By Rabbi Avremel Matusof
Shortly after Mushkie and I moved back to town ten years ago, I developed an elevator pitch for starting private Torah sessions - “Have you ever studied the entire Torah from Genesis 1:1?”
Whether the one being pitched accepted the offer or not, the pitch almost always elicited a thoughtful expression and a level of interest in the topic. Everyone would love to study the whole Torah.
Here is a trend about Bible knowledge I’ve discovered. Many have last heard Bible stories in their childhood and even more struggle with finding the relevance these stories have in our day-to-day lives.
On Simchat Torah, we will start reading the Torah from the beginning, and the opening storyline is already rife with plenty of questions. Granted, it’s important to know that G-d created the world, but are the details necessary? Must we know what was created on each day of creation to appreciate that G-d is in control of reality?
Torah is not a book of history or law, rather a guide to life. So everything we read in the Five Books of Moses is meant to inform every detail of our lives. G-d expects us all to be creators as well and included His creation methodology in Torah so we can emulate it.
Let’s start with the first day of creation. “G-d said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Intuitively light is associated with a source of light such as a light bulb, or at least to the sun. The problem is that the sun was created on the fourth day, and there is no indication of any other known light source being around then. If the light created on the first day was not the light of the sun - what was its source? Besides, who needed light then anyway?
The Talmud explains that this initial light was of a more spiritual nature, eventually hidden from view by the naked eye, replaced by the light of the sun and other sources of light. The light of the first day represents divine clarity; the truth that G-d is present in every detail of creation. This knowledge was hidden from us in order to give us the opportunity of free choice, to choose right from wrong and good from evil.
This divine clarity was revealed at the beginning of creation to teach us that at the beginning of every endeavor, the purpose and goal must be clear. Upon waking in the morning and embarking on a new journey to making our world a more perfect place, one must take the time to meditate on the clear presence of G-d in our lives. Reciting Modeh Ani, wrapping Tefillin, giving charity, and learning some Torah before diving into the daily grind will guide you to having a meaningful and accomplishing day.
Learning Torah on a regular basis is crucial to accessing this clarity and applying it to our daily lives. I invite you to participate in the many Torah classes available to the public in-person and online and reach out to learn more about one-on-one learning opportunities.
Would you like to start from Genesis 1:1?
Rabbi Avremel Matusof is a Madison native. He received his rabbinic ordination at the Rabbinic Talmudic College in NYC. Rabbi Avremel has traveled extensively to bring hope and direction to smaller communities, including Namibia, Ghana, China, Dominica, and Kauai, Hawaii. He moved back to the area with his wife, Chaya Mushka in the summer of 2011 as Director of the Young Jewish Professionals program (a Chabad of Madison affiliate), serving the growing professional population of the area.