The First Question

October 8, 2015 at 5:32 PM , ,

“…In the beginning, g-d created the heaven and the earth …” – beraishis 1:1

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – בראשית א, א

Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with a question: “Said Rabbi Yitzchak, ‘The Torah should not have begun from anywhere other than, “This month shall be for you…” (Shemos 12:2), the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people. Why then does it begin with “In the beginning”?’” And after answering this question, Rashi proceeds to interpret the first verse in the Torah.

The order of Rashi’s comments is puzzling. Rashi’s objective in his commentary is, in his own words, “[to teach] the simple meaning of the Scripture” (Rashi, Beraishis 3:8). Why then does he begin with a theoretical question about the Torah’s structure before addressing the difficulties in the literal meaning of the verse?

The First Question

The answer is that this unusual opening serves as an introduction to Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, and, in fact, to Torah study in general. With his opening discussion, Rashi is teaching and addressing the first question that a child, or anyone, should ask as they begin to study Torah, even before they begin analyzing the Torah’s words.

A child begins his study of the Torah expecting that in the Torah he will learn about G-d’s instructions to the Jewish people, (some of which he has already begun to observe.) Therefore, when the first thing he finds in the Torah is the story of creation, he instinctively asks, “what does this story have to do with G-d’s expectations from me? Why am I reading about creation, or any other story, instead of reading about the mitzvos that G-d commanded the Jewish people?” Therefore, the first thing that Rashi must explain is that this story too contains a message for the Jewish people; only then can he continue with his interpretation of the Torah’s words.

This explains another peculiarity in Rashi’s words. Normally, Rashi answers the difficulties in the verse without spelling out the questions. Here, however, Rashi elaborates on the question. In doing so, Rashi is emphasizing the validity of this question, teaching us the attitude with which we must approach every story and aspect of the Torah. Like the child beginning to read the story of creation, we must constantly ask, “What is this teaching in the Torah telling me about G-d’s expectations from me today?”

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 5, p. 2, fn. 6; Toras Menachem 5744, vol. 1, pp. 349-353

 

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