Consider please the first sentence of the Torah: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃. There is an implied question asked: “Why does the Torah begin with the letter Bet in the word Breishit?” The Bet is ungrammatical. Correctly, it should read Reishit Bara Elokim et Hashamayim v’et Haaretz (“First G-d created the heavens and the earth”) or more intuitively just kEl Bara et Hashamayim v’et Haaretz (“G-d created the heavens and the earth”), beginning with the letter Aleph. The rabbis say that only G-d is solo and complete in Himself, represented by the letter Aleph, which bears the numerical value of 1. Bet, twoness, implies that the Torah is given to humankind and that we understand ourselves and G-d through our relationships. So with the first two and last two letters of the word Breishit, we spell out brit, “covenant.” A covenant is the holiest interaction of two, a way out of the void. Between those four letters are the two letters Aleph and Shin, which the rabbis explain represent the two words aretz and shamayim. The covenant of Earth and Heaven may be the whole purpose of the giving of the Torah.
But what does the Bet, signified by the number two, add except duality? With the Bet embedded in, we perceive a plethora of positive words. A cornucopia of words rearrange in the six letters of Breishit:
Within Breishit we find the word av, “father” – Aleph and Bet. We see the word ra’i, “mirror” – Resh-Aleph-Yod. This interplays with the word shir, Shin-Yod-Resh, meaning “song” and “poem.” We also find Sarai, Shin-Resh-Yod, “princess/my princess,” the name of the first Jewish woman until her name was changed to Sarah Imeinu, Sarah our Mother, Sarah the princess. Then there is with the same three letters yashar, “straight,” which progresses Israel (Ya’akov) who zigzagged and wandered, traversing the land in search of G-d to become Yisrael: lifting straight towards G-d.
With the Bet at the head of the word and the Tav at its end, there is the word bat, “daughter.” And with the Yod in between those two letters, we discover the word bayit, “home.” All these words of relations, each are in touch with its counterpart. Shy, Shin-Yod, means “gift” and yesh, Yod-Shin, allows for the concept of possession. Give and take in these two letters. We also embody the word rosh, “head.” as in the first three letters of the preferred word reishit. Look at its last three letters in arrangements –taf-yod-shin– tayish a he-goat. Dare this recall the animal snared in the bush, caught and entangled by its horns that replaced Yitzchak there at Mount Moriah? Could it be a hint of the Akeida and the shofar blown for Rosh HaShanah in the very first word of the G-d’s Torah? Further, we have esh, Aleph-Shin, the word for “fire,” ish, Aleph-Yod-Shin, the word for “man,” and eshet, his wife. When man created fire, civilization was born. And we say that fire was a gift given to humankind from G-d.
The word Breishit also contains the letters of two of the essential concepts in Judaism: Yira, “G-d-fearing,” and Shabbat, “G-d-loving.” Shabbat is the gift given to all of Israel to encounter G-d’s paradise in eternity. How we come to G-d is how we live with G-d: seek closeness and do not falter. “G-d-fearing” really means that G-d forbid I should do anything to lose that closeness. Moreover, we find teshev, Tav-Shin-Bet, the imperative “return.” We return to Shabbat every week. Was Shabbat created for the world or because of the world? Or did it preexist the world, in the organization of life before substance within G-d’s mind? After all, why was it that G-d chose to create except to share His mind with all of us whom He created? Thus, it is the highest meaning of the letter Bet, to have a relationship with the Holy One. The first chapter of this sedre concludes with the creation of Shabbat, but the unfolding story describes man’s halting and stumbling on the sixth day before the onset of the holy Sabbath. In this halting and stumbling we see the word boshet, meaning “disgrace” in place of grace as Adam and Eve hid from the Almighty when they heard his voice. It is interesting to read how the Torah finishes the first chapter with the creation of Shabbat, its blessing and holiness given to it by G-d and then we read the underlying story of Adam and Eve not deserving the Shabbat that they were intended to enter.
There is an abstract word in the Shema Yisrael: bahm. In Hebrew the phrase is v’dibarta bahm, Bet-Mem. The command reiterates that we teach our children and speak to them of bahm. What is bahm? The rabbis look at the shape of the letters; the Bet has three of four sides enclosed. This is a metaphor for Breishit, as everything begins from that one opening in the letter Bet. The rabbis feel a tension, where the Mem Sofit comes to close the gap and to keep an interior space all-containing. What is the concept that we must teach our children? The duty of the Bet is to teach the children that within themselves is G-d’s presence, G-d’s image. All interhuman experience should be seeking G-d’s image, that divine light within you and I. This is the kindling of holiness and of Heaven found here on Earth. The Bet is the first letter of the Torah, but the Mem Sofit is found at the end of the third word, Elokim. The gematria or numerical value of the word bahm is 42. Forty-two is the standard number of lines of each column written in the Torah. Thus the hidden commandment is to teach our children the mitzvot written within the Torah itself. Forty-two was the number of oases that the children of Israel set up camp in the wandering of the desert, where they lived and studied the Torah of G-d. The point of all is to make it easy for your children to speak naturally of the Eibishter, to seek each others light within their intra-speech, veshinantam levanecha vedibarta bam.
Still in the first word we find asher and ashrei, meaning “happy” and “riches.” A person’s true wealth is the happiness he or she bears. The rabbis tell us that the main purpose of prayer is to try to live with constant and consistent joy. This is a trust that is made to G-d that He is in charge of the universe, not we. The rabbis said that we also pray with a sense of utter helplessness. This is the meaning of the phrase “reishit chochma yirat Hashem.” Wisdom begins with G-d-fear.
We additionally have the word tayar, which means not only to be a tourist but to scout the land for your purpose in it. Here also we have set, Shin-Aleph-Tav, the command to “carry.” What will you bear, what form of holiness will you bring to the land?
Moving forward, the second word of the Torah, bara, “creates,” repeats the first three letters in Breishit: Bet-Resh-Aleph, which are found in the names Avram and Avraham. Avram means Father of Multitudes, and the added letter Heh implies “Father of The Multitudes.” We Jews claim the name Avraham which G-d chose, and we dare not change back. Quite interestingly, the father of Moses’ Amram, Ayin-Mem-Resh-Mem, this means “Nation of Multitudes,” i.e. Bnei Yisrael. Amram does not have a Heh in his name but his two sons Aharon and Moshe do. The Jewish nation became a people when we were be-freed by G-d in the desert led by our spiritual and political leaders, Aharon Hakohen and Moshe Rabbeinu. More profoundly, Amram, the son of Levi, and the husband of Yocheved’s (kevodi – of G-d it is said, my honor which is the greatest aspiration of every nation to strive to be the exemplar of the honor of G-d. Which nation as of yet attained? G-d gave the directive to Israel, a nation of priests at Mount Sinai. The world rightly demands it of us.) eldest child, the older sister of Aharon and Moshe is the prophet Miryam. Her name has the word ram, multitudes, in it. The other two letters is the word mi, Mem-Yud. Her name asks “which is the nation for the multitudes?”
Breishit along with bara contain the first four letters of the word Yisrael, Yod-Shin-Resh-Aleph, but where is the Lamed? The letter Lamed has an elusive double meaning; it means both to learn (lomed) as well as to teach (lamed). The Lamed only emerges at the third word, Elokim, Aleph-Lamed-Heh-Yud-Mem. Here the Aleph and Mem fantastically form the word em, “mother.” Each of the first three words in the beginning of the Torah has the letter Aleph, but in the third word, Lamed is attached to the Aleph, meaning possibly that Yisrael is fulfilled and attached to G-d. Just as the word Elokim completes the name Yisrael, so it completes Avram, both ending in Mem Sofit.
Amazingly, too, the word Leah is within the word Elokim. Leah was characterized as the teary-eyed mother of the Jewish people. She cried for all of Israel’s valuable children. Leah, the most sensitive, the most incandescent.
And of course we have the cumulative Aleph-Tav of everything in the universe; even the inversion Tav-Aleph spells the word “cell.” The cell is the smallest reduction of life, before all the splits and multiplies. Next is the word hashamayim, which includes the names Hashem and Moshe. The remaining word is mi, Mem-Yod, “who is”? Who is G-d and who is Moshe that could commune so closely with the Almighty?
Next is the word ve’et, the first two letters transposing to the word ot, meaning “sign,” a signpost of what is to come. The last and seventh word of the first sentence of the Torah is the word ha’aretz, which I believe brings forth the phrase Hod Adoshem Rachameim Tzedek, “the glory of the Only One is revealed through our compassion and righteousness.” By emulating G-d we further G-d’s Presence among all of Creation. This is our partnership, the holiest aspect of being. G-d invites us to further His Creation. We are invited to Heaven’s language in the very first sentence of Genesis. Your weigh-in to live is the way of your love. Hod Adoshem Rachameim Tzedek. May this be how we live on G-d’s planet, His land, His earth. Amen.