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Dan Has Questions From The Beginning: Parshat Bereisheet

10/20/2022 07:32:57 AM


Dan Leemon

Shabbat shalom. This week is Kitah Gimmel's Kabbalat Siddur, a kind of beginning for the students so it's quite fitting that we once again find ourselves at the beginning of the Torah. 

- Why do we read the Torah over and over (and over), year after year?

- Are there books you like to read over and over? Why?

The first book of the Torah, Bereisheet, begins with the first parshah of the Torah, Bereisheet.

- Do you see of hear a root word in "bereisheet" that you are familiar with? (Hint: What was the first holiday we celebrated three weeks ago?)

Bereisheet means "in the beginning", and comes from the Hebrew root "rosh", as in "Rosh Hashanah", the beginning of the year ("rosh" also means "head" and "top" and "summit"). This Parshah tells a story of the creation of the Earth (and the sun, moon, and stars). It's not scientific though it does start with a big bang of its own: the creation on light, followed (in total of six days!) by everything else on earth, under the oceans, and in the sky. There are actually two stories of creation here: In the first, God creates humans last, "in God's image"In the second, God creates humans first, "out of dust".

- What does the Torah mean when it says we are created in "God's image" -- not literally (God's appearance is never described), but figuratively?

- Is there some way that each of us is, or can be, more like God?

- Would you rather be created in God's image, or created from dust? Why do you think the Torah says both?

God creates everything in six days, and rests on the seventh day.

- Why is it important or useful to rest after working hard?

- What do you think God might have done on the seventh day?

There's some interesting phrasing in the creation story: After each of the first five days of creation, God enjoys some well-deserved pride, and is pleased with each creation -- after each day of creation the Torah says "God saw that it was good". After everything is created, God looks at the totality of it and declares it "very good". However, God does not specifically look at the creation of humans - on the sixth day of the story -- and say that we are "good".

- How can each of the creations be "good" but all of the creations together "very good"?

- Why do you think God would not say that humans specifically are good?

There's an additional hint that something's different about the creation of humans versus the rest of the world: When the Torah says that God rested on the seventh day, it says "God rested from everything God created to do." To do? There seem to be some extra words there. The Torah may be trying to tell us something about God's work, and the role of people in God's work.

- What do you think "to do" might mean in this context? Creation is done, God is resting. What is there left to do, and who's supposed to do it?

The story continues with the second version of creation, where humans are created from dust and put in the Garden of Eden (where everything is provided for them), and all the other things in the garden are then created by God and named by humans. In the first version, God tells the humans that we are there to rule over the earth and all of God's creations. In the second story, the people are there to guard and tend the garden.

- What's the difference between "ruling" the earth and "guarding and tending" it?

- Thinking about the modern world, are people more likely to act like they rule the world, or to guard and tend it?

- If it is our responsibility to "guard and tend to the garden", to take care of what we have been provided with, how well are we fulfilling this responsibility?

- How could people do a better job of "guarding and tending" the world around us?

All that the first humans, Adam and Eve, have to do to live contented and peaceful lives in the garden is one thing: not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, which the Torah says is right in the middle of the garden. Sounds kind of tempting doesn't it?

- The Torah gives no description of this "magic tree". What do you think it might have looked like? What do you think its fruit might have tasted like?

So, of course, Eve and Adam eat the fruit they're not supposed to eat, (encouraged by a talking serpent). They suddenly know that life holds the possibility of good and evil.

- Are you ever tempted to do something that you know isn't good for you? Why are things that aren't good for us sometimes so tempting?

- Who or what tempts you to do things that perhaps you shouldn't do?

You probably know the rest of the story: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and have to work hard to survive. They realize they are naked and need clothes. They have two sons, Cain and Abel, and and Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy (each brought a gift to God, and God appeared to like Abel's gift better, so Cain was jealous). So the creation story starts with people who are treated like babies or pets -- provided for, shielded from hardship, living in a "beautiful garden" of a world -- to people who experience temptation, shame, jealousy, murder, and other hardships. 

- What's the point of this part of the story?

- Remember that the Torah was written to be read by people who lived much, much later, including us. What is the Torah trying to tell us about people and about our lives?

- Does it mean that hardship is to be expected?

The parshah continues with a long list of the descendants of Eve and Adam and the growth of the human population, including a passing mention of someone named Noah. And then, just before the end of Bereisheet, God sees that people are doing evil things (the Torah says their imaginations were filled with only evil things). God's not too happy with just how evil humans turned out to be, so God decides to start over (and destroy all living things in the process).

- How does it seem God was feeling at the time?

- Does God's reaction seem reasonable to you?

- Have you ever become frustrated when something you did didn't turn out as you had hoped it would? What did you do?

The second-to-late sentence of the parshah has God saying, "I will blot out people, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from people to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them." Sounds like the world was headed for a very short history (and a one-parshah Torah )! Then comes the last sentence: "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." TO BE CONTINUED!!

Have a restful Shabbat (just like God), resist temptation when you can, guard and tend the world around you, and stay tuned for next week's exciting parshah!

Wed, December 7 2022 13 Kislev 5783