As the cycle of Torah readings begins anew a preliminary question presents itself, what is the nature of Torah? Is the Torah a legal text? Or is there a broader purpose encompassing the whole of human endeavor and experience? Indeed, Rashi ZT’L ZY’A opens his commentary on Torah by posing essentially this question.
Beginning with what appears as a historical narrative scripture takes a long time till commandments are promulgated to the entire nation (Exodus 12 starting with the commandment to sanctify the New Moon and the observance of Passover) Why?
The Commandments even those bound to the land of Israel or limited to the Temple service or the conduct of the king or high priest are available for study and analysis so despite circumstances preventing the full observance in deed at least as abstract concepts with application to one’s daily life. The recitation of the commandments would seem more consistent with G-D’s purpose than the narrative.
Rash offers an answer based on Psalms 111:6 “The power of His acts He [G-D] proclaimed before His people to give them the inheritance of the nations” Rashi in Psalms echoes his comments on Bereshith 1:1 “That G-D told Jewry about Creation so they know the Earth is His and is up to Him who dwells where, therefore Israel would be able to refute any nation’s or people’s accusation that conquest of the seven Canaanite nations was illegitimate. This explanation is hard to understand. It would seem the ability to defend conquest of Land of Israel as envisioned by the text from Psalms is limited to Bene Yisrael’s initial entry in to land and not subsequent exiles or returns. To argue that presenting the national narrative as Torah’s first section as a means to facilitate the chapter of Jewish history following the period covered in the Torah’s narrative, seems difficult. After all since Bene Yisrael’s initial entry in to Eretz Yisrael the nation was cast out twice and even now more than three thousand years latter, the accusation persist. As a statement of personal identity why place the narrative at the beginning? Avoth 5:1 explaining the basis for a detailed account of creation being to convey the significance of one’s actions as being constructive or destructive would seem a perfect preface to the Torah’s teachings.
The fact is Rashi did indeed cite the specific text from Psalms as the basis for placing the Creation story at the beginning before teaching the commandments. Either the argument for Jewish sovereignty remains the same throughout history or only is applicable to Bene Yisrael’s post Exodus entry to Eretz Yisrael. Either way important lessons are being taught. The Torah though a D-vine and therefore eternal document is a guide for the generations and there are messages embedded within the text that are specific for a particular place and time to teach the generation the detail with which G-D crafted the Torah. Or the lesson is that the only legitimate narrative available for Jewry is the faith based national narrative beginning with Creation. Or, there is a subtle but universal lesson the about importance of the Torah’s non-legal aspects values and perspectives things that provide the foundation for observing the commandments.
Yet these attempts at answers are inadequate for fully explaining why the Torah begins with a survey of Jewish history from Creation through the Exodus.
However Rabbi Levi-Yitzchak of. Berdichev ZT’L ZY’A offers an insight that sheds a new light on Rashi. The text is Psalms is really referencing the D-vine energy within the fabric of creation and their connection to Torah and the Commandments. All things within creation were formed through a combination of the Hebrew letters that make up the Torah’s text and the G-DLY energy they contain. Similarly, the 248 Commandments requiring action and the 365 Commandments demanding restraint combine and correspond to all different parts of body. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continues observing that the Earth itself is spoken of as possessing 248 limbs like a human being. Consider the synergy of D-vine energy and sense of harmony created when one obseves the Commandments. When observing the Commandments Such interaction with the physical world creates a conquest of sorts. As Joshua lead Bene Yisrael in military conquest the intent was to match the appropriate tribe to populate place within the Land of Israel. So the “Strength of His acts . . .” means the D-vine energy within creation , how that energy can overcome its physical limitations through the Torah’s Commandments was revealed to His people, Bene Yisrael.
Now in light of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s teaching Rashi’s teaching is far more powerful The underlying purpose of the Torah’s commandments is to facilitate the ability that human interaction with one’s environment through the aegis of Torah establishes the harmony G-D intended for His handiwork. If the Torah did not put creation first or the rest of the story preceding the recitation of Commandments beginning with Exodus 12. The nation’s allegations of theft become baseless as Israel’s proclamation explains their conquest is an act of liberation allowing for creation to reach the apex of perfection as envision in G-D’s design.
The lesson is powerful yet maybe this is why the call to conquer the world through Torah observance must be prepared for by the Elul-Tishrei season. Maybe it is through heeding Rashi’s opening remarks that the blessings for the coming year so fervently sought during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur can be fully realized.