opens his commentary on the Torah with the following passage: "Said Rabbi Yitzchak: The Torah should have started [with the verse,] 'This month shall be to you...,"
the first mitzvah
commanded to the people of Israel. Why, then, does it begin with, 'In the beginning [G-d created the heavens and the earth]'?
"[The Torah begins so,] because, 'He related the power of His actions to His people, to give them the heritage of the nations.' So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, 'You are thieves, for having conquered the lands of the seven nations,' they would reply to them: 'The entire world is G-d's; He created it, and He grants it to whomever He desires. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us.'"
There is a powerful lesson to be derived here in terms of our personal spiritual service vis-a-vis our relationship to the physical world.
Eretz Yisrael is unique in that it is "a land that G-d's eyes are upon it at all times." Which is to say, Providence is more readily revealed in Eretz Yisrael -- even within the actual physical aspects of Eretz Yisrael -- than in any other land.
Moreover, as a land that merits to have "G-d's eyes upon it," it is inherently incapable -- were it not for man's freedom of choice -- of providing access to evil and unholiness, as G-d eyes are "too pure to see evil."
In terms of man's spiritual service, Eretz Yisrael is thus symbolic of and alludes to man's perfect service of Torah and mitzvos, i.e., drawing down an extremely lofty level of revealed G-dliness within this world and thereby wholly negating evil.
However, just as physical Eretz Yisrael had to be conquered from the "seven nations," so too spiritual Eretz Yisrael possesses a dimension that requires a spiritual manner of "conquest":
For in addition to the general service of Torah and mitzvos themselves -- spiritual Eretz Yisrael -- we were also commanded that "all our [personal/material] actions be for the sake of Heaven," and that we "know G-d in all our [personal/material] ways." That is to say, we are to serve G-d not only through prayer, Torah study and the performance of mitzvos, but also during all our mundane daily activities, even those that are done strictly to benefit our physical selves.
Moreover, this service is to be performed in so lofty a manner that all our physical actions are entirely nullified to and wholly united with G-dliness, so that the very physical entity is transformed to holiness; "physicality" is felt not at all.
Indeed, this is the spiritual service of the "conquest of Eretz Yisrael": Conquering material and mundane matters from the "nations" and conduct of the world as a whole and transforming them into Eretz Yisrael, so that even the physical being of the world -- that part which inherently does not contain a mitzvah -- is "conquered" and transfigured into holiness.
With regard to this level of service, however, the "nations" come with the following seemingly powerful argument:
When a person learns Torah, prays, or performs mitzvos and is not occupied in "settling the world," the "nations" may agree that the person is to then to feel nothing other than divine light and holiness. However, when occupied in mundane and natural affairs -- the "lands of the seven nations that G-d willingly gave them" -- then, they say, divine service is antithetical to performing everyday activities within the mundane world.
Consequently, they maintain, that during the mundane periods of a person's life, a Jew should conduct himself in a manner that "befits" the physical world as it exists on its own.
They therefore contend that this above mentioned conquest of physicality -- "all our actions for the sake of Heaven" and "knowing G-d in all our ways" -- constitutes thievery, for with regard to mundane matters -- the "lands of the seven nations" -- they should not be intermingled with, and surely not transformed into holiness.
However, in truth, their complaint is based on entirely false premises: The ultimate intent of all of physicality and corporeality, and the sole reason we are to occupy ourselves with them, is to imbue them and transform them to holiness, thereby creating a dwelling for G-d in this world.
Truly, all of physicality has no point or purpose in and of itself; all of it was wholly created in order to enable G-d's desire to be fulfilled, that the physical world be transformed into His dwelling. Thus the statement of Sages that the entire world and all therein was created for the two "firsts," Torah and the Jewish people, i.e., that through Torah, we, the Jewish people transform the world into veritable holiness.
Indeed, Rashi alludes to this point in quoting the verse, "He related the power of His actions ... to give them the heritage of the nations." The "power" of his actions, i.e., the inner purpose and intent of creation, is that we transform the "heritage of the nations" into "Eretz Yisrael."
It therefore follows that as a result of this divine intent, all of physicality is indeed a proper and fitting receptacle and vessel to holiness. Consequently, Jews not only have the capacity, but also the obligation, to "conquer" the "lands of the seven nations" and transform them into Eretz Yisrael.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, pp. 1-6.
After the Torah tells -- in the opening part of the portion Bereishis
-- of the creation of the world and the creation of man, it recounts the descendants and progeny of Adam's two sons, Kayin
. These two brothers couldn't have been more unalike:
Kayin, who killed his brother Hevel, is indicative of destruction and ruination. Moreover, his punishment for this crime, to wander the earth, is diametrically opposed to settling and colonizing the world.
Sheis, on the other hand, was the progenitor of mankind; after the flood, the world's population was replenished by Noach's offspring, who were descendants of Sheis.
Interestingly, both Kayin and Sheis had descendants by the name of Chanoch -- Kayin's son and one of Sheis' grandchildren. With regard to both these Chanochs the Torah ascribes qualities that were entirely opposite that of their forbears: Regarding Kayin's son Chanoch, the verse states: "And he (Kayin) built a city and named it Chanoch, after his son." With regard to Chanoch, the descendent of Sheis, the verse states: "Chanoch walked with G-d, and he was no more, because G-d had taken him."
Thus, with regard to Chanoch the son of Kayin, the Torah stresses an aspect of "construction" and permanence (the very opposite of Kayin's traits). With regard to Chanoch the descendent of Sheis, the Torah stresses an aspect of transience and short-livedness -- "he was no more" (the opposite of Sheis' traits).
Surely, all the particulars the Torah mentions in the tale of the "chronicles of man" are of import to subsequent generations; in recounting events that took place over a span of one thousand years the Torah chooses to specifically mention these details and no others. Clearly, then, this indicates that only these events and details are of import to future generations.
Accordingly, we must understand the following: It is understandable why the Torah specifically recounts that Sheis' grandchild Chanoch "walked with G-d, and he was no more, because G-d had taken him," for the Torah is recounting the generations of man. Since concerning all other individuals of these generations the verse states that they lived natural lives and then died, the Torah therefore states that this was not the case with Chanoch. Rather, "he was no more, because G-d had taken him."
However, we must understand why the Torah states, "And he built a city and named it Chanoch, after his son"; what does this fact have to do with the ongoing "chronicles of man"?
The question becomes even more acute in light of the teaching of the Zohar that the word Torah derives from the word hora'ah, or lesson. Understandably, then, there is a lesson here for future generations. What, exactly is this coming to teach us?
The verse, "Kayin knew his wife; she conceived and gave birth to Chanoch; he built a city and named it Chanoch...," is a continuation of the tale or Kayin's repentance for having killed Hevel. The Torah recounts that Kayin had then said, "My sin is too great to bear," and that as a punishment he was to become "a wanderer in the world."
Subsequently, the verse relates, "Kayin went out from before G-d." Comment our Sages, "He 'went out' in joy, as his repentance was accepted by G-d."
This, then, is what the verse teaches us by narrating the tale of the birth of Chanoch and the construction of the city named after him:
Repentance cannot simply be accomplished by confessing and becoming aware of the enormity of one's sin -- "My sin is too great to bear" -- and subjecting oneself to the punishment for the sin, becoming a wanderer. While all this is well and good, the person must also perform a positive and constructive act that is the very opposite of the sin he committed.
This is exactly what Kayin did: Having caused the cessation of life, he now brought new life into the world -- "Kayin knew his wife; she conceived and gave birth to Chanoch." Moreover, Kayin went on to colonize the world -- "he built a city."
By doing so he made known the true manner of repentance: It does not suffice to just "scream out to G-d in tears and supplications" of remorse and repentance for past misdeeds. Rather, one must effectively "rebuild" the world that exists outside him as well. This requires the penitent to adopt a positive and outgoing attitude, an attitude that is opposite the normal brokenheartedness and humility of a penitent.
We thus also understand the lesson derived from the second Chanoch, the descendent of Sheis -- "Chanoch walked with G-d ... all of Chanoch's days were... and he was no more because G-d had taken him":
The Torah teaches us that it is wrong for one to be only involved in one's own personal spiritual service, disregarding the spiritual needs of others. Such a form of service brings no benefit to the world, and ultimately results in Chanoch being taken from the world -- from which he chose to divorce himself -- before his time.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXV, pp. 7-9.
- (Back to text) Shemos 12:2.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 111:6.
- (Back to text) Devarim 11:12.
- (Back to text) Chabakok 1:13; see also commentaries ibid.
- (Back to text) Avos 2:12.
- (Back to text) Mishlei 3:6.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos X, p. 104ff.
- (Back to text) Rashi beginning of Bereishis; see also Bereishis Rabbah 14, Vayikra Rabbah 36:4.
- (Back to text) See Or Torah 72:c; Likkutei Amarim (of the Maggid) Section 94.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 4:17ff.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 4:25-26; 5:6ff.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 4:8.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 4:12ff.
- (Back to text) See Ramban 5:3; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 69 (110a).
- (Back to text) See Rashi, Bereishis 5:28.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 5:18ff.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 4:17.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 5:24.
- (Back to text) "He was taken before his time." See Rashi and Midrashim on this verse.
- (Back to text) After Bereishis 5:1.
- (Back to text) Zohar, Vol. III, p. 53b; Radak quoted in Gur Aryeh, beginning of Bereishis.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 4:13.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 4:16.
- (Back to text) See Klei Yakar ibid., 4:17.
- (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah