Parashas Bereishis

The second verse of the Torah’s account of creation states: “And the world was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence was hovering above the surface of the waters.” The Midrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 2:5):
R. Abbahu said: “From the very beginning of His creation of the world, Hashem foresaw the deeds of the righteous and the wicked. … The phrase ‘the world was astonishingly empty’ refers to the deeds of the wicked, while the phrase ‘let there be light’ refers to the deeds of the righteous. We do not yet know whose deeds Hashem cherishes. But when the Torah tells us that ‘God saw that the light was good,’ we know that the deeds of the righteous are what He cherishes.”
This Midrash is mysterious, and the commentators have expounded on it at length. The Maggid offers an additional perspective. He builds on the the following Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:1):
We are told (Vayikra 19:2): “Be holy!” It is written (Yeshayah 5:16): “Hashem, Master of Legions, is exalted through judgment” [and the verse concludes, “and the Holy God is sanctified through righteousness”]. R. Shimon bar Yochai said: “When is the name of the Holy One Blessed Be He magnified in His world? When He applies the Attribute of Justice with the wicked.” Many verses support this assertion. One such verse states (Yechezkel 38:23): “I shall be exalted and sanctified – I shall make Myself known before the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Hashem. Another states (Tehillim 9:17): “Hashem became known through the justice He wrought.”
This Midrash portrays two ways in which the Jewish People serve as vehicle for exhibiting Hashem’s greatness. When we are righteous, our conduct glorifies Hashem: “The Holy God is sanctified through righteousness.” Yeshayah 49:3 describes us as “Yisrael, through whom I am glorified.” For instance, when Alexander the Great beheld Shimon HaTzaddik, he declared: “Blessed is the God of Shimon HaTzaddik.” The Torah, referring to the Jewish People, states: cheilek Hashem amo. Literally, this statemente means that we are Hashem’s “portion” within the world, but we can read it as meaning that we, Hashem’s people, are a “portion” of Hashem Himself. The nobility and holiness that we exhibit reflects, in miniature, Hashem’s own nobility and holiness. Thus, when others observe our loftiness, and then recall that it is but a small sample of Hashem’s infinite loftiness, they are led to marvel over Hashem’s greatness. 
On the other hand, when we act wickedly, far be it, Hashem is glorified through His casting His hand of justice upon us: “Hashem, Master of Legions, is exalted through judgment.” In a similar vein, Shlomo teaches (Mishlei 16:4): “All that Hashem made is for His sake, even the evildoer for the day of retribution.” Even the retribution against the wicked makes a positive contribution toward promoting Hashem’s glory, as it is written (Yeshayah 26:9): “When your judgments are cast against the land, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”
Hashem exhorts us: “Be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy.” Hashem is saying: “One way or the other, I will manifest My holiness. Better it should be through your righteous conduct than through My subjecting you to justice.”
We can now understand well the Midrash’s discussion about whether Hashem cherishes the deeds of the wicked or those of the righteous. Both bring out Hashem’s glory. In fact, Hashem’s meting out justice to the wicked exhibits His glory much more strikingly than the reflection of His loftiness in the deeds of the righteous. Nonetheless, it is the deeds of the righteous that Hashem cherishes.
We can illustrate the idea with a parable. A doctor decided to change careers and become a jeweler. His neighbors were amazed. They asked him: “Do you think you can possibly make as much money as a jeweler as you did as a doctor?” He replied: “I certainly don’t expect to make as much money as I did before. Still, I like my new career much better. Before I dealt with pitiful sick people, and spent my days looking at hideous diseases and wounds. Now I deal with splendid people, and spend my days looking at lovely gold settings and gems.” Similarly, Hashem does not gain as much glory through the deeds of the righteous than He does through the deeds of the wicked, but, still, He much prefers the former to the latter.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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