Sefer Bereishis is given to us to learn from our ancestors’ middos tovos
“In the beginning Hashem created the heavens and the earth.” (Bereishis 1:1)
Rashi asks a famous question: Why does the Torah start with Bereishis and not with the first mitzvah in Sefer Shemos? He explains: So if the nations of the world accuse Bnei Yisrael of stealing Eretz Yisrael, we can prove that it is ours by right — Hashem created the world and could therefore give us the land.
That answers why the Torah begins with the creation of the world. But what about the rest of Sefer Bereishis, which deals with the Avos and their lives? (Rav Shalom Noach Berezovsky, Nesivos Shalom)
When in Israel, drive as the Israelis do. That seems to be the default around here. It’s a simple equation of good guys finishing last. Or not getting anywhere at all.
Recently, though, I’ve reconsidered this concept. I walked out of my building and was confronted with strewn belongings and smashed glass. A bus had tried to pass another bus, lost control, and careened into the first bus, which smashed the guardrail and came to rest on the sidewalk.
B’chasdei Hashem injuries were minor, but the images stayed with me. I was shaken. I kept wondering: Of all the buildings in the city, why had mine been chosen? What was I supposed to learn from witnessing such a horrific accident?
I decided that I needed to work on my own driving behavior. I may occasionally have to defend my right to live, but I didn’t need to insist on defending my right of way.
Sitting behind the steering wheel would not transform me into a bad middos machine.
Chazal tell us (Avodah Zarah 25a) that Sefer Bereishis is called Sefer Hayashar because it teaches us middos tovos from the Avos, who were yesharim, straight.
Middos are not counted among the 613 mitzvos, but they are the prerequisite and foundation to mitzvah performance.
I found the results immediately apparent. I waved and nodded to other drivers when they inched into my personal space and was often rewarded by having them return my nod and offer me my space back.
It’s easier to share the road when you treat other drivers as people, not threats. The more I drove politely, the more I was treated that way in return.
Thus Sefer Bereishis is given to us to learn from our ancestors’ middos tovos. The Gemara (Succah 52b) tells us that there were seven shepherds, seven leaders, from whom we learn middos tovos, each one of whom had a specific middah in which he excelled: Adam, Sheis, Mesushalach, Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe, and Dovid. Five of these seven appear in Sefer Bereishis.
In the merit of these seven ancestors, Bnei Yisrael were able to capture the seven nations then living in Eretz Yisrael. But there remain three more nations that we’ll only capture when Mashiach comes and brings sheleimus hamiddos to the world.
Until then, it’s incumbent upon each individual to perfect his own middos. One should focus on the middah of hachna’ah, humility, nullifying one’s own ego before another. This middah shares the same root as Canaan, Eretz Yisrael — and the merit of perfecting this trait will help bring the complete salvation.
One evening at dusk I rounded a corner and slammed on my brakes as a pedestrian stepped right in front of my car without looking. I was relieved that I hadn’t been driving quickly, but was amazed at the cavalier way this woman took her life into her hands crossing the street.
But that’s her problem, not mine, I told myself, my new resolution still fresh in my mind. Apparently, though, she decided that her experience was definitely my problem. She marched over to my window to give me a piece of her mind.
“What kind of driver are you? You could have killed me!” Her voice spiked with each word. If looks could kill, she was aiming her own weapon.
In the past I would’ve ignored her or pointed out that her danger was definitely exacerbated by her lack of reasonable precautions. But the new respectful me refrained from stating this obvious inconsistency and instead said very softly, “Geveret, I’m so sorry. It must have been so scary for you. Please accept my apologies.”
For a moment she was speechless. Then she began heaping brachos on my head: “May there be more drivers as courteous as you in Am Yisrael!” Uhm, Amen?
When in Israel, act as Yisraelim should.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 713)
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