Torah Thoughts: Parashat Yitro 5780
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The parasha for this week, Yitro, includes the reading of the Ten Commandments. The first word of the Ten Commandments is Anochi, “I” in Hebrew. The Hebrew word anochi starts with the Hebrew letter aleph, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It seems natural to have such an important text as the Ten Commandments start with the first letter of the alphabet.
However, there is another very important text in the Torah that starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, bet. I am referring to the creation of the world (and you could say, to the Torah in general), which starts with the word Bereshit, “In the beginning.”
There is a charming Midrash that describes how the letter aleph was so upset with God, and angrily complained to Him that He should have created the world with her (starting the story of the Creation of the world with the letter aleph). After all, she was the first letter! Why had God started his creation with the second letter of the alphabet?
Always according to this Midrash, God tried to console the letter aleph and told her that she should not worry, because He was going to give the Torah to his children starting with an aleph. What an honor for the aleph to be the first letter of the Ten Commandments!
Apart from being a funny and sweet midrash, this story about the letters aleph and bet also reminds us of a good lesson about the importance of having purpose in life. The two texts compared here are the creation of the world and the Ten Commandments. The first one represents the existence, the blessing of being. The second one represents the giving of the Torah, and as such it represents the purpose of existence. In the Jewish tradition, a world without Torah is a world without purpose, without a real goal. The Torah is our moral compass, the book that guides us in the way of life. The Torah is what gives purpose to the creation. When we have the Torah we know how to live. We thank God everyday for giving us life, but we also thank him and bless him for giving us the Torah, which gives us a purpose in life. The Torah guides us to become better human beings and better Jews.
The Midrash about the fighting letters states that, of course, the creation has to come first. First, you need to exist! That is why the story of Bereshit comes first in the Torah, in the very beginning. However, God gave the Torah starting with the letter aleph, the letter that comes before the letter bet (the one that starts the Creation story), as if He was saying that real life begins by having a purpose. When you discover your purpose in life, you overcome the state of mere existence to live a life of purpose and meaning. In the Jewish tradition, Torah guides us to give meaning and purpose to our lives!