The Bible begins of course with the book of Genesis, the name of which in Hebrew is taken from the first word, ‘bereshit’ meaning ‘in the beginning’, which is also the name of the first Torah portion:
Torah: Genesis 1:1-6:8
The first six chapters of Genesis are so familiar – the stories of creation, the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, Cain and Abel, the descendants of Cain, the descendants of Seth, the sinful state of mankind as the generations go on, and the portion ends with Noah, “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. (Torah portions traditionally end on a joyous note, even if the preceding verses are of a sombre nature) – it can be hard to find anything new. But it is said that the Words of Torah are so multi-faceted like diamonds, that there are 70 aspects to explore.
Whether you believe, as people like Answers in Genesis do, that Genesis is to be taken absolutely literally, or whether you believe it is to be understood as allegory, there is always something new to see.
This is ‘Bereshit’ by Moshav Band. I hope it’s not too cheesy! I think the music is rather beautiful, and I love the stop motion clay animation! If you enjoy folky Israeli music, Moshav Band are worth checking out. I first heard this on Putamayo’s Israel collection which is rather lovely altogether.
That phrase ‘Ki tov’ – ‘and it was good’ – stands out for me, especially as it is repeated multiple times. I think Christians (especially any influenced by Calvinist thinking) tend to view the whole of Creation, the world, people, everything as inherently bad, totally depraved and devoid of any redeeming qualities. Celtic Christianity acknowledged that Creation was broken and fallen and in need of repairing and healing, but also saw that it was inherently and essentially good, and worthy of being redeemed!
On the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, the whole passage brings up more questions for me than answers. I saw a post on twitter this morning claiming to be a ‘haiku’ on Bereshit:
“Here is the tree,
Don’t eat the fruit,
Comedy! But why? Why would God create a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why put temptation in the garden? If God had omniscient foreknowledge that Eve and Adam would give in to that temptation, and all that would result from it, why not prevent it? Is it possible to find a convincing, reasonable answer to this if you view the episode as literal history?
Then the one positive commandment in the portion is “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This is the basis for Victorian and modern American dominion theologies, the former justifying dominating nature and the world, and the latter advocating Christians molding the world through Christian government. (Which might be a reasonable proposition if the Christians in question were truly spiritually enlightened, but somehow horrifying if not!)
How should that first commandment be understood now? How are we to be fruitful? How are we to rule and subdue? Is it still relevant at all? Interestingly, the commandment comes before the Fall, in Genesis 1:28, which might suggest that it is not a result of the Fall, but an eternal principle?
Cain and Abel
The first murder, brother on brother! It seems shocking that the very next sin mentioned after the Fall is such a dreadful and sad one. The writer of Hebrews references the murder of Abel in chapter 12:24, comparing his shed blood with the shed blood of Christ, which “speaks of a better covenant”.
This made me wonder which covenant is being referred to, since I thought the first Biblical covenant was the Noahic covenant (covered in the next portion), but a quick search reveals that some groups (especially Dispensationalists) see 7 covenants in scripture, the first being the ‘Edenic’ covenant. Some information on that here.
As with all the links I provide, I am in no way recommending the writers or groups the links represent, nor do I agree with everything they write – I always advise caution and discernment. Please read responsibly! Take the ‘meat’, but leave the ‘bones’.
The ‘haftarah’, if you haven’t encountered the word before, is a portion of scripture from the books of the prophets which was chosen to complement and link back to each Torah portion, and they are thought to have originated during the period of Selucid occupation (before the Maccabees revolt) when the Jews were forbidden from studying the Torah itself. I don’t plan to look at the Haftarah portions in depth this time, but if I find any good links to studies I will include them.
The haftarah for Bereshit is from Isaiah 42:5-21 (although there are various slight differences, depending on the group – for instance, Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Karaite Jews have alternate selections.)
This particular haftarah passage is considered a ‘Messianic’ text in Christian thinking, that is to say that it alludes to Jesus the Messiah (again, in case you’re not familiar with the word, Messiah is from the Hebrew word ‘Mashiach’ meaning ‘anointed’, and translated via Greek as ‘Christ’.) as ‘The Servant of the Lord’ beginning verse 1.
verse 7: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.“
Is this, perhaps, the kind of fruitfulness that God is looking for in us?
Links and Resources:
My personal feeling is that to accept both conflicting views as equally true and valid in different ways is perfectly acceptable and in line with Hebraic thinking – that ‘holding conflict in tension’.
I hope you found this first post of the Jewish year interesting and inspires you to look further.