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Why does the Torah begin with the second letter, bet, rather than the first letter, aleph? There are many answers, but let's focus on this one:

Bet is the beginning of the word barukh (blessed), but aleph is the beginning of the word arur (cursed). [Chagigah Y 2:1]

The problem is that there are many nice words that begin with aleph (ahavah, or love; achvah, or brotherhood), and many negative words that begin with bet (bechiah, or crying).

You would think that if you are going to use a certain method of explanation, you should use it always, not selectively. Picking and choosing where to apply it can lead you to any pre-ordained conclusion, and does not make a compelling argument.

Is this addressed anywhere?

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    This is addressed in the Penei Moshe commentary on the spot, but I won’t claim to fully understand his answer. – Alex Oct 27 '19 at 7:47
  • I seem to remember that at the beginning of the Zohar there is an explanation that all the letters stood forward in turn in reverse order, but aleph, being silent (ie modest) , did not protest when bet got the position and so was rewarded by starting the Ten Commandments. – Epicentre Oct 27 '19 at 10:51
  • An important question for understanding Talmudic reasoning. As I frequently mentioned, we should distinguish reasons (סיבה) from excuses (תירוץ). A reason is the fundamental cause of a phenomenon, while an excuse is easy to swallow answer. For example here, the Gemmorah only gives an easy to understand and remember excuse, not caring to dive into the real cause of this phenomenon. – Al Berko Oct 27 '19 at 17:43
  • source for that answer judaism.stackexchange.com/q/73285/759 – Double AA Oct 27 '19 at 19:26
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The Maharal (Sanhedrin 97b) explains that you’ve got it backwards: beis isn’t auspicious because it is the first letter in “beracha”; the word “beracha” is auspicious because it begins with a beis (and inversely for aleph and arur). Beis has a Gematria of two, symbolizing plurality and increasing, so it’s appropriate that it be the first letter of the word beracha; likewise, aleph has a Gematria of one, symbolizing stagnancy, an appropriate beginning to the word arur.

The Torah begins with the letter beis not because it’s the first letter in the word beracha, but rather the letter beis itself represents the concept of beracha. It doesn’t begin with the letter aleph not because it’s the first letter in the word arur, but rather because the letter aleph itself represents the concept of arur.

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  • A bit of a stretch. Midrash endorses Chagigah Y 2:1 quote, in saying: "Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, begin the account of the creation of His world with the letter bet rather than with the aleph... Because aleph is the first letter of the word arur (“cursed”), while the bet is the first letter of the word barukh (“blessed”). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “I will begin the account of the creation of the world with the letter that symbolizes a blessing." [Midrash Tanhuma, Bereshit 5] – Maurice Mizrahi Oct 27 '19 at 20:22
  • @MauriceMizrahi I agree it’s a bit of a stretch, though this is very characteristic of the Maharal. It fits better with Bereishis Rabbah’s version, that ב is לשון ברכה. – DonielF Oct 27 '19 at 20:24

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