parsha of the week

The many questions of Bereshit


Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the founding rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, was known to say at the beginning of the new cycle of the Torah: “I don’t understand anything in parshat Bereshit. I don’t know what ‘tohu’ means; I don’t know what ‘vohu’ means; I don’t know what ‘the spirit of G-d hovering over water’ means. From Parshat Bereshit I learn only one thing — that G-d created the world.”

We could ask many questions.

Why did G-d need six days? What are the six days? How long were they? Are we meant to take these depictions literally? If humanity is created on the sixth day (whatever that means) then why is there a second account of creation in chapter 2? Why are humans depicted as being created (male and female at the same time) in Chapter 1, while in Chapter 2, Adam is created first, and only later woman is formed? And why is man placed in the garden, seemingly having been formed and given the spirit of life elsewhere?

If G-d knows and sees all, why even put man in the garden in the first place, knowing man is imperfect, and knowing the snake is there, and that one thing will lead to another?

Why is G-d referred to as Elokim in Chapter 1, and as Hashem Elokim in Chapter 2 and 3?

To get very specific in words and language: Why is the same word “arom” used to describe slyness one verse after the word “arom” is used to describe actual nakedness? When the snake says “even though G-d said not to,” there is no context and no statement to follow. How did the snake know about the commandment to Adam and Chava? Why did the snake equate being “knowers of good and evil” with being “like G-d”? Is the ability to distinguish between good and evil a G-d-like feature?

After Adam and Chava eat from the tree, why does it say “And they knew they were naked”? They knew all along that they had no clothing, but before they ate they were not embarrassed of their nakedness. So why doesn’t the verse say that after they’d eaten from the tree, “they were embarrassed?”

When they hid they were already wearing their belts, covering their nakedness. Why then does Adam say that he hid because he was naked?

What kind of excuse is it to blame “the woman that You gave me gave me [the fruit] and I ate it?” Shouldn’t Adam have listened to G-d?

Why does Adam call her Chava at the end of the tale (until that time she was referred to as “ishah” (woman) or “ha ishah” (the woman)? If she was the “Em kol chai” (mother of all living beings), why didn’t he call her Chaya?

I could go on and on. The point is that this narrative is open to so many questions and not a whole lot of clarity. Which is why Rav Amital’s line is so important. But there is this ultimate take-home message: G-d created the world.

People were created. They demonstrated their humanity in making mistakes. They suffered consequences (not all of which were bad, by the way). And that is the human condition.

What do I mean the consequences weren’t bad? Isn’t working hard? Isn’t difficult childbirth difficult? Yes — but what about the alternatives?

I can’t personally speak for childbirth. But the Malbim suggests that conception and childbirth were supposed to take place over the course of a day. But if children could be (forgive the expression) popped out the way fish are, would parents love and cherish the children as they do now? And if people did not have to work to earn their daily bread, would they enjoy life? Work gives a person purpose.

A little over a year ago there was a meeting in Brussels, in which a Palestinian man “praised” the European Parliament for looking out for him and his family.

“They care about how we are oppressed by the evil Zionist Israelis, when in fact those evil Zionist Israelis are the ones giving us jobs,” he said. “Lebanon bans us from having jobs. Jordan, which occupies 78 percent of our native land, prevents us from all kinds of jobs.”

The Europeans were seeking to destroy “the only source of income and stability we have, which is the Israeli Jewish State. That state has offered us every hope there is for us in the last 70 years,” he continued.

“We disagree with Israel on many issues. Israel is not an angel. Neither was Belgium an angel in Africa, nor was the United States an angel in Vietnam, nor was Jordan today. … Half a million Palestinians cross the border every single day to work in Israeli homes, hospitals, and get European-standard payments, vs the no payments of the Palestinian Authority.”

Here’s a man who is talking about the need to have an honest day’s work and an honest day’s pay. Compare this to his many co-nationalists who are idle, do not work and are given everything they need. Who has a more meaningful life — the working man, or the one who sees no alternative but to become a tool for terror?

Bereshit opens the door to many questions. Our challenge, in this new cycle of Torah reading, is to be open to mulling over the difficulties life presents us, while remembering that our human collective shares in the responsibility of not sweeping difficult conversations under the rug.

We need to search for answers and solutions, even if sometimes the circumstances are not easily confronted.