Parshat Bereshit: What’s Your Verse?
זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹהִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃
“This is the story of the generations of Adam. On the day God created Adam, God made him in the image of God.”
If you had to choose one verse to describe the whole Torah, which would you choose? There is a debate amongst our Rabbis as to which verse this should be. Rabbi Akiva says that is it Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ben Azai says it must be the verse quoted above – “this is the story of the generations of Adam.”
The main difference between these two Rabbis is rooted in the purpose of the Torah, as they see it. To Rabbi Akiva, the Torah is primarily a handbook about how to love your neighbor. We learn these stories and mitzvot in order to cultivate a character where we treat our neighbors, ourselves, and our God with honor and dignity. For Ben Azai, the Torah is primarily a history book. “This is the story of the generations” our verse states, and Ben Azai sees that as proof that the primary purpose of Torah is to recount the history of humankind, and the history of our people.
As we begin the Torah again from Genesis, may we learn these stories, struggle with them, internalize their lessons, and develop a sense of what the Torah is to each of us. Perhaps we may agree with Rabbi Akiva or Ben Azai. Perhaps we will find that these stories affect us in a completely unique way. May we find personal meaning in these words, read for thousands of years, as we try and answer the question for ourselves about the essence of Torah and what it means for our lives.