Before we can begin to understand Perashat Bereshit, we must believe with complete faith that the Torah is emmet, truth! The first pasuk begins with the words, bereshit bara elokim et ha-shamayim ve-et haaretz. "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth." The first three words, bereshit bara elokim, end in the letters tav, alef and mem, which together spell emmet!
We must also remember that Hashem created us with only a minimum capacity to even begin to comprehend His ways. As Jews, we believe that there is one G-d who is the creator of the world and all living things, including the universe surrounding our planet. The first principle of Rambam's “Thirteen Fundamental Principles” of the Jewish faith is “Belief in the existence of the Creator, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.”
So that we never forget this truth, we acknowledge the creation of the world every Friday night, as we sanctify the Shabbat through the Kiddush with the following words from Perashat Bereshit: yom hashishi vaychulu ha-shamayim ve-haaretz ve-chol tzevaam. "The sixth day, and the heaven and the earth and all their hosts were completed." By reciting this verse every Friday night to bring in the Shabbat, we recognize and affirm with our families that Hashem completed the creation of the world in six days.
As Hashem was creating the world, the Torah tells us, vayar elokim ki tov. “G-d saw that it was good." The ki tov applies to the insect and to the elephant etc; all creatures apart from man were accorded the words ki tov. Hashem looked at his handiwork after each creation and declared that it was good. But when He made man, no declaration was made that man was a good creation. Rabbi Yosef Albo explains that every element of creation, apart from man, was a finished product. From the insect to the elephant, they will remain as they are and will never rise or fall in stature. It is for that reason that those creations can be evaluated as "good".
Man, however, is a work in progress, a tremendous bundle of potential whose final form is not yet determined. Man is given free will and the responsibility for his own development and improvement. Will he rise in spirituality to the great levels of his potential or will he sink to mediocrity? These questions must be answered by each one of us throughout our lifetime. Now we understand that there can never really be a time when man can be considered a finished product, and therefore humans cannot be declared "good". Man is and always will be in a state of potential.
As we read in pasuk 26: vayomer elokim naaseh adam betzalmenu kidmutenu. "And G-d said, let us make man in our likeness". The question is asked, why is this written in plural? The Sefat Emet answers that each one of us is a partner with Hashem in his own creation. Hashem gave us immense capabilities to develop our minds and refine our characters to their fullest potential. Hashem says in the pasuk, and to each person: naaseh adam. By this He means, let us work together. I have created you, and now it is your job to make yourself the very best person that you can be!
In perek 6 pasuk 26 of perashat Va'era. The verse begins: "This was Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said..." We notice at once that the usual order of names has been reversed. The Torah usually mentions Moshe's name first, but in this pasuk, Aharon comes first and Moshe second. Rambam comments that this teaches us that both were equally great, although the Torah itself testifies that Moshe was the greatest prophet who ever lived. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein adds that Aharon achieved the absolute maximum of his potential, just as Moshe did. In Hashem's scale, achievement is measured by how well one fulfills one’s personal mission. Rabbi Ozeri elaborated further, that from this we learn something very profound: we can all reach the level of Moshe Rabenu, just as Aharon did, by reaching our own personal potential that Hashem has established for us. We obviously don't know the extent of our potential; therefore, we must continue to strive to grow continually with the ultimate goal of reaching our potential in our lifetime!
According to the midrash, Adam was commissioned by Hashem to name all the animals according to their essence. For example, he named the dog kelev, which is related to the words ke lev, or “like a heart”, for the dog is considered man's best friend! Similarly, adam can be related to adama, which is ground or soil. At first glance, we might say, does this mean that we are merely dirt? On the contrary, the essence of man is to grow like the adama, which is the only thing in our world that grows continuously. If you plant a seed in the ground, it will grow so that humans and animals can eat the vegetation, and they in turn will grow. So just as man has to continually grow in learning and in gaining knowledge until the day he dies, so too does the earth produce continuous growth in an ongoing cycle.
In perek 3 pasuk 9, after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, Hashem calls out to Adam, ayeka, "Where are you"? Aderet Eliyahu comments that Hashem was not of course referring to Adam’s physical whereabouts, but rather to where he had fallen in respect to his exalted spiritual level, now that he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Baal HaTanya says that Hashem was not just speaking to Adam, but to all his descendants. Hashem is asking us, where are you in your life? We all have our own little world and our own purpose in life and things we want to achieve. Hashem is asking us, what have we accomplished in all our years so far? Have we come any closer to fulfilling our purpose in life? Where are you is a question which Hashem asks each one of us and a question that we should be asking ourselves every day! Hashem did not just put us in this world to exist without a purpose in life. Instead, we all have a purpose and potential, and Hashem gave each and every one of us the precise tools to achieve that potential. It is our job to constantly ask ourselves: "Where am I in relation to reaching my own personal potential?"
When our great Rabbi, Hacham Ovadia Yoseph, was a young boy in yeshivah, his father wanted him to come work in his grocery store after school. When Hacham Ovadia's rabbi, Hacham Ezra Attiyeh heard about this and saw that the young Ovadia Yoseph had tremendous potential to be a great scholar, he went to his father's grocery store and put on an apron. When Hacham Ovadia's father saw this, he asked, "Hacham, what are you doing?" Hacham Attiyeh answered, "I'm working in place of your son Ovadia, because I see in him great potential that he will be a big Hacham one day, but not if he wastes his time working in a grocery store. I'd rather work in his stead so that he can learn." The father understood, and assured Hacham Attiyeh that his son Ovadia would not have to work. Imagine if Hacham Ezra Attiyeh had not made this protest on behalf of his student Ovadia Yoseph. We might have missed out on one of the greatest Rabbi’s of our generation, who has showered us with hundreds of volumes of commentary that will benefit us for many generations to come!
We all need to know that we are made betzelem elokim, in the likeness of Hashem. If we believe that, we will understand that we all have profound self- worth and a goal in this world of reaching our spiritual heights, so that when we leave this world, we can also be declared by Hashem as good: ki tov!
May we all continue to ask ourselves the question Ayeka?, so that we can constantly reevaluate our spiritual status in our lives and strive to grow continuously. May we use this question to propel us to reach the potential that Hashem has set for each and every one of us! Amen!
Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of
Rabbi Amram Sananes
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz
Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa
Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah
Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana