Chazal say that “Torah” preceded the creation of the world, as Rav Yehoshua Ben Levy says: Torah preceded the creation of the world by 2,000 years.”
The same Midrash then compares the creation of the world to the building of a palace, and says: Just as a king of flesh and blood consults with an architect when constructing a palace, Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, too, looked at
the Torah and created the world. What is the idea behind these Midrashim?
Being immersed in the mundane matters of our physical and materialistic world, it is easy to forget one of the fundamental principles of Judaism: The entire array of rituals were given to us by G-d as external expressions
which symbolize very special inner concepts. If this internal idea is distorted by the Jew, then his act, the “mitzvah”, loses its significance, for it no longer manifests its true meaning.
This is precisely the Jewish problem of today. Our two thousand years of exile amongst the gentiles has turned us from a nation to a “religion”. We have become practitioners of Jewish ritual without grasping the inner
concept,and worst of all: Our Judaism has become rote and nothing but lip service. We have become the type of people who declare in synagogue how G-d is omnipotent, and immediately afterwards ask how can we survive if America won’t give us money. This is the tragedy – that the religious world believes in “mitzvot” instead of G-d.
For this reason the Sages point out to us that the “idea” – that is, the Torah, actually preceeded the act of creation. For the “mitzvot” are the external, material deeds, and without an understanding of their inner significance, the mitzvot are left sterile, like a body without a soul. As a result, the Jew fulfilling the mitzvot becomes a mere robot and practitioner of ritual. We see this idea again in the building of the Tabernacle, which is also compared to a small “world”. G-d first commands Bezalel to build the ark, for it is the symbol of the Torah, and only afterwards does G-d command him to build the altar, the symbol of the act or “mitzvah”, once again proving that if one does not start from the basics, from the Torah, his sacrifices have no significance.
For this reason Rabbi Kahane, ZT”L, HY”D, chose the name “The Jewish Idea” for the special yeshiva he began. He wanted a Yeshiva which did not only learn “religion”, so to speak, like “gemara” and “halacha”, but one that
connected the ritual to the deeper concepts which stand behind the dry halacha. Thus, in addition to the “regular” subjects, the Yeshiva also stresses learning Tanach and Midrash, the sources from which the Jew draws
authentic Jewish ideas and concepts.
Not for nothing did the sages set down for us the following rule: “Five years old, learn Tanach”. Before a Jew learns the ritual, he must first learn how to think like a Jew. Only then does the Torah he observes become
an authentic one.