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Torah: The Guide to Life


Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Bereishit, 1:26: “And God said, let Us make man in our Image and our likeness…”
Rashi, 1;26, Dh: Naaseh Adam: “Even though they [the Angels] did not help Him in His creation, and there is room for heretics to rebel, the verse did not hold back from teaching derech eretz (appropriate behavior) and the trait of humility, that a greater one should consult and take permission from a smaller one…and the answer to the heretics is written next to it, ‘and God created man’ and it does not say, ‘they created’.

In the account of the creation of mankind, the Torah says that God says, ‘let Us make man’. The obvious question here is that we know that God did not need the help of any beings to make man, so why does the verse not say, ‘I will make man’?

The Midrash1, cited by Rashi, explains that God wanted to teach a lesson in behavior and character traits: From the fact that God, who does not need the help of anyone, nonetheless, consulted with the Angels about the creation of mean, all the more so, when a person is embarking on an endeavor, he should consult with others, even if they are on a lower level than himself. However, the Midrash itself is bothered by the fact that because of this wording, it is conceivable that heretics will misinterpret this verse to indicate that there is more than one Power that runs the world.

The Midrash answers that there is a straightforward rebuttal to this misinterpretation from the very next verse, where it says that He (God) in the singular, created man, as opposed to ‘they’ created man’, proving that in truth, God alone created man.

The commentaries ask why nonetheless, the Torah chose to take the risk that people would misinterpret the verse, just to teach a lesson in the correct behavior.

This question is strengthened by a seeming contradictory message in another section in the beginning of the Torah. The Torah begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ‘beit’ instead of the first letter ‘aleph’. The Midrash2 addresses why it did not begin with aleph, given that this is the first letter in the alphabet, and as the commentaries explain, it alludes to the concept of God’s Oneness. It seems that the way the Torah begins Its account of creation has a profound effect on the essence of the world and had it begun with an aleph there would have been great benefit to the world, hence the question, why did the Torah not begin with an aleph.

The Midrash answers that aleph is the first letter in the word, ‘arur’ – cursed, and the Torah did not want to begin with a letter that is the first letter in such a negative word, rather, the Torah began with a beit because that is the first letter in the word, ‘baruch’ – blessed. The Midrash continues to cite an opinion that explains that the significance of the fact that the Torah begins with aleph is that it would imply that the whole of creation was essentially cursed, hence there would be no chance for a person to achieve any true success, because failure would be inevitable. Consequently, the heretics would say that there is no point in trying to keep the Torah because the world is inherently doomed to being cursed. In truth, even if the Torah had begun with an aleph, this argument was flawed, and there would have been ample opportunity to succeed in this world. However, in order to offset this erroneous argument, the Torah did not begin with aleph at all.

This Midrash seems to contradict the Midrash cited by Rashi: This Midrash acknowledges that there would have been great benefits had the Torah begun with an aleph, but that in order to offset the false arguments of heretics, the Torah sacrificed those gains. Yet, the Midrash above ignored the possible, flawed reasoning of heretics, in order to teach a lesson in humility. Why did that Midrash likewise, not take the risk that some people would misinterpret the Torah’s meaning, which would have potentially disastrous consequences?

The key to the answer is found in the words of the Levush Haorah3 who addresses the question of why the Torah ‘took the risk’, so to speak, of teaching a lesson that could be misinterpreted. He answers that the Torah wanted to teach proper behavior and humility, because, “this is the Torah, that It teaches people the way in which they go and it is proper to write this in It.” The Levush Haorah is teaching a fundamental principle, that the purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to live, and this purpose is so important that it is worth teaching a lesson even if certain people might misinterpret it. With this understanding, we can resolve the contradiction with the other Midrash. Although there would have been benefit to the world if the Torah would have begun with an aleph, this benefit did not involve teaching any particular lessons in how to act. Accordingly, it was not worth the ‘risk’ to give an opening to heretics to misinterpret the implications of the Torah beginning with an aleph.

This idea shows just how significant the idea that the purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to live. Benefits that would have accrued to the world had the Torah begun with an aleph are not important enough to override possible concerns of misinterpretation by heretics, demonstrating how serious this matter is. And yet the purpose of teaching us life lessons, overrides the very same concerns of misinterpretations.

In this vein, Rabbi Noach Weinberg teaches that the Torah is known as Torat Chaim, which he translates into ‘Instructions for living.’ Rav Weinberg explains that The Torah is not a history book, or a law book, it is an ‘Instruction manual’ of life. The lessons that It teaches are so important that they override risks of heresy. May we merit to apply the Torah lessons to all aspects of our lives.


  1. Bereishit Rabbah, 8:9.
  2. Bereishit Rabbah, 1:10.
  3. Bereishit, 1:26. This is a super-commentary on Rashi, written by Rav Mordechai Yaffe, who is most well known as the author of the Levush, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch.

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