(HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Why Did the Torah Relate the Creation Story Even Though Without it We Would Have Known That Hashem Created the World? And the Importance of Supporting Halachic Decisions With True Torah Sources
The first Rashi on the Torah writes: “Rebbi Yitzchak said: The Torah should have really commenced with the passuk ‘This month shall be the head month to you’ [Shemot 12:2], since it is the first mitzvah that Am Yisrael were commanded, so what is the reason that the Torah commenced with ‘Bereishit’ together with the whole Creation story? The answer is because ‘The power of His acts He told to His people in order to give them the estate of nations’ (Tehillim 111:6). HaKadosh Baruch Hu is conveying a message how He Created the world in order to [justify] giving to Am Yisrael Eretz Yisrael as an inheritance. For if the nations of the world were to accuse the Bnei Yisrael, ‘You are thieves! For you conquered the land of the Seven Nations!’ Am Yisrael will retort, ‘All of the world is HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s, He Created it and He gave it to who He saw fit, He willingly gave it to the Seven Nations, and He willingly took the land and gave it to us!’”
Indeed in our times too, there are people who are exceedingly far from the Torah, and so the foundation of their security in justifying their “conquering” of Eretz Yisrael from the Arabs, is in doubt for them. As such they join the worst of Am Yisrael’s enemies and bring the foulest form of aggravation against Am Yisrael.
A person should know that if not for belief in our holy Torah, Am Yisrael would have no right to conquer foreign lands and to rule over Eretz Yisrael. And so it is the nature of things. When Am Yisrael fulfil Hashem’s wish, they merit Eretz Yisrael, and sometimes even when Am Yisrael aren’t worthy they merit it through Hashem’s sheer kindness, as happened when the State was established, for the spiritual state wasn’t all that good, nevertheless, we merited to see with our own eyes the “ingathering of exiles” and many dwelling in peace in their land, something which hadn’t occurred for thousands of years.
However, when Am Yisrael take advantage pushing the boundaries and G-d-for-bid sin, transgressing the Torah’s mitzvot. Especially if they behave like “the way of the Egyptians” [see Vayikra 18:3] regarding the sanctity of the nuclear family, then the merit of Eretz Yisrael is pulled from under them, and in turn Yishmael begin to claim the land. Indeed there is a uniqueness to Bnei Yishmael that they fulfil the mitzvah of milah (circumcision) and that they are descended from Avraham, and therefore they have an additional merit over other nations to lay claim to merit the land. And so Heaven ensures that they [above all others] live there claiming a desire to conquer the land from Am Yisrael. And so it will [always] be, until Hashem will merit us and we will see Am Yisrael making a complete teshuvah, “…they shall recognise and fathom that to you every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear [allegiance]”, and then we will merit to be in the land forever. This is the Holy Land which is more fitting than any other place to serve Hashem Yitbarach and everything will be tranquil and at ease. And all the nations will admit and sate, “Hashem, the G-d of Am Yisrael is King and His Kingship Rules over everything”.
The gaon and tzaddik Rebbi Yaakov Galinski zt”l (1920-2014) asked concerning what Rebbi Yitzchak said that the Torah should have commenced with “This month shall be the head month to you” and yet despite this the Torah begins with the Creation-story, that it appears difficult to understand, for if the Torah hadn’t begun with the Creation-story wouldn’t we have anyway known that Hashem Created the world? And without these pessukim wouldn’t we been able to retort to the nations that “Hashem Created the world and through His will He gave us the land?!”
In order to answer this question he related what he heard from the gaon and world-renowned tzaddik Rebbi Eliyahu Lopian zt”l (1876-1970, [and affectionately known as Reb Elya]) who asked a different question.
Re Elya asked regarding that which we learnt in the Mishnah Berachot (and we say this in the Haggadah shel Pesach too). “Rebbi Elazar ben Azariyah said, behold I am like a man of 70 years old, and I did not merit to recite the Exodus of Egypt at night-time until Ben Zoma expounded the passuk (Devarim 16:3), ‘You will then remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life’, ‘the days of your life’ refers to the days, ‘all the days of your life’ includes the nights.” (The intention is that at night during Kriyat Shema we recite the third paragraph, “Vayomer” which concludes with “…who brought you out of Egypt etc.”) The chachamim explained that when he said “behold I am like a man of 70 years old”, that in reality he was a mere 18 years old, but he looked 70, why? Because they wanted to appoint him as the Nasi over Israel, Rebbi Elazar consulted his wife, and she said to him that the tzibbur won’t treat him appropriately because his beard is black. A miracle happened to him and his beard appeared older.
Reb Elya asked, what is the correlation between the story and the halachah? Is the Mishnah coming to relate stories? It should have simply stated: Rebbi Elazar ben Azariyah said, we mention the Exodus from Egypt at night because this is how Ben Zoma expounded…”. Why is the preamble required?
In order to explain this Rebbi Elya related a true story:
The gaon Rebbi Yisrael Salanter zt”l (1809-1883) went to great efforts to ensure that one of his students attained a rabbinical position. He went to speak with people, persuaded and implored. The pupil said to him, “Rebbi, why does his honour go to so much effort? If the rabbinic position is intended for me by Heaven, then I will certainly merit it, and if not, then no amount of effort will suffice!”
Rebbi Yisrael responded to him, “And do you think that you are destined from Heaven to a rabbinical position? Do you have any idea what is required from a Rav? You must be proficient in the Shulchan Aruch! Knowing how to rule in areas of practical halachah! Be bright enough to extrapolate matters, one from the other, and more and more qualities!” “If so,” continued Rav Yisrael, “You aren’t suitable to a rabbinical position!” The pupil’s face sullied and he asked, “If so, why then is the Rav going to so much effort to get me a rabbinical position which isn’t appropriate for me?” Rav Yisrael answered, “Because if you won’t be appointed, then someone else will be appointed who is less suitable than you!”
Here the story ends. And with this Reb Elya answered his question on the Mishnah. Rebbi Elazar ben Azariyah was suitable to be the Nasi of Israel, but his wife was concerned that others may disrespect him due to his young age. So a miracle happened to him and the hairs of his beard whitened! And with this he received his “letter of appointment” from Heaven, that indeed he is fit to be a Nasi of Israel!
Rebbi Elazar arose and gave an address. In his opinion, a person must mention the Exodus from Egypt also at night! Yet they weren’t impressed by his words! Despite all the honour that Heaven bestowed upon him confirming his appointment as Nasi of Israel, if there is no halachic source for his ruling they would not listen to his voice!
“Until Ben Zoma expounded the passuk, meaning until Ben Zoma brought a proof from a passuk to these words, and only then did they agree with Rebbi Elazar. Who was Ben Zoma? This was Shimon ben Zoma who as was amongst the great chachamim of Yisrael. Because he was so young, he never attained a formal semichah! Therefore they called him by his name with no additional title “Rebbi”! Nevertheless, when he spoke with reason, they all agreed to his words!
This is the same answer to our question:
For sure, even if the Torah hadn’t commenced with “This month shall be the head month to you”, we would have known that Hashem Created the world, but a person isn’t obligated to accept every answer! But now that we have explicit pessukim, the debate is settled!
True Chachmei Yisrael, the great posekim would always be submissive to the pure sources generated by the wells of the Torah. They didn’t make things up and they didn’t simply rely on their own logic. There is a process of determining piskei halachah (halachic decision), there is a way to come to conclusions in the spirit of the Torah. When things are correct they have solid sources and they may be relied upon. But when there is no appropriate source, one may not rely upon them. And even when they come from great people of the world, the chachmei Yisrael don’t agree with them until they discover a correct source.