Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Parshat Bereishit

As we begin the Torah reading cycle once more, we also start a new haftarah cycle. “New,” because, for the last three months (since Parshat Pinchas), each haftarah (with the exception of parashat Ha’azinu) reflected the historical significance of that specific time of year. These were haftarot warning of the approaching Churban, or haftarot consoling Israel after the Churban, with prophecies promising our return to the land and describing the glorious future that awaits us. Now, however, we return to haftarot that remind us of events found in the Torah reading or concepts that are expressed in the Parshat Hashavua.

For this week’s parsha of Bereishit, the parsha of the creation, Chazal saw it fit to read from Sefer Yishayahu, in the 42nd and 43rd perakim, whose opening pasuk quotes the words of Hashem and describe Him as “Boreh hashamayim….roka ha’aretz…”—“Who creates the heavens and….Who stretches out the earth.” Obviously, these words echo the initial verse of our parsha, “Bereishit bara Elokim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz”—“In the beginning of Hashem’s creating of the heavens and the earth.” Yet, as we have seen so often in these past essays, there are, inevitably, more than one connection to the parsha that would explain why our rabbis established that specific section of Nevi’im to be read on a specific Torah portion. And that is true in this case as well.


Rav Yissachar Yaakovson enlightens us by pointing out how the essential verbs used throughout the Torah’s story of creation, “yatzar,” “bara” and “ ‘asa” are used by the navi Yishayahu to describe God’s relationship with Israel. “…ko amar Hashem BORA’acha Yaakov v’YOTZERcha Yisra’el.” The navi tells the people that God is their creator—that is, the creator of Israel, of Jacob—the Creator of the nation. And just as Hashem created Adam and sent him out of Gan Eden into “galut” when he sinned, so too, explains Rav Yehuda Shaviv, Yishayahu warns Israel, also a creation of God, that they too will be removed from their “Gan Eden,” i.e., Eretz Yisrael, if they continue to sin.

But the parallels do not end there. The parsha of Bereishit does not focus solely on the creation. It also tells the story of the first ten generations, closing with the births of Noach and, subsequently, his three sons. The Torah then goes on to detail the corruption of the succeeding generations until, as the parsha ends, we read of God bemoaning the creation of Man and His decision to destroy mankind. But what was this “corruption” that the Torah describes? The Rambam writes that the generations “replaced” Hashem with His creations and began to worship nature. This was the idolatry of the time. And it was also the idolatry that Yishayahu condemns in this haftarah.

The criticism of those who bow to graven images and claim that the molten idols are their god is precisely the reason why the navi opens his prophecy by describing Hashem as the Creator of all things. Those who worship “things” as divine beings ignore the fact that all the materials used to fashion these “gods” were created by the One Power. Those who understand that God is the source of all things, the Creator of all, will not be swayed by man-made objects; those who don’t understand that will worship “things.”

The early chapters of the Torah set down the basis of all belief. Hashem is the Creator, without Whom nothing could exist. Our haftarah teaches that lesson to the generations that forgot it. It speaks to them.

And it speaks to us as well.

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