file Musings on Parshat Bereshis

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7 years 11 months ago #151 by Heshy Berenholz
Musings on Parshat Bereshis was created by Heshy Berenholz

Creation of universe in six days; on seventh day God rested … beginning of the human race with creation of Adam and Eve…establishment of Garden of Eden with trees pleasant to see and good for food including the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”… the serpent, Eve and Adam’s decision to eat fruit from the prohibited “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”…expulsion from Eden…Cain and Hevel story of sibling rivalry, jealousy and fratricide…Adam’s offspring…growing corruption of Mankind.

Studying vs. Reading the Torah

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag maintains that the Torah is a book of Nevu’a (prophecy), and not a book of history, or philosophy or science or architecture. The root word (lips) relates to speech and spokesmen. The Torah presents a message from God to man, delivered by His spokesman, the Navi. But the message is often not explicitly stated and requires a critical reading of the text, an understanding of rules of analysis and tools to determine and define the flow of themes.

One important way that the Torah conveys its message is through the structure of paragraphs (“Parshios”).There are two types of Parshios:

• Ptuchot (open) when a gap of blank spaces exists to the end of the column on the final line of the paragraph. The next paragraph starts at the beginning of the next line

• Stumot (closed) when there is a gap of at least nine spaces after which the next Parsha starts on the same line

Generally speaking, a Parsha Ptucha indicates a major change of topic while a Parsha Stumah suggests a more subtle change

Words are key:

• Pay careful attention to them

• A translation is a commentary

• Meaning of root word in other places in Torah sheds light on translation (e.g., ayen tachas ayen)

• Location

• Repetition in seeming unrelated incidents (haker na)

• Juxtaposition (smechus parsheos)

• Repetition of word root in a section suggests the theme

• Every word counts and has meaning, even if we don’t see it

An overview of history

The Parsha begins with creation, hope and optimism but ends with despair, hope¬lessness and gloom. The creation of the world and Mankind is followed by Man's early life experiences and conflicts and concludes with the rise (and then fall) of civilization.

Nechama Leibowitz comments that "The Torah shows us how civiliza¬tion and economic progress brought with them four-step erosion in human behavior to the point where Mankind's very existence was endangered."

Step #1: Adam, the first man, is also the first sinner. He was commanded, “… Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die."

The Midrash Tadsheh elaborates: "Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair stated: Before Adam partook of this tree it was simply called 'tree' just like the others. But as soon as he ate, thereby transgressing the decree of THE HOLY ONE BLESSED BE HE, it was called the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. Why did God command Adam to eat of all the trees of the garden except one? So that Adam should constantly remember his Creator and be conscious of the yolk of God who created him.” The one commandment that Adam received was designed to help him maintain a perspective on his position in the world where he was the sole human being. Adam needed to know that there was a master over him. Adam's sin, therefore, was a private matter between himself and God wherein he acted as if he were the master of the world and could do whatever he wanted without limitations or restrictions.

Step #2: The tale of Cain and Hevel is the story of one human's cold blooded murder of another. The Torah states “...Cain brought an offering to God of the fruit of the ground... and Hevel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from the choicest. And the God had respect unto Hevel and to his offering; but unto Cain and his offering He showed no respect. And Cain became very angry and depressed. And God said to Cain, 'Why are you annoyed and why has your countenance fallen? Surely, if you improve yourself you will be forgiven. Cain spoke with his brother, Hevel (when they were in the field) then rose up against his brother, Hevel and killed him."

According to some, Hevel's offerings were accepted by God because they were brought from the best and finest. This contrasts with Cain who did not seem to extend himself at all. He simply brought crops that grew on public land. According to Rashi, Cain brought inferior produce for his offering. Cain became enraged when his offering was rejected. God tried to reason with Cain telling him not to indulge in self-pity and reminding him that his situation could be changed dramatically for the better if he would only improve his attitude and behavior. His-- and all Mankind's-- salvation comes from within. But Cain was not to be placated. Instead, he strikes up a conversation with his brother, Hevel, out in the fields, away from home and kills him in cold blood.

The story of Cain and Hevel can be viewed as the story of Mankind and civilization. It is Man's underlying (sometimes unconscious) aggressive drives and conflicts that precipitate wars and bloodshed.

Step #3: Advances in technology bring violence on a scale never before seen up until that time. Lemech, a direct descendant of Cain, sires a son, Tuval-Cain who becomes a forger of brass and iron armaments. Lemech boasts of his ability to employ these deadly weapons to lord over his fellow man and to commit indiscriminate murder. While Cain's behavior was dictated by sibling rivalry and jealously the transgressions of Lemech are rooted in the sinister attitude that absolute power makes right and that one tyrant can bully Society.

Step #4: Crimes committed by groups of individuals in power ("the sons of the princes and judges") who enslave their fellow men. The Torah describes these as acts of exploitation: “they took tor themselves wives from whomever they chose." They destroyed the social order. Abusing their power and position to usurp for themselves rather than to build Society caused God to rethink His decision to create Man.

This Torah description of how history would be shaped by human aggressiveness gives us a chance to look in the mirror and reflect on our behavior, frailties and conflicts. Understanding, self-examination and reflection provide us with the opportunity to change ourselves for the better.

On Cain and Hevel

In this story the Torah, for the first time, consistently employs the Essence name of God (the yud, hay, vav, hay ) possibly because it stresses a core and essential Truth of human existence: how sibling rivalry and other (sometimes unconscious) emotional drives affect behavior.

Cain’s name is based on Eve’s statement that "I have gained (kaneese—which sounds like Cain) a male child (or man) with the help of God". Regarding Eve’s second son the Torah notes that "she then bore his brother Hevel." It sounds like the name was already chosen by someone else even before the birth.

Hevel means breath or vapor, something fleeting. Did Eve favor her first born and ignore child number two? Did her enthusiasm and gratitude to God lessen once she gave birth a second time and realized that childbirth was not a Divine phenomenon but a natural event? Or is this the Torah's way of letting us know in advance that the second child's life would be like a fleeting breath (i.e., that he would die prematurely)?

Because the text does not state explicitly how the brothers knew whose offering was favored I think that the conclusions were based on their respective perceptions. Cain, who follows in the footsteps of his father Adam by becoming a farmer-- despite the knowledge that farming would be hard and often unfruitful ("kotz vedardar tatzmeach lach")-- decides to bring a Thanksgiving offering to God from his crops. But when he sees his younger brother not only copy but outdo him (by bringing prime meat from the higher life form of animals), Cain imagines that God will not accept his inferior offering. (Note: Hevel, by his display of one-upmanship, may be provoking Cain,thereby fanning the flames of jealousy and rivalry.)

This realization amplifies Cain's existing, already-intense sibling rivalry and brings on feelings of depression, inferiority, and hopelessness. God acknowledges the enormity of Cain's rage—and confirms that these emotions could completely swallow him up and destroy him—but also informs Cain that he (Mankind) has the ability to confront, and control these raging emotions. (Today this might involve undergoing psychoanalysis.)

It is interesting to consider what the brothers were arguing about.

A Midrash cites three opinions:

• One view is that they decided to divide the world with one taking the lands and the other taking the movables. Soon one said “You are standing on my land-- Get off!” and the other responded “The clothes you are wearing are mine-- take them off!” During the course of this heated exchange an enraged Cain rose up and killed his brother.

• R. Joshua of Sakhnin in the name of R. Levi said that they agreed to divide material positions equally but argued about on whose property the Temple should be built. The ""field" referred to in “And when they were in the field " is the Temple, as it is written "Zion shall be plowed as a field”. In the heat of the argument, Cain rose up and murdered Hevel.

• Yehuda bar Ami said: They were arguing over Eve

The first opinion maintains that killings and war are fought over economic issues, over material wealth. R' Joshua, holds that bloodshed is prompted by religious and ideological conflict. Lastly, Rabbi Yehuda contends that deadly quarrels are rooted in sexual passion.

How old is the universe?

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, the noted physicist, helps us understand how the universe may be simultaneously young (according to Jewish tradition, 5700+ years and created in six days, as described in the Torah) and old (15 billion years, based on data from the Hubble telescope).

Words appearing in the Torah can have a multitude of meanings. The Talmud explains that the Hebrew word choshech usually means darkness (absence of light) but can also mean black fire, a kind of energy that is so powerful that one cannot see it. Maimonides notes that mayim, whose common definition is water, can also refer to building blocks of the universe.

Ramban observes that the word erev, evening, also can mean mixture/disorder/lack of clarity and the word boker (morning) also is related to bikoret which means orderly and able to be discerned. Erev and boker are opposites, the former meaning chaos and the latter meaning order. “Vayehi Erev, Vayehi Boker Yom Echad” (“there was evening and there was morning day one”) means there was a cosmic change underway on Day One, a flow from disorder to order, that was precipitated by some form of guiding system(God) because without an exogenous force, order always degrades into chaos. Ramban explained further that on Day One, time itself was created—a theory that some 800 years later was validated by Albert Einstein in his Theory of Relativity.

Einstein posited that time is a dimension and the flow of time is relative to location. A minute on the moon goes faster than a minute on the earth; a minute on the sun goes slower. Our biology is in synch with local time so on the moon our hearts would beat faster, and oranges would take a shorter time to ripen. Time on far off planets goes by much faster than on Earth so that if one were looking down from a planet to Earth, the perception of time would be that everything was moving rapidly (because in one of the planet-minutes hundreds of thousands of earth-minutes would pass). If one is looking up from Earth it takes hundreds of thousands of Earth-minutes for a few planet-minutes to pass, giving the perception that planet time is moving slowly.

Ramban, clearly ahead of his time, believed that before the physical universe there was nothing until suddenly, Berashis, there appeared a tiny speck the size of a grain of mustard. That minuscule “substance-less substance” was the raw material that expanded out into matter that condensed, congealed, coalesced and expanded to the size of the Solar System. Einstein explained that energy (Ramban’s “substance-less substance”) is the force that can change into matter (Big Bang Theory). Once changed into matter, time “grabbed hold” (i.e., was created).

The Torah describes creation as Day One (rather than the First Day) because it is looking forward from the beginning. By the time Adam was created six days had passed. Dr. Schroeder reconciles this with scientific measurements of the universe being some 15 billion years old by analyzing how the 15 billion years would be perceived from the beginning looking forward. Imagine that at the beginning of time there was a force at the outer end of the universe that sent a blast of light (pulse) to Earth every second. Light travels 300 million meters per second so these pulses arrived on Earth some billions of years later. As the universe stretches, the space between pulses is stretching and it is taking these light blasts longer to reach Earth.

Modern science has calculated that there is a million, million seconds (1 with 12 zeros after it) relationship between time as it existed near its beginning and time today. That means that the information about the universe’s creation in six days (“in the beginning”) and emanating from just outside the universe (before it was created) would be received on Earth after six million million days. Dividing the six million million days by 365 yields 16 billion years for the age of the universe. Every time the universe doubles, the perception of time is cut in half but as the universe gets bigger the doubling time gets longer. Applying this principle to the six days of creation yields an age for the universe of 15 and ¾ billion years.

Rabbi H. L. Berenholz

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