Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Parshat Bereishit

The navi Yeshayahu opens his book excoriating the nation for their sins and their abandonment of God (the selection we read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av), and yet is best known for the magnificent prophecies of comfort and consolation that describe the era that would follow the punishments Israel would suffer. This week’s haftarah, taken from the 42nd perek of Sefer Yeshayahu, is such a prophecy. This chapter follows one that predicts the end of the Babylonian exile with the arrival of a savior “from the North,” (understood by Abarbanel and others to refer to King Cyrus of Persia). Although the exile had not yet come, the navi offers these prophecies of comfort so that future generations, upon seeing the fruition of the nevuah regarding Cyrus, would remain hopeful that the prophecies about the Messianic era would come to pass as well.

The connection of this selection to our parsha of Bereishit seems rather obvious. The opening words of this selection describe God as the “Boreh hashamayim v’note’eihem, One who creates the heavens and Who stretches them above,” which parallels the opening of the parsha itself, “Bereishit bara Elokim et hashamayim… In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens….”

HaRav Yehuda Shaviv shares a powerful insight by contrasting the words “bara” used in the Torah with “boreh” used in the haftarah. When describing the Creation, the Torah uses the past tense, referring to Hashem as He who created the heaven and earth, while the prophet, underscoring God’s ability to bring this glorious future, uses the present tense, describing God as He who creates heaven. This subtle difference must not be ignored.

Great minds of the 18th and 19th centuries, including many of the founding fathers of the United States, accepted the Deistic view that God was indeed the Creator but, following creation, had left the world in the hands of man who now would determine the fate of that very world. It was a belief that removed God from any involvement in the running of the world or concern for its fate. Jewish thought never accepted this. Each day we declare: “Hamechadesh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid, ma’aseh bereishit, One who, day by day, continually renews the work of creation.” This firm truth, that Hashem is concerned with and involved in the workings of the universe, is an essential belief of our nation and underlies all of our prayers and petitions to the Almighty.

The countless generations who witnessed and experienced the years of suffering and punishment gained hope and courage in the knowledge that Hashem can, and would, fulfill the promises He made to us through our nevi’im. They knew what we have seen: God created and God creates.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.