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A Good Place to Start

Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1 - 13:16)

URL: http://www.jewishjournal.com/torah_portion/article/a_good_place_to_start_20060203

The Torah has no title page. It has neither an author's introduction nor a preface -- nothing to tell us why the book was written or how it is to be read. The very first line begins with a complete lack of self-consciousness: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). On this line we find a remarkable comment by the most famous of Jewish Bible commentators, Rashi, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of 11th century France. Rashi cites a classical midrash: "Rabbi Isaac asked: Why does the Torah begin with Genesis? The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:2): 'This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months,' which is the first commandment given to Israel. For what reason does the Torah begin with Genesis?" Rashi's commentary on the Torah provides the Jew with a broad survey of law, theology and wisdom -- a basic curriculum of Jewish learning. Rashi's genius is to state the most penetrating questions in the most concise idiom. This one is a gem. Within this innocuous question is a world of debate on the nature of Judaism and purpose of the Torah.

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