PARASHAT BEREISHEIT - BIRKAT HAHODESH
October 29 2005 - 26 Tishrei 5766
Annual: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 3; Hertz p. 2)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 2:4 - 4:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 12; Hertz p. 6)
Haftarah: Isaiah: 42:5 - 43:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 36; Hertz p. 21)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
The Torah begins with a powerful, poetic vision of the creation of the universe. Over a series of six days, God performs a series of separations and formations, beginning with light and culminating with the creation of humanity. The universe goes from chaos to order. Afterwards, God rests from the work of creation. The story was never meant to be a literal, scientific account, but rather a vision of a universe created by God, with humanity made in God's image.
This is followed by a second creation story, more intimate and modest. God makes a man (the word adam literally is the generic word for man). God plants the man in a garden, so he can tend and guard it. In the center of the garden are two trees, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. God forbids the man from eating of the Tree of Knowledge. It is not good for man to be alone. After bringing forth various animals, God makes a woman out of the rib of the man. She becomes his wife, and the two of them live in the garden naked and not ashamed.
Tempted by a snake, the woman eats of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and feeds some to the man. They realize their nakedness, and hide from God. Perhaps this story was the evolutionary moment when humanity emerged from the animal kingdom and gained the ability to make moral choices. As a result of eating the fruit, the man and the woman are forced out of the garden and given a series of punishments.
Morality has entered the world, and with it moral decline. A new generation arrives with the birth of two sons, Cain and Abel. When Cain, in a moment of jealousy, murders Abel, he is punished and becomes a wanderer on the earth. Over the course of ten generations, technology advances but morality declines. Finally, with the birth of Noah, God must make a decision about the humans God created.
Issue #1 - Ecology
- "God blessed them and God said to them, be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all living things that creep on the earth." (Genesis 1:28)
- "The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it." (Genesis 2:15)
- In chapter 1, humanity is told to master (or conquer) the world and rule over the animals. In chapter 2, humanity is told to till and tend (guard) the garden. Is there a difference between conquering the world and guarding the world? Which is better for the world's ecology?
- Many environmentalists blame the Bible for humanity's damage to the earth. Is the Bible to blame?
- To deepen our understanding, let us explore Ramban's comment on "conquer it": "God gave them [people] power and dominion on the earth to do as they wish with the cattle and the reptiles and the creeping things on the earth, to build, to uproot that which was planted, to mine copper from the hills, and so on." Was the world given to humanity to use as humanity wishes? Are there any restrictions on them?
- Some have advocated "living lightly" on the land with a minimum of technology and modern conveniences. This is the way animals live on the earth. Is this similar to returning to the Garden of Eden? Is this desirable?
- The midrash teaches "When the Holy One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, 'Behold My works, how beautiful they are, how splendid they are. All that I have created, I created for your sake. Take care that you do not become corrupt and thus destroy My world. For once you become corrupt, there is no one to repair it'" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). Does this midrash change how we understand the nature of the power and responsibility we were given to exercise in the world? Does this provide us with more or less freedom of action?
Issue #2 - Marriage
"Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24)
- The Torah teaches that a man should cleave unto his wife, not his wives. Why were the patriarchs allowed to have more than one wife? (Hint - the Hebrew word for a second wife is tzara, a word which also means trouble.) Why did the rabbis later forbid polygamy?
- Why does the Torah teach "a man shall cleave unto his wife" and not "a woman shall cleave unto her husband"? The Torah put the obligation on a man to find a wife. Why? Are things different today? If so, how? If not, why not and should they be?
- The Talmud teaches - "R. Simeon said, 'Why did the Torah say `if a man take a wife' and not 'if a woman be taken by a man?' Because it is the way of a man to go in search of a woman, but it is not the way of a woman to go in search of a man. This may be compared to a man who lost an article, who goes in search of whom? The loser goes in search of the lost article. (So the man goes in search of the rib he lost.)" Does this section of the Talmud provoke a change in the questions above?
- If we take marriage seriously, how should young people meet one another? Through their parents (the Talmud puts the obligation on the father to find a match for his children)? A professional matchmaker? The internet? Random meetings? What can we do to help our young people make better marriages?