This week’s d’var Torah is sponsored by Arthur and Sheri Little in observance of the Yahrzeit of Arthur's father, Leonard Little, Aryeh ben Avraham Yitzchak z"l.
Rabbinic tradition maintains that the Torah existed even before the creation of the world, in essence serving as the architectural blueprint of creation. This is a beautiful concept that teaches that Torah is built into the fabric of the world. Nature and morality are to work together harmoniously. Nature, true to its mission, never veers from its divinely ordained role. The heavenly spheres, the earthly plants follow their set pattern day after day, month after month and year after year. A life of Torah—of ethics and morality—is a most natural existence.
Nature can teach us much about how to live and the rabbis saw within the natural order lessons for humanity, most famously teaching that we are “to be as strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a gazelle, and brave as a lion to carry out the will of G-d in heaven” (Avot 5:24).
It is only man, given the responsibility of free choice, who can break this harmony, thereby threatening the natural order. The world needs moral maintenance, and a world without such direction is a world in danger of collapse.
Rashi, in his commentary on the opening verse of the Torah, states that the world was created for the sake of Israel and for the sake of Torah, both of which are referred to as reisheet, first. The act of creation, Breisheet, was for those called reisheet.
Yet as beautiful as this concept may be, the plain reading of the text would seem to indicate otherwise. It took twenty generations for the first Jew to arrive on the world stage, and another six until the Torah would be given. During this time, progress was made at a dizzying rate and great civilizations rose and fell. “Non-Jewish” leaders such as Malki-Tzedek the king of Sedom (14:18) and Avimelech the King of Gerar recognized G-d as the Divine Creator.
One could easily get the impression that “G-d's original plan” did not include a special nation. G-d created a human race starting with Adam and Eve, not Abraham and Sarah. Basic laws of morality—the seven Noachide laws—were given to the human race as a whole. Man was given the blessings of fertility and dominion over the world. Righteous people like Chanoch (who walked with G-d) and Noach (a righteous man in his generation) were shining examples of morality. Why the need for a special nation?
Because with free choice granted to man, the Noachs of the world were few and far between. Disobedience, murder, rape, thievery, and arrogance were mainstream. Even a fresh start after the great flood changed little. It was apparently at this point that “G- d realized” that it would be more effective to work with a small nation to bring His message to the world.
Abraham is told to go to a new land to form a great nation, so that “all the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (12:3). Yet this would take much time. Evil persisted and the major metropolitan area of Sedom would need to be destroyed. Abraham may have failed to save the people of Sedom, but he succeeded in establishing a nation that would aim to demonstrate how to set up “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. This special nation would need a special set of laws to be given at Sinai.
It was not by coincidence that, as messengers made their way to Sedom to rescue Lot, G- d “wonders aloud": “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I will do? Abraham is about to become a great and mighty nation…for I know that he will command his children and his household after him and they will keep G-d's way, doing charity and justice” (18:17-19). It is charity and justice that is the foundation of our faith, our “mission statement”. It is the recipe for building a holy nation and being a light unto the nations.
And it is something we have apparently not yet fully mastered, our great acts of communal chesed notwithstanding. “Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and its returnees with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27). Our daily prayer for redemption is none other than a call for justice. May we answer our own prayers.