This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bereshit (5771)
The Bible begins by explaining, in great detail, how G-d created the world from absolute nothingness in seven days and even what He created on each day.
But the very second sentence of the Bible seems to divert from this topic: “The 'Spirit of G-d hovered over the water“. An explanatory book given by G-d to Moses called ‘The Midrash’ explains that this 'Spirit on the water' is the spirit of Moshiach. (Berashes Rabba 2:4)
But this seemingly just makes things harder to understand.
What is Moshiach? Why is he mentioned on the first day before anything was created? And what does it mean that he is above the waters? This must be very important if it is mentioned in the beginning of the Torah… but what does this have to do with the creation of the world ex nihilo? And even more important….what does it mean to us today?
To understand this here are two stories.
The Talmud in tractate Taanit (23b) relates that it so happened that almost two thousand years ago there was once a drought in Israel. Rain hadn't fallen for almost a year. The Rabbis declared fasts and public prayers but after weeks of suffering and supplication it hadn't helped; the wells were drying up, food was running out and things looked bleak.
There were no lack of holy, devoted Jews in Israel but for some reason their cries and pleas were not answered and no one could imagine where salvation would come from.
But one Jew was a bit different than the others. His name was Rabbi Yona. He was a very holy man as we will see but the Talmud tells us no more thanhe was so unobtrusive that even his wife and family had no idea of his spiritual achievements.
Rabbi Yona couldn't stand the suffering of his brothers. He waited and participated in the public fasts and prayers but when it became obvious that rain was not coming he took an empty sack and the remaining money in the house and told his wife he was going to the town to see if a could buy some grain to replenish their food supply.
His wife blessed him with good luck and he made his way toward the market.
But he never made it to the market; when he was sure he wasn't noticed he turned to the outskirts of the city then walked to a distant, desolate rocky spot far into the hills where he was certain that no one had ever been, found a place to lower himself in the cleft of some rocks, wrapped himself in his prayer shawl and began to pour his heart out to G-d.
After several minutes a cold wind blew in from the north the skies turned grey, then ominously dark as the wind blew. Soon thunder and bolts of lightning announced the end of the heavenly decree and rain began to drizzle and finally fall in torrents.
Rabbi Yona climbed out of his hiding place put his prayer shawl back in the sack and headed home.
On the way people were dancing in the streets, arms lifted in thanks, faces to heaven weeping in gratitude and soaked with blessed rain.
When he arrived home his wife too was dancing for joy at the rain. She showed him into the house, gave him a dry set of clothes and asked if he had managed to make it to the market and get some grain.
"No" he answered "Before I got to there it began to rain and I reasoned that soon there will be plenty of food for everyone at lower prices. So I came home."
No one ever knew that he saved the entire country.
The second story is about aholy Jewcalled Pinchas Ben Yair.
In a certain town was a kind-hearted Jew who, in his spare time, dug wells, cisterns and irrigation ditches for those traveling or passing through the area so water would be easily accessible and travelers would never suffer from thirst.
This Jew had a daughter who reached the age of marriage. He found a proper match for her and the date of the wedding was set.
But then tragedy struck. The girl was crossing a river on the way to make preparations for the wedding and somehow slipped, fell into the rapids and drowned.
In fact the waters were so turbulent, deep and murky that her body was never found.
When the people in the area heard the heartbreaking story they went to the man's home to comfort him but to no avail. The poor fellow was so beside himself with bitterness, grief and pain that he refused all consolation.
At that time Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair happened to pass by and see the crowd of people entering and leaving the bereaved man‘s house. He understood from the solemn looks on their faces that they were comforting a mourner and he too entered. But when he offered a few words of comfort the mourner refused him as well.
"What type of a Jew is this?" Rabbi Pinchas asked one of those who was also leaving. "Is he the first person to ever have lost a loved one? I agree that death is awful but why is he different from every other mourner? Why is he so bitter?"
"Rabbi," the reply was soon in coming "This man used to dig wells and provide everyone with water and now his daughter drowned in water!!"
Answered Rabbi Pinchas "What? Can such a thing be? No! It cannot be that he honored his Creator with water and he now suffers because of water?!"
Just moments later cries of jubilation came from the city. "The girl returned!"
Some say that she grabbed onto a pole that suddenly appeared in the water, others say that an angel with the form and face of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair saved her. (Yerushalmi D'mai 4a)
This begins to answer our questions. True G-d creates everything in the world constantly, but the world frequently hides this fact. Indeed the Hebrew words for 'world' and 'concealment' are almost identical: "HaOLOM".
That is why G-d created man.
If man purifies his motives, intellect, emotions, thought, speech and deeds like the Holy men (Tzadikim) in the above stories, he can actually reveal the truth: That G-d is really the Creator and the world is a constant miracle.
This is why the Torah begins with Moshiach.
Because Moshiach is the goal of all creation.
Moshiach will be a man who will teach ALL mankind to walk in the path of the Torah (Noahide commandments for the non-Jews) by convincing them that G-d is infinitely close, is creating them, listens to all prayers and provides all needs.
That is why the Moshiach is above the water.
The Torah is likened to water (Isaiah 54) repentance is likened to water (Lamentations 2), and pleasure is likened to water (Tanya chapt. 1).
Moshiach will teach all mankind the Torah, bring the world to repentance and fill the creation with the pleasure of serving the Creator (like water fills the ocean….see the very end of Rambam).
And, as Pinchas ben Yair did in the second story, Moshiach will eventually raise the dead, which is also likened to water (second blessing of the Amida prayer).
In fact, the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his last speech to his thousands of representatives throughout the world pointed out that Moshiach himself, like water, may come from the dead.
Just as rain begins as water on the ground, then evaporates to 'spirit' (the spirit of G-d floating on the water) and finally miraculously (as in our first story) descends to be physical once again, so too Moshiach. (Chaye Sarah 5752 end of paragraph 13).
This is the theme of the Torah; that the world is in OUR hands! One more good deed, word or even thought can purify the world around us! We must do EVERYTHING possible to bring....
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