In the beginning...
My mom has always said that each person consists of four parts: the emotional, the physical, the mental, and the physical, and that you need to "feed" each part in order to stay balanced. I work out regularly, I read all the time and learn a lot practicing law, I look over myself emotionally, but I have been negligent with my spiritual side. I have had a rough go of things the past two and a half years, and decided that I had reached the last straw. Though I understand that I'm not truly in control of my life (G-d is), I do have some say in the matter, and thus, decided 2009 was my year, the year where I regain control of my life and who I really am. I started studying Torah (Old Testament) with Rabbi Shea Werner this week.
Rabbi Werner and I read the first sentence of Bereshis and the commentary by Rashi. We learned that the first sentence and Parshas Bereshis is at the beginning of the Torah for several reasons. It’s not just establishing the fundamentals and starting the story at the beginning. It’s more than just an answer to why the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people (Hashem created it and can give it to, or take it away from, whomever he’d like). Rather, it’s an answer to the question of Why with a capital W. Why are we here? What are the Jewish people supposed to accomplish? How do we go about doing that?
Bereshis exemplifies the end goal of the entire Torah, to transform and elevate the physical world with the spiritual holiness of the universe through Torah and mitzvot (commandments). It is also a microcosm of the rest of the Torah and of the past, present, and future. Since Hashem created the Land of Israel (as well as the rest of the world) and gave it first to other nations, physical conquering doesn’t matter; we see it happen all the time – the physical is not what’s important. But just as Hashem wanted to give the Land first to other people, he also wanted us to go in afterwards and take it from them. The Jewish people came into possession of it (when Hashem gave it to us) when it was merely physical (though there is a specific reason why the Land of Israel in particular was given to us), and we worked hard to elevate the Land. It was an example of what the Jewish people are supposed to do, supposed to end up doing – being a conduit, taking the physical (whether or not others are controlling it), bringing holiness from the universe to it through Torah and mitzvot, and thus, elevating it and everything around us... bringing us and others closer to our Creator.
The Jewish people went into Israel where others were, took it, and cleaned and elevated it to a godly level. We are also supposed to do that with the rest of the world (it is possible to spiritually elevate something without physically taking possession of it, but Bereshis demonstrates that we can if we need to, and, in fact, are supposed to). That’s why the Land HAD to be occupied by other people first. It had to be shown to the Jewish people (as well as others) that possession and the physical is (1) dictated by Hashem; (2) trumped by the spiritual; and (3) that the Jewish people were/are supposed to proactively step in and be the cause of the change (and not feel fear or guilt about that role). Had the Jewish people already been in Israel, the lesson would have been lost. Bereshis would not have reflected, and been a microcosm for, what has to continue happening. You can’t get to the end of something without knowing what the end is, and you cannot do a job if you are not informed as to how to do it. Bereshis demonstrates exactly what the end is supposed to be, and how the Jewish people are supposed to do it.