Parashat Bereishit

This week, we begin again to read the Torah. The first Parasha is packed with action. In Chapter 1, God creates the natural world in an awesome, unnatural way. In Chapter 2, God ceases creating; then we are told a creation story from a totally different, man- (and woman-?) centered angle, which sets the stage for Chapter 3, which recounts man’s expulsion from Eden. The expulsion from Eden in turn sets the stage for Chapter 4, in which Adam and Eve’s son’s Cain kills his brother Able in a fit of rage. Cain is sentenced to wander the land; he eventually has a child and builds the first city. At the end of Chapter 4, Adam and Eve also have another child, Seth, to replace Abel. Chapter 5 contains the genealogy from Adam to Noah, and the beginning of chapter 6 sets the stage for the flood that will come in next week’s parasha.

The parasha has somewhat of an eerie feel to it. The initial chaos – “Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water” (Genesis 1:2; translation from chabad.org) is felt throughout. The parasha is filled with uncertainty, unexpected violence, and false starts. In line with the general disorder, we are told three different accounts of man and woman’s creation:

First, in chapter 1, God creates the world through speech, breaking the creating up over six days. On the sixth day, God creates the majority of the land animals, and then creates man last: “And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth. And God created man in His image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth. (…) And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-28, 31; translation from chabad.org)

Then, in Chapter 2, man is created much earlier on in the creation process, after the heavens and the earth but before the animals and the vegetation: “Now no tree of the field was yet on earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil. And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden from the east, and He placed there the man whom He had formed. (…) And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” And the Lord God formed from the earth every beast of the field and every fowl of the heavens, and He brought [it] to man to see what he would call it, and whatever the man called each living thing, that was its name. And the man named all the cattle and the fowl of the heavens and all the beasts of the field, but for man, he did not find a helpmate opposite him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and he slept, and He took on of his sides, and He closed the flesh in its place. And the Lord God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man. And man said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man). Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:5-8, 18-25; translation from chabad.org)

And in Chapter 5, we have a third rendition: “This is the narrative of the generations of man; on the day that God created man, in the likeness of God He created him. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them, and He named them man (Adam) on the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and he begot in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth” (Genesis 5:1-3; translation from Chabad.org)

By the end of the parasha, God is already regretting his creation: “And the Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination in his heart was only evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. And the Lord said, “I will blot out man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them. but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8; translation from chabad.org).

What happened from the first chapter, when God surveyed his creation and declared it was very good, to the last chapter, when God is ready to destroy all the living things that he created? In the first chapter, God creates in a somewhat sterile environment – we are told that his speech manifests into creation, but the created things in the world are objects, rather than subjects. They are created, then they are told the ground rules by God, then they are surveyed and declared to be “very good.” In the subsequent creation stories, man is a subject: He names the animals; he recognizes woman as his partner; the woman interacts with the other animals, with nature, and with man; they have children; they build stuff.

Before the creation, God was alone, and God was everything. According to the kabbalistic tradition, God was so all-encompassing that in order to be able to create the world, God needed to compress Himself so that there would be empty space which the world could then fill. Before creation, God was everything and everywhere; There was no separation between God’s will and “reality”. The first creation story, then, could be seen as a bridge between the pre- and post- creation reality. God’s will still molds reality, but this is no longer automatic and instantaneous: There is a moment in time, before God’s will has been formulated by Him into speech, where reality and God’s will are at odds. But God’s will is realized quickly enough, and his creations have yet to demonstrate a will of their own, so that the power dynamics are still pretty identical to the pre-creation period.

Beginning in Chapter 2, however, something shifts. All of a sudden, we find a conscious man. He names the animals, he feels lonely, he recognizes woman as his partner… he starts living his life, thinking thoughts and expressing emotions that are apart from God. For the first time, God realizes that there is a creature in this world which is truly apart from Him, and God will need to learn to share the space which He left when He contracted with another sentient being.

I think one can see the entire Tanach as a learning experience for God (and for man) as they learn to share this world with each other. I will elaborate this conclusion later, but I’ll leave this like this for now because I’d like to post before Shabbat.

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