In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth: The reason that the Torah started with the letter 'bet' is that King Shlomo, in all of the book of Kohelet, compares the Torah to the Sun, which only moves in three directions like the shape of the 'bet,' that is only open on its north side [according to ancient maps that would place north on the left of the page and east on top]; and because it was given through Moshe, whose face is like the sun; and maybe the reason is that the evil inclination that opposes the Torah comes from the North and it 'breaks the fence' of the Torah, as it is stated (Joel 2:20), "And the northern one will I distance from you." And also because gold, which comes form the North, opposes the Torah; and they generally flee from one another, as it is stated (Psalms 119:71), "It is good that I have become poor, so that I can learn your statute;" And this is not the place to speak more about this. And it is possible to also explain it, in the way that it is stated (Proverbs 9:1), "Wise women have built their house;" hence, the wisdom of the Torah began with 'bet' [which sounds like bayit, the Hebrew word for house], since it is the mistress of the larger 'house.'
In the beginning, created God...: It would have been fitting to begin the Torah with the name of God; so much so that the Sages of blessed memory needed to change [the word order in their Greek translation] for King Ptolemy and write, "God created the beginning." And about this, the commentators have given a reason that is praiseworthy: Since the existence of God, may He be praised, is impossible to fathom except though His attributes, His acts and the work of His hands, that He created; they are the ones that testify, speak and give faithful testimony about His blessed existence; therefore [the Torah] mentioned first, "In the beginning, created" and afterward is God made known. But there is a difficulty about this, since it should have been written, "Created God the beginning," since it is logical that anything that the name of God could precede, it should precede; since behold [the knowledge of] the existence of God is not dependent upon the knowledge of the earlier things in the creation, about which the word bereshit [in the beginning] relates to, according to most commentators.
And also [difficult] is that the writer of the Akeida [commentary - R. Yitschak Arama] based this explanation on the midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 1:12), "'And Your humility enlarges me' (Psalms 18:36); A king of flesh and blood mentions his name first and afterwards his acts, but the Holy One, blessed be He, mentioned His name after He mentioned His acts;" and what His humility is in this needs to be understood; and that which it says "made me great," in what way did He enlarge us and make us great? And what appears most likely to me, is to say that Rashi wanted to fix all of this when he said that "this text says nothing if not 'interpret me' - [the term reshit, literally, the start or head of is used here] because of the Torah and Israel which are [both] called reshit;" which means to say that it is impossible to know about God's existence, may He be blessed, except through the Torah and Israel. That's why they are called reshit, since they are both an introduction through which one comes to the knowledge of God's existence, may He be blessed [and so precede the name of God in the first sentence of the Torah.] Since the Torah publicizes faith in His creation and Divinity, may He be blessed. And Israel also knew to publicize the existence of God, may He be blessed, from the angle of the transmission that they received, one person from another, back to Adam who saw the world destroyed and built, and is a faithful witness to the creation of the world, which is a sign [indication] of its Creator; and this transmission was spread by the offspring of Avraham, Yitschak and Yisrael.
And there is also a third way [to know about the existence of God], but not every one is capable of it, and that is to come to know about the existence of God, may He be blessed, through investigation and knowledge of all that is to be found in all of the three worlds and this is their order: At first, the researcher must understand the essence of things in the lowest world, since it is the easiest research [that exists]. And after knowing their essence, he should [seek to] also understand the essence of the creatures of the middle world. And from there, he should go up, [as] with a ladder going up the different levels, to know the essence of the highest world. And from there, he should go up to know and fathom that there is God who is found to ride upon all of them [and] who arranged them in this fashion, like the vision that Ya'akov saw (Genesis 28:12); in the four rungs of the ladder which was "positioned on the ground" - which [represents] comprehension of the lower world - "and its tip reached the skies" - this [represents] the middle world - "and the angels were going up and down on it;" - this [represents] the top world. "And behold the Lord stood upon it," (Genesis 28:13) since then [Ya'akov] grasped completely the existence of God, may He be blessed.
However, not many will have the wisdom needed for this approach of investigation, to come to the secret of God, as a result of man's passage through this dimmed valley of the material world; hence it is enough for man to grasp His existence, may He be blessed, from the angle of the transmission as mentioned and from the angle of the Torah as mentioned. And about this the Sages, of blessed memory, have said (Chullin 91b) that the lower ones mention His name, may He be blessed, after two words, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:4), "Hear Yisrael, the Lord," but the upper ones don't mention the Name until after three words, as it is stated (Isaiah 6:3), "Holy, holy, holy [is] the Lord." Because the intellectual power of the upper ones is pure and clean and it is easy for them to handle the essence of the investigation of these three worlds; therefore they are not allowed to mention the Name except after three holinesses, which means that they first cognate the essence of all those that exist below and understand the place of each and, through this, sanctify Him, may He be blessed, below. And from there they go up to understand the essence of all those that exist in the middle world and they sanctify Him, may He be blessed, to reign also upon them. And from there they go up to also understand their own essence, and from there they go up to grasp His name, may He be blessed; hence they do not mention the Name until they sanctify Him first in all three worlds. But the lower ones' intellects are not so pure, and not every person is able to handle this investigation since it is great; hence it is enough for them to come to recognize the existence of God, may He be blessed after the two words, "Hear Israel;" since "Hear" is to listen to the words of this Torah which publicize His divinity, may He be blessed; "Israel" is the transmission that spread in Israel from Adam to Abraham, who announced and publicized His divinity, may He be blessed, as Rashi explained on the verse (Genesis 24:7), "Lord God of the heavens that took me from the house of my father;" and from [Avraham], His divinity, may He be blessed, was publicized in all of the offspring of Israel and Yehuda, as it is stated (Psalms 76:2), "God is known in Yehuda, in Israel His name is great." Thus it is stated, "In the beginning, created" and afterwards, "God," to hint to the three [ways of knowing God's existence]: since reshit [beginning of] indicates Israel and the Torah, that are [both] called reshit; and through the creation [hence the word "created"], God was made known [directly through the mode of investigation]. And this is the way of modesty, by which He - in a hint - had the name of Israel precede His name, may He be blessed, [since "reshit" precedes "created"] and that is truthfully glorious splendor and greatness [that He gave] to Israel; hence it is stated "And Your humility enlarges me." And some say that this humility is what He was involved with at first, for the needs of His world, and [only] afterwards did He publicize His name, may He be blessed.
Rabbi Yitschak said, "It was not necessary to begin the Torah, etc. but rather so that the nations should not say, 'you are thieves, etc.'" (Rashi on Genesis 1:1): And it is difficult; and what about it, if they will say, "you are thieves," and because of this, the order of the Torah should be changed? The answer to this is that this matter brings heresy to the world, since they will say, "there is no law and no Judge" [in the world] and 'whoever is strongest prevails;' since if the world had a Ruler, who sets up its matters - it comings and goings - why did He not protest against you when you took by force - by way of theft - the lands of the seven [Canaanite] nations? Since it is for this reason that the judgment of the generation of the flood was not sealed except on account of theft, as it is stated (Proverbs 28:24), "One who steals from his father and mother and says 'it is not a transgression' is the companion of a destructive person;" since the reason this sin is greater than others is not because of the sin itself, but rather because of the evil that comes out of it; as the sinner who steals does not place guilt upon himself and says, "there is no transgression, since there is no God that judges in the world;" and therefore he is the companion of a destructive person, which means to say, [he is a companion] of the generation of the flood, as it is stated about them (Genesis 6:12), "since all flesh destroyed its way," since they also denied a principle of faith and said (Job 21:15), "What is the Omnipotent, that we should serve Him, etc." And this is what [brought] them to practice extortion and theft in the world. And because the prevention of theft is fundamental to all of faith, therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, made it come early and warned about it in the first commandment of (Exodus 12:2), "This month will be for you;" as over there, it is stated (Exodus 12:21), "And bring close and acquire for yourselves sheep," [meaning] from yours, and [not from] stolen ones; so explained the Ba'al HaTurim. And so too, Yitschak, when he commanded two kid goats to be brought to him, to make from them a Pesach sacrifice, he said (Genesis 27:3), "And hunt for me venison;" Rashi explained, from what is unowned and not from what is stolen, but since Esav's heart was not like that, it appeared to him that he could rather "hunt venison to bring," even form what is stolen; hence the Holy One, blessed be He, caused that he should not bring it, but rather that Ya'akov [should do so], as he was careful about theft. So too, the ox that Adam sacrificed, the Sages, of blessed memory, say that it had one horn on its forehead; to show that Adam [too] was one 'horn' in the world - meaning to say that he was by himself in the world - and did not steal from any creature; therefore, his sacrifice was accepted. And all this is in order to push away theft and robbery which brings heresy and apostasy.
And that which Rav Yitschak said, "It was not necessary to begin, etc," the explanation [of this] is not that the whole story from "In the beginning" to "This month shall be for you" should not have been written in the Torah at all; as behold there is a great need for the story of the creation of the world, since it publicizes the existence of God, may He be blessed; and the story of the generation of the flood publicizes His providence, may He be blessed, for reward and punishment. Besides that, there are several commandments written in [this early section of the Torah: the prohibition of eating] the limb of a living animal to Noach, and circumcision to Avraham, and [the prohibition of eating] the sciatic nerve through Ya'akov. Rather, he means to say that since the essence of the Torah is that it was given for its commandments, if so, the Torah should have started with the first commandment [to the Jewish people]; and [as for] this story from "In the beginning" to "This month shall be for you," it would be enough for it to placed at the end of the Torah. About this, he comes to answer and say, if it was written like that, it would have been 'a law refutable from its beginning,' and it would have strengthened the hand of the transgressors to rebel against the Torah. And when they would read "This month shall be for you," all the more so would they rebel [even] more, and they will say, "Moshe certainly invented this commandment, since how can God command about theft, in saying "And bring close and acquire for yourselves sheep," [meaning] specifically from yours; since, behold, you are thieves, since you took the lands of the seven nations and God did not protest against you. Since maybe [such a reader] would not read the Torah, from beginning to end [and read about the creation, so as to understand that the Jews did not steal the land that they settled]. Therefore, it was necessary to have the story of the creation of the world precede [the first commandment of establishing the new month], to show that it is not through theft that they took [the land], but rather through justice and right. This is what the verse states (Psalms 111:6-7), "The power of His deeds did He tell His people, to give them the inheritance of nations. The work of His hands are true and right, faithful are all of His precepts;" since the crux of this telling that "He told the power of His deeds to His people," the whole thing was in order to show that the work of His hands are true and right; that the Torah, and the tablets that are the work of God, and the righteous ones that were created with [God's] two hands; that all [of this] was in truth and right, which prevents theft. "And faithful are all of His precepts;" [meaning] the precepts that God decreed upon the lands of the seven nations; since it was His will, may He be blessed, to give it to [the seven Canaanite nations] and it was His will, may He be blessed, to take it from them and God, the King, decreed to appoint new appointees upon it."
And according to its simple understanding, it was necessary to begin the Torah from "In the beginning," to publicize belief in creation [ex nihilo], since it is the foundation of the entire Torah; since were we to assume that the world was pre-existent, there would be no room to accept a Torah that is predicated upon the foundation of free choice; therefore, it is required to place the foundation [meaning, the creation story] first.