D’var Torah for Friday, October 1, 2021

This week we will be beginning the Torah reading cycle anew. Upon closer examination, we find not one but two creation stories. The first story concerns how the world came to exist with an emphasis on God creating order out of chaos. In addition, in this first story, we find God creating humanity in God’s image. In the second story, God created Adam and then Eve. According to scholars, these are clearly two divergent narratives as we can find different names for God, different orders of creation, and a different scope and focus between the two. However, this is only problematic if one views the Torah, and especially Genesis as the summation of pre-history.

In reality, Genesis is not trying to provide us with a sense of history, but rather it is a collection of insights into the human condition. For example, the apex of the first creation story is not humanity, but Shabbat. If God rests on the seventh day, how much the more so, it is upon us to rest on the seventh day. Also, it is reminding us that there is a duality to life: dark versus light, order versus chaos, land versus sea, and so it goes. The second story is focusing more on the question of how we are similar and dissimilar to God. Unlike the angels, we have free-will. Unlike God, we are not immortal. And we are destined to toil and suffer as part of the human experience. But we are also destined to love and procreate. 

Genesis was never intended to be read as the chronicles of how everything came to be. Instead, it is a guide to provide us a sense of our experiences and our obligations. For example, we are to be caretakers of the earth and all the creatures that inhabit it. We are also supposed to take care of one another, as we are all created in the image of God. And, perhaps most important of all, we are all related. Humanity should not be divided up so easily.

There is a great deal of depth and nuance to the stories found within Beresheet. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is all too often boiled down to the argument that God made the world in six days. But even this is debatable as the sun was not created until the fourth day. Without the sun to tell time, how long was a day to God? Was it 24 hours? Was it one year? Was it billions of years? 

There are many mysteries and lessons to be uncovered as we begin anew. What better place then to begin the Beginning. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff