Hebraic Studies – Parashat Bereshit No 1

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Although some minor alterations have been made relating to names and attributes having been corrected.

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Parashat Bereshit - 1

Bereshit - Genesis Chapter 1 verse 1 to Chapter 5 verse 32.

 

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

On the first Shabbat after Sukkot, we once again commence the annual cycle of reading our Torah portions. Every Shabbat we convene in Shul for prayer and reading of the Torah portion, one section of the Five Books of Moshe. The first portion, which we will read on this Shabbat, is Parashat Bereshit. And as its name depicts, this Parsha deals with the story of the creation of the world and of humanity.

Elohim existed before creation:

“And Elohim said unto Moshe: ‘I AM THAT I AM’; and He said: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent Me unto you.’’ Shemot - Exodus 3:14 (JPS).

“But Elohim made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 10:12 (JPS).

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Tehillim - Psalm 24:1-2 (JPS).

“The heavens declare the glory of Elohim; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Tehillim - Psalm 19:1 (JPS).

The Book of books commences with the beginning of beginnings: the creation of the universe and life. The story is told from two different perspectives, first as cosmology (the origins of matter), then as anthropology (the birth of humanity). The first narrative (Bereshit 1:1-2:3) emphasises harmony and order. For Elohim, blessed be He, creates the universe in six days and dedicates the seventh as a day of holiness and rest. The second narrative (Bereshit 2:4-3:24) focuses on humanity, not as biological species but as persons-in-relation. And Elohim fashions man, as He sees that “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and then fashions a woman.

Later the serpent tempts them; they sin and are banished from the Garden. From then on, the human drama unfolds as a tragedy. Sadly Cain murders his brother. By the end of the Parsha, Elohim sees “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become” and “regrets that He had made man on earth.” Elohim creates order, man creates chaos. Which will prevail?

The beginning of creation is described in the first few verses of the Torah:

“In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth” Bereshit - Genesis 1:1 (“Jewish Publication Society” (JPS) version of the Torah).

During six days when everything was being created, and each stage of creation culminated in the saying,

“ … and Elohim saw that it was good” Bereshit - Genesis 1 (JPS).

Man was created on the sixth day:

“And Elohim said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...’ And Elohim created man in His image; in the image of Elohim He created him; male and female He created them” Bereshit – Genesis 1:26-27).

The words, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” are written in the plural. Who was  Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, talking to when He decided to create man?

It was said by certain rabbis that Elohim might have been speaking to the first person who wrote the Torah, such as Moshe Rabbeinu. But that would not have been the case, for Elohim was obviously speaking of those who were with Him in the heavenliness, and thus it would have included the - Malachim - Angels who were the “us”!

I believe that the reason man’s special distinction in having been created last, was a special sign of man’s honour and an elevated status that he was created last to make known that all mortal creatures were created for his sake and he was made lord of all them. Thus in a way man was the crown of creation, although lower than the angels, possessor of an immortal Soul - - Nephesh - capable of an intelligent acknowledgment of His creator and ruling the world by his wisdom. “Let us make man”, the creator announced. In other words, “after I have created all the foregoing for the sake of man, to supply his needs and enjoyment, let the master enter his palace.”

Man’s status as the aim of creation and his uniqueness are underlined by the sublime phraseology describing his creation:

So Elohim created man in his own image; In the image of Elohim created He him; male and female created He them.

The style of the verse is poetic and elevated, the fact of man’s creation being referred to three times. The chasm separating man from the rest of creation is stressed twice in the statement that he was created in the image of Elohim. Both the duties, responsibilities and glory of man derive from this.

From all this we can take from this that we are all equally significant before Elohim, since every man and woman was created in His image.

Therefore man was created on his own, to teach you that whoever destroys one soul is regarded by the Torah as if he had destroyed a whole world and whoever saves one soul, is regarded as if he had saved a whole world. The uniqueness of the individual, a world to himself, unrepeatable is vividly portrayed in the continuation of the same teaching:

We were created in Elohim’s image and were charged with a special task over and above those applying to the rest of creation.

“And Elohim blessed them; and Elohim said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.’” Bereshit - Genesis 1:28 (JPS).

Man is not subservient to the world. The forces of nature are not supernatural ones that are superior to him. But he stands on the side of Elohim against nature.

The psalmist in Psalm 8, sees himself as a man who surveys the heavens and their hosts and senses as one and the same time both his insignificance in the whole universe and his honoured position as a ruler on earth, who directs his gaze from below to the Above, addressing Elohim in the second person:

“When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast established; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him? Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: Sheep and oxen, all of them, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O , our Lord, how glorious is Thy Name in all the earth!” Bereshit - Genesis 8:4-10 (JPS).

Just think about all the things our Elohim has given us and how thankful we should all be, yet the very first family sadly really messed up and they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and life became far more difficult and then we learned of the very first murder ever for Cain killed his brother Abel. Thus now a great evil had entered the world and sadly it got worse and more violent as time went on!

Let us learn from our very first family and let us do much better. Be thankful to our loving Creator with all our heart and Praise Him and thank Him for all He has done for us, and above all Keep His Torah as given to Moshe!

And please always remember my motto as seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

 

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