As an additional commentary to the verse, Rashi (the great biblical commentator) veers off the literal meaning and parses the first word of the Torah “Breishis” into two: Bais (the letter Bais has a numerical value of 2) & Reishis (firsts), so that instead of “in the beginning” the first word can be read as: “Because of two firsts (or two priorities).” What are the two firsts? Rashi says it’s Torah and the Jewish People.
When it comes to these two priorities often people can err to one side or another. Some people focus primarily on the Torah, they are very into it and dedicated to it, but kind of get out of focus when it comes to the Jewish people, often they don’t see the bigger picture of Jewish peoplehood. Others really value and cherish the Jewish people, and work tirelessly for others but sometimes aren’t that in touch with Torah and might even be distant from it.
The Rebbe repeatedly emphasized the need for both priorities, never neglecting one for the other. On one hand, the Rebbe encouraged love of a fellow Jew like no one ever advocated for it before. Regardless of observance, no matter how much or little they observe or know, to the Rebbe: every Jew is family. The Rebbe put all of his energies and love to into reaching every Jew possible and building vast networks and organizations to do the same. And yet, at the same time, Torah was everything to the Rebbe, everything was through the lens of Torah, Torah guided and inspired and permeated all of his vision and teachings, Torah was always the reference, always the source, always the inspiration.
You see this vision come to life in all Chabad Houses. On one hand, Chabad is accepting and welcoming of all Jews, regardless of background or affiliation, Chabad sees every Jew as family, no matter how little or how much they might know or observe. Yet, at the same time, Chabad Houses are guided by Torah and Halacha. While Chabad participants personal religious observance may (and does!) vary greatly, the Chabad House programming is always grounded and guided by Torah, Mitzvot and Halachic observance.
In a different sense you might compare these two concepts (the two firsts that Rabbi speaks of) to the two major departments at the University: academic affairs and student life, one’s studies and the social experience. Both are firsts, both priorities, both crucial areas of student growth and development. But some college students tend to err to one side or another. Some are heavily invested in their studies but don’t do as well on the social front and with personal development. Others build great social networks but don’t do as well on the academic side. The ideal, of course, is to manage and balance both these areas, in a healthy, productive and meaningful way, so that both are firsts, both are priorities. Focus on both!
Like Rashi’s two firsts of Torah AND the Jewish people.