Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
B'reyshit (Genesis)
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B'reyshit (In the beginning)

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1.  Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. Exercises
Parsha Details:  Gen 1:1-6:8 (tri 5:1-6:8) [Haftorah I Sam 20:18-42  Rosh Khodesh] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Once again, WOW  so much  and so much has already been written on these words.  The portion takes us from the beginning of everything to the beginning of the story of Noah.  It is not my intention to rehash everything that great scholars have done with the wealth of material in this portion  it could take an entire career.

So, I decided to focus on a few details that struck me.  I did something a little different than I have in the past  I opened my Tikun (the book that shows the Torah portion as it is written in the Torah next to pointed text for studying) and just looked at the portion  I'll talk about this in the next section.

Back to questions  and I'll add a few observations for those of you who have asked me to (and THANKS for the feedback  it will help me grow faster)

The early part, the 'Elohim' story of creation talks about dividing  creation is the act of making distinctions.  Why?  What is it about dividing that makes it a key part of creation?  And there seems to be an interesting connection between these dividings and our own sense of the universe and God.  We start out the morning by blessing that our senses can make out a distinction, a separation, between day and night.  And we make a point at Havdalah (separation, dividing) to mark the cut between holy and plain.

One of the key roles of these parts of creation is their role as dividers.  And the "firmament" or sky, heaven  and interesting word  used twice in this chapter and nowhere else until Ezekiel in his description of the wheels and the firmament upon the heads of the likenesses of man  (Ez 1:22 and following  an interesting description).  

In fact, many words used in this chapter are not frequently used  like Bara  create.  Used 5 times in B'reyshit  all in this portion (3 in 1, 1 each in 2 and 5), always with Elohim and 3 times in connection with creating humans.  The only other use of this verb is in D'varim, where it is a reference to the day (from the day that) of the creation of humans.  In later biblical books, notably Ezekiel, the word (barey) is used as an activity of man as well, but never in Torah.

Chap 1:29-30 talks about giving man and beast green herbs to eat and "fruits of trees bearing seed".  Nothing else is given for food.  Is this the beginning of flesh eating animals not being acceptable?  But what about us?   These verses are part of the sixth day  it is a visibly longer section of Torah than the other days and slightly different lingual form.  And it almost repeats part of the fifth day of the creation of animals, etc.  What's the significance of that?  And this is the very first reference of God speaking TO anyone, namely man.  And then the structure of the language returns to the cadence and format of earlier days as it ends in the sixth day.

Chapter 2 starts a significant shift at verse 4, with the 'These are the generations of the heaven and the earth', a key of an included segment.  And, not surprisingly, the name of God shifts to YHWH Elohim. (And I won't dwell on that here).  Bur we know that we are going to get a summary of events. 

Visually, this is the longest section in the parsha  from 2:4 to 3:15.  Going from the summary intro, through creation, through God's pronouncement of enmity between woman and snake.  The only place where God is called simply Elohim is in the discussion between the snake and Eve.  What might this mean or imply?  

I love the language of 2:7  nishmat khayim  the breath of life.  N'shama.  I always think of Sh'ma (with an ayin) when I hear this.  What is the connection between hearing and breathing, between listening and soul?  

Another interesting theme we see in this parsha is the God-man relationship and the man-God relationship.  Man can hide from God and God calls out to him.  And God can drive man out of His presence.  In fact, Cain says that his punishment is too great because "you have driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from your face shall I be hidden".  Thus one can live without God's presence  but that is truly a punishment.  The nurturing of God's presence, Shekhina, is nourishing as well.  To be driven out of it (his parents had only been driven out of the garden, not His presence), was punishment, indeed.  And his sons become evil, indeed.  We only hear a little bit about his offspring  and it is not good.

However, we hear about another of Adam and Eve's children, Seth, who had a son named Enosh.  "Then began men to call upon the Lord by name."  So what did they call him before that?  Adam named everything in creation, including Eve.  What about God?  What does it mean to "call upon the Lord by name"?  And if they were using His name  how does this relate to Moses at the burning bush where God reveals His name?

 Seth was in Adam's image, we are told.  And from his descendents, we are told about any relationship with God until Enoch  five generations later.  We are told that Enoch "walked with God"  and not much else.  The Hebrew word is hithaleykh  a causative word, implying intention, effort.  Why is Enoch singled out?  Nobody else has a relationship with God until Noah, 3 generations later.  And the parsha ends by telling us that Noah "found grace" (charm, favor, Heb  Kheyn) in God's eyes.

We can see the Torah setting the scene for Noah  the description of man and events as this parsha ends are emotional, very descriptive.  We can almost see the ancient tellers capturing the attention of the people as this story builds to its climax in the next parsha.  Is this parsha all about "setting the stage"?  If so, is Enoch simply a clue that occasionally someone "walked with God"? (Or was one of the redactors named Enoch?)

In any event, the language of 6:5 is grim indeed  rak rah kol hayom  only evil all the time.  Can you imagine things being that bad?  How bad do things have to be for God to regret creating the world?

With that level of evil and depravity, Noah's finding grace serves two purposes  a hint of good and a cliffhanger for the next parsha.  Can you imagine being part of ancient Israel, without common access to the text, having to wait for the next Torah reading to see what happens? (Even if they heard it over and over) 

3. Some Observations

Once again, there is so much in the Parsha that it is easy to be overwhelmed.  And I don't want these d'vrei to become books.  Therefore, I am 'glossing' over some well-known thoughts and concepts with the hope that most of my readers are familiar with them.  I know we see some vestiges of this type of shorthand even in Torah  when the reader is talking to a group that 'knows' parts of things and stories  he or she only needs to invoke the thought or image to get the listeners to go and collect their memories.  An example of this type of shorthand is the reference to Nefilim (usually translated giants) and even the use of sons of God and daughters of man  these terms may well have had meanings we wouldn't automatically grasp today.

Looking at the Tikun put an interesting view on what parts of the parsha formed units  what might have been a separate part at one time.  And it gives a real feel for what the mystics might have seen in the white spaces  the stories, details, etc that aren't included in the words. 

One gets a sense for what it might have been like to be in the audience and feeling these words as the teller paused, perhaps looked around, rolled eyes, or whatever to bring life to these words.  

When I chant from the Torah, I always try to imagine what it was like back then.  What words would the ancient tellers have dwelled on, which ones would they have whispered.  We have notes and traditions to help us with this, but my mind still drifts back, almost saying, "what was it REALLY like?"

And then I step into the audience, hearing these words  frozen in time and scroll for centuries  what was that like?  How often were things read to them?  What tales and details did they tell each other?  What things did they hear from other people's (not Israel) tellers?  

If you get a chance, look in the Torah or a Tikun.  Look at the spacing, feel the words come off the page (column) at you.  So much is said in what isn't said.
4.  Exercises

1.      Living things: Step outside, look at the many live things around us.  Let your mind take in the many trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses.  Then look at any animals (including birds, insects, etc) you might see.  Imagine the ones you don't see often.  Try to name them.  

2.      Heavens:  Look around outside  feel the magnitude, the immensity of the sky, the heavens.  Think about God's presence  walk slowly and intentionally  what does it mean to "walk with God"?  Feel Shekhina as She envelops you  feel the energy as it surrounds you, permeates you.  Breathe and feel the breath.   

3.      Name:  Breathe out  at that very end of breath, that moment just before being, picture the yod.  Feel the breath coming into you, filling your chest, your lungs, your being  Hay.  Hold that breath  straighten up so that your spine is as straight as it can be  Vav.  Breathe out, giving breath back to the One who breathes life  Hay.  Repeat as desired.  (Thanks to Rabbi Ginsburg for this exercise)
Last words. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part.  If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback  thank you so much!  I enjoy all of it.  (Including the typos)



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