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Friday, October 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

This coming Sunday, 28 Tishrei, is the Yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, z"l.

This week's shtikle is dedicated leiluy nishmaso, Daniel Moshe Eliyahu ben Yitzchak.


All the matter in the universe exists in three dimensions - length, width and height. We do not live in the two-dimensional world of comics and cartoons, nor can our minds conceive of something physically consisting of more than three dimensions. When a cube of a given volume is removed, it leaves behind a space, filled with air, of identical volume. However, before the creation of the world, there was nothing. The second pasuk of the Torah asserts that before creation, the world was tohu vavohu. Rashi explains vohu as emptiness and void. He writes that tohu connotes astonishment and wonderment, as one would have been astounded by the emptiness that existed. Indeed, we are astonished to the point of incomprehension at the very idea of nothingness. It is beyond the grasp of human thought and will never be understood. An integral component of creation was the establishment of the infrastructure necessary for the existence of the world as we know it. On the second day, the waters are divided into the upper and lower waters. This is the first evidence of a dimension in creation. However, at this point there was only one dimension. Left, right, forward and backward did not yet exist - only up and down. The next day the waters were collected to form the oceans and reveal land. The three dimensions were now in place.

Although a physical object may be comprised of no more than three dimensions, there is another dimension commonly included as the fourth - time. Before the creation of the world, time did not exist either. In fact, the word "before" is probably a misnomer. It implies temporal precedence. If there is no time, there can be no precedence. This, too, is beyond the comprehension of the human mind. With the first day of creation, the concept of time was implicitly infused into the universe. Indeed, as we recount the events of creation, we are declaring HaShem's dominion over all of three-dimensional space and time as we know it.

This perspective is directly pertinent to one of the central laws of keriyas shema. The essence of shema is the acceptance of HaShem's kingship upon us. One is required to include this concentration with the recitation of shema or he does not properly fulfill the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch OC 60:5.) Ideally, this is accomplished with specific focus on the ches and dalet of echad, as explained in 61:6. The ches corresponds to HaShem's rule over the earth and the seven levels of Heaven. This is a one-dimensional focus in concurrence with the events of the second day of creation. The dalet corresponds to the four directions - essentially, the other two dimensions, over which HaShem rules. This coincides with the events of the third day. Hence, HaShem's dominion over the three physical dimensions.

The Mishnah Berurah (63:11), in the name of Levush and Magein Avraham, writes that "Baruch Sheim Kevod, etc." is subject to the same concentration requirements as the first pasuk. In this passage, as the words clearly indicate, we assert the eternity of HaShem's kingship. In essence, we are declaring HaShem's rule over the fourth dimension, time.

This perspective on Bereishis fits nicely into the month of Tishrei and the yamim tovim which have occupied a majority of our time throughout the month. We begin, of course, with Rosh HaShanah whose principal thematic element is affirming HaShem's ultimate kingship. As we have pointed out on a separate occasion, the pesukim of malchios are meant to declare not only HaShem's present Dominion but His Dominion in the end of days as well and therefore His Dominion over time.

Rabbi Dovid Heber observes an interesting nuance in our tefillos which exposes the centrality of emunah as the backbone of our observances throughout the month. In the tefillah for both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we recite or sing Vechol Ma'aminim as an affirmation of faith pertaining to all sorts of Divine attributes arranged in the order of the aleph beis. When we dance around the bimah on Simchas Torah, each hakafah is initiated with the responsive "hoshia na – hatzlicha na - aneinu" refrain which is also arranged in aleph-beis order and divided among the seven circuits. Indeed, many of the terms and phrases that make up Vechol Ma'aminim comprise this tefillah as well (go'eil chazk, tov umeitiv and others that are similarly worded.) So the most solemn and serious of days and the most joyous and celebratory of occasions are both highlighted with similar affirmations of emunah and the reading of Bereishis is the perfect way to cap it all off.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: And the Days Was
AstroTorah: The Two Luminaries

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