Shabbat Bereishit, the Shabbat on which the Torah-reading cycle
is begun anew, seems rather low-key after the excitement of
completing the Torah on Simchat Torah. R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel
z"l (1883-1946; Chief Rabbi of Antwerp and Tel Aviv) explains
this phenomenon as follows:
The last verses of the Torah state: "Never again has there
arisen a prophet in Israel like Moshe [as evidenced] by all the
strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the
eyes of Israel." Rashi explains that this refers to the Giving
of the Torah. Asks R' Amiel: Was the Torah given only before the
eyes of Israel? Does not the midrash teach that while the Torah
was being given no bird chirped anywhere in the world, no ox
mooed, no angels sang "Holy, Holy," the sea did not move, and no
person spoke?! In short, the Torah was given before the eyes of
the entire world!
The answer is as follows: The Sages further interpret the
middle of the Torah's last verse ("that Moshe performed") as a
reference to the breaking of the luchot. Thus, the end of verse
must refer to the second time the Torah was given, after the
luchot had been broken. It's true that the Torah was given with
lightning and thunder, and that the entire world was aware of the
event, but that was only true of the first luchot, which did not
last. In contrast, the permanent giving of the Torah was only
before the eyes of Israel.
[The above is a manifestation of the Sages' dictum: "Blessing
is found only in that which is hidden from the eye."] The
beginning of the Torah is quiet and mysterious -- "the earth was
astonishingly empty" (Bereishit 1:2). The end of the Torah is
exultant -- "And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d,
bestowed" (Devarim 33:1). That which starts quietly ends in
exultation; however, that which begins with loud proclamations
(like the first giving of the Torah) ends ignominiously.
(Hegyonot El Ami Ch. 56)
"The snake said to the woman, 'Even if G-d said, "You shall
not eat of any tree of the Garden".' " (3:1)
Why is the snake's statement not a complete sentence? R'
Nachum Kaplan z"l ("R' Nachumke of Horodna"; see page 4)
It was once common that when the community needed to raise
money for some need, the community's elders would announce in a
town meeting that every family must donate the equivalent of its
expenditures for one Shabbat. If any family did not donate the
required amount, that family's food would be deemed to be non-
kosher, in which case, that family itself would be unable to eat
its own food.
This method of fundraising was, of course, possible only so
long as people observed the mitzvah to obey the sages, and only
so long as people took seriously the elders' edict that food
which was in fact kosher should be considered non-kosher (even by
its owner). Therefore, this system ceased to function when
people no longer had complete faith in the elders.
Thus, if someone wanted to oppose the elders' decree, he did
not have to challenge the elders openly. It was enough for him
to weaken people's faith in the elders, perhaps by raising his
eyebrows when the elders spoke, perhaps by winking at his
neighbors mockingly, or perhaps by uttering a half-question,
"Even if the elders did say, 'It's not kosher'?" He did not even
need to finish his thought, and the "So what?!" could remain
This is why the snake's question went unfinished. He did not
dare to challenge G-d openly, but even his half-question was
enough to sow doubts in Chava's mind.
(Quoted in Torat Gavriel)
The snake's question may also be translated as follows: "Did,
perhaps, G-d say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the Garden'?"
R' Gavriel Wolf Margolis z"l (see page 4) explains the above
verse based on verse 6, where we read, "The woman perceived that
the tree was good for eating." How did she know?
Verse 1 reflects the cunning of the snake in asking whether
Hashem had in fact prohibited eating the trees of the Garden.
Chava responded (in verse 2) that Hashem permitted eating the
fruits of almost all trees and prohibited eating the fruit of one
tree, i.e., the eitz ha'daat / tree of knowledge. The
implication was that, as for the trees themselves, Adam and Chava
were permitted to eat these if they chose.
To prove her point, Chava proceeded to break off a piece of the
eitz ha'daat and chew on it, just as the snake had hoped she
would. According to one opinion in the midrash, the eitz ha'daat
was an etrog tree, a tree whose wood, Chazal say, has the same
taste as the etrog fruit. This is how Chava knew "that the tree
was good for eating," and how the snake caused her to eat of the
tree's fruit also.
"Have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not
to eat?" (3:11)
The midrash says that Adam answered: "I did eat, and I would
eat again!" How can this be understood?
R' Yissachar Ber Rotenberg z"l (1906-1986; the "Voydislaver
Rebbe") explains: We have two holidays when eating is restricted
- Yom Kippur, when no food may be eaten, and Pesach, when only
certain foods are prohibited. One halachic difference between
them is that on Pesach we are prohibited from possessing those
foods which we may not eat, while on Yom Kippur, eating is
prohibited, but there is no prohibition on owning, or even
handling, food. Why?
The answer is that human nature is such that one will not
accidentally eat on Yom Kippur merely because he sees or touches
food, since all eating is prohibited. On Pesach, however, since
most foods are permitted, one may accidentally eat chametz as
well if it is readily available.
This is what Adam meant: "Since You permitted all the trees but
one, it was inevitable that I would eat from it. Indeed, the
danger of being near the tree is so great, that I am likely to
eat from it again."
More simply, R' Yitzchak Ze'ev Yadler z"l (late 19th century;
Yerushalayim) explains that Adam was bemoaning the spiritual
decline that he had caused by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
"Indeed, I ate, and in my low spiritual state, I am likely to
commit the same sin again."
(Tiferet Zion Vol. I, p. 270)
"Kayin said to Hashem, 'My sin is too great to bear'."
R' Mattisyahu Solomon shlita (Mashgiach of the Lakewood
Yeshiva) observes that among the tens of thousands of laws in the
Shulchan Aruch, there is only one sin that is referred to as
being "too great to bear." This is the sin of talking during the
chazan's repetition of shemoneh esrei (O.C. 124:7). Why does
this sin stand out?
R' Solomon explains: When we pray to Hashem, we are
acknowledging that He is close to us, that He listens to us, and
that He controls our fate. When the chazzan repeats the shemoneh
esrei, he is making these same declarations as our
representative. Thus, by talking during the chazzan's
repetition, we are suggesting that we do not believe (G-d forbid)
that He is close to us, that He listens to us, or that He
controls our fate.
(Heard from Rabbi Paysach Krohn shlita)
"And Hashem gave Kayin a sign" (4:15)
The Sages teach that the "sign" that Hashem gave Kayin was a
pet dog. Why?
R' Yisroel Meir Hakohen z"l (the "Chafetz Chaim"; died 1933)
explains: Hevel was stronger than Kayin, and when Kayin first
attacked Hevel, the latter got the better of his attacker. Kayin
begged for mercy, and Hevel released him, only to be attacked
again and killed.
In short, Kayin failed to show gratitude to one who had been
kind to him. In contrast, the nature of a dog is to show undying
gratitude and loyalty, and it was so that Kayin could learn these
traits that Hashem gave him a pet dog.
(Quoted in Otzar Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
R' Nachum Kaplan z"l
("R' Nachumke of Horodna")
R' Nachumke, as our subject was universally known, was born in
Bysgula, Lithuania in 1812 and studied in several yeshivot,
including Volozhin. At age 21, he settled in Horodna and was
offered the rabbinate of that town, but he declined it. Instead,
in order to support his family while continuing to study, he
agreed to serve as shamash of the Chevrah Shas shul.
As shamash, R' Nachumke served the Torah scholars who studied
in the shul. He also was responsible for collecting and
distributing charity and he became famed for his acts of
kindness. Many hours each day were spent trudging door to door,
and non-Jews as well as Jews benefitted from the funds under his
For a time, R' Nachumke headed a small yeshiva in Horodna,
among whose students was the Chafetz Chaim (then 15 years old).
The Chafetz Chaim later related:
The students of the yeshiva observed that R' Nachumke
disappeared for a time each night, and no one knew where
he went. The students followed him and discovered that
he went to a certain empty shul.
One night, I [i.e., the young Chafetz Chaim] attended
ma'ariv in that shul, and then, instead of leaving, I hid
under a bench in the women's section. Soon after, I was
At midnight, the door opened, and R' Nachumke entered.
He climbed up to the bima, reached into a crate of worn
out talitot, and removed a book. (Apparently, the book
was a volume of kabbalah.) Suddenly, a fire surrounded
R' Nachumke. I was about to scream, 'Help! Fire!' but I
sensed that this was no earthly fire. I kept quiet, but
I trembled so that I thought I would die.
It is reported that the Chafetz Chaim had a picture of R'
Nachumke hanging in his house.
R' Nachumke also delivered weekly sermons to the people of
Horodna, and these regularly attracted large crowds. When R'
Nachumke died in 1880, he was accompanied to his final resting
place by thousands. It is said that he expressed the hope to
have three items in Gan Eden, one of them being a copy of
R' Akiva Eiger's Talmud commentary.
R' Nachumke had 17 children, many of whom predeceased him.
Among his sons-in-law was R' Gavriel Wolf Margolis (1847-1935),
rabbi of Horodna, and later Boston, Massachusetts. (Source:
Gedolei Ha'dorot p. 722)
the Parness family,
in memory of Anna Parness a"h