God is creator and He has given the Land to Israel
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
The Bible opens with the book of Genesis, and its first words determine its essence – the beginning. The beginning of time, the beginning of the world, the beginning of mankind. It is these first chapters of the Bible that lay the foundation for all that comes later. Essentially, however, the Book of Genesis tells the story of the family of Abraham ending with the sons of Jacob who go down to Egypt and whose descendants leave that country as a nation, the Children of Israel. The foundational chapters of Genesis, therefore, tell us something of the history of Abraham’s family, tracing his roots back to Adam and providing us with the list of each generation between Adam and Abraham. And the Book of Genesis, itself, forms the foundation of the People of Israel for whom the Bible has been written, to whom it has been given, and whose story it tells.
But is this lengthy introduction necessary? If, indeed, the purpose of the Bible is to tell the story of Israel, why must it begin with creation? Rashi, an 11th-century rabbi and brilliant scholar and one of the most widely studied of the traditional commentaries, asks a similar question. He notes that, arguably, the Bible should not have begun with Genesis at all, but with the first commandment given to the Jewish people – the declaration of the new month. (Exodus 12:2). If, indeed, the purpose of the Bible is to teach us how to behave and how to obey God, it should restrict itself to a list of commandments and to those stories that illustrate how those commandments are kept and the covenantal relationship between God and His people.
Rashi provides a stunning answer – “Because of the Scripture (Psalms 111:6) ‘He told his nation the power of his actions to bequeath them the inheritance of nations.’ So that if the nations were to accuse Israel of stealing the land from the seven nations, Israel should respond as follows: “The earth belongs to God, He created it and gave it to whomever he wished. When it was His will, He gave it to them (the seven nations) and when He wished, He took it from them and gave it to us.”
The only reason that God bothered to write the details of creation and the stories of the early patriarchs and biblical heroes was to solidify His claim to the Land of Israel, and, in turn, the claim of His people to the land. In other words, the Bible doesn’t merely record the fact of God’s giving of the land to the People of Israel. Rather, the designation of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is fundamental to the Bible. It is the foundation upon which the entire text stands!
The verse in Psalms noted by Rashi is a powerful Scriptural anchor for this concept. But there is an even better one. In the Song of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses proclaims:
“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance when he divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8).
This Scripture is referring to God’s initial division of mankind into nations which takes place at the Tower of Babel:
“These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. . . So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 10:32, 11:8-9).
From one people who united for an evil purpose, God created the nations, giving each his own language, national identity and land, as detailed in Genesis 10. This happened just a few generations after the Flood. There was no Abraham and the Bible had not yet mentioned anything about the Land of Israel or the People of Israel. But the above verse in Deuteronomy makes it clear that God had already designated the Land of Israel for the People of Israel when He created the other nations and gave them their lands.
God’s designation of the People of Israel, whose rightful place is the Land of Israel and whose purpose is to obey and proclaim the God of Israel, is established at the beginning of time and when God recorded His words in the Bible for eternity, He established Himself as Creator in order to validate this designation.
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office
Here is a more in-depth teaching on the Torah Portion Bereisheet.