By Rav Shmuel Brazil
The Medrash says that the Torah begins with the letter bais and not aleph because aleph is the first letter or the word arur which implies curse while the letter bais is the first letter of the word baruch which means blessing. However this interpretation seems at first very difficult to understand because we find many words that begin with the letter aleph that symbolize blessing for instance ohr which means light. Not only this but the aseres hadibros which contains the entire Torah begins with this letter aleph. According to the deeper sefarim that same aleph contains the entire Torah within? Also in contrast we find many negative words that begin with the letter bais? So what then is the meaning of our Chazal? The Maharal answers that curse by definition is lonliness while blessing is abundance that exceeds just one. Therefore the Torah began with the letter bais because it numerically equals two which is blessing – more than one which because of its limitations symbolizes curse.
I would like to share another interpretation with you. What Chazal are really hinting to here is where does one place his priorities in life? Towards which goal and achievement does he channel most of his energies and faculties? In other words what is his number one LOVE?
For Chazal were not talking specifically about the letter of aleph and bais but rather the numerical value of aleph and bais which represent primary and secondary goals. The interpretation of the Medrash is to be understood that intrinsically the aleph and bais do not symbolize beracha and kelalah per se but rather the bracha and kelalha depend upon where one places his priorities. The first sentence of the Torah deals with creation of the physical universe. The first passuk in the aseres hadibros deals with the spiritual Torah. The Chazal are teaching Man that concerning the physical world of bereishis, if it becomes his essential pursuit, his aleph in life, his major ambition and concern, then he should know that this priority will eventually cause him curses. For he will never be satisfied with mere material acquisitions because he will always want more and he will incessantly be jealous of someone else’s exceeding bounty. It’s not a coincidence that every breakfront has mirrors inside in order to form the grand illusion that he has double amount of his silver and gold ornaments. Only when one will make his physical life number 2 in his career of ruchniyus which is his raison d’etre, only then will he find that this “bais” will cause him happiness and fulfillment by realizing that this world is only a conduit to acquire the next eternal world and it is not an ends for itself.
The same interpretation is to be understood by the aleph and bais of the aseres hadibros which is Torah. If Torah is one’s aleph his number one love, even though he is unable to be engrossed in it most of the day, then this priority will bring him both spiritual and material blessing and satisfaction in life. However, if Torah becomes his secondary objective by being placed and second interest and on a lower pedestal, then he is almost guaranteed to have a life of misery and unhappiness. Show me one famous glamorous movie star who hasn’t been married more than once and is not a few times a year on a front tabloid with degrading gossip of another character defamation, affair or a near overdose of drugs all the product of a happy, fulfilled, meaningful, and stable sound life. Fame and money just does not bring the happiness we seek so much – period.
The Keli Yakar explains that these two distinct and contrasting priorities were found between the two famous brothers Kayin and Hevel. Kayin worshipped the earth and made it his priority while Hevel tended to the sheep which is symbolized in movable objects where he could experience serenity and solitude bringing him closer to Hashem. The physical earth cannot be taken with man for it remains in this world even after man passes on. Kayin chose this world as his priority and realized at the end of his days as death approached that all his toil for the physical acquisition was in vain for they must be left here on earth without him. It was to this new realization that he brought a sacrifice to Hashem, his upgrade to the spiritual. Hevel on the other hand was involved with spirituality as his primary goal symbolized in taking care of his sheep, objects which can be taken and follow man to the eternal world enabling him to bask in the spiritual bliss of his rewards.
Once again we find that a misplaced priority can have a massive degrading of a person losing his former righteous title from an Eesh Hawelokim to an Eesh Haadamah. This was true by Noach as the possuk says after the Mabbul Vayachel Noach eesh haadamah vayeeta kerem [9,20] Rashi quotes the Chazal he made himself chullin for he should have been busy first with another planting and not the vineyard. One may ask well he had to eventually plant it? True, but after seeing all the immorality that drinking wine caused because of which Hashem in His anger brought a flood and wiped out almost all of humanity, Noach should not have missed the proper priority and therefore he lost the “world” title by now becoming – eesh haadamah – chullin, from sacred to mundane Let us remember that this is after he spent an entire year in the taiva feeding all the animals birds etc all different time schedules and menus not having sleep and being bitten by the lion for one time coming late. Nevertheless it was expected from him never to lose sight and focus on what is number one priority in life “the beraishis” of his actions, and this is only that which will bring one closer to the recognition and service of Hashem.
We can sum up the mamar with the words of the Maharal in his explanation on the passuk in Haazeenu [32,4] Hashem’s ways are just, a G-d of faith with no iniquities, righteous and straight. Rashi comments He is One whom tzadikim place their faith in that He will repay them in the next world. There is no iniquity for even the wicked will be paid for their good deeds in this world. Both the Tzaddik, and rasha will claim that this judgment is righteous. The Gur Aryeh asks how can that be righteous if the reward for the mitzvas the tzadikim receive eternal bliss while the reshayim for theirs receive reward in a temporal world?
He answers the following. It all depends on what was one’s priority in life. If mitzvos was his prime goal then he will receive reward in a world which is primary and number one which is the next world of eternity. Hence the tzaddik’s avairos was temporal and secondary, it therefore is befitting to receive punishment in a temporal world for his transgressions which is of the same nature. In contrast is the reward and punishment of the wicked. The mitzvos that they fulfilled were temporal and the avairos were primary. Therefore it is befitting for them to receive the reward and punishment in the worlds parallel to the to their priorities: mitzvos in a passing world and punishment for avairos in the essential world. The place of reward and punishment is dependent upon the nature of one’s priorities of body or spirit. Therefore both the tzaddik and rasha will proclaim the righteousness of Hashem’s judgments.
From these words of the Maharal can be derived an incredible yet scary conclusion. One can be found working a whole day yet his priority one is learning and mitzvos for he can’t wait to go to the beis medrash to learn whether it be the Kolel boker or night seder. On the other hand one can be found learning a good part of the day and yet his priority, his greatest excitement and goal is making lots of money for the wrong reasons. I guess one’s priorities are not always aligned with one’s actions for actions can be deceiving.
The Torah begins with a bais and ends with a lamid – Lev – heart as the Chazal say Rachmana Liba Baee. Hashem looks into the heart and sees what are our priorities. We ourselves should take inventory once in a while to ensure that we haven’t shifted away from all our tefillos of the Yamim Noraim. After all if it could happen to Noach it could happen to us as well especially with the constnat unrelenting evil influence of our deepening galus.