Parashat B’reishit – Erev Shabbat 1 October 2021 – 5782
Week of 26 September – 2 October 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 1:1-6:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:11
Theme: Who are we? How does the Eternal One continue to change?
This weekly Torah portion opens the annual cycle of biblical readings starting with G-d’s creation of the world and climaxing with the creation of humanity. So also it is the same G-d who calls Isaiah and his people out of their long exile in Babylon to return to their longed-for homeland. It is the Eternal One, who appoints Israel to provide a covenant for humanity and to be a light to the nations.
The Torah begins with the first story of the Creation: of the world, time and life (1:1-2:3). The second creation story moves from our humanity, as ‘adam’ to women and men, our sexual identity, equally blessed. Creation is a human partnership with YHVH, liturgically read as Adonai in this 2nd Chapter. It includes the animal and plant world and calls humans to responsibility for the earth and recognition that it is the Divine breath that animates all matter. The human also gives names to all the creatures. But there is no helpmate. So Adam is put into a deep sleep and “this time” the two become one flesh. The man names his wife Eve – which indicates an awareness of the woman as a source of life. Initially, they are comfortable with their nakedness but in Chapter 3 we find temptation, transgression, and transformation taking place. We also see an attempt to explain why the wholly good world, created by a caring God, is filled with hardship and inequality. It revolves around the problem of placing responsibility on humankind (Eskenazi, p.13): “You may eat all you like of every tree in the garden – but not of the Tree of All Knowledge or you will be doomed to die.” There is no mention of ‘original sin’, as the word “sin” does not appear here. It is the serpent that is seen as the most culpable. However, later interpreters focus on the woman as the cause. This accounts for the woman’s painful role as child-bearer beyond Eden. It is followed not by an angry God but one who is a protector and clothes them with sturdy material, a sign of commitment going forward in this relationship.
Once they leave the garden, the first couple turns to each other and to G-d. They have an intimate relationship and their firstborn is named Cain. Soon his brother Abel is born.
Abel became a shepherd and Cain tilled the soil. Both brought offerings to YHVH but Cain’s was not acceptable. No reason is given for G-d’s acceptance of Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. It is here that the word “sin” enters the Torah with the sibling rivalry of these children, as Cain in his anger murders his brother Abel.
Chapter 4 goes on to more human origins and their genealogy to Noah (5:1-32). This parashah that began with the glories of creation and life ends with a disappointed G-d who prepares to start anew: “I will wipe humans…from off the face of the earth…I rue the day I made them.” It seems that G-d learns through interactions with humankind and not as an all-knowing G-d! “But Noah found favor in YHVH’s sight.” (p.26)
Reflection and Discussion: 1) Do these ancient stories help humanity to move closer to seeing the equality of women and men? 2) Does the use of inclusive language in scripture offer a key to open eyes to “see” and understand relationships in new ways? 3) With the crisis of Climate change, what steps am I willing to take to help save our planet? 4) Each time there is a new “beginning” do you find greater hope and possibility for growth and understanding unfolding in your consciousness?
Bibliography: The Torah –A Women’s Commentary-Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, EditorRabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., Asso. Ed. – URJ Press, NY, 2008. The Haftarah Commentary – W. Gunther Plaut, NY, c1996, pp 115-121.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by:
Mary Louise Chesley-Cora, Delaware, USA, Bat Kol Alumna 2001