The Letters of Creation
בנוהג שבעולם מלך בשר ודם בונה פלטין, אינו בונה אותה מדעת עצמו אלא מדעת אומן, והאומן אינו בונה אותה מדעת עצמו, אלא דיפתראות, ופינקסאות יש לו, לדעת היאך הוא עושה חדרים, היאך הוא עושה פשפשין, כך היה הקב”ה מביט בתורה, ובורא את העולם, והתורה אמרה בראשית ברא אלהים, ואין ראשית אלא תורה, היאך מה דאת אמר “ה’ קנני ראשית דרכו.”
When a mortal king builds a castle, he does not follow his own whim. He consults an architect, who prepares architectural designs to plan how each room and each passageway will appear. So too, when Hashem created the world, He gazed into the Torah, and from it He designed His Creation. Therefore, it is written, “Bereishis (With the ‘beginning’), God created.” The Torah is the “beginning”, of which it is said, “Hashem created me at the beginning of His path.”
Hashem created the world using the Torah’s wisdom as His tool and guide, and the Torah letters as the very building blocks of creation. All dimensions of existence, from the most spiritual plane of atzilus, to the most material plane of asiyah, are formed from the letters of the Torah.
For this reason, our Sages tell us that Betzalel built the Mishkan by “arranging the letters with which the world was made.” In other words, he made the Mishkan into a microcosmic model of the world, by employing the same letters used in the world’s creation.
Since the world is based on the letters of the Torah, each letter is integral to the world’s continued existence. Only a tiny dot distinguishes between the letters ה and ח, yet the Midrash tells us that if we were to replace the wordתהלל (praise) with תחלל (defile) in the verse, “Let every soul praise Hashem” the most heinous blasphemy would result. The Midrash cites many similar examples, and concludes that the entire world would be destroyed if even one letter of the Torah would be misplaced.
Creation was not just an ancient event, long ago concluded. “In His kindness, He renews each day the work of creation,” as we say in davening. The world around us continues to unfold, as Hashem constantly recreates it, based on the novel Torah concepts that are developed throughout the generations.
The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu was moved by a spirit of Divine inspiration (ru’ach hakodesh), which enabled him to discover the novel Torah insights that Hashem develops each day. Avraham gazed deeply into the world around him, and perceived Hashem’s novel Torah concepts as the vivifying force through which the world is renewed.
Until Kabbalas HaTorah, Hashem renewed the world using His own novel Torah concepts. After Kabbalas HaTorah, this responsibility was entrusted to Bnei Yisrael. As Torah scholars toil in their studies, delving into the endless depths of the Torah, they provide the building blocks by which Hashem renews the world. The verse, “All your sons (בניך) shall be students of Hashem,” is interpreted to mean, “All your builders (בוניך) shall be students of Hashem,”to highlight the crucial role of Torah scholars in maintaining creation.
Whereas the world was first created by Hashem’s speech, it is now maintained by our own speech, as we study His holy Torah. For this reason, Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt”l warned that if there would ever be a single moment in which no Jew anywhere would be studying Torah, the basis for the world’s continued existence would totter, and all creation would crumble into oblivion.
The initial cornerstone of the world’s creation was the letter beis from the word “Bereishis,” the first letter in the Torah. The Yalkut Shimoni explains that this letter stands for “beracha – blessing”, and was therefore uniquely auspicious:
אמר רבי עקיבא אלו עשרים ושנים אותיות שבהן נתנה כל התורה כלה והן חקוקין בעט שלהבת על כתר נורא של הקב”ה ובשעה שבקש לבראות את העולם ירדו ועמדו לפני הקב”ה זה אומר לפניו בי תברא את העולם וזה אומר לפניו בי תברא את העולם. בתחלה נכנס תי”ו לפניו ואמר לפניו רבש”ע רצונך שתברא בי את העולם שבי אתה עתיד ליתן תורה לישראל על ידי משה שנאמר תורה צוה לנו משה. השיב הקב”ה ואמר לאו מפני שאני עתיד לעשות בך רושם על מצחות האנשים שנאמר והתוית תי”ו. מיד יצא מלפניו בפחי נפש. ואחר כך נכנס שי”ן וכן כל אות ואות ואחרי כולן נכנס בי”ת ואמר לפניו רבש”ע רצונך שתברא בי את העולם שבי אומרים בכל יום ברוך ה’ לעולם אמן ואמן. השיב הקב”ה הן ברוך הבא בשם ה’ מיד קבלו הקב”ה וברא בו את העולם בבי”ת שנאמר בראשית ברא.
Rebbe Akiva said: The twenty-two letters of the Torah were engraved with a fiery stylus on the awesome crown of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. When Hashem sought to create the world, the letters descended before Him, each one begging that the world might be created through it.
First, the letter tav approached and said, “Master of the Universe, create the world with me, since through me You will give the Torah to Bnei Yisrael, as the verse says: ‘Torah was commanded to us by Moshe.’”
Hashem refused tav’s request, since the letter tav was destined to be engraved on the brows of the sinners at the time of the Churban Beis HaMikdash, marking them for destruction. Dejected by refusal, tav exited, and the letter shin entered in its place, only to meet with similar refusal. Each letter entered and was dismissed, until finally the letter beis entered and said, “Master of the Universe, create the world with me, since with me You will be praised each day, ‘Baruch Hashem forever, amen and amen.’”
Hashem accepted beis’s proposal, and used it to create the world, as the verse says, “Bereishis (at first), Hashem created.”
The world was created for the glorification of Hashem’s holy Name, as the verse states, “All that is called by My Name, for My honor I created, fashioned and formed it.” The Jewish people, who are the pinnacle of creation, were also formed for this purpose: “This nation I have created shall tell My praise.” It is therefore only fitting that the world be created with the letter beis, by which Hashem is praised in the verse, “Baruch Hashem forever, amen and amen.”
The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a slightly variant explanation, that the letter beis was chosen over aleph, since beis stands for beracha (blessing), while aleph stands for arurah(cursed). Just as aleph precedes beis alphabetically, Hashem’s original intention was to create the world based on a strict system of justice, in which weighty punishment would immediately befall those who sin. However, Hashem saw that a world run with such severity could not possibly endure. Therefore, He dismissed the aleph of arurah, and instead chose to use beis to create a world sustained by His blessed mercy.
Another reason why the letter beis was chosen to inaugurate the world’s creation, is its numerical equivalent of two, signifying the two worlds of Olam HaZeh (the current world we live in) and Olam HaBah (the World to Come).
Belief in the World to Come is a central tenet of our faith, yet the Torah makes no explicit mention of it anywhere, as the commentaries note and endeavor to explain. In any case, although no explicit mention is made, a hint towards the existence of the World to Come is found in the very first letter of the Torah.
In a similar vein, another Midrash explains that beis signifies the two times that the world was destined to be destroyed and renewed. Once by the Flood in the time of Noach, and again in future, in the year 6093. (The significance of this date is discussed in our commentary to Parshas V’eschanan: “The Heights of the Universe”.) Beis also signifies the two times that the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed and rebuilt.
The Talmud Yerushalmi offers another reason why the world was created with the letter beis, based on the shape of the letter as it appears in a Sefer Torah:
The Yerushalmi states as follows:
רבי יונה בשם רבי לוי בבי”ת נברא העולם מה בי”ת סתום מכל צדדיו ופתוח מצד אחד כך אין לך רשות לדרוש מה למעלן ומה למטן מה לפנים ומה לאחור אלא מיום שנברא העולם ולבא אומרין לבי”ת מי בראך והוא מראה להן בנקודה ואומר זה שלמעלן ומה שמו והוא מראה להן בנקודה שלאחריו ואומר יי’ שמו אדון שמו
R’ Yonah said in the name of R’ Levi: The world was created with the letter beis … Beis is asked “Who created you?” It answers by pointing upward towards Hashem.
“What is your Maker’s Name?” it is asked. It answers by pointing backward towards the letteraleph, and says, “His Name is Adon (Master.)”
Here we see that even the shape of the Hebrew letters have great significance, from which we can learn important lessons regarding the nature of existence. The Rosh writes in his commentary to Nedarim, “All forms of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the shapes of the Hebrew letters.” From them we learn not only philosophical or kabbalistic concepts, but halacha and mussar as well.
There is no end to the depth of the Torah. “Turn it over and over again, for everything is contained within it.” May Hashem open our eyes, that we may merit to see the wonders of His holy Torah, and may its study help us to improve ourselves in every way.
 Bereishis Rabbah 1:1
 Mishlei 8:22
 Berachos 55b
 Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis.
 See Bereishis Rabbah, Vayeira 49
 Yeshaya 54:13
 Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Bo
 Nefesh HaChaim 4:25
 Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis 1:1
 Yeshaya 43:7
 ibid, 43:21
 Chagigah 10a
 Bereishis Rabbah 1:10
 Avos 5:22