asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Genesis: Parashath Bereshith.

In the beginning verses of the Bible, we see the Creator fashioning the world, and man in it, bringing forth first chaos, then order, then complexity.

The order of Creation is logical, not chronological. Steinsaltz (The Steinsaltz Humash, p.10, note on v. 20) points out that the creatures created after the fourth day "would not grow and develop blindly, like vegetation, but would move and have some measure of will." I'll add that all of the creatures created after the fourth day (when the heavenly bodies were created as distinct light sources) have eyes - unlike plants, which can "see" only light and darkness.

One thing that stands out about this chapter is the role of Divine speech in the act of creation. The Word of G-d is the instrument that fashions order out of primal chaos.

Another thing I'd like to point out here is the role of number. Already, in just the fifth verse of the Bible, we've started counting: "... and it was evening, and it was morning, one day." And each following day is numbered in succession.

Genesis comes to teach us, not a mere collection of disconnected "facts", but rather how to think about the universe: as a theatre of unfolding, orderly events, proceeding from a single First Cause, that can be known and understood - at least in part - by the mind of man.

The narrative then seems to begin again at the beginning, with a second account of the creation of the heavens and earth. There are some tantalizing details about the climate and landscape: there's mist but no rain, and four rivers are named.

The Creator muses that "It is not good for man to be alone." Notice that the solution is not to create a second Adam from scratch; rather, the single, unitary man must give up his completeness - just as (so to speak) the Creator must self-limit and withdraw to make room for man and free will.

When woman is created as a separate entity, man exclaims, "This one shall be called woman, for from man she was taken." Notice that he does not address her directly. Who's he talking to? His words - the first recorded human speech in the Bible - are spoken in the third person, and there isn't even a third person in the world yet!

The first recorded conversation in the Bible neither involves nor concerns a man, and therefore almost passes the Alison Bechdel test. Why did Eve speak to the serpent? Maybe because it spoke to her.

Why does the serpent tempt Eve? Because it can.

"The serpent was the most cunning of all the beasts of the field." What the text tells us is that the serpent was unique in its capabilities; it does not say that the serpent was unique in its motives. I think the serpent's motive was shared among all the animals: resentment towards man for man's having been given dominion over all other life forms.

This, then, is the first instance of envy and jealousy in the Bible, even before the well-known brothers whom we'll meet in the next chapter. And it is also of the same theme: rather than wanting to better itself and improve its own standing, the serpent wants to bring the other guy down. This is the nature of envy and it's an all too common human weakness.

We know how the story goes: the Creator confronts Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden. And then ...

"He named her Life [Chava]" - as Steinsaltz drily observes, he could have called her a lot of things at that moment. But he didn't. He named her Life.

"- because she was the mother of all life." I think the verb here [hayetah] really wants to be translated as "had become" - "she *had become* the mother of all life." And indeed that's exactly how Steinsaltz reads the later verse, "the man *had known* his wife".

So, what is really going on here? I think she must have been already pregnant, and perhaps she told the man her wonderful secret right then and there. And now, suddenly, the fruit, the fall, the curse - none of that matters now, because they are about to bring a new human life into the world.

And then Cain is born.

The first human born to woman was the first murderer. Why did Cain kill Abel? Did he observe his younger brother's sacrifices and think, "I, too, am a firstborn - perhaps he means to sacrifice me as he sacrificed those sheep"? And so, projecting his own violent impulses on his brother?

We know what happened next. This is the original crime, man against man. And it's interesting that the motive was not for some earthly gain - wealth or power or the love of a woman - but jealousy over Abel's favor with the Creator.

It is the easiest human failing to look at someone else who is doing well, someone who succeeds and excels, and instead of asking "How can I do better?", to ask instead, "How can I bring him down?"

In 4:8, Cain kills his brother Abel. The Creator confronts Cain and sentences him to be "a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth" (4:10). Cain fears for his life and begs for mercy, and is given a distinguishing mark "so that none that meet him might kill him."

The descendants of the exiled Cain are named in short order in 4:17. We learn nothing about their lives until we get to Lemekh, whose words to his two wives are recorded in 4:23-24:

"I have slain a man for wounding me, and a lad for bruising me. For sevenfold is Cain avenged, and Lemekh seventy-seven."

The passage is cryptic and difficult to translate, and other interpretations exist. But I think the most straightforward - and also the most disturbing - is simply that he is boasting about his willingness to kill.

Notice the connection with Cain: man has taken God's mercy and perverted it into a literal license to kill. The result is society's descent into barbarism. Is it any wonder the Creator is angry?

The line of Cain disappear from the text, seemingly without trace. We do not know whether they intermarried with the descendants of Seth (chapter 5). What is interesting, though, is that Lemekh's wives Adah and Zillah are the first women mentioned by name after Eve, and Zillah and her daughter Na'amah are the first mother/daughter pair identified in the Bible. And there is a Rabbinic tradition that Na'amah was the wife of Noah.

Their three sons are apparently the first multiple birth in the Bible. Shem, Ham, and Japheth, who were born in the same year to the same woman (Noah is not recorded as having a second wife or concubine) and so must have been triplets. It's also worth noting that Noah becomes a father late in life, relatively speaking, compared to his ancestors. At 500 years old, he is past middle age (500/950 = 10/19) when he begets his three sons.

The name of Noah (pronounced "noach" on Hebrew - it's not the same as the popular girls' name No'ah, which is spelled and pronounced differently in Hebrew) is glossed in the text as being related to the verb [nachem] meaning to comfort or console. But the name even more closely resembles the verb [nachah], meaning rest or enjoyment, which is used earlier in the text in connection with the Adam's restful state in the Garden of Eden, and before that, the Creator's rest on the first Sabbath.
Tags: bible, genesis, hebraica, hebrew

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