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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT BEREISHEIT
October 5, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Genesis 1:1-6:8 (Hertz, p. 2; Etz Hayim, p. 3)
Triennial Cycle Year II: Genesis 2: - 4:26 (Hertz, p. 6; Etz Hayim, p. 12)
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18 - 42 (Mahar Hodesh) (Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1215)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-2:3) The world is created in six days. The first Shabbat.

(2:4-25) The creation and, in particular, the creation of humanity. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden "to till it and to tend it."

(3:1-7) The snake tempts the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. She persuades the man also to eat it. They become aware of their nakedness, and they make clothing for themselves from fig leaves.

(3:8-24) God's first question of human beings:  "Where are you?" God punishes the snake by making it crawl on its belly, and by the enmity of human beings; the woman by the pains of childbirth; the man by alienation from the earth. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

(4:1-15) Cain's murder of Abel and God's response. (4:17-26) The descendants of Cain. The taunting song of Lamech. The birth of Seth, and his son Enosh.

(5:1-6:8) The ten generations from Adam to Noah.

Torah Text Being Considered

"The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom He had formed. And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil... And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.'" (Gen 2:8-9, 16-17)

Commentaries:

  1. "The tree of knowledge of good and evil". What was the tree from which Adam and Eve ate? Rabbi Meir said: It was wheat, for when a person lacks knowledge people say, 'That man has never eaten bread of wheat.' Rabbi Samuel ben Isaac asked Rabbi Zeira: 'Is it possible that it was wheat?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'But surely TREE is written?' he argued. 'It grew lofty like the cedars of Lebanon,' he replied. Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Ila'i said: It was grapes, for it says, "Their grapes are grapes of gall, they have clusters of bitterness" (Deut. 32:32); those clusters brought bitterness (i.e. sorrow) into the world. Rabbi Abba of Acco said: It was the etrog as it is written, "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise" (Gen. 3:6). Consider: go forth and see, what tree is it whose wood (stem) can be eaten just like its fruit? And you find none but the etrog.

    Rabbi Yose said: They were figs. This may be compared to a royal prince who sinned with a slave girl, and the king, upon learning of it, expelled him from court. The prince went from door to door of slaves, but they would not receive him; but she who had sinned with him opened her door and received him. So when Adam ate of that tree, God expelled him and cast him out of the Garden of Eden; and Adam appealed to all the trees but they would not receive him. What did they say to him? Said Rabbi Berechiah: 'Behold, a deceiver who deceived his Creator, who deceived his Master!' as it is written, "Let not the foot of presumption come unto me" (Ps. 36:12), which means the foot that presumed against its Creator; "And let not the hand of the wicked shake me" (ibid); i.e. let it not take a leaf from me. But because he had eaten of its fruit, the fig-tree opened its doors and received him, as it is written, ' ...they sewed fig-leaves together' (Gen. 3:7 Bereisheet Rabbah 15:7)

For discussion:

Adam and Eve are instructed not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Early Renaissance art portrayed the fruit of this tree as an apple. (Scholars suggest that in Old English an apple was the generic term for a fruit similar to the Hebrew jup, which originally meant fruit.) Not withstanding the mistranslation of Renaissance artists, Midrash Rabbah on Genesis records a dispute on the identity of the mysterious fruit. Four possibilities are suggested: wheat, grapes, etrog, fig. Looking at each of these symbolically or metaphorically, what might the deeper meaning be behind this four-way dispute?

Some points to consider:

  1. Eating may be considered a metaphor for domination and mastery as in eating matzah, symbolizing mastery of freedom. Furthermore, "good and evil" in the context of the tree is a "merism". A merism is a poetic way of expressing totality by referring to polar opposites. In this case, eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is tantamount to trying to possess knowledge of everything, an act of hubris (hutzpah). Such knowledge surely is reserved only for God. One can engage in inquiry into such knowledge (one can touch the tree) but one should not think that he/she can have complete knowledge as God does.
  2. The Midrash asks the question: What fruit symbolizes this arrogance? The wheat or grapes which are a symbol of the advance of civilization (science)? The etrog which is a symbol of asthetics and beauty? The fig which is a symbol of financial power and commerce?
  3. What tempts us to such arrogance? What helps us better understand our place in the world? Is this where religion comes in? What role can religion play in the world vis-a-vis science, industry, etc.?

 
 
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