Student Teaching in the New Millenium

5771 Bereishit

In Genesis on October 11, 2010 at 2:59 am

This post is a bit of a catch-up.  Rabbi’s answers are in italics. I’ve added some supplementary questions in bold.

In the beginning…what comes before the beginning? We credit God with the creation of the universe, but the text clearly says otherwise. Little e earth and water were around at the beginning. Where did they come from? For that matter, where did God come from? From a historical perspective, God could have been derived from other traditions (e.g. El, the sky god). For the Torah’s purposes though, where does God come from?

The imagination. A given. How is this a given?

Is the presence of water and earth a credit that they are necessary for life? Is this backed up by God creating the sea creatures first? The text suggests that some of these creatures crawled up on land “those that creep.” Is this a biblical support for evolution? This seems anathema to creationist opinion, a viewpoint that “champions” the religious point of view here.

They know not how to read or think or question.

Is there a pattern to the first narrative, like we discussed about the decalogue? What is it? How does it break down? How are the different phases related to one another? How do they support one another? Did God create the world in order? That is, did God create food, and then create those creatures that would rely on the food? Lots of talk about concepts of time…did everything just spring up? Or is a “day” a longer period of time? Unless everything just sprang up, animals that lived off the land would have been pretty hungry on those 5th and 6th days. What do the Rabbis say? Are there midrash?

Ten Utterances of creation
Ten Commandments

Ten of Redemption.

See Haftorah

Hmm. I see Isaiah affirms the order of the first narrative (world, sustenance, life). Having trouble seeing the connection between the Parsha, the Haftorah, and the Ten. Little help?

My attempt:

1 (Let there be light)

“I am the Lord, your God.”

2 (Let there be an expanse…)
2 (Let the water below…be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear)

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself an idol.” (Exodus 20:4)

3 (Let the earth sprout vegetation)

Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.  I take this from the verb acquit, which can mean “satisfy.” As it is written.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.  (Exodus 20:7)

4 (Let there be lights in the…sky)
4 (Let the waters bring forth swarms…)
4 (…and birds)
4 (Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature)

Remember Shabbos and keep it holy. If you don’t notice the stars on Shabbat, you’re not keeping it. If you don’t notice the fish or the birds, you’re not keeping it. If you share in the day with other living creatures, you’re not keeping it.

Hmm, all of these creatures live in harmony with the world around them. Man does not; we try to conquer the world around us. On Shabbos, we are commanded to surrender master behavior. We are commanded to return/surrender to equilibrium. Animals see the skies above and the other creatures around them, and just are. We are commanded to do the same. Is this to say, on Shabbos, if we are not appreciating the world in the same way as the animals do, in a completely benign, harmonious, and appreciative way, we are not honoring Shabbos? Animals exist as they did at the creation. Are we to try to do the same on Shabbos? If we do not appreciate the world with the same ongoing consciousness as animals…ever appreciating, ever experiencing everything the world offers us…how can we honor Shabbos? Are we to rejoin the animals on Shabbos?

If we do not let go of time past and time to come, how can we renew ourselves? If redemption and forgiveness (release from “sin”) are incumbent on us moving past those things that hold us back, we must either let go of those things or be doomed by them. Animals are constantly engaging this activity by always experiencing the NOW. They are always engaged in the activity of creation by being a new creation every moment. Then, is just appreciating these creatures not enough? Do we have to become as they are, in the NOW, in renewal? Join them in the activity of creation? Leave the past behind, and the future unmade? A paradox: we engage creation by not creating, but by creating we shut out creation?

If Shabbos is the crown of creation, is the world recreated every seven days? After Shabbos we, refreshed, turn to the new week, a blank slate, as the world at the beginning of creation?

We’ve been provided all we need. The world will go right on without us. On Shabbos.

5 (God created Man…male and female he created them)

Honor your father and mother.

6 (Shabbos)

You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…or anything of your neighbor.

These are all destructive activities that man can effect on the world around him. Arguably, aren’t all our creative activities destructive, because they in some way subjugate the world around us, and ourselves? Many of these creative activities are benign to others; these are malignant to everyone. So, is this a way of defining malignant activity? Can you say that any destructive activity that violates “love thy neighbor” is malignant? During the week, as we draw further away from the last Shabbos, the last clean slate, the last renewal, the Law, do we grow more likely to commit these “higher order” destructive activities? By desensitizing ourselves to creative activity, do we naturally escalate our creative activity from the workaday to the hurtful? By drawing nearer the next Shabbos, do we grow less likely to commit these higher order destructive activities in renewing/refreshing/redeeming ourselves?

By ceasing from all destructive activity (i.e. work) on Shabbos, do we place ourselves even further away from performing high-destructive activities? Is this a way of putting a fence about the Torah?

The second narrative changes things around. The second narrative explicitly says man was created before other plants and animals. Why is this? It goes further to portray man as God’s partner in the creation, naming everything God created. This is conceited! We talk a lot about how we aspire towards God and these ideals we affirm every Shabbos. In this story Adam is treated like a prince. He certainly isn’t being set up to be humble or righteous. God doesn’t seem to be a good parent here. Really, what’s up with this?

Heschel says the crowning event of the creation is Shabbos. I see this in the first narrative. Not the second. If Shabbos is supposed to be the crowning achievement, why place it right before a narrative that obscures it’s importance? In fact, the second narrative reinforces the idea that man is master of God’s earth, not a steward as the covenant makes clear. Or is this to say that some men will master the earth (in both the best and worst sense), and it falls to others (i.e. the Jewish people) to be the caretakers? The reinventors and rejuvenators? Is this a setup for good versus evil? Those who would destroy the world against those who would save it? How can we stress the primacy of Shabbos when these passages seem to stress the primacy of man? Shabbos comes first in the narrative; shouldn’t it come last? If we think of this temporally, Shabbos ends our week. Shouldn’t Shabbos be mentioned after man’s other responsibilities are enumerated as the crowning responsibility if it is the crown of creation? That, regardless of what we are or think we are, we honor this day?

God says if Adam and Eve eat of the tree of eternal life they would be like “us.” What is this us? We affirm God is one, and the only God. The Isaiah establishes this concretely. Who is “us”? Is this the royal “we”? Also, is God saying we would be gods if we ate of the tree of eternal life? Isaiah says God won’t share godhood with anyone or anything. No other gods and no idols. Why would God create the means to godhood if he has no intention of sharing? Why create the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and eternal life if he has no intention of sharing. What is the risk to God? Would Adam and Eve be granted Godlike powers? The book says God created man, but did he create man and woman human? Were they created as something other from this world? Or not entirely of this world? Were they created with Godlike powers? Did they lose these powers when they were ejected from Eden? Does Adam and Eve having knowledge and eternal life upset a balance? Is there a balance to upset? What is the point after man has unambiguously been made God’s partner in creation? If man is already Godlike in his power to create and give meaning? Is this a big gotcha? A setup? I don’t buy this. What is this supposed to be? What is the Torah saying here?

An orthodox Rabbi visited and said the theme of the first narrative is justice. There is a justice in creation. A just order of things. He said the second story conveys Gods mercy with which He tempers his justice. That man stumbled and was punished, but was still allowed to live a good life, is an expression of this. Is it mercy to elevate man so high just to bring him so low?

He also said that God realized that man, being of the earth, couldn’t start and live his life in heaven, but had to start on earth and strive towards heaven. This raises an interesting question. Why build heaven first?


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