Parshah B’reisheet

      8 Comments on Parshah B’reisheet

This week’s parshah is called B’reisheet (or Bereshith, or Bereshit, or what you will) because that’s the first word of the text, and it means ‘in the beginning’, and, you know, it’s the beginning. It’s also the name of the book, translated into Greek as Genesis; I’ll use the Greek/English names here. I’ll also link to the first verse at the Blue Letter Bible, which has different translation (and the Hebrew) but I won’t give you the page numbers in Hertz. OK, fine, it's pp. 2-20, but next week you are on your own. Anyway, enough administrivia, let’s begin!

Genesis 1:1 � 6:8

Wow, a lot of stuff happens here. I mean, in addition to the whole world being created out of tohu-bohu, there’s the Adam and Eve story, the Cain and Abel story, the generations all the way up to Noah and the introduction of Noah. And it's all stuff I have known since before I remember; can you remember not knowing about the Garden of Eden? Our task, Gentle Readers (or rather Your Humble Blogger’s task, in which Gentle Readers all may help, please please please) is to identify a few moments when things could have gone differently, when a character might have made a different choice. These moments are chosen to get a dozen or more people talking, and thinking, and wanting to re-read the thing again. OK?

Most obviously, of course, is what happens if Eve doesn’t eat the apple?. Actually, I’m sick of that question, and if I’m sick of it, I imagine Rabbi is even more so. But here’s a question, what happens if Eve eats and Adam doesn’t? (3:6) Knowing that Eve has eaten the apple (or pomegranate), Adam has a hell of a choice, doesn’t he? Quick, here comes the Lord? What do you do, punk? What do you do?

OK, here’s another. What if Abel survives Cain’s assault? (4:8) I mean, what if Cain just punches his big brother in his big ugly face and walks away? What does Abel do? How does the Lord deal with it?

My third is cheating, in a way, as it isn’t a question about a person but about the Lord, but I find it interesting: what if the Lord had made the world in four days, or fourteen? Why seven, and how does that week influence our lives? (2:2-3) Is one day of rest out of seven the best possible amount? Or, perhaps, was it the best for an agrarian society, and our current week-end is better for us? Or would one day a fortnight be enough?

What are your thoughts, Gentle Readers all?


8 thoughts on “Parshah B’reisheet

  1. Jacob

    Here’s one: what if the wickedness of man (in the generations leading up to Noah) wasn’t all that bad? I mean, the text (RSV) says that “tthe wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That’s pretty bad; it’s not surprising that the Lord wishes he had never created man. (In fact, it’s a bit surprising that he bothers to save Noah and family rather than just starting over.)

    But what if man was pretty bad, but not “only evil continuously”? Does the Lord have any intervention choices other than wiping the slate clean and starting over (which presumably would be too harsh)? If he waited long enough, would man inevitably have gotten evil enough to be wiped out, or could we have struggled along forever in moderate evil?

  2. Vardibidian

    Wow. Um, the bit you quote is 6:5; 6:6 says that the Lord ‘repented’ that he made man in the first place, which brings up the question of whether the Lord can repent—I wouldn’t have thought so. Anyway, it’s a good question, although it doesn’t have a Moment-of-Decision aspect, if you know what I mean. But, yeah, it’s a provocative idea.


  3. fran

    This isn’t a crux, what-if-we-did-something-different moment but what struck me in reading the parsha was that Cain says his punishment is more than he can bear (Gen 4:13) and God relents by marking him so that he should not be slain. I suppose it’s a what-if moment for God: how does he choose to punish Cain? Is the unbearable part of the punishment the threat of death or the removal from the presence of God?

    One of the commentaries (David Guzik) in your chosen site suggests this interesting interpretation: “The curse upon Cain was that Adam’s curse would be amplified in regard to him; if the bringing forth food from the earth would be toilsome for Adam (3:17-18), it would be impossible for Cain (who was a farmer); if Adam was driven from Eden (3:24), Cain would find no resting place on all the earth”

    What if God accepts Cain’s offering?

  4. Jed

    My first thought is what if the Lord decides not to create anything at all? I suppose if that question’s interesting to we who exist at all, it’s probably in a different form: Why does the Lord decide to create something instead of leaving the tohu bohu as it is? I think that’s a slightly different question from “Why are we here?”, but I could be wrong.

    Okay, so, moving along: What if the Lord had created different things, or had ordered the Creation differently? What if there’d been no light, or no land, or no heavens? What if the sun and moon and stars had come first, or last? What if there’d been three sexes, or only one? What if there’d been another human-like species (presumably also in God’s image, but there’s enough variation among humans to suggest that we shouldn’t take that precisely literally)?

    What if Jed got a nosebleed while typing and had to stop?

    Am I sounding like the Slightly Dim Child at Passover yet?

  5. Jed

    Some more alternate Creations:

    What if the Lord hadn’t set aside a garden per se, just let people walk around in the earth in general? What if the Lord hadn’t put the Tree in the garden, or hadn’t forbade the eating of the fruit? What if eating the fruit had been part of the plan? What if the Lord hadn’t punished A&E for doing it, or had chosen different punishments, or hadn’t barred them forever from Eden, just temporarily? (This ties in with Fran’s question too.)

    Taking a step back, you indicated that it was kinda cheating to ask what if the Lord had done things differently, but I think that’s an interesting meta-question: could the Lord have done things differently? Did He have, to use a loaded phrase, free will in any of this? And, perhaps relatedly, is this whole what-if exercise really, in some sense, about free will?

    (Should the answer to all of these “If X had happened differently” scenarios be “Dayenu”?)

    I was going to move along to some human choices, but then I saw that you’re stopping this segment at Genesis 6:8. It seems to me that very few human choices get made in this first segment: aside from the actions of the Lord, it’s pretty much Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel who are actively making choices; everyone else’s actions aren’t described in enough detail. I mean, “What if Methuselah named his kid something other than Lamech?” or “What if Enoch didn’t walk with God?” or “What if Mahalaleel had only live eight hundred and eighty years instead of eight hundred and ninety-five?” or even “What if the giants in the earth hadn’t taken daughters of men as wives?” (whatever that means) probably aren’t going to lead to much fruitful discussion.

  6. metasilk

    can you remember not knowing about the Garden of Eden

    Yes. I think this age-of-contact makes a huge difference in one’s fundamental faith/assumptions.

    Adam/Eve: Also, what if Adam ate it and Eve didn’t?

    If the Lord is an AllThatIs god, why bother restricting what’s going on (no, don’t touch!), and why would it expereience surprised (let alone repentence) at the behavior (wickedness) of its creation? Was it not able to perceive the nature of its creation, and if so, is that contradicting the Allness of it?

    About the week: consider how long the moon’s been cycling compared to how long the Torah/Bible have been here. Analagously, you might find interesting shanmonster’s discussion of the role of classics studies in her leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s the second-to-last section in this post.

  7. irilyth

    This isn’t quite on track, but: What if the Tree had been Of Something Else, like Knowledge Of The Lord’s Purpose, or Knowledge Of Particle Physics, or something like that?

  8. Jess

    What if when God told him about the flood and to build a boat, Noah had behaved liked Gideon and demanded a sign, or signs? Or like Abraham later and tried to bargain God out of destroying everything?

    Or what if he hadn’t been a lush and Ham hadn’t seen him naked?


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