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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT BEREISHEIT
October 25, 2003 - 5764

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

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 1:1-6:8 - Hertz, p. 2; Etz Hayim, p. 3
Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 5:1-6:8 - Hertz, p. 16; Etz Hayim, p. 30
Haftarah: (Mahar Hodesh) Samuel 20:17-42 - Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1215

Discussion Theme: Temptation

“The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil the entire day (all the time). And the Lord regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. The Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created — men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.’ But Noah found favor with the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

Commentary

  1. Rav Yitzchak said: A person’s evil inclination renews itself against him every day, as it says in Genesis 6:5, “only evil the entire day.” And Rabbi Shimon ben Levi said: A person’s evil inclination threatens to overpower him every day and seeks to kill him, as it is stated in Psalms 37:32, “The wicked one watches for the righteous and seeks to slay him.” And if it were not for God’s help, the person would be unable to withstand the evil inclination, as it says in Psalms 37:33, “God will not leave him in his hand.” (Talmud Kiddushin 30b)
  2. The superfluous phrase “the entire day” teaches that at all hours of the day the evil inclination renews its battle against a person. (Rashi on Kiddushin 30b)
  3. In Psalms 37:32 the “wicked one” refers to the evil inclination that attempts to entice people to sin causing them to die. (Maharsha on Kiddushin 30b)
  4. The daily power of the evil inclination indicates that even if it failed to convince a person to commit a particular sin the first time, it will make a stronger attempt each succeeding time. (Vilna Gaon on Kiddushin 30b)
  5. The Rabbis taught in a beraita “you shall place (‘v’sam-tem’) these words on your heart” read as ‘sam-tam,’ a perfect elixir. Torah is compared to a life-giving elixir. An analogy can be drawn to a man that dealt his son a great blow and then places a bandage upon his wound saying to him: ‘My son, so long as this bandage remains on your wound, you may eat whatever you desire, drink whatever you desire, and bathe in hot or cold water, and you need not fear that any harm will come to you by these actions. But if you remove this bandage, your wound will surely fester. So too has the Holy Blessed One said to Israel, ‘my children, I have created the evil inclination and I have created Torah as its antidote. If you involve yourselves in Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand, as it says in Genesis 4:7, “certainly if you correct yourself, you will prevail.” But if you do not involve yourselves in Torah, you will be delivered into its hand, as it says in Genesis 4:7, “it rests at the door.” And what is more, all the pursuits of the evil inclination concern you, as it says there, “and you are its desire.” But if you wish, you can master the evil inclination, as it says there, “but you can conquer it.” (Talmud Kiddushin 30b)
  6. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, “there is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 6)…. The man or woman who occupies themselves with Torah is free because they are liberated from a suffocating selfishness. They do not spend their days catering endlessly to the rapacious needs of their insatiable ego…. This is what makes religion liberating. When one is bound by the tenets of Jewish law that command sensitivity and love for the orphan and the poor; when one is forced to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; when one is enjoined into observing the Sabbath, thus putting family and friends before going to the beach; when one is commanded to start the day by praying to you wish, you can master the evil inclination, as it says there, “but you can conquer it.” (Talmud Kiddushin 30b)
  7. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, “there is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 6)…. The man or woman who occupies themselves with Torah is free because they areliberated from a suffocating selfishness. They do not spend their days catering endlessly to the rapacious needs of their insatiable ego…. This is what makes religion liberating. When one is bound by the tenets of Jewish law that command sensitivity and love for the orphan and the poor; when one is forced to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; when one is enjoined into observing the Sabbath, thus putting family and friends before going to the beach; when one is commanded to start the day by praying to God in order to thank Him for all that we possess and to beg from Him our daily bread; when one is commanded to offer a blessing before and after every meal, thereby showing gratitude and appreciation for all we possess, then we live in accord with the desire of our irreducible essence, namely, to be good and righteous individuals who enjoy unblemished relationships with God and our fellow humans. (Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Judaism for Everyone)
  8. Free will is bestowed on every human being. If one desires to turn toward the good way and the righteous, he has the power to do so. If one wishes to turn toward the evil way or be wicked, he is at liberty to do so…. Let not the notion expressed by foolish Gentiles and most senseless folks among Israelites passthrough your mind that at the beginning of a person’s existence, the Almighty decrees that he is to be either righteous or wicked; this is not so: Every human being may become righteous like Moses, our teacher, or wicked like Jeroboam; wise or foolish, merciful or cruel; niggardly or generous; and so with all other qualities. There is no one that coerces him or decrees what he is to do or draws him to either of the two ways; but every person turns to the ways which he desires, spontaneously and of his own volition. (Maimonides, The Laws of Repentance)
  9. I can resist everything but temptation. (Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan)

Discussion

Genesis 6:5 presents a sober view of the human condition. The early chapters of Genesis repeatedly reveal God’s disappointment in the evil nature of human beings. Not only is “every plan devised by his mind nothing but evil the entire day (all the time),” but “the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Some religions might argue that we are by nature evil and there is nothing one can do about it. According to this view, commandments remind us of our shortcomings because we can never fulfill God’s will perfectly. Other religions assert that evil is just a matter of constructs of right and wrong that we create in our minds. Evil is an illusion. In what way does Judaism reject both of these views?


 
 
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