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Parshat Bereshit 2018
We spend a whole year reading the Torah, which we complete on Simchat Torah, and then, without taking a breath, we start again. Did we miss something? Well, each year we find something new, some insight or eureka moment that makes the rereading rewarding.
The first word of our Torah is “Bereshit,” in the beginning, so it may seem a bit odd that some midrashim and commentaries hypothesize that our world was not the first one that God created. Other unsatisfactory ones preceded it and were destroyed. Why was ours different? Because it included mankind. Considering what homo sapiens have wrought, that is black humor.
Today we will concentrate on a few references to our earliest progenitors and their actions and interactions. We seem to have two versions of our creation. The one in chapter one, on the sixth day, describes humans as androgynous, a combined male and female.
The second version, in the following chapter, makes a distinction between the genders. The old story goes that God came to Adam and said, “I’m going to make you a mate, a woman, who will be and do everything. Beautiful, intelligent, she’ll know your every thought and fulfill your every wish. She’ll prepare your food, solve your problems, find ways to amuse you and in short make life a joy. But it will cost you. How much, Adam asks. Your right eye, your left arm, one testicle and your right foot. Adam thinks for a minute and says, What can I get for a rib? The rest is history.
So, in this second story the female is a more advanced model.
Our third mention of the male/female dyad appears just before the list of begats, the genealogy. “This is the book of the history of Adam, on the day the Lord created Adam in the image of God He created him, male and female he created them and he blessed them and called their name Adam on the day of their creation.” Not clear whether one or two.
generations of people who are born and die and all of them are male. No females mentioned. Author Yochi Brandeis notes that this chapter teaches her an important lesson. It is possible to live 800 years, even almost 1000 years – to be born and then to die – and not to do anything important or of note in between!
Now let’s look at the actual interactions between our Adam and Eve, who should have been one but weren’t. We learn that a man should leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and become as one flesh. This is because it is not good to be alone for all of your life. These are quotes from the parsha. Today’s generations seem to have embellished on this. They cleave to one, and then to another, sometimes they go home to mother and father, and then cleave to yet another.
We don’t really know what their relationship was like. They frolicked in the Garden of Eden and ate of the fruits of the trees and took care of the garden. They also shared fruit. They had only one limitation. They were not allowed to eat from one tree, the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Why was that? Was the purpose of this ban to tempt the only couple around to eat from that tree? After all, we know that people in general can withstand anything but temptation and without temptation, our lives would lack some spice.
And then there’s the serpent – a nice touch. As Rabbi Yigal Ariel says, Everyone has his serpent, that voice that tells you to do something because you know you shouldn’t. To improve our lives together, we have to learn to banish or control the serpent.
Ariel Seri-Levi points out that the writer of this story knew that people wore clothes, that men dominated women and that serpents had no legs. Otherwise the story would make no sense to us. He also points out that the “punishments” given for eating the forbidden fruit – labor pains in birth, and having to work for a living – are not presented as punishments but rather as simple objective consequences of the actions they took. There is no sin in childbirth and no sin in working. That’s just the way things are.
I found one more positive comment about family life in the parsha. The last entry in the genealogy is the birth of Noah to Lemech. Rabbi Shimon Felix points out that Lemech calls his son Noah because he will comfort us (Noah means ease or comfort) in light of “our deeds and the sadness of our handiwork on the land that God has cursed.”
Lemech feels things are going bad and for whatever reason, he feels or hopes or prays that this son will initiate a change, he will help to remove the curse from the land.
Here we see a parent thinking of the future, and hoping, praying, prophesying or daydreaming that his children will help to make the world a better place. Isn’t that what we all want? To be able to think that we have contributed to making the world better, through our actions and even more, through our children and their actions.
Let’s hope that through this year of reading the Torah, we can take comfort from the improvement and progress we experience.