Bereishit 5770

October 11, 2009

7 min read


Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

GOOD MORNING! A person poured out his heart to me, "I would like to believe in God, but it is so hard. How do I know that God created the world? Why can't God just show Himself and make it easier for me to believe?" Whatever words of wisdom, insight and erudition I shared were like water off the back of a duck. It occurred to me that oftentimes people would rather be bothered by the problem than be bothered by the answer.


The next day in synagogue I picked up a Midrash, a collection of stories and commentaries dating back a couple of thousands of years. I opened it randomly and came across the following two midrashim:

"A disbeliever once asked Rabbi Akiva, 'Who created the world?' 'The Almighty,' replied Rabbi Akiva. 'Prove it,' demanded the disbeliever. Rabbi Akiva replied, 'Come back tomorrow.'

"When the man returned on the following day, Rabbi Akiva asked him, 'What are you wearing?' 'A robe,' replied the man. 'Who made it?' asked Rabbi Akiva. 'The weaver,' said the man. 'I don't believe you! Prove it,' demanded Rabbi Akiva.

" 'That is ridiculous. Can't you tell from the fabric and design that a weaver made this garment?' answered the man. Rabbi Akiva then responded, 'And you - can you not clearly tell that God made the world?'

"After the disbeliever left, Rabbi Akiva explained to his students, 'Just as a house was obviously built by a builder and a garment obviously sewn by a tailor, so was the world (which follows a natural order) obviously made by a Creator!' "

The second Midrash:

"The Emperor Hadrian asked Rabbi Yehoshua, 'Does the world have a master?' 'Certainly,' replied Rabbi Yehoshua. 'Did you think the world exists without an owner?'

" 'Who then is the master?' asked Hadrian. 'The Almighty is the Creator of heaven and earth,' responded Rabbi Yehoshua. Hadrian persisted, 'If this is true, why doesn't He reveal Himself a few times a year so that people should fear Him?'

" 'That would be impossible,' replied Rabbi Yehoshua, 'for it says (Exodus 33:20), "No man can see Me and live." ' 'I don't believe that!' responded Hadrian angrily. 'No one can be so great that it is impossible even to look at him.' Rabbi Yehoshua left.

"Later, at noontime, Rabbi Yehoshua returned and asked the Emperor to step outside. 'I am ready to show you the Almighty!' he announced. Curious, Hadrian followed him to the palace garden.

" 'Look straight up into the sun. There you will discover God!' exclaimed Rabbi Yehoshua. 'What?' retorted Hadrian, bewildered. 'Do you know what you are saying? Everyone knows that it is impossible to look directly into the sun at noon!'

"Rabbi Yehoshua smiled. 'Note your own statement! You admit that no one can gaze at the sun's full strength when it is at its zenith. The sun is only one of the Almighty's servants, and its glory is only one millionth of a fraction of God's splendor. How then do you expect people to be able to look at Him? Yet, He promised that the day will come when He alone will be exalted and His greatness be accepted by all!' "

It is fascinating finding thousands of years old eternal answers to eternal questions. It is also fascinating to note that in the first midrash it says, "After the disbeliever left..." We note from this that in spite of the compelling answer, the man still left a disbeliever. Winston Churchill once said to the effect of "Many people have stumbled across truth ... and then picked themselves up as if nothing happened." It is hard to get past our preconceived notions and prejudices, no matter how intellectually honest we claim to be.

If you are interested in knowing whether there really is a God who has impact upon the world - and on your life, then you might want to look at "The 2001 Principle" at You may also desire to read Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen. (Available at your local Jewish bookstore, at

By the way, when I asked the fifty year old man who poured out his heart to me, what he had read and with whom he had discussed the question with over the past 5 decades - he responded, "Nothing and no one."

For more on "Believing in God" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

The Five Books of Moses begins with the Six Days of Creation, the Shabbat, the story of the Garden of Eden - the first transgression, consequences and expulsion; Cain & Abel, the ten generations to Noah, the Almighty sees the wickedness of man in that generation and decrees to "blot out man" (i.e. the flood).

One of the most profound verses in the whole Torah is: "And God created man in His own Image." Since God does not have a physical being, this means that we are endowed with free-will, morality, reason and the ability to emulate God Who bestows kindness. Also, if we really appreciate that we are created in the image of God, we realize that we have intrinsic worth. Therefore, there is no need to be depressed wondering if you have intrinsic worth!

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states that before the great flood:

"The Almighty saw that man did much evil in the land and all the thoughts of his heart were evil the entire day," (Gen. 6:5).

The Sforno explains that "man did much evil" refers to the past, and "the thoughts of his heart were evil" refers to the future. They would not listen to anyone who would try to correct them and therefore there was no hope that they would do teshuvah, repent.

Regardless of how many faults a person has, if he accepts criticism there is hope that he will improve. The ultimate level is to love criticism. Loving criticism is the 35th prerequisite for acquiring wisdom as listed in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of Our Fathers, chapter 6:6.

A person who loves criticism will be grateful to anyone who shows him ways to improve himself. As Rabbi Noah Weinberg taught, "Everyone is grateful to someone who tells him that in his carelessness he dropped his wallet with a large sum of money in it. That should be our attitude towards constructive criticism."

Even if someone does not appreciate criticism, but he is nevertheless willing to improve himself when he is corrected, he will eventually become a better person. However, there is little hope for someone who refuses to listen to those who try to correct him. The person who criticizes you is the one who loves you and cares about you! Therefore, it is no wonder that children often receive so much criticism from their parents!


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To avoid criticism, do nothing,
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--  Elbert Hubbard


Happy 56th Anniversary

Howard & Hope Sacharoff


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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