"We live," writes Lev Shestov, "surrounded by an endless multitude of mysteries. But no matter how enigmatic may be the mysteries which surround being, what is most enigmatic and disturbing is that mystery in general exists and that we are somehow definitely and forever cut off from the sources and beginnings of life."1
Bereshit bara Elokim: "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth" ( King James translation). Boldly and lucidly, the originating words and acts of God are described. The narrative tells of an ordering and a goodness that shapes all the categories of creation. Smoothly, powerfully, and seamlessly, the text ( Genesis 1:1-2, 4), through formal devices of sequence, repetitions of key words, and the leitmotif of "Let there be . . . and there was . . . ," produces "several theological meanings: that Elohim, alone, 'at the beginning,' created a good ordered world; that He 'separated' and hierarchically ordered the primordial mass into a 'good' pattern; that the created world of nature is, as a result, a harmony; and that Elohim is Omnipotent and without rival."2
The clarity of this account of "the sources and beginnings of life" seems to leave no room for the existential sense of "mystery in general" that Shestov describes. And yet Rashi, the foremost of the traditional commentators on the Torah text, begins his great work with these words: "This text is nothing if not mysterious" (lit., this text says nothing but "Explain me!"). What Rashi claims, in effect, is that the opening sentence tells us nothing about beginnings, nothing about sequence, that it means little more than "When God created heaven and earth. . . ."
The mystery of the beginning is based, for Rashi, on syntax: How does the opening sentence hold together? What is the grammatical form of the very first word? "Bereshit" is the construct form, meaning "In the