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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

L’zecher nishmot Eitam and Naama Henkin, Aharon Bennett, Nehemia Lavi Hy”d, who were murdered al kiddush Hashem.


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Ramban refers to Sefer Breishit as Sefer Yetzirah whose purpose is to present the stories of the patriarchs as they foreshadow Jewish History based on Maasay Avot Siman L’Banim. The first three parshiot in Breishit present three unique stories of tragedy associated with Adam, Noah and Abraham. What lessons can we derive from them?

As mentioned in last week’s article, Parshat Breishit instructs mankind in general and the Jew in particular that just as Hashem built, destroyed and rebuilt worlds before creating this world, we must be prepared to adapt failure into a stepping stone to build something better and more complete. Each of the main actors in the first three parshiot experienced major failure or disruption of their lives and world. Their responses to their challenges ranged from destructive to admirable and something we must strive to emulate by studying and learning from their experiences.

After his initial sin, Adam reacted with denial to his world being ripped away from him. He sought to reenter Eden after he was cast out but was blocked by the whirling blades of the Cherubim who guarded its entrance. At that moment Adam’s world was destroyed. He alienated his wife by blaming her for the calamity that befell them and separated from her for an extended period. His already shattered world was further broken with the murder of Abel, the son of pure heart and dedication to God who he hoped would carry on his legacy. He is left with only Cain, the son that God condemned for the murder of his brother. The execution of that decree against Cain was delayed seven generations, but the destiny of Cain’s offspring was sealed. All that Adam built was destined to be destroyed.

Chazal tell us of an encounter between Adam and his estranged son Cain. Adam inquired of Cain what punishment he received for his crime. Cain replied that he repented and was forgiven. Immediately Adam proclaimed Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat. What is the connection between Cain’s admission and Adam’s proclamation? Adam realized that even though his world was shattered he had the ability to admit his failure and rebuild his relationship with Hashem. The world that Abel represented was gone; however he could rebuild its ruins and strive to create something even better. He subsequently reunites with Chava and they have another child, Seth. The choice of name is interesting as it represents the birth of a child to replace Abel who was murdered by Cain. They prayed the child should eclipse Abel and rebuild the worlds they lost with their exile and Abel’s murder. The world Seth would build should come closer to the ideal that Hashem envisaged during creation. Adam learned the lesson of starting over after the destruction of his original world.

Unfortunately, the new world that Adam attempted to start through Seth became corrupted. At the end of Breishit, Hashem, kvayachol, expresses remorse for creating man. He decides this version of man must be erased, providing Noah with an opportunity to rebuild the world yet again. The impending destruction of the world was painful for Noah in many ways. He realized that everything he knew and loved, with the exception of his immediate family, would be destroyed. The approaching clouds of destruction, ignored by his generation, would consume everything. A dark period would commence as the world again was to be destroyed and rebuilt. Hashem gave Noah the ability to withstand his opposition, overcome his fears, build the ark and save his family so he could rebuild the world. Upon exiting the ark, Noah acts appropriately, offering sacrifices to Hashem Who commits to refrain from bringing another flood to destroy the world. However Noah soon fails and forfeits his close connection with Hashem. Ultimately he is remembered more for his incident with his son and grandson and the curse they received than for saving humanity from the flood. He fades from the scene unremarkably. His offspring, the generation of the Tower of Babel, rebel against Hashem and are punished through a different form of destruction. Instead of physical destruction, they are divided by language. Loved ones, friends and neighbors became estranged from each other; result and punishment for becoming enslaved to their technological prowess and quest while losing connection to the world around them. They sacrificed their existence on the altar of technological achievement, and failed terribly.

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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at [email protected].