October 25th: Beraysheet
THIS WEEK IN THE TORAH
Rabbi David E. Ostrich
One of the most important techniques in the Jewish art of Torah study is to find “problems” in the text. The Hebrew word koshi refers to any problematic passage or word. It can be something unexplained or something that is contradicted elsewhere in the text—any difficulty or anomaly. Finding a koshi is not considered an attack on the Torah, but rather perceiving an invitation for deeper understanding. Midrash is that kind of Jewish literature which seeks to answer or solve koshi’s, “solving” the problem with a story that also teaches a moral lesson.
A case in point comes with a comparison of the first two chapters of Genesis. In Chapter One, we have the six days of creation narrative. Beginning with, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God hovering over the water, God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” we have a step by step description of Ma’aseh V’raysheet, the Creative Process.
On the sixth day, we have the creation of all the land animals and the creation of the human being. “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth.’ And God saw that this was good. And God said, ‘Let us make the human in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.’ And God created the human in God’s image, in the image of God was the human created; male and female did God create them.” (Genesis 1.24-27) Everything seems complete, and God celebrates the first Shabbat.
However, in Chapter Two, we seem to be in a world where none of this creating has taken place. “This is the story of heaven and earth when they were created: When the Lord God made earth and heaven—when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil, but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth, the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth. God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2.4-7)
In this version, the plants and animals are created after man, and the human is only male—with the female being created from the man’s rib. Since none of the animals were fitting companions for the man, “the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, God took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And the Lord God fashioned the rib taken from the man into a woman; and God brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2.21-22)
What happened to the man and woman—and animals—in Chapter One? Why do we have dueling creation stories? This discrepancy is a koshi of the first order.
Some suggest that Chapter One represents God’s planning process. Just like a builder comes up with an idea and sketches it out on a drawing board, God has to figure out how everything would come to be and fit together. Among other things, God has to invent physics, chemistry, emotions, philosophy, intelligence, etc. There is a lot to think about, and, even if the Infinite God can do this very quickly, it still requires a planning phase. The plan is formulated in Chapter One, and, in Chapter Two, it is brought to fruition.
One of the advantages of this interpretation is that obviates the whole issue of the time involved—and the discrepancies between science and the Biblical account. If the six “days” represent God’s thinking and designing, then the billions of years that science teaches are not an issue. The actual execution of the plan, in Genesis Two, is not described in specific time periods.
Another advantage is that the Planning-in-Chapter-One-and-Physically-Doing-Creation-in- Chapter-Two interpretation offers the Kabbalists a better understanding of the concept B’tzelem Elohim—that we humans are created in the image of God. Jewish mysticism teaches that the first chapter’s Adam is the prototype for humanity, a “model” that comes in both male and female. It is created as the perfect human being—the one that embodies the best of godly qualities. When it comes to forming the actual human beings who walk the earth, these productions are based on the prototype but are not as perfect. Perfection is a drawing board notion, while the practical world and the complexities of life result in a lessening of human perfection and godliness. Nonetheless, the perfection still exists in our design, and we are urged to work on ourselves, getting better and better, as we approach the ideal of Adam Kadmon.
This is the hope of humanity, and it is the goal of practical Kabbalah. When a person comes to consult a Kabbalist and ask for help in improving, the technique is to ascertain those attributes of Adam Kadmon where the penitent is falling short and then to prescribe a spiritual and behavioral remedy (tikkun) to help the penitent actualize the godliness that dwells within. It is there, in our design. Our task is to bring forth the Divine that we were designed to be.