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Universal Torah

Universal Torah

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Published by Dave Maxwell

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Published by: Dave Maxwell on Mar 20, 2012
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Universal Torah
 The Weekly Parshah
by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Torah Reading: Gen. 1.1-6.8. Blessing the month of MARHESHVAN 
With G-d's help, UNIVERSAL TORAH is a weekly series sharing thoughts and lessonswe may draw from the current parshah having universal significance -- both for theChildren of Israel, the appointed Guardians of G-d's Torah, and for all the familiesand nations of the earth. In our troubled times, when the world is facing war,violence, crime, illness and destruction on an unprecedented scale, mankind is indesperate need of the oldest living system of wisdom in the world: G-d's holyTorah. For "G-d is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He shouldchange His mind. He spoke -- will He not do it? He pronounced -- will He not fulfillit?" (Numbers 23:19). "For I am G-d, I have not changed." (Malachi 3:6). "Go andlet us ascend to the Mountain of G-d, to the House of the G-d of Jacob." (Isaiah2:3).
"How fortunate we are that Moses our Teacher showed us the right way. The Torahbegins without any philosophical proof, with the simple words, 'In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth.' We are commanded to believe in G-d throughfaith alone, and not to enter into speculation." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov).
"In the beginning G-d created.": In the three opening words of the Hebrew Torah,G-d "signs" Himself as the G-d of Truth. The last letters of these three words,BereshiS barA ElokiM, are: Sav [according to the Ashkenazic pronunciation, or"Tav", according to the Sefardic pronunciation] - Aleph - Mem, forming an anagramof the word EMeS, TRUTH.
The Rabbis taught that Teshuvah ("coming back to G-d") was created even beforethe world. This means is that the world is not merely random. Everything thatexists in the entire universe is part of a vast, unfathomable system serving apurpose that goes way beyond the system itself, a purpose that existed before thesystem itself in the "mind" and "will" of the One Who created it. The purpose of thesystem is to bestow good on all G-d's creatures. We can receive this good onlywhen we "return" to G-d -- by seeking out and following the wisdom of God'steaching to mankind: the Torah.Teshuvah!
Today the world seems to be on a helter-skelter path to self-destruction. The onlyway for us to stop it is by "coming back" to G-d.
At the climax of the account of the creation is the story of the creation of Adam.The Hebrew word ADAM cannot simply be understood as "man" or "human being","homo sapiens" or the like without further elaboration. The fact that there is aresemblance between the physical form of a human being and that of an ape doesnot mean they are both in the same category or on the same level. The definingqualities of homo sapiens are precisely those that differentiate him from the ape:his uniquely human powers and abilities. Similarly, the fact that two humansresemble each other in physical structure does not mean that they must be equaland identical in all respects. One may be highly intelligent, creative, loving, etc.while the other could be a psychopath, a terrorist or even a demon incarnate in ahuman body. What makes the two different is the mind, soul or spirit that inhabitseach of their bodies. One may have an elevated soul. The other may have a "fallen"soul or the spirit of a demon. Are they both homo sapiens? Are they both BneyAdam, "Children of Adam"?
While the human body is the physical manifestation of ADAM, what makes himunique is the soul that animates his body. The soul that G-d breathed into Adamcame from His very essence. Adam's soul was created by G-d to be a separatecreature, giving him the ability to connect with G-d OF HIS OWN FREE WILL.Adam's destined role in the creation is to lead the entire world to return to G-d. Hewas appointed ruler over all: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and conquerit and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over all theliving creatures swarming over the earth" (Gen. 1:28). Man has responsibility forthe whole world. His task is to attain global peace and ecological balance andharmony, in which all are united in the service of G-d.
Adam was created to attain this exalted destiny of his own free will. As part of G-d'splan, Adam therefore had to be confronted with a choice: to serve G-d by obeyingHis command, or to follow the "serpent" in his own heart, who tells him he candisobey G-d, do what he wants, and still get away with it. G-d says "If you disobeyyou will die". But the serpent in the heart lies to us: "Do what you want -- youwon't die!" Time after time, man falls for the trick.
Adam was created to rule the entire world, but he cannot even rule over his ownheart -- and sins. When a person comes to his senses and understands what he hasdone by eating the forbidden fruit of evil, he discovers the painful truth. "With thesweat of your brow you will eat bread until you return to the earth, for from it youwere taken, for you are dust and to dust you will return" (Gen. 3:19). After Adam'ssin, life is a constant struggle, leading only to the grave. Only with death can sin befinally atoned. "To dust you will return". This is because everything must "return"!Everything must come back to G-d! Teshuvah! Man's task is to return to hisdestiny, which is to conquer the world and join it back to G-d. "Who is mighty? Hewho conquers his evil inclination" (Avot 4:1).
"And the L-rd G-d commanded the Man saying, from all the trees of the garden youmay surely eat" (Gen. 2:16). The Rabbi's taught that G-d's commandment to Adamimplies six universal laws which are all allusively contained in the Hebrew words of this verse (as discussed in Midrash Rabba Bereishis 45:5 and Talmud Sanhedrin56a; see Rambam Mishneh Torah Laws of Kings 9:1):
1. Idolatry is forbidden.
2. Blasphemy is forbidden.
3. Murder is forbidden.
4. Sexual immorality is forbidden.
5. Robbery is forbidden.
6. Men must govern their affairs under a system of law and justice.
These six laws, together with the prohibition of eating a limb from a living animal(see next week's Parrshah, Gen. 9:4) make up the Seven Commandments of theChildren of Noah, also known as the Seven Universal Laws.
In the intricate, endlessly profound tapestry of the holy Torah, the Seven UniversalLaws are deeply bound up and meshed in with the 613 commandments that applyto the Children of Israel. Thus every portion of the Torah has profound significancefor all humanity and each one contains lessons that may deepen our understandingof the Seven Universal Laws.
Of the seven, one that stands out particularly in Parshas Bereishis is the prohibitionof murder. The Torah is the "book of the generations of man" (Genesis 5:1): manwas commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" -- to breed children and children'schildren, to cherish and nurture LIFE. The antithesis of life is death. The Rabbistaught that when "G-d saw all that he made and behold it was VERY good", theword "very" teaches that even death is beneficial (as it atones for sin). However,death is in the hands of G-d: "See now, for I, I am He, and there is no god with Me;I kill and make alive, I smote and I will heal and there is none to redeem from Myhand" (Deut. 32:39). A person who arrogantly takes G-d's prerogative into his ownhands and appoints himself as the angel of death to kill another is a shameful,counterfeit ADAM, a criminal who should be stoned and then hung ignominiously ona tree before being buried (see Deuteronomy 21:22-3 and Rashi there). Such aman is a "curse of G-d" (ibid). In the words of Rambam (Laws of Murder 1:4):"There is nothing to which the Torah takes greater exception than bloodshed, as itis written (Numbers 35:33): And you shall not pollute the land. for blood -- that iswhat pollutes the land."
The story of Cain's killing of Abel over the inheritance of the world is the story of human history. Mankind's task is to learn how to settle disputes amicably instead of fighting and killing one another. In our times, it is particularly important toemphasize the criminality of murder because of widespread insensitivity to theseriousness of killing. Many voices can be heard defending killers, and protestingagainst their execution as prescribed by the Torah. Many in the world evenrationalize and justify wholesale murder and violence when committed for the sakeof a "cause", and celebrate terrorist attacks against their enemies. This simplyillustrates the depths to which "Adam Beliya'al", the Worthless Man, can descend,as in the story of Cain and Abel.
The Torah clearly teaches that murder is an abominable crime which must berequited with death in order to punish the villain and protect human society. Yet atthe same time as seeking to impose justice, our societies must also ask themselveswhy killing, murder and violence are so rampant. These are not inexplicablescourges that have no cause. Our rabbis revealed what causes murder to becomerampant: "The sword comes into the world because of the failure to execute justice

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