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Exposition of Genesis, Part 1

September 12, 2013

Some ideas that are important for adults to keep in mind when they begin the new year’s Torah-reading cycle:

The first chapter does not describe natural history, as per the tradition of Hazal (“creation in thought” as opposed to “creation in practice”), Rashi, Maimonides, Nahmanides and others, although the aforementioned Rishonim each had his own understanding of what it actually describes. Instead, it either describes meta-physics or some deep spiritual truths, and poses no contradiction or even relevance to natural history as discovered in the last two centuries. It is unfortunate that some devout Christians and misled Jews insist that this must be natural history and therefore at odds with all science has discovered, including evolution. The classic approach was adopted by, among others, R’ Hirsch, R’ Kook, and R’ Soloveichik.

The first chapter uses terminology common to the Near East of the period, and describes the world as though according to ancient Mesopotamian cosmology. Therefore, it does not fit and can not fit with the various ideas put forward by Schroeder, Aviezer, et al., who seek to show that this chapter fits perfectly with modern scientific knowledge, and doing so requires giving new and impossible meaning to the text.

All this has been written about at length by Slifkin.

Chapter 2 is a long parable for the fall of mankind, from being perfectly objective in evaluating right and wrong to being corrupted and subjective, being able to justify and rationalize wrong behavior, and creating its own value system and morality, by “eating from the tree of knowledge.” The tree of life, like it does throughout the Bible and the Talmud, represents the Torah, which by studying it, allows man once again to objectively evaluate right and wrong and develop a proper sense of morality and values:

ד אלה תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם ביום עשות יהוה אלהים ארץ ושמים: ה וכל | שיח השדה טרם יהיה בארץ וכל-עשב השדה טרם יצמח כי לא המטיר יהוה אלהים על-הארץ ואדם אין לעבד את-האדמה

This teaches that man is an integral part of creation in that all other creatures depend on him. E.g., the plants would not have been hindered by the lack of lions or monkeys or the moon.

: ו ואד יעלה מן-הארץ והשקה את-כל-פני האדמה: ז וייצר יהוה אלהים את-האדם עפר מן-האדמה ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה:

See Kaplan, who wrote that there were Human like creatures already, just that the first “man”, Adam, was the first with a soul, i.e. the distinctly human intellect. (See Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe.)

ח ויטע יהוה אלהים גן-בעדן מקדם וישם שם את-האדם אשר יצר: ט ויצמח יהוה אלהים מן-האדמה כל-עץ נחמד למראה וטוב למאכל ועץ החיים בתוך הגן ועץ הדעת טוב ורע:

The Garden of Eden represents the ideal state that man occupied before his partaking of the Tree of Knowledge and that will exist when he once again returns to that state. The Tree of Knowledge, as pointed out by Rashi, was in the middle of the garden, which represents that the opportunity to sin is clear and present when life is easy and good.

י ונהר יצא מעדן להשקות את-הגן ומשם יפרד והיה לארבעה ראשים: יא שם האחד פישון הוא הסבב את כל-ארץ החוילה אשר-שם הזהב: יב וזהב הארץ ההוא טוב שם הבדלח ואבן השהם: יג ושם-הנהר השני גיחון הוא הסובב את כל-ארץ כוש: יד ושם הנהר השלישי חדקל הוא ההלך קדמת אשור והנהר הרביעי הוא פרת
The influence of the Torah-based Utopia reaches and affects the rest of the world. Indeed, the prophets use this imagery to describe the Land of Israel’s centrality in the End of Days. (Isaiah 2 and Zechariah 14:8)

טו ויקח יהוה אלהים את-האדם וינחהו בגן-עדן לעבדה ולשמרה: טז ויצו יהוה אלהים על-האדם לאמר מכל עץ-הגן אכל תאכל: יז ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל ממנו כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות
The rest of trees represent all the other arts and sciences that man was bidden to study and develop, although only the Torah guarantees his eternal life, and subjective morality, etc., as represented by the Tree of Knowledge, will bring about society’s downfall.

יח ויאמר יהוה אלהים לא-טוב היות האדם לבדו אעשה-לו עזר כנגדו: יט ויצר יהוה אלהים מן-האדמה כל-חית השדה ואת כל-עוף השמים ויבא אל-האדם לראות מה-יקרא-לו וכל אשר יקרא-לו האדם נפש חיה הוא שמו:  כ ויקרא האדם שמות לכל-הבהמה ולעוף השמים ולכל חית השדה ולאדם לא-מצא עזר כנגדו:

The animals don’t have any intrinsic value other than their use to man. (Man first has to understand the animalistic nature of sexuality before he can develop his own higher-level relationship with a woman.)

כא ויפל יהוה אלהים | תרדמה על-האדם ויישן ויקח אחת מצלעתיו ויסגר בשר תחתנה: כב ויבן יהוה אלהים | את-הצלע אשר-לקח מן-האדם לאשה ויבאה אל-האדם: כג ויאמר האדם זאת הפעם עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשרי לזאת יקרא אשה כי מאיש לקחה-זאת: כד על-כן יעזב-איש את-אביו ואת-אמו ודבק באשתו והיו לבשר אחד: כה ויהיו שניהם ערומים האדם ואשתו ולא יתבששו:

As the sages said, “a man must honor and love his wife more than he does himself.”

Further, before his mistake, objective man was not ashamed of sexuality, as to him it was a mere fact of life. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge created a sense of shame. These ideas have been expounded at length by our Rabbis.


From → exegesis, parasha

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