash]

R’ Avraham Gedaliah explains: Every schoolchild knows that Adam was punished for his own sin, i.e., eating from the Tree of Knowledge, not for what his descendants would do in the future. Nevertheless, we know that G-d is merciful, and it could be argued that the sin of eating the forbidden fruit does not warrant the death penalty, just as eating non- kosher food does not carry a death penalty. Therefore, the midrash provides an alternative explanation for the existence of death.

Perhaps one will ask: Let Adam live and let those of his descendants who need to die do so! No, answers R’ Avraham Gedaliah. Hashem prefers to act in ways that appear to be natural. Therefore, He decreed death on the whole human race. (Brit Avraham)

“He created them male and female. He blessed them and called their name ‘Adam’ on the day they were created.” (5:2)

R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (the Maharal of Prague; died 1609) writes: Mankind is called “Adam” because it was created from the adamah /earth. But, asks Maharal, so were all other living things; why are they not called “Adam”?

He explains: Mankind shares with the earth the ability to turn potential into reality. Just as a seed that is planted in the earth develops into a fruitful plant, so too mankind is full of potential that can be brought to fruition. Animals, on the other hand, do not have this ability; rather, they are born complete. Indeed, the word “beheimah” / “animal” can be re-vocalized “bah mah” / “in it is whatever [it will possess].” (Drush Al Ha’Torah)

The Midrash Rabbah relates: Hashem asked the first man, “What is an appropriate name for you?”

Man replied, “I should be called ‘Adam’ because I was created from adamah.”

This requires explanation, comments R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l (Yerushalayim; 1910-1995). Usually, things are named after some defining characteristic. For example, the terms airplane and calculator define what those things do. We do not call them a “metal” or a “plastic” after the materials they are made from!

He answers: The first man knew that his race would have a tendency to be haughty. That is why he wanted a name that would always remind him of his humble origin–the earth. (Quoted in Minchat Avot p.72)

“All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.” (5:5)

Our Sages say that Adam repented. Yet, it seems that Hashem did not accept his repentance. Rather, the decree that eating from the Tree of Knowledge would lead to his death was carried out eventually. Why?

R’ Aryeh Leib Hakohen Heller z”l (1745-1812; rabbi of Stry, Galicia; author of the Ketzot Ha’choshen and other works) explains: The Arizal teaches that when a person sins, the Divine spirit within him departs and returns to G-d. Then, when the person repents, he draws that Divine spirit back to himself. This is why a ba’al teshuvah is equated by our Sages to a newborn child.

It follows, therefore, that Adam could never regain the level that he had before his sin. Before his sin, Adam was the handiwork of G-d’s Hands; as such, he could live forever. After his teshuvah, he was a self- made man; as a creation of man, so-to-speak, he had to be mortal.

R’ Heller continues: This explains why we pray (based on Eichah 5:21), “Bring us back to You, Hashem, and [then] we shall return, renew our days as of old.” We ask that our return to Hashem not be the result of our initiative, but rather that Hashem should initiate it. Only then will it be possible to “renew our days as of old,” i.e., to return us to the level of Adam before the sin. (Shev Shematita, Introduction 4)

Letters from Our Sages

The following letter was written by R’ Yaakov Moshe Charlap z”l (1882-1951), rabbi of the Sha’arei Chessed neighborhood of Yerushalayim and later rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Ha’Rav, to his student R’ Moshe Leib Shachor z”l (1894-1964). It is printed in Yishlach Mi’marom (Letters of R’ Y.M. Charlap), p.78.

21st day of Sefirah, 6 Iyar, Tuesday of Acharei Mot 5675 [1915].

I was happy for the regards from you which I received through your father, the sage, may G-d protect him, who was present at the bar mitzvah of my son Zevulun. Thank G-d [the bar mitzvah] was celebrated in glorious fashion due to the presence of talmidei chachamim–R’ Yitzchak Yerucham Diskin (shlita) [z”l], R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (shlita) [z”l], your uncle, R’ D. Epstein [z”l], and your father [R’ Ze’ev Shachor z”l]. . . . May Hashem permit that we all merit to be bnei mitzvah and bnei Torah, and to receive pleasure from the light of the Blessed One.

This past Sunday, I was given the honor to deliver a eulogy for the gaon / sage of the generation, R’ David Friedman z”l [rabbi of Karlin, Russia] in the Bet Yaakov shul in the Churvah of Rabbi Yehuda Ha’chassid. Thank G-d, He gave me a tongue for teaching [paraphrasing Yeshayah 50:4], enabling me to express lofty thoughts in words. In the eulogy, I explained the purpose of creation, in particular of life in this world, the need to mourn for a tzaddik, and the pleasure one can derive from life in this world.

Specifically, [I explained that] being a complete person means yearning and having aspirations. Being complete is not measured by what one achieves, but rather by what one aspires and desires to achieve. In this world, which is so distant from the place of ultimate pleasure, it is easier to yearn. And, the stronger the yearning is, the more complete the person is. . . .

Your friend, your soul-mate, who longs to see the light of your face, Yaakov Moshe.