Bereisheet (In the Beginning)
Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
We begin the cycle again. Last weekend we celebrated Simchat Torah and read the final chapters of Deuteronomy with special ceremony. We then proceeded to read the first chapter of Genesis, as a way of saying that the Torah never ends, but every ending includes with it a new beginning. But this week, we begin Genesis from the very beginning and read the beautiful stories of Creation.
You may have noticed that I used the plural “stories” and not story because there are two separate stories of creation. Chapter 1, with its day-by-day description of creation, beginning with the simplest of creations, earth and sky, water and light and moving on to plants, fish, animals, and finally man. In that chapter, man is portrayed as the crowning glory of creation, as an integral part of the animal kingdom but as a being apart. While obviously every animal is created as a male and female, only man is mentioned as having two separate sexes. And G-d speaks to man and woman, blesses them and gives them a role – to multiply and fill the earth and rule over the rest of nature. This story of creation emphasizes man as an integral part of nature, but as a superior being within that nature – with superior capabilities and responsibilities.
Chapter 2 begins with a totally different version of the story. The first three verses of the chapter are actually a continuation of the previous chapter, following the sequence of days and setting aside the seventh day as the Sabbath. In verse 4, however, a new story begins. According to this story, G-d creates man before he creates vegetation and animals. He then plants a garden, with trees and rivers, and places man into this garden. At the end of the story, woman is created. Man gives his woman a name and names all the animals as well.
By presenting creation as two different stories, the Bible gives us a complex understanding of the different roles that man plays, both towards G-d and towards the rest of creation. In the first narrative, Adam is part of nature, but superior to it. He is a ruler. In the second story, man is presented as someone who creates and maintains relationships. Giving a name to someone or something is the most fundamental way of identifying the nature of that person or thing. Identity is key to relationship, as each being can only relate to one another if their own separate identity is intact. In chapter 2, Adam establishes relationships with the animals, with his wife, without whom he is alone, and with G-d, who brings each animal to Adam to be named, individually.
Man is a complex being – he can rule the world and he can love and care for his fellow man. Two totally different personality types reside in human nature. And both are essential for the survival of the world. If we only love and empathize, we may not take the steps necessary to control the world so that it serves human needs. If we only control and protect, we may lose our ability to love.
(Inspired by the seminal article by the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, The Lonely Man of Faith.)
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office<