Sunday, October 19, 2014

Torah Readings for Friday October 24, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan and Saturday, October 25, 2014 No’ach


Torah Readings for Friday October 24, 2014

Please note:  Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan is a two-day Rosh Chodesh.  The first day actually falls on the 30th Tishrei.  The second day falls on the first day of Cheshvan.  The readings for Saturday, October 25, 2014, are adjusted for Rosh Chodesh i.e., a second scroll is read and a special haftarah is chanted.

Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

This is the standard reading for each Rosh Chodesh.  Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month.  The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon.  The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon.  In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon.  With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended.  In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is described in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers.  The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service.  There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system.  They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future preservation.  Because of the Rosh Chodesh a shortened form of Hallel is recited.  Tefillin are worn until Mussaf or Additional Service.  Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have special meaning for women and should be used as a way of honoring Jewish wives.  There are those who use this as a gift-giving event for their spouses.  (Alternatively, they give Tzedakah in honor of the women (wives, sisters, daughters, etc.) in their lives).

Cheshvan is the second month of the year counting from Rosh Hashanah and the eight month of the year from Pesach.  In one of those calendar related “tricks” designed to protect tradition, Cheshvan will have an extra day added to it to “prevent” the next Yom Kippur from falling on a Friday or a Sunday.  Cheshvan may be viewed as quiet month since it comes between Tishrei with its welter of celebrations and Kislev, the month containing Chanukah.  According to tradition, the Great Flood took place on the 17th of Cheshvan which corresponds to November 2, 1917, the date on which the Balfour Declaration was made public.

Yarhrzeits
12th of Cheshvan (10/16/13):  Yarhrzeit of Yitzhak Rabin.
15th of Cheshvan (10/19/13):  Yarhrzeit of Matityahu; better known at Matthias, the man who started the revolt against the Syrians and was the father of Judah Maccabee.
16th of Cheshvan (10/20/13):  Yarhrzeit for those who perished during Kristallnacht.
20th of Cheshvan (10/24/13):  Yarhrzeit of Shalom Dov Ber, 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe.
For more see http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/essence-cheshvan.

Torah Readings for Saturday, October 25, 2014

First Scroll
No’ach (Noah)
6:9-11:32 Bereshit (Genesis)

No’ach is the second sedrah in Bereshit (Genesis).  The sedrah takes its name from the third and fourth Hebrew words in the first sentence of the sedrah, “These are the generations of Noah (No’ach) - Noah (No’ach) was a righteous man.…”  No’ach can be translated as peaceful or resting.  Yaniach is a Hebrew derivative of No’ach and means to leave or let go.  What does the meaning of the name say about the character or role of the man?  No’ach is the last sedrah dealing with mankind in general.  The rest of Bereshit focuses on the Jewish people.  Major events in No’ach include the Flood, the Intoxication of Noah and Ham’s Sin, the descendants of Noah and the Tower of Babel.  It may be viewed as a second creation story.  Having failed with Adam and Eve, mankind gets a second chance.  This second chance also ends in failure as is witnessed by the building of the Tower of Babel.  The sedrah ends with a foretaste of the ultimate solution - the creation of a special relationship with a group of people who will take the divine message to the world.

The Flood (6:9-8:10)
Ample evidence exists to prove that there was some kind of flood.  Other civilizations have their flood stories.  The Biblical story is unique in that it ties this natural catastrophe to questions of good and evil.  The text says that Noah was a righteous man perfect in his generation.  The qualifying statement “in his generation” has led to two views.  One view is that he was not really all that righteous.  That he was righteous only in comparison to the evil people who lived at that time and that had Noah lived in another generation he might not have been regarded as righteous at all.  The other view was that Noah was really very righteous because he was able to be righteous while living among evil people.  The thought is that if he could be righteous while living in a truly evil generation, just think how much more righteous he could have been had he lived in a generation of decent human beings.  In deciding which view of Noah is more correct consider Noah’s silence when God tells him that He is going to destroy the earth versus Abraham’s noisy defense when God tells him that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Here are a couple of other questions for your consideration.  First, if God had decided that the world was corrupt and needed destroying, why not just blow the whole world away and begin the process anew?  Why save the sphere and one family of its imperfect inhabitants?  Second why did God have Noah build an ark?  Certainly there were other ways that an all-powerful deity capable of flooding the entire world could have saved Noah’s family.  One answer to this might be that building the ark is consistent with the concept that man must be an active participant in what is called the on-going process of creation.  Man cannot rely on God to save him.  Rather man must do his share of the work to ensure the triumph of good over evil.

The Intoxication of Noah and the Sin of Ham (8:20-9:28)
No sooner does Noah get saved and offer up sacrifices to God for saving him than he plants a vineyard and gets drunk.  In other words, instead of enjoying the fruit of the vine, he abuses it.  This creates the environment (think back to our comments about Adam and Eve and the effect of parental behavior on the lives of children) that leads to Ham’s sin.  The puzzling thing is that the punishment is stated not in terms of Ham, but in terms of his son Canaan.  The positive note is that the other two sons found a way to honor their father despite his behavior.  Rabbi Schneerson (of blessed memory) uses this story as tool to teach about the proper way to correct mistakes.  His teaching includes the concept that sometimes what we see as most distressing in the behavior of others really mirrors a shortcoming of our own.

The Descendants of Noah (10:1-32)
The genealogy is split in two parts.  The first portion includes all of chapter ten and lists the descendants of all three sons.  The second portion starts 11:10 with Shem and one of his offspring Arpachshad and continues through to Abraham.  Just as Bereshit ends with a “teaser” by mentioning Noah, so No’ach with a teasing reference to Abraham who appears in the next sedrah.

The Tower of Babel (11:1-11-32)
This is a further attempt on the part of the ancients to explain how different nations came to exist.  This tale offers an explanation of why we have different languages.  At a deeper level, some see the story as raising questions about the use of technology.  Technology, in this case the ability that ancient man had gained to build sophisticated structures, is neutral.  It is how we choose to use the technology that makes it good or evil.  Others have also used this story to raise the question of “just because you can do something, does this mean you should do it?”

Themes
Commandments

None of the 613 commandments appear in this sedrah.  However, the sedrah does supply a series of strictures and rules:
·        9:1: Noah and his sons are told to be fruitful and multiply.
·        9:3: Mankind is given permission to eat meat for the first time.
·        7:2 and 9:4: Together they provide a precursor to the Dietary Laws.  7:2 refers to “every clean animal…and of the animal that is not clean…” while 9:4 prohibits consuming blood when eating meat.
·        9:5: Prohibits murder.
The Seven Noahide Laws, which are the criteria for the “righteous non-Jew:”
1.      Denying God;
2.      Blaspheming the name of God;
3.      Murder;
4.      Sexual misconduct;
5.      Theft;
6.      Eating the limb torn from a live animal;
7.      Establishing a court system to ensure obedience to the other six laws.
(These are based on interpretation and not stated in the Torah).

Names of God
God is referred to both as Elohim and YHVH (the name we do not know how to pronounce).  Some contend that these differences exist because of different authorship.  Another explanation is that the different names are used when different attributes of God are being invoked.  Elohim invokes the image of God as Judge of the Universe.  YHVH invokes the image of God’s mercy and is used when referring to sacrifices as in 8:20 and 8:21.

Universality of God
God is the God of all mankind and not just of the Jews.  In Bereshit and No’ach, God deals with all men and women.  He addresses His first rules to the entire world.  As can be seen from the Noahide laws, Judaism differs from some other religions in that it believes that all righteous people will have their share in what we call “the world to come.”

Covenant
God makes the first Covenant or Brit with Noah in 6:18.  “But I shall establish my covenant” is interpreted to mean that God will supply Noah with a year’s supply of food in the ark.  God makes the second Covenant (9:8-11) with Noah and all of the animals on the ark to never destroy the world by flood again.  The difference between these two covenants and the Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (all of us) is that these are what are called unilateral contracts.  In other words, only God is promising to do something.  The “contract” with the Jews is bilateral or mutual.  In other words God promises to do something but we also promise to do something for the covenant to be binding or take effect.  (I apologize to any lawyers, if I have made a technical mistake in the terminology.)  The significance in the difference between these two types of covenants will be more apparent when we get to Lech-Lecha, next week’s sedrah.

The Teaser
Speaking of next week’s Sedrah, let’s take a look at the penultimate verse in No’ach 11:32.  “Terah took his son Abram…and…departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan; they arrived at Haran and they settled there.”  Why was Terah going to Canaan?  In the next Sedrah we find out why Abraham was going to Canaan.  (Abraham is the same person as Abram.  God changes his name later on.)  What made Terah stop his journey?  The impact of parental behavior on the lives of their children is a recurring theme in literature and modern psychology.  Was Abraham carrying out a journey that his father lacked the faith to continue?  Are all children carrying on journeys begun by their parents?

Second Chances
Is the story of No’ach an admission that somehow there were “mistakes” made at the time of creation?  According to Immanuel Jakobovits it would certainly seem so since God says “I will destroy them (mankind) with the earth.”  In case there is any doubt as to who is responsible for this imperfection, Jackobovits cites the verse from last week’s reading, “’And the Lord repented (yahinnahem) that He had made man on the earth and it grieved Him in His heart’ (Bereshit 6:6).  There is no hint here that man frustrated the Divine design.”  This is not the only indication of error and the need for the Creator to correct it.  In their interpretation of the sacrifice to be made each New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), the Rabbis note that it is called a “sin-offering unto the Lord.”  There are many sin offerings but this is the only one that adds the tag line, “unto the Lord.”  Why? According to Rashi and other sages, it is an apology for the original creation of a Sun and a Moon that were equal; in effect the creation of two suns.  When the moon protested this celestial equality, God responded by creating the diminished Moon we know today.  In other words every Rosh Chodesh, we are reminded that there was a mistake at the moment of creation.  This is not meant to spark a debate about how a perfect Being could create an imperfect world.  Rather, as Jakobovits points out, it is a reminder that making human error is the norm.  The challenge is to rectify the error, to learn from the mistake.  Whether we are repairing our own personal universe or the Divine Universe, there are numerous second chances if we are willing to take advantage of them.

Table Talk Questions
1. What can we learn from the statement, “and Noah found grace in the eyes of God?”
The commentators say that although Noah was righteous, that in and of itself was not enough to save him.  It was necessary for God to bestow His grace on Noah and his family.  Regardless of how righteous a person may be that is not enough.  The grace of God is always necessary.  Think of this as a variation on the theme of justice versus mercy discussed during the high holidays or prayer versus supplication discussed during the study of the Sukkoth Haftarot.
2. What is the meaning of the rainbow that came after the flood?
There are several interpretations.  It is a sign of God’s forgiveness.  It is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy mankind with a flood.  It is a sign of God’s control over the universe.  Finally, according to the Zohar, the colors of the rainbow remind us of God’s attributes of compassion and judgment.
Moshe Pinchas Weisblum as edited by this author.

Fate of the Animals
You would think that Noah would have used the Flood as an excuse to rid the world of a whole lot of pests.  Certainly, many of us would have gotten rid of everything from chiggers to rats to those pesky fleas that caused the Black Plague.  But not Noah; he followed God’s command to the letter of bringing a pair of each unclean animals and seven clean animals on to the ark.  As Meir Shalev points out, this might not have been such a humanitarian or ecologically responsible move.  As soon as the flood was over, Noah built an altar and must have sacrificed five of the clean animals so that the Lord could “smell the pleasing odor.”  The acceptability of animal sacrifices stands in stark contrast to other Biblical commandments requiring us to treat animals with care and decency.

Torah Trivia
Why was the tune “Over the Rainbow” part of services at a Temple in Syracuse, New York?  (a) The Cantor was from Kansas; (b) the Cantor’s son had written the tune; (c) Because the sedrah of the week was No’ach, which contains the first description of a rainbow.  The answer is (b). Cantor Samuel Arluck was the Chazan for the congregation and his son was Harold Arlen, the composer of several popular musical scores including this one.

Gilgamesh and Noah
In 1872, the English Orientalist George Smith presented a paper entitled “The Chaldean Account of the Deluge” which presented the flood story based on the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Modern critics of the Bible considered this another chink in the armor of the traditionalists’ claims about the uniqueness of the Bible.  While the re-examination of the tale of Noah certainly has proven to be a lively one, James Kugel points to one unavoidable fact.  The story of Gilgamesh is only important when compared to the story of Noah.  We look to the story of Noah for lessons about morality and the nature of God because it is in the Bible.  In other words, by being in the Bible, the stories of the Bible take on a unique importance.

The Tower in the Tower of Babel
Professor Kugel calls attention to the Tower in the story of the Tower of Babel.  He connects the Tower in the Tower of Babel to the Ziggurats of Mesopotamia.  He sees the story as an almost satiric commentary on the settled life of Mesopotamia written by later day Semitic nomads.  This view of the story gains some additional credibility when we remember that Abraham, the Semitic nomad, left Mesopotamia, rejected its culture, for the land of Canaan, a simpler more rural place to which God sent him.

Crimes of the Times
In the opening of the portion two reasons are given for the destruction of the world.  First, “the earth had become corrupt before God.”  According to some, this meant that people had become so depraved or so accepting of wrong-doing that only God realized the sinful nature of their behavior.  Second, the earth had become filled with lawlessness (or robbery depending upon the translation).  This refers to what today we would call corrupt business practices, which have the effect of undermining people’s faith in the whole social system, including government.  Unfortunately, the conditions described here could be said to look an awful lot like our world in the 21st century.  But the crime that is not mentioned specifically is idolatry.  The only Deity that we meet in the first two portions of Bereshit is Adonai.  But by the time of Abraham, humankind has become idolators.  How did this happen?  How did the descendants of Noah come up with what seems to be a new “crime.”  And we call idol worship a crime because it is one of the biggies that makes the list at Mt. Sinai.  In fact, much of Jewish history, as well as custom and practice, can be seen as an on-going battle between Adonai and the concept of ethical monotheism and idolatry.  In the Haggadah we are reminded that our ancestors were idol worshippers; a level below being slaves since they were enslaved by others but they chose to worship stone and wood fashioned by man.  What the Haggadah and the Torah do not tell us is how we got there.  But at least it provides us with a way to get out.

Water, Water Everywhere
On Shemini Atzertz, which usually comes a week or two before the Shabbat when we read Noah, we add an extra line to the Amidah that describes God as the one who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.  This daily invocation is a way of asking for God to send the rains during the rainy season.  But if you think of the Flood, it too was a case of making the wind to blow and the rain to fall.  Since nothing exists in our text without reason, could there be a lesson in the juxtaposition of the start of the rainy season and the cyclical reading about the Flood?  Could one lesson be that nature is neutral and that it is how we use it or misuse it that makes nature good or bad?

Noah and the Calendar
The Torah provides a very definite chronology of the Flood.  Is there a message in this specificity?  Is there a connection between these dates and the future of the Jewish people?  In considering this, let’s remember that when the Torah talks about “the first month” it is talking about Nisan, the month when we celebrate Pesach and not Tishrei which is the seventh month.

The flood began “in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month,” (7:11).  Ironically the second month which here is tied to destruction, is referred to as “the month Chodesh Ziv," or the Month of Splendor.  This is because of the splendor of the sun during this month, when it has reached the height of its brilliance, but does not yet burn with the (sometimes harmful) intensity that it does in the late summer months.  It is also the month when Israel is filled with a multiplicity of splendors.

“And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.” (8:4).  In other words the ark came to rest during Sukkoth.  Is there a connection between the Ark, the temporary shelter used by Noah and the Sukkah, the temporary shelter we use during Sukkoth?

The first glimmer of hope that the flood was ending came “in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.” (8:5).  In the Book of Esther, this is the same date on which the young Jewess went to the King who found her favorable.  Unbeknownst to the Jews at that time, this event would provide the glimmer of hope that they would be saved from Haman’s evil decree.

Noah recognized that the flood was over and that a new beginning was in the offing “in the first month, the first day of the month” when “the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried.”(8:13).  Fast forward a couple of thousand years and we find the Israelites in the Wilderness with God saying to Moses in the Book of Exodus “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle of Meeting.” (40:2).  On the anniversary of the day when Noah was removing the covering from his ark, Moses was to bring his ark into the Tabernacle or Mishkan.  Coincidence or pre-destination; this is something you can discuss during your next Kiddush.

Apparently Noah wasn’t sure about how dry the land really was because almost two months elapsed between when “the waters were dried up from off the earth” and he actually left the ark for good.  Specifically it was “in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month” when “the earth was dry and God told Noah 'Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee.’” (8:14:16).  Fast forward five thousand years (give or take) and in the second month on the 27th day of 5727, Israeli troops left western Jerusalem, entered east Jerusalem and fought the Battle of Ammunition Hill which led to the unification of Jerusalem on the following day.

If all of these dates have not made you dizzy, here is the really big question.  What is the connection between the fact that both the Flood and the enslavement in Egypt came to an end in “the first month?”  Is there a connection between the new beginning offered to mankind in the first month and the new beginning offered to the Israelites when they went out of slavery in the first month?

Second Scroll
Special Reading for Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
28:9-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

The Rosh Chodesh reading on Shabbat covers the sacrifices offered on the holiday but is eight verses shorter than the daily reading which begins with verse 1 of Chapter 28.

Haftarah - Special for Rosh Chodesh
66: 1-24; 66: 23 Isaiah

The Man:  The reading is the entire last chapter of the Book of Isaiah.  This is one of the chapters attributed to the Second Isaiah or the Isaiah of the Exile.  We know nothing about the biography of this anonymous author.  He (or she for the matter) lived during the last days of the Babylonian Exile.  There are only two things we know with any surety.  First, this person was a skillful author who could really turn a phrase.  Second, this person was humble, allowing his writings to be attached to those of the historic prophet Isaiah.  This kind of humility is a highly valued trait in Judaism.  For example, at the Seder, the Haggadah includes the words of Joshua reminding us that originally our ancestors were pagans.  In Rabbinic writings, such as Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers), sages will attribute their words to those of their teachers, giving them credit for any learning they might have acquired.  “Imagine a world where people were more concerned doing the work than getting credit for doing the work.”  (Author unknown)

The Message:  Isaiah offers words of comfort as he describes the ultimate destruction of the nations who have made war against Israel.  Yes, God will gather in the exiles and the Temple will be rebuilt.  But in the opening verses, Isaiah reminds the people that holding Jerusalem is not enough.  God demands that we follow His laws.  “But it is to this that I look:  to the poor and broken-spirited person who is zealous regarding My word.”

Theme-Link:  Usually the prophetic portion has a connection with the Torah portion.  This is one of the exceptions when the prophetic portion is tied to an event on the calendar - in this case Rosh Chodesh.  Verse 23 which is read and then re-read connects the observance of Rosh Chodesh to the final redemption.

41st Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War:  This week we read about second and third chances.  Things don’t work out with Adam, so God gives us another chance through Noah.  Noah’s offspring don’t work out so God gives us a third chance with Abraham.  Four Saturday’s ago, on Yom Kippur, we had a chance to remember the Yom Kippur War.  This Saturday, October 25, we have a second chance to observe the 41st anniversary of the Yom Kippur War which, on the secular calendar ended on October 25.  This 19 day war which left 2,687 dead and 7,251 injured was the longest and costliest in Israel’s history since its War for Independence in 1948 - 1949.  For the story of how the Israelis pulled victory from the jaws of defeat you can read the Yom Kippur War by Abraham Rabinovitch.  For a sense of the chaos as seen by the soldiers on the ground, you should read Adjusting Sites by Haim Sabato.  While there is much to discuss about the grand strategy and political ramifications of the war, when gathered in the synagogue we should take time to remember the brave men who gave their lives, especially in the early days when the enemy had the edge, to avoid what would have been a Holocaust in the truest sense of the word.  For those who need names and faces of the fallen think of Yosef Sarig and Moshe Shaunari and their nine comrades from Kibbutz Beit Hashita who made the ultimate sacrifice.  For the names and pictures of these eleven see http://www.beithashita.org.il/apage/13329.php.


For commentary by Yossi Halevi, on the significance of the war see:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRiRzpR8cH0 (this is not an endorsement of the views expressed).

For those who missed the opportunity to remember the valiant on Yom Kippur, this gives you a second chance to fulfill the command “Zachor.”  For those of you who “remembered” at Yom Kippur, this give you another chance to remember those halcyon days filled with personal bravery made necessary by the hubris and folly of others.

Copyright; October, 2014; Mitchell A. Levin

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Torah Readings for Saturday, October 18, 2014 Bereshit


Torah Readings for Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bereshit (In the beginning)
1:1 - 6:8 Bereshit (Genesis)

The first book of the Torah and the first sedrah take their name from the first Hebrew word in the first sentence of the book.  “In the beginning (Bereshit) God created the heaven and the earth.”  Most of us are familiar with the tales told in Bereshit but a close reading of the text might surprise some of us as to what is really in the Torah as opposed to what Sunday School teachers have told us.  Often the tales told to us as youngsters include Midrash, which are of Rabbinic origin.

The Book of Bereshit is divided into twelve sidrot (plural of sedrah) or fifty chapters.  The first two sidrot and the first eleven chapters “deal with the early history of mankind in general.”  The last ten sidrot or the readings from chapters twelve through fifty deal with the early history of the Israelites from Abraham through the death of Jacob.

The Sedrah of Bereshit includes the Story of Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and a series of genealogies.  The reading may be broken down into the following units:
Creation - the first seven days:  1:1-2:2;
The Garden of Eden - Adam and Eve:  2:3-3:23;
Cain and Abel - Cain through Seth:  4:1-4:26; and
From Adam to Noah - Prelude to the Flood:  5:1-6:8.

Themes
Commandments
1.      The obligation for humans to procreate (1:28).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The first sedrah brings us the first commandment.  This should give us some idea as to the importance of the mitzvoth.

Creation Story
Bereshit does not tell us why God created the universe nor does it tell us why God created man.  Silence on these two major topics is deafening.  But the text does provide some indicators.  God is a given, so there is no need to try and prove His existence.  According to the Stone Chumash, “…Adam and Eve had the mission of bringing about the fulfillment of Creation by carrying out God’s commandment.  They failed, and were driven into exile.”  To paraphrase the commentary, humankind’s mission did not change; only the environment in which it was to be carried out changed.  Instead of obeying the commandments in the ease of the Garden, mankind would have to do it in the real world of strife and contention.  God punishes mankind, He does not discard us.  From the start, we see the cycle of sin, punishment and repentance.

According to Rabbi Hertz the Creation Story offers several basic tenets of Judaism:
1.      God is the creator of the universe.  While the fact of creation is the first article of Jewish belief, there is no uniform belief as to the manner of creation.
2.      Man is the goal and crown of creation.  Man is created at the end of the sixth day just before God rests.
3.      Judaism takes an optimistic view of creation and life in general.  “And God saw that was good” is repeated at least five times in the Creation narrative.
4.      The Creation Story may be read as a parable.
5.      Its purpose is to explain man’s spiritual kinship with God and not to provide a biologic blueprint.

Rabbi Telushkin summarizes the creation list as follows:
Day 1:  light;
Day 2:  the sky;
Day 3:  the earth, oceans and vegetation;
Day 4:  the sun, moon, and stars;
Day 5:  fish, insects and birds;
Day 6:  the animal kingdom and human beings;
Day 7:  The Sabbath, 2:2 (this is my addendum).

All people come from a common ancestor.  That way no one can claim greatness based on parentage and we are all brothers and sisters with a common parent.

Creation Question:  Is 2:4 through 2:7 a second creation story or is it a refinement of what happened on Day 6?

Garden of Eden
Judaism rejects the notion of Original Sin and the need for a crucified savior.  As we have already noted, the Torah provides the blueprint for righteous behavior and the antidote for sin.  The story does demonstrate the seriousness of sin, the existence of free will and the concept that while God may punish us, he does not give up on us.  How appropriate that we should be reminded of this so soon after Yom Kippur.

Cain and Abel
This is the first example of an often-repeated tale of sibling rivalries.  “Am I my brother’s keeper” is a question for which much of the Torah provides an answer.  “But if you do not right, sin couches at the door.  Its urge is towards you, yet you can be its master.”  The tendency to do evil is in us all, but each of us can overcome it.  This is another example of Judaism’s realistic, yet optimistic, assessment of the human condition.  He who saves one life, it as if he saves the entire world; he who takes one life, it is as if he has killed the entire world (excuse the paraphrase, but the concept is part of the message of the story.)  We know about God’s reaction to the death of Abel.  We know about Cain’s reaction.  But what about Adam and Eve; how did they react to the news that one of their sons had killed the other?  The author(s) found room for mind numbing lists of genealogies but left out what, for modern readers, should be a matter of major concern.  The death of Abel also raises questions about the fate of the righteous.  Adam and Eve are punished for their sins.  Great care is given to protect the life of Cain, the killer.  But Abel, who is the only righteous one of the four not only is the first person to die, he meets death as the victim of a violent crime.  It would seem that almost from the moment of creation that there is a lack of connection between virtue and reward and/or divine protection.  Long before Job or the Shoah, the Torah presents us with this apparent contradiction.  I have not been able (no pun intended) to find a commentary that addresses this aspect of the Cain and Abel story.  If somebody else finds one, I hope they will share it with me.

Equality
The commentators agree that men and women are equal before God.  Does the version of creating women described in chapter 2 demean women?  No; quite the contrary since each level of creation is higher than the one the preceded it.  Therefore, since woman was created after man, she would be the superior being.

Eve
The common conception is that Eve was created from Adam’s rib.  Actually, the Hebrew word is “tsela”, which may be translated, as side, as well as rib.  In other words, the first human was just that, all humanity, male and female.  In creating woman, God took one side or aspect of humanity and separated it thus creating Eve who is the progenitor of all females.  This leads, among other things, to a concept of relationships between men and women as a search for their other half.  This view is expressed in the concept of somebody being the “intended” of another.  Divorce or unhappy unions are the product of two people who were not “intended” for each other being joined together.  As Steinsaltz points out, the male female relationship as exemplified by Adam and Eve did not originate with the idea of procreation.  Child bearing, that unique female gift that makes her part of the divine creative act is only mentioned after the episode of eating the forbidden fruit.  Why is Eve cast in the role of the temptress who leads Adam astray?  One explanation is that Eve took her instruction from Adam while Adam was the one with whom God actually spoke.  This error was corrected at Mt. Sinai when God spoke not just to Moshe, but to all of the Israelites.  Another explanation has to do with the female side, which includes curiosity.  Women were viewed as having a natural curiosity, which was not as pronounced in men.  While curiosity is not inherently bad, unbridled curiosity may have negative impact.  The giving of the Torah, with its myriad of rules, laws and regulations, was an attempt to control curiosity and channel it in a positive direction.  This is not meant to be a complete discussion of Eve.  It is intended to stimulate thoughtful discussion.  What you should realize is that the positive views described above are based on the writings of a renowned Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Customs and Ceremonies
Shabbat:  The origins or our first and most prevalent holiday are found in this Sedrah (2:2-2:3).  Compare these verses to the opening of the Shabbat Kiddush.

The Calendar:  “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (1:5).  The Jewish day begins at sunset and ends at sunset.  This has had a profound influence on our observance.  For example, we kindle Shabbat candles on Friday night and recite Havdalah on Saturday night.

Table Talk Questions
“God said, ‘It is not good that man should remain alone.  I will make a helper against him.’” (2:18).  How do we explain the apparent contradiction of the words “helper” and “against” in the same verse?  If a man is worthy and acts according to the Will of the Almighty, the woman (his wife) will help him; if not she will be against him.

What kind of tree was the Tree of Knowledge?  According to Rashi, the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree.  After Adam and Eve had eaten “their eyes were open and they saw their nakedness.”  They then took a fig leaf (the first object they saw) to cover their nakedness.

Why didn’t God punish Cain with death?  Two factors, which are consistent with later Jewish law, saved him from death.  No warning was given to him that what he was about to do was wrong and the punishment would be his own death.  Also, the two requisite witnesses to the crime were not to be found.

What is the significance of the statement, “God blew into man the soul of life?” (2:7)  God created the perfect combination, forming man’s body from dust and energizing his soul with the breath of life.  Through this act of blowing, God created the combination of soul and body.  A main source of conflict exists between our soul, which is pure and spiritual, and our body, which is geared to the physical world.  Through free will, God has given man the ability to strike the balance between these two competing forces.  Through Torah, God has given the Jew a guide for dealing with them.

Why are Adam and Eve punished twice for eating of the Tree of Knowledge?  They are banished from the Garden for eating the fruit.  They are each punished separately because they did not confess their misdeed and accept their punishment.

What is the connection between Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel regarding punishment and responsibility?  When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain tried to hide his guilt with that “am I my brother’s keeper” line.  Just as his parents sought to hide their guilt, so did the son follow in their footsteps.
From the writings of Moshe Pinchas Weisblum

Three Portents - Bereshit and Later Biblical Episodes

  • The Garden of Eden and the Generation of the Spies - In each instance, people forfeited their right to perform mitzvoth in comfort and ended up having to perform them in the hurly-burly of the real world.
  • Silence at Death - Adam and Eve are silent at the death of their son.  Aaron is silent at the death of his sons.
  • Seduction - The involvement of the “sons of the rulers with the daughters of man” sounds an awful lot like the “matter of Peor” described in Pinchas.
The Alter Rebbe and the Czar’s Interrogator
In 1789, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadai, known as the Alter Rebbe, was falsely charged with the capital crime of treason and thrown in the Russian prison at St. Petersburg.  The chief of police came to interrogate the sage.  He planned to humiliate him, break his spirit and force a confession out the prisoner before executing him.  In a mocking tone, he began by asking questions about the Torah.  He cited the verse from this week’s portion, “And God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”  Now, the interrogator asked, if God is all knowing and all seeing why did he have to ask Adam where he was?  Surely God, if He were really God, already knew where Adam was.  The Rebbe replied, of course God could see where Adam was in the Garden.  But that was not God’s question.  When God asked Adam, “Where are you?” it was the divine voice calling out to every person in every generation asking, “What are you doing in the world?  What are you up to?  How are you spending your time?”  Now the interrogator became the interrogated as the Rebbe asked the police chief, “Where are you?  How are you spending your days?  Have you been of good to anyone?”  The Russian, who had come to break the Jew, found that his hardened heart had been broken.  Eventually he would have the Rebbe released, no doubt in part, so that he would not have to fear answering the ultimate question, ”Where are you?”

Cain, Abel and the Ten Commandments
In this week’s portion God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”  And Cain responds, “I do not know.  Am I my brother’s keeper?”   The Hebrew for the term “Am I” is Anochi.  The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord thy God….”  The Hebrew for the term “I am” is also Anochi.  The Sixth Commandment, the commandment opposite the First Commandment on the Stone Tablets, reads “Thou Shalt not murder.”  From this pairing of the commandments, the sages tell us that “a person who commits murder diminishes the influence of the statement that opens the whole moral code, “I am” or Anochi.  When Cain says, “I do not know.  Am I (Anochi) my brother’s keeper, is he really saying, I did not know that my brother was the keeper of Anochi (I am)?  I did not know that by murdering my brother I was diminishing the force of Anochi (i.e., God) in the world.  This is another of those reminders about the value of human life.  How do we show we love God?  We show our love of God by loving those whom He has created.

A Plan for Life by Irving Greenberg
Genesis is not so much an account of creation as a statement of God's plan.  It answers the question:  What kind of world did God intend to create?  Bereshit describes the world as it will be when God and humanity finish their work.  Subsequently in the Bible, we learn that in the process of perfecting the world, Jews will lead the way, teaching, setting an example, working alongside others, serving as witness to God's purpose and as "a light unto the nations."  What then is the true-Divine-pattern of the world?  The Torah's threefold answer cuts through a welter of conflicting evidence and surface contradictions:
1. This world is moving from chaos to order.  In the beginning there was chaos and void (the Big Bang?); now there is natural law and order.
2. Contrary to the commonsense perception that death ultimately wins out - for all living things die - the Torah teaches that the world is moving from non-life to life.  The universe is created by an infinite source of life, and by Divine will, life emerges, reproduces, proliferates, and expands.  God intends the world to be filled with life - especially in its highest form, humanity.  Therefore, God blesses living creatures and calls upon them to "be fruitful and multiply."  To emphasize this, God repeats this commandment/blessing to humanity.  According to the Talmud, that means parents are obligated to have two children.  But it then cites Isaiah's view of the creation story:  "The world was created not to be empty but to be settled."  So the rabbis add an obligation to go further:  Only if two parents have three or more children will the surplus of life over death grow.
3. Life is moving in a direction:  becoming more like God.  In Genesis, God displays infinite capacities for life, freedom, power, consciousness, and relationship.  These are the qualities that life, created by God, possesses.  In human beings, these qualities reach their highest development.  The human being - man and woman - is created "in the image of God."

This is the source of humanity's mission.  Because human beings are Godlike, God calls them into partnership - to rule this world and shape it.  To this end, humans are given control over the earth and over other forms of life as well.  But as the Torah makes clear, the human is "to work and guard it."  The human must not abuse the world or kill.  Since God wants life to win out, ideally all living creatures - including human beings should be vegetarians.  "And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, (I give) all the green plants for food" (Genesis 1:30).  No life should exist by killing other life.  In sum, Genesis begins by teaching that God's vision and purpose is a world in which we shall see the triumph of life.  Quantitatively, the world must be filled with life.  Qualitatively, life must be sustained properly.  Humans, in particular, must be treated reverently, for they are in the image of God.  So in God's plan, there is ultimately no room for poverty or hunger, for war or oppression, for sickness or death.  In Isaiah's words:  "They shall beat their swords into plowshares ... They shall not learn war anymore"; "They shall neither do evil nor destroy ... for the earth is full of knowledge of the Lord"; "Death will be swallowed up in eternity."  Eons have passed since creation began and humanity made its appearance.  Yet, the vision of “tikkun olam” retains its force.  Almost four thousand years have passed since the first Jew lived on earth, but the vision of Genesis remains central to the Jewish mission.  As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in Halachahic Man:  "The dream of creation is the central idea in the Halachahic consciousness - the idea of the importance of man as a partner of the Almighty in the act of creation....  Man's task is to ... transform the emptiness in being into a perfect and holy existence...."

The Power of Language
“According to the TaNaCh, God made the world with words; God just spoke and the world came into being.  Words therefore are not merely sounds signifying something else; they are instruments of creation, primary reality itself.  They need only to be read, spoken and interpreted.  And to know them is to know reality itself.”  This concept has given rise to a vast fund of literature including The Book of Words by Lawrence Kushner and The Alphabet of Creation by Ben Shahn.  If words are strong enough to create the world we should learn to choose our words carefully for they can harm as well as heal.

A Little Bit of Humor
Humor, even if it is of the dark variety, has helped the Jew through many difficult times.  Jews can find humor in the most serious of events, including a cataclysm like being thrown out of the Garden of Eden.  When God is passing out punishments, he tells Adam, “By the sweat of your fact shall you eat bread.”  A poor Jew had had enough.  He complained to his Rabbi that he was barely getting by even though he worked all the time except when the divine command told him to case from toil.  The Rabbi cited Bereshit, saying that by the sweat of your brow (doing hard work) shall you eat bread.  The poor Jew responded that he wouldn’t mind working if at the end he had plenty of bread to show for his work.  Reminding him of the part of the line about sweating, the Rabbi chimed in, “But they say it is not healthy to eat a lot when you are perspiring.”

It Is Easier To Be the Evil Inclination - A Child’s View (4: 7 Sin crouches at the door)
A young boy engaged in a mischievous prank for which his father scolded him.  “It’s not my fault,” the boy argued, “because I have an Evil Inclination that seeks to tempt me, and I was enticed.”  “All the more so,” answered the father.  “When it comes to diligently doing what you should, you could learn from the Evil Inclination.  Look how faithfully he carries out this duty of seducing people exactly as he was commanded to do.”  “True,” countered the boy, “but the Evil Inclination hasn’t got an evil inclination to tempt him not to do his duty, while with a person, ‘sin crouches at the door’ - that’s the Evil Inclination - ready to mislead him.”  From the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, of blessed memory

Sin - What is in a name?
As Meir Shavlev points out, the first time the word “sin” is used is in this week’s reading when God tells Cain, “Sin crouches at the door.”  But He does not specify what “sin” is.  Sinful behavior has already taken place.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God at the forbidden fruit.  They lied to God.  And then they each tried to blame another being for their behavior.  So why didn’t God tell them they were guilty of sin?  As with the story of Creation, God seems to be in the naming business i.e., providing nomenclature for that which already exists.  I am not sure what this means, but if you think you have answered all of the questions, this will give you something to play with.

Tree Confusion
“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 bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (2:17 & 17)  ”And the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!’  So the Lord banished him from the Garden of Eden…He drove the man out…” (2:22-24).  Contrary to the popular conception, Adam is not driven out of the Garden for eating the from the tree of knowledge.  He is driven out because God is afraid that he will eat from the Tree of Life, a tree from which he had previously been allowed to eat.  According to the Psalmist, the Torah is a tree of life and everyone who upholds it is happy.  That would not seem to be Adam’s experience with the Tree of Life.  And in case you have not noticed, it is “the man” who is seen as the threat for reaching out and it is “the man” who is banished.  Why does the text not say “the man and the woman” were banished or “they were banished”?

Great Expectations - Dashed Hopes
Bereshit begins on such a high note.  God, merely by speaking, brings into existence this wonderful world, plants a marvelous garden and creates two beings whose only job is to look after his handiwork.  Yet, just a few pages later we read that God is so repelled by human wickedness that He is sorry He created the world and decides that He “will blot it out.”  But before He can act we read “But Noah found Grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  Most journeys and relationships begin with high expectations.  Why the one created by God went sour is something to be left to the Theologians and Commentators.  But for the rest of us, this story serves as a reminder that things do not always turn out as we would have wished.  But before shattering things, before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it behooves us to look around and see what can be done to salvage the situation; to see if we can find “a Noah” on which we can rebuild our shattered hopes or dreams.  Any fool can shatter the universe; it takes the voice of the divine to help us see past the black and find a new dawn.  To paraphrase Victor Frankl, when a dream dies, wise people do not die with it.  They find a new dream which is the secret to the Tree of Life.

Haftarah
42:5-43:10 Isaiah

The Man/The Book:  This portion of the Book of Isaiah is attributed to the Second Isaiah or the Isaiah of the Exile.  This unknown author whose writings compose almost a third of the Book of Isaiah probably lived in Babylonia at the time when Cyrus the Great of Persia was on building his empire.  This so-called Second Isaiah offered comfort to the Jews in exile and predicted their imminent return to the Promised Land.

The Message:  The prophet begins by referencing the story of creation.  Only Isaiah sees creation not as a completed task, but as an on-going activity.  Just as God punishes and forgives the sin of men in Bereshit, so he will punish and ultimately forgive the children of Israel.

Theme-Link:  The connection between the sedrah and the prophetic reading are the themes of creation, sin and redemption.

Copyright, October, 2014  Mitchell A. Levin