Parashat Bereishit – Erev Shabbat 25 October 2019
Week of 20-26 October 2019
Torah Portion: Genesis 1:1-6:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Theme: The God of Order
This is the week when we take our bookmarks from the end of the Torah and place them back at the beginning. Or, if you own a Torah scroll, you take a friend and roll the scroll all the way back to the beginning. This is a week of celebration of new beginnings: the beginning of our annual Torah reading cycle and the ultimate beginning, the creation story. Our God is a God of order and that is exactly how He starts this world: by organizing, separating and dividing.
The God of Order can be seen in things other than the six days of creation. I would like to highlight a piece of organisation in today’s parashah that often gets overlooked in Christian Bible readings: genealogy. Whether we like it or not, genealogies are an intrinsic part of our Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Genesis 5 contains the first extensive list of genealogy in the Bible.
What is the first thing that you notice in this list of names? Is it not the repetition, the strict order in which each generation is presented? “x lived…years and begot y, and x lived after he begot y…years etc.” (Hoopen, 7.) It is repeated ten times for the ten generations between the creation and the Flood. However, there is slight difference in this formula for the first and the last entry of the list (Adam and Noah) and considerable difference in the seventh entry on the list. The rabbis would see these differences as “bumps” in the text that need some further investigation and I would like to invite you to explore this middle “bump” in the list: Enoch.
There are three special elements with Enoch: he lived 365 years, he “walked with God”, and at the end of his years he “was no more, for God had taken him”. (Gen. 5:23-24) First, Enoch lived a much shorter life than the rest of the patriarchs. Does it mean a curse like the other short lives in the Bible? Or was it a blessing as because of his shorter life he never experienced the Flood? Second, the number of his years coincides with the number of days in a year. Was it accidental? Or was it a clue for his special connection to the sun or solar calendar? Third, the expression “walking with God” connects Enoch with his great-grandson Noah who also “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Does that mean he was particularly righteous? Or did he have access to heavenly mysteries? Finally, his “being no more” sets him apart from all the other patriarchs on the list. Is it just a metaphor of dying? Or was he taken to heaven like Elijah? Was this the first resurrection or God just placed him somewhere to wait until the end of the world?
These are just some of the questions that people have asked about Enoch throughout the long history of “talmud Torah” (Torah study). This small “bump” in today’s parashah has created a rich literary tradition in both Jewish and Christian literature (see, for example, Hebrews 11:5 and the book of Enoch). It is amazing how much one can find in the Torah if one looks closely and asks questions! For this new Torah reading cycle I wish we all find a friend who is not afraid to roll the Torah scroll with us slowly over the course of this year and examine as many “bumps” in the text as we can find!
For Reflection and Discussion:  What other things do you notice about Gen. 5 genealogy?  Think of other examples that show God as the God of Order!
Bibliography: Hoopen, R.B. “Where are you, Enoch?” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 18 (2018): 1-23; Miller, M.T. “The Evolution of the Patriarch Enoch in Jewish Tradition”, Distant Worlds Journal 1 (2016): 128-141; Poorthuis, M. “Enoch and Melchizedek in Judaism and Christianity”, in: Saints and Role Models in Judaism and Christianity, ed. M. Poorthuis and J. Schwartz (Leiden, Boston, 2004), 97-120; Sarna N.M., The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia, New York, Jerusalem, 1989).