This Land is God’s Land, This Land is Our Land
Since the Torah is a special covenant between God and Jewish People, why does it begin with “In the beginning…” instead of the first commandment that God taught the Jewish nation? Thank you.
What a fascinating and thoughtful question! Since we are at the beginning of a new Jewish year, and a new cycle for reading the entire Torah each year, perhaps you would be interested in knowing that your question is addressed by the very first comment of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105, France) in his commentary on the Torah! You may want to look it up yourself, but I will tell you what he says as I understand it.
Rashi quotes a “Rabbi Yitzchak”, who many say was his father, who asked this question and answered it.
He asked: Why didn’t the Torah begin with the verse “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it will be the first of the months of the year” which teaches the commandment of how and when to sanctify the new moon and declare a new month each month?
The Torah is not a history book. The fact that God created the universe and everything in it — including various life forms, with human life at its apex — is undoubtedly important to know, but why begin the Torah with a history lesson about the Creation?
He answers this question in a manner that explains not only the special connection between Torah and the Jewish People, but also the special connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish People.
He cites a verse in Psalms (111:6) that states: “The strength of His works He related to His people to give them the inheritance of the nations.” The “strength of His works” infers to the Creation. This verse teaches that the purpose of teaching that God created everything is to justify the legitimacy of His giving the Land of Israel to the Jewish People.
How does this work? If, as we have witnessed throughout history, the nations of the world should say to the Jewish People, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan” — they will have a reply. “The entire world belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He. He created it all, as we see in the Torah’s telling of the Creation. And He gave each part of the world — including the Land of Israel — to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave the Land of Israel to them, and when He wished He took it away from them and gave it to us.”