Parsha B’reisheet: Recap

      6 Comments on Parsha B’reisheet: Recap

Well, that went pretty well. I was still making up my mind as I got to the shul, but I settled on Adam and Eve. As I was afraid, the conversation mostly went to the usual general topics (was the expulsion a good thing or a bad one, did the Lord want Adam and Eve to disobey, what do we mean by ‘knowledge of good and evil’, etc) rather than the meaning of the moment of decision. Still, it was pretty interesting.

One of the things that I had noticed beforehand was that when the Lord announces Adam’s punishment, he begins by saying “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree...” The first thing is listening to your wife. I was reminded, I said, of the Lord telling Abraham (Gen 21:12) to listen to Sarah when Sarah tells him to throw Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert. The Rabbi then pointed out that the verb rendered ‘hearken’ is in fact the verb Sh’ma. For them’s as aren’t hip to the Jewish liturgy, the word Sh’ma is the first word in the verse ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our Gd, the Lord is One’ (Deu 6:4); this verse is one of the central moments of the prayer service and is besides by tradition the last thing a Jew says before death (if possible). The verse is usually called the Sh’ma; any mention of the verb Sh’ma is redolent, if you will, with its sanctity.

So, what this tells us is that it is very important who you listen to. OK, whom. And it isn’t obvious—Eve and Sarah both advised something obviously wrong, but the Lord advised hearkening in one case, and punished for hearkening in the other. I think, this time through the Torah, I’ll keep an eye on that word Sh’ma.

Anyway, I enjoyed the discussion. I’ll be out of town next week, but I told Rabbi I’d send her an email with some ideas about next week’s parshah, Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32). Any thoughts?


6 thoughts on “Parsha B’reisheet: Recap

  1. Chaos

    re: “what if the wickedness of man (in the generations leading up to Noah) wasn’t all that bad?” (Jacob said this last week.)

    Every year during the High Holy Days, i get inspired to read my weekly parasha for the next year, and every year i give it up. (This year, maybe y’all can keep me on track. :>) This means that i’ve read Beresheet and Noah several times, and most of the others… umm… less often. At any rate, though, this year, i reread Madeleine
    L’Engle’s “Many Waters” as a result of the skim through Noah.

    It sort of addresses this question, in particular, “Were people any worse in Noah’s day than they are now? No, not really. So why was the world destroyed then and not today?” and doesn’t really come to any satisfactory conclusions.

    I think the only reasonable conclusion is that the destruction of the world was a mistake, a “solution” which didn’t actually help the problem. After all, God promises Noah that he’ll never do it again, because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (My commentary suggests that this is because God is resolving to punish individual sinners, rather than the whole race, henceforth, which is interesting.)

    But, at any rate, there seems to be a fairly strong sense in Parasha Noah, which contains both the flood and the Tower of Babel, that God has never done anything like this creating mankind thing before, and is still working the kinks out of the system. My recollection is that this definitely continues at least through Genesis.

    Does it stop at some point in the Tanach? Does it become clear at some point in the narrative that God has finished his tweaking, and we’re all set now? At any rate, one counterfactual might be: what if God had set all of his parameters correctly the first time? How would the story have been different? Or would it even have been possible? (The answer might just be: “It would have been boring. The end,” of course.)

  2. Jacob

    The question I always have about this bit is: just because Noah was a righteous man, why assume that his wife and his sons and their wives are righteous too? And perhaps they weren’t and that’s why the Flood didn’t work to make humanity righteous. Although, if a righteous person can have unrighteous children, there really isn’t any way to purge humanity of sin by wiping people out and starting over, is there?

    Another question: what is with the story about Noah getting drunk and being naked and all that? It just seems like a very strange story to me.

    Re: the Tower of Babel — what if the people had used their oneness and ability to do anything “which they have imagined to do” to do something less blasphemous than trying to build a tower to heaven? Would the Lord have let them get away with it? Could we have built paradise on Earth, if we hadn’t gotten too big for our britches?

  3. Vardibidian

    I’ll probably set up a new thread on Noach tomorrow, but as long as y’all are here, what if Noah tells the Lord no? What if he says if all my neighbors are going to drown, then I don’t want to survive it? This is a recurrent theme in apocalyptic sf (I mean modern SF with apocalyptic/eschatalogic themes, not the SF apocalypses of two millenia ago). Noah doesn’t even ask the Lord to spare his neighbors (cf. Abraham and Lot, or Job). I think Noah’s reaction is very strange, actually, or more likely the story-teller is leaving some stuff out.

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  4. Jacob

    V- Indeed, but I’ve often wondered about the phrase “Noah walked with G-d” (Gen 6:9). Is this just a strong way of saying that Noah was righteous? I like the image of Noah and the Lord strolling down the beach hammering this stuff out.

  5. metasilk

    Chose: My commentary suggests that this is because God is resolving to punish individual sinners, rather than the whole race, henceforth, which is interesting

    Not repeating something that didn’t work the first time suggests God is something that Learns from Its Choices. That’s not an impression of God I picked up from the relatively sparse Christian influences of my relatives (ranging from Unitarian to Born-Again). But one I appreciate regardless.

  6. Vardibidian

    This is what I call the Maimonides problem. Presumably the Lord is eternal and unchangeable, so when we talk about the Lord getting angry, what does that mean. Maimonides decides that it is metaphor, the Lord speaking in the language of men, all the same as talk about the Lord’s outstretched arm.
    Here, though, it’s hard to see the Lord’s actions as only metaphorically describing change.



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