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Simchat Torah – Bereishit

 

            The Gemara establishes towards the end of Masekhet Megila (31a) that on Simchat Torah we read Parashat Vezot Haberakha as the Torah reading, and for the haftara we read the section of tefilat Shelomo, the prayer offered by King Shelomo at the inauguration of the Beit Ha-mikdash (Melakhim I, chapter 8).  Already Tosefot noted that many communities observed a different practice, to read as the haftara on Simchat Torah the first chapter of Sefer Yehoshua, which is indeed the prevalent practice today.  Tosefot write that this is an improper practice, as it runs in opposition to the Gemara's explicit ruling.

 

            The Meshekh Chokhma suggests a possible justification for the widespread custom to read the first chapter of Sefer Yehoshua as the haftara for Simchat Torah, despite the Gemara's clear ruling to read tefilat Shelomo.  Earlier in Masekhet Megila (29b), the Gemara makes mention of the practice among the communities in Eretz Yisrael at the time to complete the Torah reading cycle once in three years.  As opposed to the Babylonian custom to complete the reading of the Torah annually on Simchat Torah, which, of course, has become the accepted practice, the communities of Eretz Yisrael followed a slower reading cycle whereby they completed the Torah only every three years.  The Meshekh Chokhma speculates that when the Gemara requires reading tefilat Shelomo as the haftara on Simchat Torah, it refers specifically to these communities, who did not complete the Torah on Simchat Torah.  They would, indeed, read Parashat Vezot Haberakha, the final section in the Torah, but not because they completed the Torah on this day.  Rather, this parasha speaks of God's special love for Benei Yisrael, how He selected them from all other nations to receive His Torah (see especially 33:2-3 and 33:29).  This is an appropriate theme for Simchat Torah, when, as Chazal explain, we celebrate our nation's unique relationship with the Almighty, just as a king celebrates privately with his son after all the guests take leave of the royal feast.  Tefilat Shelomo is appropriately chosen as the haftara because it, too, speaks of this theme of Am Yisrael's singular stature among the nations: "For You have set them apart from among all peoples of earth to be Your very own, as You spoke through Your servant Moshe when You freed our forefathers from Egypt" (Melakhim I 8:53).

 

            This ruling was not issued for the Babylonian communities, who complete the Torah reading cycle each year on Simchat Torah.  For followers of this practice, it is more fitting to be reminded of the Torah's eternal relevance and immutability, that it can never be altered or deemed no longer binding.  Now that we have completed the Torah, we are told that no prophet or leader will ever have the authority to modify or cast aside the laws taught by Moshe.  We therefore read God's eternally relevant admonition to Yehoshua, "This Torah scroll shall never leave your mouth; you shall engage in it day and night so that you ensure to act in accordance with everything written in it, for then shall you prosper in your undertakings and then shall you succeed" (Yehoshua 1:8).  As soon as Yehoshua assumes the mantle of leadership, he is reminded that his role is to reinforce, rather than modify or displace, the laws taught by his predecessor.  This critical message is an appropriate one to learn upon concluding the annual cycle of Torah reading, and we therefore choose this section as our haftara for Simchat Torah, rather than tefilat Shelomo.

 

Isru Chag

 

            Rashi, in his commentary to the story of creation in the beginning of Parashat Bereishit, cites several Midrashic passages to the effect that the world did not emerge precisely as God had initially intended.  Firstly, after the initial creation of light, God realized that the world would be populated by wicked men undeserving of this special light, and He therefore stored it away for the righteous in the next world (Rashi to 1:3).  On the third day of creation, God planned to create trees with bark that would be as tasty as their fruits; instead, the trees grew with inedible bark (Rashi to 1:11).  The sun and the moon were initially intended to be of equal size and prominence; in response to the moon's objections, however, God significantly diminished its size (Rashi to 1:16).

 

            Like most issues related to the creation story, it is difficult to know what all this means, why God bothered to create the special light if He knew that it would have to be stored away in any event, how the trees could grow differently than planned, and how the moon could voice an objection about being equal to the sun.  But in any event, as Rav Avraham Pam noted, one very simple but important lesson emerges from these Midrashim.  The Torah tells that upon completing the process of creation, "God looked upon all that He made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31).  Despite these minor "disappointments," despite the fact that the world did not emerge precisely as He had willed, God recognized that it was "very good," even if it was not perfect.

 

            Very few people live a "perfect" life.  Most people do not have a "perfect" house, "perfect" children, or a "perfect" job.  Many people, however, are blessed with "very good" lives, with "very good" homes, children and jobs.  Just as God could look upon the imperfect creation and appreciate just how "very good" it was, so must we learn to look upon our own lives and feel content with all that is "very good," even with its imperfections.

 

            Rav Pam applied this message also to the need to express gratitude and appreciation to those who do a "very good" job, even if it is less than "perfect."  For example, rarely do we hear a "perfect" sermon, lecture or presentation, and rarely does a chazzan conduct the service "perfectly."  But if we are treated to a "very good" speech or prayer service, then we should express our gratitude and commend the speaker/cantor.  This is, of course, but one example of many instances where a "very good" but not "perfect" job is done.  God's perspective on creation should teach us to take note of a job well done, even when it is not done perfectly.

 

******

 

            Rav Chayim in Volozhin, in his Nefesh Ha-chayim (1:6), discusses the transition that took place within the nature of man after Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden.  The tree from which Adam and Chava partook is called the etz ha-da'at tov va-ra – "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (2:9,17).  This is commonly understood to mean that partaking of this tree instills within a person an evil inclination, a proclivity towards sinful conduct.  Whereas before the sin Adam was pure, free of lustful desires for sinful pleasures, after partaking from the forbidden tree he found himself drawn after physical gratification.  However, this explanation gives rise to the obvious question of how Adam was driven to partake of the forbidden fruit in the first place.  If man's evil tendency entered his being only after the sin, then how did the sin occur to begin with?

 

            Rav Chayim claimed that undoubtedly, man possessed free will to choose between good and evil even before the sin.   However, Rav Chayim writes, his ability to do evil was not part of his essence; it was not an instinctive, natural tendency as it became after his sin.  He compares Adam's free will before the sin to the free will each of us possesses to cast oneself into fire.  Of course, each person has the physical capability to do such a thing.  Clearly, however, there is no internal suicidal instinct.  Whatever might compel a person to jump into fire stems from an external force, rather than from an instinctive impulse.  Thus, although Adam certainly had the freedom to choose between good and evil even before the sin, the lure of evil was external to his being, as opposed to an internal force within him, as it is now.

 

            Still, the question remains, what was that external force that tempted Adam and led him to commit the sin?

 

            Rav Eliyahu Dessler, in his Mikhtav Mei-eliyahu (vol. 2, Parashat Bereishit), suggests that at least on one level, Adam was lured by the temptation of challenge.  He felt he could achieve far more if he would experience the inner drive to sin and then resist it.  Adam thought that religious life without an instinctive, sinful tendency is too easy, too simple, and does not reflect a deeply-ingrained sense of subservience to God.  He figured he could reach greater achievements by experiencing the sinful instinct and then working to suppress it.  Adam's tragic mistake was underestimating the force of the yetzer ha-ra to which he willfully exposed himself, or overestimating his strength to resist it.

 

            More generally, Rav Dessler adds, Adam succumbed to the yetzer ha-ra of curiosity.  Man is by nature enchanted by the unknown and the mysterious.  The "external force" of which Rav Chayim of Volozhin spoke perhaps refers to this enchantment with uncharted waters, the natural desire to behold or experience that which lies beyond one's familiar world.  Even if Adam felt no physical drive to partake of the forbidden fruit, he was likely drawn after his curiosities, the drive for "adventures" and new experiences.  This yetzer ha-ra existed within him even before his sin, and is responsible for the fall that occurred as a result of that sin.  As punishment for succumbing to his curiosities, Adam – and all mankind – was destined to live in a constant state of exposure to the instincts Adam wished to experience, and we must forever struggle with those internal drives and restrain them to obey God's law.

 

******

 

            We read in Parashat Bereishit of the name Adam gave to his wife, Chava: "Adam named his wife Chava, because she was the mother of all living beings [eim kol chai]" (3:20).  While the naming itself is fairly straightforward, its timing strikes us as perplexing, or at least ironic.  This verse appears immediately following the narrative of Adam and Chava's sin and the punishments pronounced as a result.  Of course, it was Chava who first fell prey to the snake's enticements and partook of the fruit; thereafter, she approached her husband and had him eat the fruit, as well.  In response, God decreed death upon all Adam's descendants (3:19), in addition to the other curses mankind would suffer.  How ironic it is that right when God concludes pronouncing the curses, particularly the curse of death, Adam proceeds to give his wife a name that reflects her role as eim kol chai – the mother of all living beings, who would bring life to untold numbers of descendants.

 

            The commentaries offer various approaches in explaining the timing of Adam's naming of his wife.  According to Rashi, this verse merely continues the narrative that began before the incident of Adam and Chava's sin.  Recall that Adam had assessed and named all the creatures on earth and then realized that he had no partner for himself (2:20).  In response, God created Chava, and the Torah then began the story of Adam's sin which was brought about by the snake, who desired Chava for itself and therefore sought to have Adam killed.  The Biblical narrative now returns to the original story, of Adam's naming all the creatures, which concluded with his naming his own wife.

 

            The Radak claims that Adam experienced sexual desire for the first time upon partaking of the forbidden fruit, and it was thus at this point that he understood that he would cohabit and beget children with Chava.  For this reason, he gave her the name "Chava" – which alludes to procreation – specifically now, after the sin of the forbidden tree.

 

            Seforno explains much differently, reinterpreting the word "Chava" as a reference to childrearing.  One of the punishments decreed upon Chava as a result of her sin was the hardship of raising children (see Rashi and Seforno to 3:16), and thus Adam responds to these decrees by giving his wife a name that reflects this role.

 

            Finally, Rav Eliyahu Baruch Shulman (www.yutorah.org/showShiur.cfm?shiurID=706065) cites an explanation that views this naming as reflective of Adam's general response to his wife after the calamity of their partaking of the forbidden fruit.  Chava had just brought death and doom upon all mankind, and we might have expected Adam to respond with anger and resentment.  Adam understood, however, that he and Chava must work together to build a family, and in fact to build a world.  The effects of her mistake could no longer be reversed, but they would have to be dealt with and minimized for mankind to succeed.  Adam therefore chose to focus not on his wife's failure, on the death she brought to the world, but rather on her role and destiny to bring life, to be "the mother of all living beings."

 

            Rav Shulman concludes by developing the practical lesson that emerges from this approach:

 

Whenever people live and work together, there are always going to be conflicts and frictions – in shul, at work, at home.  There are always going to be opportunities for blame and recrimination.  There are always going to be mistakes, and failures, and wrongs.  There are always going to be the old scores waiting to be settled, old hurts, old wounds waiting to be reopened, reservoirs of old and fetid resentment.  And they can poison our lives.

 

But we have a choice… We can choose our perspective.  We can choose – as Adam Ha-rishon chose – to look at the good, the admirable, the likeable, in our friends and neighbors, in our spouses, in our parents, in our children – rather than at those failings and mistakes from which no one is immune.  We can choose – as Adam chose – to focus on the promise of the future, rather than on the mistakes of the past… We can choose to focus on those things that will allow us to move forward, rather than chain ourselves to memories that corrode our lives.

 

…Let us remember that no one ever was so entitled to grievance as was Adam Ha-rishon… And yet he rose above that.  He focused not on the death that Chava had caused, but on the life that she would bring forth.  He looked at her, who had cost him eternal life, and he called her the mother of all life.  He chose the future over the past.  He chose to see the good rather than the bad.  He chose the words that would move life forward, rather than those which would hold it back.

Let us be as wise in our own lives.

 

******

 

            Parashat Bereishit tells the unfortunate story of the murder of Hevel, Adam's second son, at the hands of his older brother, Kayin.  The Torah ambiguously writes, "Kayin said to his brother Hevel – and as they were in the field, Kayin rose against his brother Hevel and slew him" (4:8).  We are not told what Kayin said to Hevel on that fateful day, and what, if any, dialogue ensued between the brothers before the crime was committed.

 

            The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 22) cites two views as to the content of this conversation, both of which seek to provide some background for the conflict between the two brothers.  According to the first view, Kayin and Hevel attempted to divide the earth between them.  They initially agreed that one would take possession of all the land, while the other would own all moveable items.  But they soon realized that the owner of the land was wearing clothing – which of course belonged to the other – while the owner of the tangible property stood on the land belonging to the other.  They began quarreling and Kayin ultimately slew his brother.

 

            This explanation, of course, sees the feud between Kayin and Hevel as foreshadowing the familiar conflicts over wealth and property that has tragically plagued mankind ever since.  In already the second generation of man, people focused their attention on what others had, rather than feeling satisfied with their own accumulated wealth, a jealousy that has bred much violence, destruction and despair over the millennia.

 

            The second view in the Midrash, however, explains much differently, claiming that Kayin and Hevel argued over the question of where the Beit Ha-mikdash should be situated.  Each demanded that the site of the future Temple be in his territory, and this dispute ended in Kayin's violent crime.

 

            How are we to understand this dispute depicted by the second view in the Midrash?  The desire to host the site of the Temple appears, at least at first glance, admirable.  It reflects a spiritual sensitivity and an appreciation for the holiness and significance of the Almighty's representative abode.  How could the Midrash associate these noble feelings of spiritual longing with a villain like Kayin?

 

            The Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit"a (www.vbm-torah.org/archive/sichot/bereishit/01-62bereish.htm), explained Kayin's attitude as an early example of the dangers of insincere religious fervor, spiritual expression that in truth evolves from egotistical motives.  Many people, unfortunately, are guilty of what the Mishna describes as using the Torah "as a spade with which to dig" (Avot 4:5), utilizing religious practice or beliefs as a means to earn fame, recognition or distinction.  Kayin desired the privilege of hosting the site of the Temple not due to a genuine longing for closeness with God, but rather for the honor and distinction it would bring him.  When a person's religiosity stems from self-aggrandizing motives, from selfishness or a lust for power and prestige, it can, indeed, lead him to criminal behavior.  The story of Kayin and Hevel thus reminds us to carefully examine our commitment to Torah and mitzvot to ensure that it results from deep-seated belief and conviction, and is not merely a means to promoting our selfish interests.

 

******

 

            Earlier this week, we cited the Radak's approach (in his commentary to 3:20) in explaining why Adam named his wife "Chava" immediately after they committed the sin of partaking of the forbidden fruit.  According to the Radak, Adam experienced sexual desire for the first time after partaking of the fruit, and it was thus at this point when he understood that he would cohabit with Chava and beget children with her.  He therefore named her "Chava," which alludes to her being eim kol chai, the "mother of all living beings."

 

            This position of the Radak, which he mentions again a bit later in his commentary (4:1), and to which Ibn Ezra also subscribes (4:1), runs in opposition to the view expressed by Chazal in a number of contexts, claiming that Adam and Chava reproduced already in Gan Eden.  Rashi, in his commentary (4:1), follows this approach and writes that although the births of Kayin and Hevel (Adam and Chava's two eldest sons) are recorded only after the narrative of the sin, they were in fact born earlier, in Gan Eden.  Likewise, earlier in his commentary (3:20), Rashi cites from the Midrash that the snake saw Adam and Chava engaging in marital relations and desired Chava, prompting it to devise its scheme to have Adam killed.  This comment, too, indicates that Adam and Chava reproduced already in Gan Eden.  The Gemara in Masekhet Yevamot (63a) also makes a clear reference to relations between Adam and Chava before the expulsion.

 

Within this position of Chazal, however, we find different views as to which of Adam and Chava's children were conceived and born in Gan Eden, and which were conceived only later, after the sin of the forbidden fruit.  (The ensuing discussion is based on a thorough essay on this topic in the work Mayim Chayim, by Rav Mordechai Frankel of Baltimore.)

 

The Gemara tells in Masekhet Sanhedrin (38b) that already on the day when Adam and Chava were created, they engaged in marital relations "and four [people] got down [from the bed]."  The difficult process of gestation and labor was decreed only later, as punishment for the sin of the forbidden fruit, and thus Adam and Chava's offspring emerged from the womb immediately after conception.  It is unclear, however, who these "four people" were who "got down" from the bed.  Two of them, of course, were Adam and Chava, but who were the two children?  Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi (4:2) explains the Gemara as referring to Kayin and Hevel, and thus in his opinion Kayin and Hevel were twins.  Tosefot, by contrast, explained that the Gemara here refers to the famous Midrashic tradition of twin sisters born together with Kayin and Hevel.  Thus, the two children born in Gan Eden were Kayin and his twin sister; Hevel and his twin sister (or sisters; there are different views as to how many girls were born with Hevel) were born later, after the expulsion from the garden.  Tosefot draws support for his position from the Torah's description of Hevel's birth: "Va-tosef la-ledet et achiv, et Havel" ("She gave birth again, to his brother, Hevel"), which suggests that Hevel was conceived and delivered separately from his brother.

 

Regardless of how one understands this Gemara, both views have origins in Midrashic literature.  Avot De-Rabbi Natan (1:8) cites two views as to whether four or seven people – meaning, two or five children – emerged from Adam and Chava's union in Gan Eden.  According to one view, Chava delivered quintuplets: Kayin, Hevel and three sisters.  This is the view taken in the Midrash Bereishit Rabba (22:2).  The other view, which claimed that only two children emerged, likely held that only Kayin and his twin sister were born in Gan Eden, while Hevel was conceived and born after the expulsion, as Tosefot contended.

 

In conclusion, then, we find three different views regarding the births of Kayin and Hevel:

 

1)         The Radak and Ibn Ezra held that Adam and Chava did not cohabit until after the sin of the forbidden fruit;

2)         According to Tosefot's understanding of the Gemara's comment in Masekhet Sanhedrin, Kayin and his twin sister were born in Gan Eden, while Hevel and his twin sister (or twin sisters) were born after the expulsion.  This is likely the position taken by the view recorded in Avot De-Rabbi Natan claiming that two children were born in Gan Eden.

3)         According to Bereishit Rabba and one view in Avot De-Rabbi Natan, Chava delivered five children in Gan Eden: Kayin, Hevel, and three girls.

 

******

 

            Yesterday, we saw two views among Chazal and the Rishonim as to which children of Adam and Chava were born in Gan Eden, and which were born later, after the expulsion.  Tosefot, interpreting a comment in Masekhet Sanhedrin (38b), claimed that Kayin and a twin sister were born in Gan Eden, while Hevel was born later.  Other sources, however, including Bereishit Rabba (22:2), indicate that Kayin and Hevel were both born in Gan Eden, together with a number of sisters.

 

            This question will affect a different comment in the Gemara, in Masekhet Eruvin (18b), which tells that Adam separated from Chava for one hundred and thirty years after the sin of the forbidden fruit.  The Torah tells later in Parashat Bereishit (5:3) that Adam begot Sheit one hundred and thirty years after his creation.  According to the Gemara in Eruvin, during the previous one hundred and thirty years he separated from his wife as a means of earning atonement for the sin of the forbidden fruit.

 

            Needless to say, this comment cannot accommodate Tosefot's view, that Hevel was born only after the sin of the forbidden fruit and the expulsion from Gan Eden.  If Adam refrained from relations for one hundred thirty years after the expulsion until the conception of Sheit, then Hevel must have been born, together with Kayin and their sisters, already in Gan Eden.

 

            Tosefot, of course, stated their view in explaining the Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin, and thus they could simply claim that the two Talmudic passages reflect different views.  (Recall that Avot De-Rabbi Natan indeed records a debate on this issue.)  The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin held that Hevel was born after the expulsion from the garden, and therefore denies the tradition cited in Masekhet Eruvin of Adam's abstinence after the expulsion.

 

            It should be noted that a number of sources cite an interesting variation of the account of Adam's abstinence.  The Midrash Tanchuma Yashan (26) writes that Adam separated from his wife for one hundred and thirty years following Kayin's murder of Hevel, and not in the wake of the sin of the forbidden tree.  In response to his son's murder, Adam felt unwilling to bring more children into the world, where their lives can be ended in such brutal fashion.   Adam thus separated from his wife not after the sin of the forbidden tree, but only later, after Hevel's death.  Rashi follows this view in his commentary to Sefer Shemuel II (7:14), and this is also the implication of Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel here in Parashat Bereishit (4:25).  According to this tradition, it is entirely possible that Hevel was conceived after the expulsion from Gan Eden, given that Adam began his period of abstinence only after Hevel's death.  Tosefot perhaps followed this view, as opposed to the position presented in Masekhet Eruvin, that Adam separated from his wife following the sin of the forbidden fruit.

 

            This view of the Tanchuma Yashan, however, gives rise to a chronological difficulty.  Kayin murdered Hevel after the two of them had grown to maturity and taken on professions, Kayin as a farmer and Hevel as a shepherd, and therefore a number of years must have passed since the creation of Adam before this crime was committed.  Now as we mentioned earlier, the Torah tells that Adam begot Sheit at the age of one hundred and thirty.  It thus seems difficult to understand how Adam could have separated from Chava for one hundred and thirty years after Hevel's murder, which occurred a good number of years after his creation, if already at the age of one hundred and thirty he begot another son.  Ve-tzarikh iyun.

 

 

 

 

 
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