Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Parshat Lech Lecha

There are for Sedra Shoorts on Parshat Lech Lecha. Scroll down for each Dvar Torah

  • The Cannanites Were Then in the Land
  • Sarah, Wife of Avraham
    The Repeated Promise
  • The Double Edge of Circumcision

The Cannanites Were Then in the Land

God told Avraham to go "to the land that I will show you" (Bereshit 12:1). When he arrived there, the passuk tells us that "the Canaanites were then in the land" (ibid 6). The word "then" – "
אז" in Hebrew, has troubled traditional Jewish commentaries for it implies that at the time Sefer Bereshit was written, the Canaanites were no longer in the land. Orthodox Jews believe that Sefer Bereshit was written by Moshe. That makes the word "then" problematic, for the Canaanites were the unchallenged rulers of Canaan in Moshe's day.

Rashi states that Avraham's time marked the beginning of the Cannanite conquest. The word "then" then implies that the Canannites were then taking control of the land, as opposed to today, Moshe's day, when the Cananites had supreme control.

This interpretation is difficult to accept for it cannot be historically justified. The Canannites were firmly in control of Canaan well before Avraham arrived on the scene.

The Chizkuni therefore, explains that the word "then" was included for later generations, such as ours, so that we should understand that when Avraham first arrived in Israel, it was actually a strong holding of the Canaanites.

Ibn Ezra however, has real trouble with world and hints, though he doesn't say it openly, that the word was added at a later date.

I would like to add an alternative suggestion that will make the traditionalists more comfortable. But before I do I would like to ask, why God repeats His promise to Abraham numerous times throughout the parsha, God had already told Avraham that he would become a great nation in the land. Why does God then repeat "To your descendants I will give this land," (ibid 7)?

If we recall, Avraham was not told specifically what land he was directed to go to and that he had never been to Canaan before. It is possible that Avraham assumed that he would arrive in a sparsely populated region, a place that he could claim and inherit to his children.

However, when he arrived in Canaan he was shocked. This land was already full of people, not just any people, but the Canaanites; a highly developed people with a distinct culture and strong army. Could this be the land where he was to become a great nation?

Therefore Avraham may have assumed that he was at the wrong place. God immediately appears to him therefore and says: "To your descendants I will give this land". God explains that the promise is to be fulfilled in the future. Avraham's immediate reaction is to build an altar and show his trust in God. The word "then" therefore, expresses to Israel four hundred years later, Avraham's shock and surprise.

Moshe explains that they should not think that when Avraham arrived in the land it was unoccupied and that he was claiming it for them. No, even in Avraham's day, the land was fully occupied and controlled by Canaan.

Therefore, the pesukim can be understood as follows: "Avram passed through the land, until the place of Shechem, until the plain of Moreh, and [found that] the Canaanites were [already] then [firmly entrenched] in the land. [In order to allay Avram's doubts] the Lord appeared to Avram, and He said, 'To your descendants I will give this land'. There [showing his faith and new understanding of God's promise] he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him" (ibid 6-7).

Therefore, the word "then" need not be a post-Mosaic addition to the text, but merely a tool to teach us and ancient Israel:

· That Avraham had problems understanding God's promise in light of the facts

· Why God repeated his promise to Avraham

· Why Avraham did not build the altar immediately upon arriving in the land.

Sarah, Wife of Avraham

God had promised Avraham that he would have a son. However Sarah was never promised that she would have a son. Being sterile, she gave Hagar her maidservant to Avraham. She would no longer hold Avraham back and Avraham could now fulfill his destiny.

Nevertheless, when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarah became furious with her husband, saying: “May my injustice be upon you! I gave my handmaid into your bosom, and she saw that she had become pregnant and I became unimportant in her eyes” (Bereshit 16:5).

Why was Sarah angry with Avraham? Wasn’t that why she gave her to him? What else did she expect would happen?

It seems that while Sarah accepted the need for Avraham to have a son, she did not feel that she needed replacing. It seems that she felt that Hagar was taking over her role? When Sarah gave Hagar to Avraham she said: “perhaps I will be built up from her” (ibid 2). What did she mean?

There are two possible explanations: 1. Hagar’s pregnancy would affect Sarah psychologically, causing her to become pregnant (a common belief in the ancient world), 2. Hagar’s child would automatically be Sarah’s since being her maidservant, everything Hagar possessed, including her children, actually belonged to Sarah, her mistress.

Sarah never gave up hope of being part of Avraham’s future. She would either bear him a son, or she would be the legal mother of his son.

Nevertheless, Hagar did not see it that way. Sarah was now “unimportant in her eyes”. Hagar was claiming the destiny and partnership with Avraham, for herself. Sarah blames Avraham for this, for allowing Hagar to elevate herself to the status of wife.

Avraham accepted Sarah’s claim and tells her: “Here is your handmaid in your hand; do to her that which is proper in your eyes” (ibid 6), i.e. he tells her to ensure that Hagar understands her rightful place. He accepts only Sarah as his true wife.

Sarah does as he says. However, Hagar refuses to accept her fate and flees in order to secure her freedom. However, an angel reminds her who she really is. He calls her: “Hagar, Sarai's servant, where are you coming from?” Hagar realizes who she really is and responds: “From before Sarai my mistress I flee”(ibid 9).

Throughout the episode, the Torah describes Sarah as the “wife of Avram”, and Hagar as the: “maidservant of Sarai”. Indeed, the angel tells Hagar “Return to your mistress, and allow yourself to be afflicted under her hands” (ibid). Sarah is Avraham’s one and true wife.
Possibly as a result of Hagar’s actions, Sarah did not adopt Yishmael. He remained a slave and had no part to play in the blessings of Avraham.

The Repeated Promise

At the age of 70, Avraham Avinu begins a new chapter in his life.

God speaks to him for the first time and tells him to go to the land of Canaan and that He will make him a great nation there.

All this is fine, apart from the fact that this promise is repeated a further four times.

The first time: "Go forth from your land … to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation…" (Bereshit 12:1-2)

The second time: Avram passed through the land…and the Canaanites were then in the land. The Lord appeared to Avram, and He said, "To your seed I will give this land" (ibid 6-7).

The third time: "The Lord said to Avram after Lot had parted from him, "Raise your eyes and see... For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity" (13:14-15).

The fourth time: "On that day, the Lord formed a covenant with Avram, saying, "To your seed I have given this land" (ibid 15:18).

The fifth time: "I will give you and your seed after you the land of your sojournings, the entire land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a God" (ibid 17:8).

When the word of God was so precious, when God only spoke with Avraham five times over these 29 years, why did He give Avraham exactly the same message each time? Why was it necessary for God to repeat His message four times?

The answer can be found in a close reading of the text.

God had promised Avraham Canaan and that he would become a great nation there. However, when Avraham got there, he had a great shock: "The Canaanites were then in the land". This land was not an empty land waiting for a master. It was already fully inhabited by a strong and mighty nation.

This must have come to Avraham as a great surprise and must have given him doubts. Therefore, God immediately reassured him saying: "To your seed I will give this land". He adds that His promise was not going to be fulfilled immediately, but only in the future. Avraham "built an altar to the Lord" (ibid 12:8), showing that He trusted God.

That reaffirmation satisfied Avraham until he had another major crisis. Avraham had no children. His heir was Lot, his nephew, the man he brought up as his own son. He must have been satisfied that God would maintain his promise through Lot. However, Lot left him. His successor was gone. Therefore, God again reassured Avraham: "All the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity". God then tells Avraham to: "walk in the land, to its length and to its breadth" signifying his ownership of it. Avraham again shows his faith as "he built an altar to the Lord" (ibid 13:17-18).

Yet some years later, Avraham experienced another crisis. He had defeated a military super-power and was now worried about revenge. God tells Avraham "Fear not, Avram; I am your Shield" (ibid 15:1). At this point Avraham asks what was the point of all this protection when "I am going childless" and "You have given me no seed, and behold, one of my household (Eliezer) will inherit me" (ibid 2-3).

God therefore tells him that Eliezer, the head of his household " will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you" (ibid 4). But He also goes when one step further than just making a promise; He makes a covenant with Avraham – the "Covenant Between the Pieces", committing Himself to this pact. Avraham once again "believed in the Lord" (ibid 6).

The final time that God makes the promise to Avraham is not the result of any fears that Avraham had expressed. Simply, the time had come for the promise to begin to be fulfilled. Sarah, Avraham's wife was about to conceive. However, before that could happen, Avraham had to have his name changed from Avram to Avraham, signifying his acceptance of his new role, and he had to enter the covenant of circumcision - the Brit Milla.

Just like Avraham had to wait for the promise to be fulfilled, so too his descendants, the Jewish people, had to wait. Just like Avraham had to have blood spilt before he could take possession of the land, so too the Jewish people have experienced blood shed. Nevertheless, God has been faithful and the land of Israel is now our "everlasting possession" (ibid 8).

The Double Edge of Circumcision

God made a double edged promise to Avraham if he would leave his homeland and "go to the land that I will show you". God would: "...make of you a great nation…and through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Bereshit 12:1-4).

This promise was reaffirmed to Yitschak: "I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these lands; and by your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (ibid 26:4) and to Yaakov: "The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed…And through you and your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed (ibid 28:13-14).

On the one hand, God promises Avraham exclusivity – he will become a great nation in his own distinct land. Yet on the other hand, he is also promised universality: he will become the father of humanity, that through him all humanity will attain blessing. By becoming a nation dedicated to God's values, Avraham's descendants would then positively influence the rest of humankind so that they too, would attain God's blessing.

Furthermore, before accepting the Torah, the children of Israel were required to accept both these national and universal roles: "you will be unto Me a kingdom of priests (universal), and a holy nation (national)" (Shemot 19:6).

God also placed these roles as the centerpiece of the Brit Mila, He made with Avraham. Firstly, Avraham's name was changed from Avram to Avraham, signifying that "the father of a multitude of nations have I made you" (Bereshit 17:5). Secondly, "This is My covenant, which you … and your seed after you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised" (ibid 10). Through, circumcision, Avraham and his descendents became unique, physically different and set apart from all other nations, signifying His exclusive relationship with them.

These two ideas still exist in the circumcision ceremony of Jewish males: The Circumcision and the Naming. The circumcision signifies the child's acceptance of the Jewish people's national role and the naming signifies his acceptance of the universal role.

Perhaps this is why two blessings are recited at the ceremony: The first "על מצות מילה" – "on the act of circumcision" representing the national role, and "להכניסו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו" – "on entering him into the covenant of Avraham, our forefather", representing the child's acceptance of his universal role.

This is indeed the task of the Jewish people. May we merit to accomplish both these roles.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Parshat Noach

There are for Sedra Shoorts on Parshat Nooach. Scroll down for each Dvar Torah

  • Why an ark?
  • The Tower of Bavel
  • The Tower and Language
  • The Raven and the Dove

Why an ark?

In order to save Noach and his family from the impending Flood, God told Noach: "Make for yourself an ark (tevah) of gopher wood" (Bereshit 6:14).

Why an ark and not a boat or a ship? To help answer this question we must first find out what an ark is and how it differs to a boat or a ship.

The only other instance of an ark in the Bible, is the ark built by Yocheved for her son Moshe, when she placed him on the River Nile. (NB. We cannot compare this ark to the Ark of the Covenant as the Hebrew word for Ark in that instance is aron not tevah).

The common feature between both Noach's and Moshe's arks was that they were intended for refuge and not travel. They were not built to get them from point A to point B, but only to give them protection from the waters. Therefore, neither ark had any sails, oars, rudders or any navigational system whatsoever.

In essence, Noach had no control of the Ark. The Ark went wherever the waters took it. "When the waters increased, they picked up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth" (ibid 17:7). "When the waters strengthened and increased upon the earth, the ark travelled along the face of the water" (ibid 18). "...The waters decreased and the ark rested...on the mountains of Ararat" (ibid 8:3-4).

Unlike the hero recorded in other traditons such as the Gilgamesh Flood epic, Noach could not steer the ark. He did not decide when to leave, in which direction to go and where to land the ark. He had an ark not a boat. Noach and humanity itself, was totally dependent on God for his security, safety and survival. By building an ark and not a boat, Noach submitted himself into God's care and trusted in His salvation.

Incidentally, Noach unlike the survivor from other flood traditions, is saved not because he was strong and wise, or because he was a descendent of a god and neither because of a fortunate chance. He is saved because: "Noach was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noach walked with God" (ibid 6:9).

Once again, the Bible is introducing the revolutionary idea of Ethical monotheism in a pagan world that lives by the survival of the fittest.

The Tower of Bavel

Towards the end of this week’s Torah reading, a brief episode, merely nine verses long, is recorded. The people of Shinar, also known as Bavel, build a tower whose “top is in the heavens” in order to “make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth" (Bereshit 11:4).

It is difficult to decipher the precise crime of the ancient Babylonians. Jewish tradition brings many different opinions as to their intentions.

Modern scholarship has also enabled us to understand the issue a little better. The people of Shinar built many tall towers, called ziggurats. The remains of many are scattered over modern Iraq. We will examine why they built them.

The Psalmist writes: “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth He has given to the children of men” (Tehillim 115:16). Essentially, the ancient world took this idea literally. God dwelt in the heavens while humanity dwelt upon the earth. If man wanted communion with God, he had to go to the place where heaven and earth meet, i.e. the mountains. Up in the clouds, heaven and earth meet and man can be at one with God. This idea exists within Judaism; after all, the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, with the cloud of God resting on the mountain after Moshe had ascended. So too, the Temple was built on Mount Moriah, the highest mountain in Jerusalem, Eliyahu Hanavi held his competition with Baal at the peak of Mount Carmel, and even the unofficial sanctuaries were known as the Bamot, the High Places.

This concept still has echoes in Christianity and Islam where churches and mosques are generally built on a village’s highest point.

However the people of Shinar had a problem. They had traveled “from the east” from the mountainous region of Ararat, and had “found a valley in the land of Shinar” (Bereshit 11:2). Their new home was a large, flat valley; there were no mountains and so, no place to have communion with God.

They solved the problem by building artificial mountains, i.e. very tall towers whose tops were in heaven, the ziggurats. Therefore, these towers, as the Sephorno writes, were actually temples. Hence, the name “Bavel”. “Bava” means “Gate” and “El” means “God”. The ancient Babylonians believed that “Bavel” was the gate of God, the place where heaven and earth connected.

The Torah mocks this idea saying that Bavel was more a place of confusion than the gate of God. As the Sephorno explains, Bavel’s leaders exploited religion to control the masses and to persecute humankind. They aimed to maintain power for themselves (”make ourselves a name”) and to keep a tight control of the people (“lest we be scattered”). God will not allow such ideas to endure and so the ziggurats crumbled. True worship of God calls for the freedom of humanity, not its persecution and enslavement.

The Tower and Language

The nine pesukim that make up the story of the Tower of Bavel are very cryptic and brief.

"Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth" (Bereshit 11:4)

Is there anything really wrong with this? So they want to build a tall tower. Are skyscrapers forbidden?

God then confuses their languages and scatters them. Did people really start speaking whole new languages overnight? What's really going on in this story?

In last week's Sedra Short, we saw that God gave humanity a mission: to fill and conquer the earth, i.e. to develop the world and continue the Creation that God began.

The beginning of the story starts well. "They traveled from the east, and they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there" (ibid 1).

Noach's arc had rested in the Ararat mountain range. The people left that region and settled in a valley later known as Babylon and nowadays, Iraq.

This is good, humanity are again beginning to fill the earth. But now they have a problem. Previously they were in mountains, with plenty of natural shelter and large boulders with which to build. Now, however, they are in a valley. Valleys have no natural shelters. Furthermore, the soil in Babylon is clay. There are no boulders with which to build. So what do they do?

They invent bricks and building materials! "'Come, let us make bricks and fire them in a furnace'; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar" (ibid 3). How did do they do this? They noticed that when the clay is heated it becomes hard. So they built furnaces and created artificial stones: bricks.

All this again is wonderful. Humanity has made an incredible technological leap and is now conquering the earth as well as filling it.

However, they soon make a dreadful mistake: "Let us build ourselves a city (good) and a tower (also good)… lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth (very bad)" (ibid 4).

The leaders of this society are worried that the people are growing too quickly – if they are not careful, they will lose control over them. So what do they do? They try to stunt their development. They do not want to fill the earth. The tower acts as humanity's physical and technological prison.

God cannot allow this to succeed as it breaks the basic principles of Creation, so God acts. He "scattered them upon the face of the entire earth" (ibid 9), ensuring that humanity continued to fill the earth.

He did this by confusing their language. What does this mean?

With a close reading of the Hebrew text of passuk 3, you will notice that the technological developments were accompanied by a language development.

The Hebrew word "livna" (build) grew to "leven" (brick). The word "saraf" (fire) grew to "serefa" (furnace) and the word "hemar" (clay) grew to "homer" (mortar). The new inventions led to new words being invented, in the same manner that the inventions of the internet, cellular phones, flash drives etc has also led to new words being invented.

Now, even though I am fluent in English, I find it very hard to follow and join in a conversation with a group of information technologists, in pretty much the same way that I did not understand a word my physics teachers spoke.

This is what happened to the people of Babel. With all the major technological breakthroughs, different groups found it hard to communicate with each other. As Rashi explains, it led to misunderstandings, frustration, violence and separation. The different groups could no longer live with each other and they were forced to part and establish new communities. Over time these new communities developed their own distinct languages.

(Note: Rashi does not say that the people started speaking new languages overnight – only that they no longer understood each other – even though they understood the individual words being spoken, they could not understand the concept, e.g. if someone asked for a brick, his friend could not understand his need for a brick – surely he needed mortar. When the mortar was brought, his friend was frustrated and became violent.)

The Torah describes this process in one passuk: "the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them upon the face of the entire earth", but as the Ibn Ezra explains, this process took hundreds of years.

The message of this story is now clear. Humans cannot be eternally enslaved. Its development and creativity cannot be stopped. God instilled the need to fill and conquer the earth into humanity's DNA. The Tower of Bavel was built to stunt humanity's growth. It was doomed to fail.

The Raven and the Dove

The Torah is full of doublets – stories that are told more than once from different perspectives. The episode of the Flood in this week's paraha, is undoubtedly two accounts of the same story, interwoven into one story. Let's see an example of this.

"The Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. 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 Noach found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Bereshit 6:5-8).

Essentially, humanity, save one man, Noach, had become corrupted so God decided to destroy it. Let's now read the next few pesukim.

"These are the generations of Noach, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noach walked with God…Now the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of corrupion. God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. So God said to Noach, "The end of all flesh has come before Me…and behold I am destroying them from the earth'" (ibid 9-13).

Essentially, humanity, save one man, Noach, had become corrupted so God decided to destroy it!!

Bible critics concluded that each account was written by a separate author, probably in the two separate ancient Israelite kingdoms. Each recorded different traditions of Israel's history. A redactor later, interwove the accounts. The critics call one account "J" as it uses the Hebrew "J" name of God, translated here as "The Lord". The second account they call "E" as it uses the Hebrew "E" name for God, translated here as "God". I will show why I am not convinced by their arguments.

The two accounts continue throughout the parsha, and conclude with Noach sending a bird to see if the waters had receded. In Account E, Noach "sent forth the raven. It went out, back and forth until the waters dried up off the earth" (Ibid 8:7).

While the raven circled the ark, Noach understood that the earth was still flooded, and once the raven flew off, he understood that the waters had receded. Let's see what he does in the next pesukim.

"He sent forth the dove from with him, to see whether the waters had abated from upon the surface of the earth. But the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot; so it returned to him to the ark because there was water upon the entire surface of the earth; so he stretched forth his hand and took it, and he brought it to him to the ark. He waited again another seven days, and he again sent forth the dove from the ark. The dove returned to him at eventide, and behold it had plucked an olive leaf in its mouth; so Noah knew that the water had abated from upon the earth" (ibid 8-11).

When the dove returned, Noach understood that the earth was still flooded. When the dove returned with the olive branch, Noach understood that the land was now visible.

Note, however, how the two accounts differ. In "J", God is grieved by humanity's plight and by His own actions. He cares for Noach. Noach cares about the dove and the dove cares about him. The "E" account, however, is cold and factual, devoid of relationship.

Also note how opposite the raven and the dove are. The raven is a predator, while the dove is an herbivore. The Raven is a symbol of aggression while the dove is a symbol of peace. The raven is black, while the dove is white.

These two accounts could not have been written independently, they are two sides of the same coin.

So why then are two accounts recorded? The ancient rabbis have explained that God's "J" name represents His trait of mercy while His "E" name represents His trait of justice.

Ancient Israel had a problem: If God was merciful, how could He punish them and if He was just, how could He ever be merciful? This interwoven story attempts to solve this problem. God's mercy and His justice work side by side, complementing each other. While God was acting with justice when He flooded the world, He was also acting with compassion. As every parent knows, trying to juggle mercy and justice with our children is a difficult task. Perhaps we should try to imitate God and act in both manner, at the same time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parshat Bereshit

Below are three Sedra Shorts on Parshat Bereshit:
  • The Pre-History of Bereshit
  • The Good the Bad and the Woman
  • Shattering Ancient Creation Myths
Scroll down for each Dvar Torah.

1. The Pre-History of Bereshit

Apart from the creation of the entire universe, this week's parsha contains around 1,000 years of human history in just 5 chapters. Even though we can learn a surprisingly large amount about the pre-ancient world from these few words, there are still many gaps. So what is the purpose of this potted history?

The first idea that people jump to is the first words that Rashi wrote over a thousand years ago. He wrote that the purpose of this information is for the future generations to know that if ever the world claims that Israel are thieves, for they stole the land of Israel from another people (they would never do that, would they?!!), than Israel could respond that it is not true as God created the world and He gave Israel that land.

There is no doubt that the Torah is rushing through pre-ancient history in order to get to Israel and to show how they emerged, but it is also saying a lot more. It is saying why Israel emerged.

When God created the universe, He gave humanity a three-fold mission:

  • "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth
  • and conquer 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 " (Bereshit 1:28).

Essentially, humanity was created in the image of God (ibid 27) and its purpose was to continue God's work. Just as God created life, so too humanity were to create life ("be fruitful and multiply), just as God created the earth, humanity are to continue developing it ("conquer" the earth, i.e. use its resources to further creation) and just as God mastered the animal kingdom, so too were humanity ("rule over…").

The next four chapters show just how humanity attempted to, but yet ultimately failed, to fulfill this mission.

To begin with: "Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, and she said, "I have acquired a man with the Lord." She bore again his brother Abel, and Abel was a shepherd of flocks, and Cain was a tiller of the soil" (ibid 4:1-2).

Essentially, these pesukim show how Adam and Eve procreated, i.e. they were fruitful and multiplied and began filling the earth. So far, so good. And things get better! Abel was a shepherd, ruling over the animal kingdom, and Cain was a farmer, conquering the earth.

Man is beginning to fulfill its destiny and its only fitting that "Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord" and that Abel "brought of the firstborn of his flocks" (ibid 3-4). They are now showing thanks to God.

However, things suddenly go rotten. Cain kills Abel, over a difference of religion (nothing new there either!!).

However, the world continued to develop. "Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch, and he was building a city" (ibid 17). Humanity is growing so fast that it now needs cities.

"Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle" (ibid 20). A Bedouin way of life and the breeding of cattle has now developed.

"His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who grasp a lyre and a flute" (ibid 21). We now have the development of music.

"She too bore Tubal Cain, who sharpened all tools that cut copper and iron" (ibid 22). We now have the mining of metals and the invention of tools, as well as a lot more filling the earth.

Things seem to be going well, but then Lemech takes the invention of metal and rather than using it for the benefit of Creation, he creates a weapon and kills: "I have slain a man by wounding (him) and a child by bruising (him) (ibid 23). Lemech is also the first person to have two wives – another break with the order of creation.

There are still some positives along the way, however, humanity begins a descent that makes this parsha end on a depressing note: "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" (ibid 6:7).

Nevertheless, there was still some hope as: "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (ibid 8).

As we will see next week, God starts again with Noach, but eventually decides that humanity needs some teachers, that eventually leads to the emergence of Israel. We will discuss this at a future date.

2. The Good the Bad and the Woman

God created the world in six days and six times the Torah declares: “God saw that it was good”

However there was one thing that was not good. “The Lord God said, "It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him an Ezer Kenegdo” (Bereshit 2:18).

Unlike the animal kingdom, which was created “according to their kind” (ibid 1:21), humanity was created “male and female He created them” (ibid 27). Obviously there were male and female animals, nevertheless the Torah points that the creation of the two sexes was an integral part of humanity’s being.

Indeed, “God created humanity in His image; in the image of God He created it”. According to this understanding it is only when the man and the woman were together that they are in the image of God. Independently, they were not a complete image of God.

Without each other they are incomplete, but when they get together they become one and restore the image of God, or as the Torah puts it: “a man shall…cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (ibid 2:24).

Therefore it was not good for the man to be alone.

Being godly requires partnership, someone to share with and to care for. Choosing to be a hermit, alone and a celibate is not the way of the Torah. It is choosing to be an incomplete image of God.

3. Shattering Ancient Creation Myths

The ancient world had many myths about the creation of the world and the power of the gods. The children of Israel leaving Egypt, were well versed in these myths. Therefore the the first few chapters of the Book of Bereshit deal with shattering those myths. The new nation had to discard those myths. Here's a few of many examples of Torah attempts to shatter those myths:

Myth 1 - There is a pantheon of gods

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ - בראשית א:א
In the beginning God created the universe - Genesis 1:1 .

There is no pantheon of gods, only one God.

Myth 2 - The gods struggled with each other and with other powers in order to create the universe

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים... - שם ג
"God said..." (or "God willed...") - ibid 3

There was no epic struggle between different gods or powers. God's creation was effortless and unopposed.

Myth 3 - Nature is a force that needs to be worshipped so that it continues to generate its produce.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינו, אֲשֶׁר זַרְעו בוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן - שם י"א
God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.' And it was so. - ibid 11

God alone has bestowed the earth with generative powers. Nature reproduces soley on account of God's will. God, and not fertility cults, must be worshipped in order for this cycle to continue. On the same realm, the sun, another creation of God, was created on the fourth day after the vegetation, to shatter the myth that it is the source of life.

Myth 4 - Ancient Kings are desecendents of gods and have dominion over other humans - note the name: Tutenkhamen (an Egyptian Pharaoh) - it means "in the image of Amun (an ancient Egyptian God".

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ - שם כ"ז
God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him - ibid 27

This radical concept taught that all humans are in the image of God - all are equal regardless of status. No human has the right to subdue or harm another - doing so would be an affront to God.

Other shattered myths include:

The Serpent - Partially because it sheds its skin, the ancients venerated it as a symbol of health and longevity; and its unblinking eys and its sudden venomous bite, gave it a demonic dread. Yet it was merely, "... the shrewdest of the wild creatures that the Lord had created" (ibid 3:i), and so undeserving of any worship.

Evil - believed to be a metaphysical primordial creation, existing on its own to destroy all the good the gods had done; was caused by human action. Calamity and hardship was not the result of a haphazard power that did evil in accordance with its own will, but due to the immoral actions of humanity.

Thereby, the purpose of the first few chapters of Sefer Bereshit are not necessarily to teach us the history of creation, but are in order to bring the world of ethical monotheism to a humanity steeped in unethical polytheism.