Parasha B'reshit B'reshit (Gen) 1:1-6:8
There are three categories of people recorded in these chapters; holy, righteous and wicked. Before the fall, A’dam and Chana were holy, they were perfect. After the fall, men like Avel, Enoch and Noach sought God to the extent that they were ‘blameless’, and therefore holy. They went the ‘extra mile’ and sought to please God, not just avoiding doing wrong and displeasing Him. That is the difference between the righteous and the holy, the unique people of God, remnant Israel, and the rest of the nations. Righteous people will avoid doing wrong while the holy will seek out the good things that please God. Finally, there are the wicked who ignore or actively rebel against God and engage in activities that irreparably damage another person’s life and bring themselves under God’s condemnation. For such people, physical death no longer atones, they receive God’s ultimate punishment.
To illustrate the difference we can look at the life of Cain. Cain, born after the fall, was a righteous individual because we need to keep in mind that righteousness is based on action. As a righteous person he approached God the way he thought best (not necessarily the way God desired) and offered a sacrifice. His sacrifice was rejected. The following conversation with God is very instructive. First of all, he had a relationship with God as a righteous individual and they had communication. Keep in mind this was after the fall and before the Messiah. People of the nations can have a relationship with God based on limited knowledge and basic righteousness.
Second, God tells him that if he does what is right, he will be accepted. The Hebrew here is “se’et” which carries the idea of bearing up, lifting or exalting. If he did what was right, if he sought to please God God’s way, he could reach the level of holiness his brother had, it was accessible to him. He could be accepted by God and have a relationship with Him. But Cain was the first to seek God on his own terms, his own way. He could do that but the relationship would be hindered and would not progress to the level in which both God and man would be fulfilled. Unfortunately, Cain did not choose either the righteous or the holy. He chose to destroy his brother and thereby became the first wicked individual. But even then God sought him out, prodding him to repent but he would not. He was therefore banished from God’s presence in any form forever.
The holy people since Avraham have been the righteous remnant of Israel who adhere to all the covenants. Today, that means people combining trust in Yahushua haMashiyakh and a lifestyle patterned after the Torah of Moshe for which they become the sons of God and co-heirs with Messiah. This is, and always has been, a very small group. There have been and are a larger group of righteous people that have faith in God and His behave righteously according to the covenants made with Noach and A’dam, although their way of interacting with God (religion) is man made. These will be the people/nations who will serve Israel in the world to come. Finally, there are the wicked who ignore God and go their own way. Which group are you really in?
I trust that you all had a blessed Succot and it is good to be back into the routine of weekly Torah study. We begin in the beginning, and we could probably spend a year at least in these first few chapters of the scriptures. This is the foundation of our understanding of G-d, man, sin, redemption, sacrifice, judgement and a host of other things. Our faith begins here in B’reshit with the Creator.
B’reshit, the beginning of the created order, moves beautiful and poetically from the first intimate elements to their completion, all from nothing. The crowing achievement was the creation of Adam, man (not a proper name here, by the way). G-d created him in His image, Adam was created different from all other creatures. He reflected the Creator perfectly, all the glory of G-d shone through him and in him. He was elevated above the animals, he has the ability to choose, to ignore basic instinct, to choose his destiny. He had the capacity for self control, for love, for the celebration of significant events. But with that choice, there was also the potential for hate, for acting as an animal does with total disregard for others besides himself, concerned only with his own self preservation.
The creation of man is details in two places, Chapter 1:26-28 and 2:19-24. This is an example of Hillel’s fifth rule, Kelal Uferat, the general and the particular. In the first passage, he created man, male and female he created them. And in the second we get a lot more detail. We see that Adam was formed of the dust of the ground, the material stuff of this world and then G-d breathed into him the ruach, the spirit. He is both and without both a material and a spiritual side, he ceases to be a man. There is not the idea that the material is in any way inferior or ‘evil’, as the Gnostics believed. We don’t try to escape out ‘flesh’ because it is evil. It is an essential part of us, that why we receive resurrected bodies, they are essential to our humanity and personhood.
G-d created them male and female and we then learn that woman was created from the ‘rib’ of man. Now at first glance, that is rather unflattering. Woman was formed out of a rather unessential part of man. It put her in an inherently inferior position. That is not the case however. The original says that that they were created equal, at the same time with no hint of inferiority on either side. What causes the problem is the word ‘rib’, from the Hebrew ‘tzela’. This is the only time is is translated this way. Most of the other places in Scripture tzela refers to a side, such as the side of a building, or the tabernacle (Ex 26). The Talmud teaches us that Adam was originally created as a two faced creature, with one side being male and the other side female. Now before you get some weird, science fiction image in your mind, it is not necessary to scientifically understand this. But the idea does fit with the text.
We know that G-d is not male or female, G-d is a perfect combination of both, ‘He’ has both male and female characteristics in perfect harmony. And ‘Adam’ was created in His image, perfectly reflecting both characteristics and when G-d formed a woman, He divided the Adam into two people, separating the characteristics into two beings that are meant to partner together in order to be complete, they again become ‘one flesh’. Inherently there is not superiority or inferiority (although sin changed this natural order), they are equal creations, both reflecting the glory of G-d, and when they are together in the intimate covenant of marriage, they in some sense restore the original state of creation. That is why marriage and family are the fundamental building blocks of G-d’s order.
We start in the beginning, the foundation of this world. This is where theology and belief start, In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth. G-d is self-evident, the Scriptures never question His existence. He is responsible for our present reality, He is our creator. Bereshit is meant to establish a basic understanding of man’s place within this order and his relationship with G-d. It is not a history book, although it contains history. It is there to define the role and function of G-d, man and the created order.
When G-d began to create, that which was before Him was ‘Tohu v’bohu’, chaotic and empty. A story illustrates this. There was once a goldsmith in a town by the sea who wanted to make a present for the king. He gathered up all the gold in the kingdom and set his mold up by the sea and began to pour. When he was nearly finished the mold broke and all the gold ran out across the beach and into the sea. He needed to regather all the gold which had now gone into the sea and sand and was scattered up and down the coast. He ran to get the help of all the people in the kingdom to gather up the flecks and nuggets of gold so he could remelt them and make the present for the king.
In our story, G-d is the goldsmith and the present is creation. Some catastrophe happened, the mold was broken, creation is empty waithing to be filled, completed. We are the villagers that will assist him in recovering the gold so the ‘present’ can be properly made. The story illustrates the partnership we have with G-d in our present world. When Bereshit describes G-d’s statement about creation, it says “and G-d saw that it was good”. It was not perfect or complete, just good. The perfection and completion of the created order are a result of our cooperation with G-d. We have a duty to find that which is good and right in the world and lift it up to G-d. We do this through the performance of the commandments. Y’shua referred to this as ‘the kingdom’. It exists all around us and within us, it is merely waiting for us to pull away the sheet, wash off the dust and reveal it in all it’s beauty.
The flecks of gold or ‘sparks’ as they are often referred to, are everywhere. They are all around us and within each of us. That means that opportunities constantly present themselves for revealing these sparks. Every moment is important because at every moment we can raise a spark. This is often referred to as ‘tikkun olam’ or repairing the world. It is constantly looking for ways to bless our fellow man, to combat evil and reveal the good. It begs our involvement in our world. Israel is not to be a nation of monks and nuns holed up in a monastery but an army of righteous men and women working for the greater good of all creation. This can take many forms from feeding the hungry to picking up trash to becoming politically involved to giving a cup of water to a child.
This story illustrates a balance between two views of how the messianic age is established. One view is the world is going to go downhill until G-d imposes order from the outside. This idea leads to the monastery, hole up until it’s over. The other is that there is no messiah, we must create it ourselves which removes G-d from the partnership and after an event like the Sho’ah, can lead to despair and hopelessness. In our illustration both ideas are employed. We gather the gold, we reveal the kingdom everywhere we can (the whole world as Yahushua said), we find all the gold, and then the goldsmith, G-d, takes it and makes the work complete. When that happens the world will not just be tov, good; it will be shalom.
We now begin another trip through the Torah and it is exciting because we are different people with different knowledge and experiences and ideas to bring to it, than we were last year. In our studies in Bereshit over the last year we have learned much about the way God’s world works, the laws by which it operates, be they physical, religious, spiritual or moral. The focus now is on the two trees in the garden.
We know that in the garden of Eden YHVH placed two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The question is, what are these trees, what do they represent and what affect do they have on our lives now? The tree of life is rather easy to identify. Proverbs 3 tells us that the Torah is the tree of life. The Torah is part of the nature of God Himself. The tree of life was accessible to the adam because as a being created in YHVH’s image, the tree reflected his essential nature as well. The tree of life represents that state in which Torah is natural to us, a state in which the image of God in which we are created shines through us. It is life in it’s fullest, eternal life or life representing the eternal, as Yahushua described it. Jeremiah promised this in the ‘New Covenant’. No man will have to teach Torah to his neighbor because all will know it and do it. YHVH told the people of Israel that the Torah was not to high or far off for them to do but that it was near to them, in their heart. It was part of their nature, they only needed to discover it.
If the tree of life represents ‘eternal life’ and living in Torah as we were created to in the image of YHVH, what then is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? This the the codification of Torah and it’s imposition from the outside, that which we call covenant. Think of the difference in marriage in Avraham’s time and ours. In Avraham’s time, Rebekkah came into Isaac’s tent and they were married. They had a promise, an understanding and they stayed together the rest of their lives. When God first interacted with Avraham, he made a promise. When that was no longer good enough for Avraham, God made a covenant and when Avraham displayed a lack of faith and ability to keep the covenant by consorting with Hagar, God made a new covenant that included circumcision. Today, marriages are enforced by the law of the state, a ratified covenant. Such things are necessary because we do not keep our promises and we do not act as if we were made in the image of G-d.
This is what Sha’ul was saying in Romans 7. Torah is not sin but because it had been codified and imposed from the outside, it lead to death because doing Torah outwardly instead of being a natural expression of who we are will result in failure. It leads to death, not because we have a ‘sin nature’ but because we no longer express torah from within because of our choices and it is, therefore, inevitable that we fail. What is the solution to the problem? The eternal covenant instituted by Yahushua for all time, past, present and future. In this ‘covenant’ we have that original life Adam had and Torah becomes a natural expression because the Ruach within us, that part made in the image of G-d, is revealed. This ruach (spirit) causes us to do torah naturally, as Eze 36 says. Now we have a proper relationship with God, not one that is imposed and enforced from the outside with bribes and threats but a relationship based on promises and trust and friendship. That is how we are meant to live.