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Torah Sparks

Parashat Beresheit - Mevarekhim Hahodesh
October 18, 2014 – 24 Tishrei 5775

Annual (Genesis 1:1-6:8): Etz Hayim, p. 3; Hertz p. 2
Triennial (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 Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, South Carolina

God creates the universe out of chaos, separating light from darkness and land from water; producing plants of all kinds; establishing the sun, moon and stars; placing winged creatures in the air and swimming creatures in the sea; and making land animals, including a male and female human being. The process takes six days, each of which God blesses, saying that the creations are good. God rests on the seventh day, sanctifying it as the Sabbath.

A parallel account of the creation of humankind follows, introducing us to Adam and Eve, who are placed in the Garden of Eden and commanded to rule over the animals. They are forbidden to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. But a serpent convinces Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, and she influences Adam to do the same. As punishment, God banishes them from the garden, requiring them to work the land for food and promising pain during childbirth.

Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, each offer a sacrifice to God. When God chooses Abel’s sacrifice only, Cain’s anger causes him to kill his brother. God forces Cain to live the rest of his life as a nomad.

Ten generations of humanity are catalogued. By the end of the last generation, humanity’s corruption is so pervasive that God looks to one man, Noah, to salvage the world.

Theme #1: Some About Eve

The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

In the second Creation narrative in the book of Genesis, we find the first man, Adam, alone, until God creates a companion. We can explain this odd phrase in the following way: The desire of the Creator was that there should spring up for the Adam-man a supporter and a helper who was opposite him, as in the relationship of a master and disciple. And thus we find recorded in Bava Metzia 84a, “Resh Laskish died and Rabbi Yochanan was plunged into deep grief. Said the rabbis, ‘Who shall go to comfort him?’ Let Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat go, whose disquisitions are very subtle. So he went and sat before him; and on every dictum uttered by Rabbi Yochanan he observed: ‘There is a baraita that supports you.’ Are you as the son of Lakisha? He complained, ‘When I stated a law, the son of Lakisha used to raise 24 objections to which I gave 24 answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law; while you say, ‘A baraita has been taught that supports you,’ do I not know myself that my dicta are right?’ Thus he went on rending his garments and weeping, ‘Where are you, O son of Lakisha, where are you, O son of Lakisha’; and he cried thus until his mind was turned. Thereupon the rabbis prayed for him, and he died. And this is the decree of all creation: specifically, that controversy creates unity. -- Mei Ha- Shiloach

Eve comes into being, God and Adam are the sole namers. … After woman is created, she shares in this process. Eve, for example, names her firstborn son Cain. From that point on, fathers and mothers take turns choosing -- and use names to identify their children’s destiny. For names are seldom meaningless in the Bible. In fact, they are often remarkably freighted. -- Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

A life without a wife is devoid of joy, blessing and well-being; devoid of joy, as it is written: “And you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26) -- of blessing, it is written: “And the first of your dough shall you give unto the priest to cause a blessing to rest on your house” (Ezekiel 44:30); of well-being, as it is written: “it is not good for man be alone.” -- Yevamot 62b

Questions for Discussion:

Mei Ha-Shiloach presents us with a challenging idea: that controversy creates unity. When is this the case? When is it not? Is secular society too afraid of controversy? Does it embrace it too much? What about the Jewish community?

Frankel reminds us of the biblical notion of nomen omen, that a character’s name is directly tied to his/her destiny. Aside from the Bible, is this concept found in literature? Is it ever relevant in non-fiction? When parents name a child, should they be encouraged to consider a hoped-for destiny for that child while choosing the name? Or is it more important for a name to be attractive on its own merits alone?

The passage from Yevamot speaks of how essential it is to have a wife, but not about how essential it is to have a husband. If there were a parallel passage for husbands, what examples would we use from Scripture to prove the point? Would it be appropriate to create a genderneutral version of this passage?

Theme #2: Not Abel to Stop Himself

Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right, sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master. (Genesis 4:7)

God notices Cain’s jealousy after God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and rejects Cain’s. God tries to warn Cain, but it is all for naught.

When a man is in his own home he can easily adhere to his accustomed way of life. But once he crosses the threshold of his door and passes from his home into the street, his evil impulse will gain ground because he must now come to grips with obstacles that block the path of his loyalty to Judaism. “Sin couches at the door” -- the evil impulse lies in wait outside the door of your home, waiting for you to emerge so that he may take you unawares. -- Ketav Sofer

The story of Cain and Abel suggests a more charitable interpretation of God’s parenting style. Maybe He’s not lax. Maybe He’s laissez-faire. His job is to prod His kids in the right direction, but ultimately, He understands that they must be free to make mistakes. When God rejects Cain’s green offering, He doesn’t threaten Cain, but instead advises him about self-improvement. “Sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master.” Not that Cain pays attention: he kills his brother in the very next verse. God’s advice would be more persuasive if He actually gave Cain any incentive to master sin. -- David Plotz, Good Book

One may observe significant links [between the story of Cain and Abel and] the garden story. Once again human beings are given a choice; once again disregarding the warning leads to death and estrangement from God; and once again the primal bond between humanity and the soil is ruptured. Chapter 3 is directly recalled by the use of specific wording: God echoes the curse he had put on the woman [which mentions the word “lust”] in his warning to Cain. -- Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Questions for Discussion:

The Ketav Sofer claims that it is easier to follow Judaism in the privacy of one’s own home, but it becomes more difficult once exposed to the distractions of the outside world. But is it possible that is no longer the case? Has our wired (and wireless) home life become a distraction to Jewish living as well? What steps can we take to ensure we remain consistent in our Jewish life whether at home or away?

Plotz thinks that Cain’s baser instincts may have been assuaged if God had given him an “incentive” to overcome his desire to sin. What kind of incentives could God have offered? Would any of them have made a difference? Are there other events in the Hebrew Bible that would have been markedly different had God intervened just a little more?

Fox notes that the word “lust” is found both in the case of Eve’s punishment and the warning to Cain found in the above verse. Can we understand the downfall of Cain to be an example of children not learning from the mistakes of their parents? Or is the purpose of these passages to teach us that lust is a universal problem, not just limited to the original family on Earth?

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