Introduction to Genesis פתיחה לספר בראשית
1 א

זה הספר הנקרא ספר בראשית. נקרא בפי הנביאים ספר הישר כדאיתא במ׳ עבודת כוכבים (כ״ה ע״א) על שני מקראות בס' יהושע (י׳ י״ג) הלא היא כתובה על ספר הישר. ובס' שמואל ב׳ (א׳ י״ח) ויאמר ללמד בני יהודה קשת הנה כתובה על ספר הישר. ומפרש ר׳ יוחנן זה ספר אברהם יצחק ויעקב שנקראו ישרים שנאמר תמות נפשי מות ישרים.

This Book commonly known as The Book of Bereishis, is referred to by the Prophets as Sefer HaYashar, the Book of the Upright, as stated in Tractate Avodah Zarah 25a pertaining to the two [following] verses:
1. “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Sefer HaYashar?”1Josh. 10:13.This verse refers to the miracle, where Yehoshua ordered the sun and the moon to stand still so that the Israelites could destroy their enemies in battle before nightfall. See Avodah Zarah ad loc.: “Where [in Genesis is the miracle of the staying of the sun and moon] alluded to? [In the verse where Yaakov blesses Ephraim, Yehoshua’s ancestor:] The awe of his offspring will fill the nations (Gen. 48:19)
2. “And he said to teach the Sons of Yehuda the bow. Behold it is written in the Sefer HaYashar.”2II Sam. 1:18. In his eulogy for King Saul and his fallen sons, David states that it is written in the Sefer HaYashar that the children of Yehuda are the ones most suited for archery. Tractate Avodah Zarah ad loc continues: Where [in Genesis is Yehuda mastery of archery] alluded to? [In the verse where Yaakov blesses Judah:] Judah – you, your brothers shall acknowledge, your hand will be at the nape of your enemies (Gen. 49:8). Which form of warfare requires the hand to be raised opposite the nape? You must say that it is the method used with the archer’s bow.”
R’ Yochanan [ad loc.] explains that [Sefer HaYashar] is the book, [Bereishis, depicting the lives] of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who were called “upright” [by Bilaam ]3This was recited by Bilaam the Wicked, who was hired by Balak, King of Moab to curse the Nation of Israel. The meaning of this phrase will be explained below., as stated, “Let me die the death of the upright.” 4Num. 23:10. ….

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ויש להבין הטעם למה קרא בלעם את אבותינו בשם ישרים ביחוד ולא צדיקים או חסידים וכדומה. וגם למה מכונה זה הספר ביחוד בכנוי ישרים. ובלעם התפלל על עצמו שיהא אחריתו כמו בעלי זה הכנוי.

This requires examination. Why did Bilaam characterize our forefathers specifically with the name yashar (upright), as opposed to tzadikim, chasidim, or any other designation [depicting righteousness]? Further, why is this specific Book characterized by the title of Yashar and why would Bilaam pray for himself that his end should be as those who possess this characteristic?

3 ג

והענין דנתבאר בשירת האזינו עה״פ הצור תמים פעלו וגו' צדיק וישר הוא. דשבח ישר הוא נאמר להצדיק דין הקב״ה בחרבן בית שני שהיה דור עקש ופתלתל. ופירשנו שהיו צדיקים וחסידים ועמלי תורה. אך לא היו ישרים בהליכות עולמים. ע״כ מפני שנאת חנם שבלבם זא״ז חשדו את מי שראו שנוהג שלא כדעתם ביראת ה׳ שהוא צדוקי ואפיקורס. ובאו עי״ז לידי ש״ד בדרך הפלגה ולכל הרעות שבעולם עד שחרב הבית. וע״ז היה צדוק הדין. שהקב״ה ישר הוא ואינו סובל צדיקים כאלו אלא באופן שהולכים בדרך הישר גם בהליכות עולם ולא בעקמימות אע״ג שהוא לש״ש דזה גורם חרבן הבריאה והריסות ישוב הארץ.

[The meaning of] yashar is as described in the Song of Ha’azenu:
The Rock - perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice; a faithful God without injustice - righteous and yashar is He.5Deut. 32:4; see Ha’amek Davar ad loc.
By praising [God as] yashar, [the Torah] acknowledges the Holy One blessed be He’s judgment to be weighed against a generation [such as those who would] live during the destruction of the Second Temple, who are described as a perverse and twisted generation.6Deut. 32:5. We explained [ad loc], though they were righteous and pious, toiling in Torah study, they were not upright in their societal behavior.7The Netziv ad loc writes: “He [i.e., that generation] walks perversely, wandering from the rational path. [Similar to a twisted rope consisting of strands of various grade], so are their actions twisted, interweaving evil acts with the good, such it is difficult to differentiate the good from evil, when evil acts are committed for the sake of Heaven.” And so due to the baseless hatred for one another residing within their hearts, they suspected anyone who was not religious in accordance with their viewpoint to be a Sadducee8The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law and viewed the written Torah as the sole source of divine authority. or heretic. [This deficiency in the Torah scholars’ character] led to rampant murder9The Netziv in Meromei Sadeh, Yoma 9b notes how based on the writings of Josephus, Avodah Zarah 8b and Gittin 57a we see how murder and violence was rampant during the Second Temple. along with a transgression of all the other evils in the world, causing the Temple’s destruction. [This is how the Torah presents] the acknowledgment of God’s justice [here]: the Holy One blessed be He is yashar, being intolerant of those types of [distorted] righteous individuals. [He is only accepting] of those who act in a way that is socially yashar – unlike those who act in a perverse manner, even when their actions are performed for the sake of Heaven. As such [a deficiency] can lead to the destruction of [God’s] creation and the ruin of civilization.

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וזה היה שבח האבות שמלבד שהיו צדיקים וחסידים ואוהבי ה׳ באופן היותר אפשר. עוד היו ישרים. היינו שהתנהגו עם אוה״ע אפי׳ עובדי אלילים מכוערים. מ״מ היו עמם באהבה וחשו לטובתם באשר היא קיום הבריאה. כמו שאנו רואים כמה השתטח א״א להתפלל על סדום. אע״ג שהיה שנא אותם ואת מלכם תכלית שנאה עבור רשעתם כמבואר במאמרו למלך סדום. מ״מ חפץ בקיומם. וברבה פ׳ וירא (פמ״ט) איתא ע״ז שאמר הקב״ה לא״א אהבת צדק ותשנא רשע. אהבת להצדיק את בריותי ותשנא להרשיען ע״כ וכו'. והיינו ממש כאב המון גוים שאע״ג שאין הבן הולך במישרים מ״מ שוחר שלומו וטובו. וכן הוצק חן וד״א נפלא על דבר אברם את לוט כמו שנתבאר פ׳ לך. וכן ראינו כמה נח היה יצחק אבינו להתפייס ממשנאיו ובמעט דברי פיוס מאבימלך ומרעיו נתפייס באופן היותר ממה שבקשו ממנו כמבואר במקומו. ויעקב אבינו אחר שהיטב חרה לו על לבן שידע שביקש לעקרו לולי ה׳. מ״מ דבר עמו דברים רכים עד שאמרו ע״ז בב״ר (פע״ד) קפדותן של אבות ולא ענותנותן של בנים ע״ש. ונתפייס עמו מהר. וכן הרבה למדנו מהליכות האבות בד״א. מה ששייך לקיום העולם המיוחד לזה הספר שהוא ספר הבריאה. ומש״ה נקרא כמ״כ ספר הישר על מעשה אבות בזה הפרט. ובלעם בשעת רוה״ק לא היה יכול להתפלא על רוע מעשיו שאינו צדיק וחסיד כאברהם יצחק ויעקב אחרי שהוא נביא אוה״ע. וראשו במקור הטומאה.

This was the greatness of our forefathers. In addition to being righteous, pious, and lovers of God to the utmost degree, they were also yesharim. That means they were civil with the [other] nations of the world, despite [the latter] being detestable idol worshipers. Our forefathers nevertheless extended them love and concern for their welfare, as this fortifies [God’s] creation.
[To illustrate,] we see how our forefather Avraham exerted himself greatly in prayer for the welfare of Sodom. He desired their survival, even though he totally detested them and their king due to their evil ways (as is clear from how he spoke to the King of Sodom).10When Avraham returned from his victory over Chedorlaomer and his allied kings, the King of Sodom greeted Avraham with the request for them to split the spoils. Avraham then replied (Gen. 14:23): Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, “I have made Avram wealthy.” Avraham refused to profit from any of the spoils as he did not want to be associated with the king of Sodom in any manner (See Ha’amek Davar ad loc.). In the Midrash Rabbah on Parashas Vayerah, (Parasha 49) we find the following about this:
The Holy One Blessed Be He said to our forefather Avraham, “You love righteousness and loathe wickedness.11Ps. 45:8, You love to vindicate My creations and you loathe to convict them.”
He literally was like the father of a multitude of nations.12Gen. 17:4, 5: You shall be a father of a multitude of nations. Your name shall no longer be Avram, but Avraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. For even when one’s son is not walking in righteousness, [the father still] seeks out his wellbeing and benefit. Similarly did graciousness and the most remarkable civility abound within Avraham’s words to Lot, as will become clear in the parashah of Lech L’cha.1313As Avraham and Lot accumulated much wealth and many herdsmen they could no longer avoid contact with one another. Since Lot and his employees were of a significantly lower moral nature they instigated strife with Avraham and his herdsmen. Even so it was Avraham who extended the “olive branch” and offered Lot the first choice of where to settle: “Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left” (Gen. 13:9). See Ha’amek Davar to Gen. 13:1-9.
We also see how conciliatory our forefather Yitzchak was with his enemies, and was reconciled to a much greater extent than befitted the minimal words of appeasement submitted by Avimelech and his friends – as explained over there.14Gen. 26: 13-31. When Yitzchak became exceedingly prosperous, Avimelech and the Philistines became hostile towards Yitzchak and evicted him from their land. At a later period when Yitzchak dwelled in Gerar, Avimelech together with his general, Pikhol, and his companions, returned to Yitzchak expressing their intent to make a treaty that Yitzchok refrain from harming them. Yitzchak expanded the scope of the treaty to encompass love and peace as stated, Isaac escorted them, and they went away from him in peace (ad loc. v. 31). For an explanation of what harm Avimelech feared could result from Yitzchak, see Ha’amek Davar ad loc.
Further, even though our forefather Yaakov was justifiably furious with Lavan – as he was aware that Lavan wanted to eradicate [him and his followers; and it would have happened] were it not for God [stopping him]15When Lavan stated (Gen. 31:29): I have the power to inflict harm upon you, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, “Beware of speaking with Yaakov either good or bad.“ Yaakov understood how Lavan was concealing his real intent, which was to murder him and his followers, and to bring back his family in order to erase their religious beliefs. – he, nevertheless, spoke with [Lavan] in a gentle manner,16Yaakov refrained from openly accusing Lavan of wanting to kill him and his followers. This is the case to such an extent that [the Sages] said of him in Bereishis Rabbah (Parasha 74), “ [Better] the anger of the forefathers than the modesty of the descendant”17To quote the Midrash in full: [Better] the anger of the forefathers than the modesty of the descendants. The anger of the Fathers: (Gen. 32:36) And Yaakov was annoyed, and he quarreled with Lavan, and he said to Lavan, "What is my transgression? What is my sin, that you have pursued me?” You might think that they would come to blows and violence, but instead there were words of reconciliation. Yaakov appeasing his father-in-law: (Ibid: v. 36) For you have felt about all my things. What have you found of all the utensils of your house? R. Simai said: “When a son-in-law lives with his father-in-law, [urged Yaakov], can he possibly avoid benefitting himself to the extent of a single vessel or a knife? Here, however you have felt about all my things and have you not even found even a needle or a hook?” Than the modesty of the sons: We know this from David: (I Sam. 20:1) And David fled from Naboth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan: “What have I done? What is my sin? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” Thus in his very words of appeasement he refers to bloodshed. Here, however, [Yaakov merely says], that you have pursued me. ─ [Yaakov] was readily appeased by him.
We have likewise gleaned much [more] from the forefathers’ societal behavior. This behavior is that which sustains the world, which is in turn a theme particular to this Book, the Book of Creation. For this reason this book is also entitled Sefer Ha-Yashar, highlighting this aspect of our forefathers’ actions.

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אכן התפלא על רוע הילוכו בד״א שאם שראוי היה לו לשנוא את ישראל תכלית שנאה באשר שהמה בני אברהם יצחק ויעקב וראשם במקור הקדושה. אבל מ״מ לא היה ראוי לפניו לבקש לעקר אומה שלימה. ואינו דרך ישרה בקיום העולם. וע״ז צעק תמות נפשי מות ישרים. היינו מקיימי הבריאה.

Bilaam, while being overcome with the Divine Spirit, could not be astonished by his own evil acts; as he was the prophet of the nations of the world with thoughts immersed in the roots of impurity. It was [self-evident that] he was not as righteous and pious as Avraham, Yitzchak or Yaakov. Rather, he was taken aback by his own societal behavior: Even if it would be natural for him to abhor Israel with an extreme hatred – as they are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov with their thoughts immersed in the roots of holiness – yet, it was unacceptable to attempt to uproot an entire nation, contrary to being yashar and maintaining the existence of the world. For this reason he cried, Let me die the death of the yesharim, meaning those who uphold creation.
This explanation [of yashar] can be used to clarify what is stated in Tractate Sanhedrin 105a:
Let me die the death of the upright: If I die the death of the upright, my end will be like his; but if not, then behold I go unto my people.
Rashi explains [death of the righteous] refers to natural death, [being interpreted as: “Let me die the death of the upright — meaning, If I die the death of the righteous (i.e., a natural death), my end will be like his [i.e. to receive life in the world to come]; but if not (i.e., if I die a violent death), then behold I go unto my people [to descend with them together to Gehinom.]
It is unclear how the words, death of the yesharim, allude to a natural death [and receiving eternal life in the world to come] and [certainly] the ending words, but if not, then behold I go unto my people, do not seem to allude [to Gehinom] at all.1818The Netziv in Ha’amek Davar (Num. 23:10) argues that Bilaam would not entertain the thought of receiving a life in the world to come equal to that of the Israelites who were immersed in the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvos. Further the Netziv seems to object that descending to Gehinom does not align well with “my people,” i.e. an expression denoting a national impact. Rather, using what I wrote above [it is to be explained as follows]: Let me die the death of the yesharim, meaning, if I do not desire the extermination of man [as Avraham, Ytzchak and Yaakov],19The Netziv aligns tractate Sanhedrin with tractate Avodah Zarah that yesharim is referring to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This is unlike Rashi who explains yesharim to be referring to righteous individuals. “then my end should be the same [as the Jewish nation, where I will live on in perpetuity].”20Bilaam at the moment of being overcome with the Divine Spirit stated that if he wishes for the survival of the Jewish nation, then “measure for measure” his end should be as theirs, to live on in history (or through his progeny) among those who contributed to the good of the world.. But if not, i.e., I wish for the extermination of Israel [and hence not be yashar] – [which he actually attempted to achieve] as stated: Come I shall advise you [how to cause their downfall] etc.,21Num. 24:14. See Rashi ad loc. explaining Sanhedrin 106a that this verse relates how Bilaam advised Balak how to destroy the Jews by seducing them to sin with immorality.] – then alas I will go unto my people; [I will be] exterminated, as [will indeed befall] all “of my people.”22However, if he wishes for their extermination, Bilaam laments, so will his end be as his people, i.e. an eventual extermination from the world and the disappearance from history.

6 ו

ובדברנו נתיישב יפה על מה נקרא זה הספר ספר הישר שהוא ספר הבריאה:

We have explained well why this book is entitled, Sefer HaYashar, being the Book of Creation.23Creation is sustained by the phenomenal societal behavior exhibited by the upright.