Bereshis bara Elohim – In the beginning of G-d’s creating (Bereshis/Genesis 1:1) or Hachodesh hazeh lachem – This month will be for you (Shemos/Exodus 12:2). Which is the more proper beginning for the Torah?
This coming Shabbos we read Parshas Bereshis, which relates the story of creation, how Adam and Chava (Eve) sinned and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, the conflict between Cain and Abel, and the ten generations between Adam and Noah.
Previously, we discussed the core idea that Torah is not a history book. Rather it is Toras Chaim, an instruction book on how G-d wants us to live our lives. This being the case, why does it start with a lengthy narrative about the creation of the world? Surely Our Creator knew this story would become the basis of a bitter argument among His children as to whether it is to be taken literally or allegorically. The three mitzvahs in it could have been put somewhere else and the Torah could have begun with Shemos/Exodus 12:2, which includes several foundational Jewish beliefs.
No less a personage than Rashi asks this question in his first comment on the Torah. The Maharal of Prague notes Rashi is not questioning Bereshis’s inclusion in Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) as a statement of principles of faith and lessons in history, rather he challenges its inclusion in the Torah, the source of mitzvahs. Surprisingly Rashi answers that Bereshis provides proof of the Jewish People’s title to the Land of Israel. And as the Maharal points out, since the mitzvas and the land are interdependent, it is crucial to establish this claim.
Yet, we are still left with a fundamental question: was the world created in six 24-hour days or over billions of years? We see here another first principle of Judaism: the question is more important than the answer. Within this aspect of Bereshis, we find the genesis of one of the most crucial elements for establishing our relationship with G-d. Faith. No matter the time period of creation, we are challenged to have faith in the eternality and omnipotence of the Master of the World. After all, He could have created the universe in six days or six billion years, the difference is indistinguishable to Him.
Question: Which do you find a bigger challenge to your faith: scripture or science? Please leave a comment below.