בראשית. The reason why G-d commenced the Torah with the letter ב, the second letter in the alphabet, instead of with letter א the first letter in the alphabet, is to draw our attention to the fact that the letter ב is surrounded from three sides, i.e. from east, west, and south, whereas the fourth side is left open, a warning that evil winds may blow from the north unimpeded by a barrier. We have a tradition dating back to Jeremiah, that disaster threatening the Jewish people has a habit of commencing from the North (Jeremiah1.14) . [This editor always found this puzzling as the meaning of the word צפון, “north,” is “hidden,” i.e. not easy of access, and here the letter ב being open in a northerly directions would appear to invite disaster. Ed.] We also find that the name of G-d when spelled אדני appears in the Torah 134 times, corresponding to the combination of the first and last letter of each of the letters in the words for “east,” i.e. 48 מזרח, “south,” דרום, i.e. 44, and “west,” i.e. מערב, i.e. 42. The “north” is not hinted at, and is left open until there is a need, i.e. to counter it with a different name of the Lord. The number 134 is equivalent to the numerical value of the word (Aramaic) קלד, “to lock up, insert a key.” When disaster faces the Jewish people, G-d’s people, the Creator will be called upon to seal the fourth side of this first letter in the Torah by using His “name” as the key. The answer to the question, why He had left it open in the first place, seeing He sealed all the other directions to prevent attacks upon His people, is in order to present a challenge to the blasphemers when the time of the redemption comes to close this side if they are able to. If you will count each letter of the alphabet and add it up according to their values as numbers, i.e. 2= ב+ 1=א plus ג = 3, you will get a total of 1500, i.e. 500 for each of the three other directions, corresponding to the number 500, the years of travel on foot travel on foot required to cross the surface of the globe in each direction. (based on Shir hashirim rabbah6.14)
בראשית; Rashi comments on this word as follows: “Rabbi Yitzchok said that there was not really any need to commence the Torah before the beginning of chapter 12 inExodus, when G-d addressed the Jewish nation with legislation about the forthcoming Passover. He only did so in order to tell mankind that He owns the earth and therefore can allocate parts of it to those, whom He chooses, i.e. that the Israelites did not rob the Canaanites of their land, which had never been rightfully theirs. Rashi therefore considers the laws about Passover as the first commandment given to the Jewish people. If we were to counter that the seven universal laws that apply to all of mankind apply to us also, and these had been given many years before there was an Avraham, even, the answer is that what Rashi meant was the Passover legislation was the first commandment given to the Jewish people when all of them were present during that address. (Exodus 12,3) To the question that the mere idea of the Canaanites arguing that the Israelites had stolen their land, seeing that what belongs to the slave automatically belongs to his master, and Canaan (Noach’s grandson) had been demoted to being a slave by his grandfather ever since he had been cursed, so how could they have ever owned it? (compare Genesis 9,26) Canaan’s descendants had been slaves of Shem, the greatgrandfather of Avraham ever since! Rashi himself pointed this out already on Genesis 12,6. The Canaanites, as alluded to in that verse, had robbed the descendants of Shem of their heritage! We would have to answer that the Canaanites i.e. the tribes making up that kingdom, also contained kings (King of Chatzor) and others who were not descended from the original Canaan. (Compare Joshua, beginning chapter 11) The latter might even have been descended from Shem, so that the Israelites would have had a legal claim on the land they occupied as they were rightful owners. An alternate way of explaining why the Torah commenced with the word (and the story that follows) of בראשית is this. It is to inform us of the sequence in which this material universe came into existence and how once created it was allocated to the creatures inhabiting it, as Rashi explained, i.e. to prove that the Canaanites had no legal claim to dispute the Jews’ viewing it as their inheritance, ancestral heritage, by claiming that rightfully Eylam had a legal claim to it. [Eylam was Shem’s firstborn son, (Genesis 10,21, whereas Avraham was a descendant of Shem’s youngest son Arpachshad, basing themselves on what is written in Genesis 11,13 where this son is listed last, not first as in 10,21. Ed.] Yet another reason for the Torah commencing with the words: בראשית ברא אלוקים, “at the beginning G-d created, etc.;” is to state categorically that the universe in which we live did not exist eternally, or is the result of “the big bang,” but was created by a Creator. When Rashi states that G-d allocated the land of Israel to the Israelites מרצונו, “as an expression of His goodwill,” this is an implied warning that such an allocation was not absolute and irreversible for all future time, otherwise how could He take it back by exiling its people and reallocate it to someone else? Rashi also makes the point that the word ראשית, whenever it occurs in the Bible is invariably linked to the word following it. The author, supporting Rashi, cites an example from Leviticus 2,12: קרבן ראשית תקריבו אותם, “you are to present them as an initial offering.” [Rabbi Chavell, in his annotations, already pointed out that the author’s statement is not quite accurate, pointing to Deuteronomy 33,21, וירא ראשית לו. Ed.]
בראשית ברא, “first of all, before any creatures were created, G-d created heaven and earth;” Our authorcompares this to Jeremiah writing in Jeremiah 26,1: בראשית ממלכות יהויקים בן יאשיהו, “at the beginning of the rule of Yehoyakim, son of Yoshiyahu, etc.” The author mentions that Onkelos also translates these two words as: “at thebeginning He created.”'אלוקים וגו, if there is a person [Jewish believer, of course] who is baffled by the plural ending in the word for G-d in the Holy Tongue, (i.e. אלוקים, אלוקינו, אלוקי) thinking that this is utterly inappropriate in a Book teaching monotheism such as the Torah, such a person should reflect for amoment and consider that references to Divinity andaddressed to the individual are generally phrased as the Divinity mentioned being in the plural mode. [as is the custom for earthly kings, who speak of themselves in the plural mode, something known as pluralis majestatis. It would border on blasphemy if the Torah would accord G-d alesser title than the one arrogated to themselves by earthly rulers. Ed.]. Examples quoted by the author are: Exodus 3,16אלוקי אברהם יצחק ויעקב, or Genesis 42,7: דבר האיש אדוני הארץ or Exodus 22,14: אם בעליו עמו; there are many more examples of this. Do not answer me by saying that the vocalization of the word אדני when written with the kametz is sacred, whereas when not it is profane. Are you going to argue the same for the roots: בנאי ,זכאי ,שדי (fool) אשמאי and others, [that when using the vowel kametz they are transformed into sacred words? Ed.] The truth is that that the Divine name for G-d is also used in the plural mode, and no one as a result disputes that He is unique and solitary! The deeper meaning of the word elohim is “majesty, authority.” When G-d proclaimed at the beginning of the Decalogue: אנכי “I” (singular) ה' אלוקיך, “am the Lord your G-d(s)” (plural), i.e. the meaning is that whereas every other ruler or king rules over a certain narrowly defined domain, “I am the One Who rules over everything, the entire universe.” [Surely this justifies the use of the plural mode! Ed.] Not only that, earthly rulers or kings, being mortal, have to worry about who will succeed them, and in the event that a king does not have a biological heir, or has otherwise become weak and unable to carry out his functions for the benefit of his subjects, he must be replaced. None of these problems, will ever face the G-d Who introduces Himself to His people at Mount Sinai at the beginning of the Decalogue. Furthermore, from the subject’s point of view, if a subject feels oppressed by a particular king whose domain he inhabits, he has the option (unless he is in jail) to move to the domain of a different earthly king. Not so with G-d’s, the Creator’s, subjects. There is no place in the universe to which they can flee to escape His rule. On the other hand, the subjects of G-d enjoy the advantage that they never have to worry that the successor of a benign king such as He, will be autocratic and make the lives of his subjects miserable.
את השמים, “the heavens;” in an ancient version of Midrash Tanchuma B’reshit,8, Rabbi Yishmael is quoted as having asked Rabbi Akiva: (who was preoccupied with counting every apparently unnecessary word את and גם in theTorah) ‘what is the significance of the two words את in this verse,’ i.e. what do these words contribute to our understanding of the line: “G-d had created the heavens and the earth?” Rabbi Akiva replied that if the Torah had merely written: בראשית ברא אלוקים שמים והארץ, people would have thought that the terms שמים and ארץ refer to two separate divinities each of whom had created part of the universe Phrasing it as it did, the Torah ensured that we could not have made such an error and that elohim had created both the heavenly and the earthly regions of the universe. [In other words, the word את before the words השמים and הארץ makes it clear that what follows are creatures, products of G-d’s creative activity. Ed.] השמים, the prefix ה is to tell us that “the” heavens, (and “the” earth,) are phenomena with which the reader is supposed to be familiar. The fact that the plural mode is used does not mean that there are many small units which combine to make a heaven or an earth, but the plural ending is similar to the plural ending in the words: ,מים, חיים, פנים מלקחים, מעיים, רחיים, water, life, face, tongs, entrails, millstones, and many more like it. Basically, the term שמים describes something above us, whereas the term ארץ describes something below us.1,2.
השמים, the prefix ה is to tell us that “the” heavens, (and “the” earth,) are phenomena with which the reader is supposed to be familiar. The fact that the plural mode is used does not mean that there are many small units which combine to make a heaven or an earth, but the plural ending is similar to the plural ending in the words: ,מים, חיים, פנים מלקחים, מעיים, רחיים, water, life, face, tongs, entrails, millstones, and many more like it. Basically, the term שמים describes something above us, whereas the term ארץ describes something below us.1,2. ויכולו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם; “heaven and earth, and all their components had been completed.” (2,1) The Bible also writes: (Nechemyah 9,6) ,אתה עשית את השמים שמי השמי, וכל צבאם, הארץ וכל אשר עליה, הים ואת כל אשר בהם, “You have completed heaven in all its details, as well as the upper heaven and all their host, the earth and everything on it, the ocean and everything in them.” We also read in Exodus 20,11 (part of the Decalogue): כי ששת ימים עשה ה' את השמים ואת הארץ, את הים ואת כל אשר בם, “for during a sequence of six days, the Lord completed the creation of heaven and earth, as well as the ocean and all their respective inhabitants;There is no reason for you, the reader, to be amazed at the feminine mode, i.e. היתה, “she had been,” used by the Torah when describing phenomena which are masculine; we find more such examples in the Bible, one being in Judges 18,7: ויראו את העם אשר בקרבה יושבת לבטח, “they observed the people dwelling in it carefree, etc.” [We would have expected יושב instead of יושבת seeing that the subject עם is masculine. Ed.] In Samuel 1,4,17 even the Holy Ark, which is always considered masculine, is referred to in the feminine mode, when the prophet wrote: וארון האלוקים נלקחה, “and the Ark of G-d was captured;” in Numbers 11,15, Moses is quoted as saying to G-d: ואם ככה את עושה לי “and if You, feminine mode for G-d, are doing (masculine mode) thus to me,” etc.”Incidentally, the prefix ו before the word: הארץ, appears to be unnecessary, as it does on numerous occasions, a glaring example being Exodus 13,7 ולא נחם אלוקים “(and) G-d did not guide them, etc.”