This is the first d'var Torah of my second year of doing divrei Torah by email.
DEDICATION: This d'var is dedicated to a long-time friend and member of this d'var list: Edward Appelbaum (who died Sunday morning (20 Tishrey 5762) and was buried yesterday.) My thoughts and prayers go out to Rita, his wife of 43years, and the rest of his family.
I have enjoyed the many feedbacks and comments to my divrei that I would get from Ed and Rita. We have shared Pesakh seder together and I still have photos of his participation at the local Sisterhood Donor last year. At 73, Ed was still active in his shul and a volunteer at the local hospital. The community and I will miss his joyous sense of humor, his brightening smile and thought-provoking questions.
If you would like to sponsor a dedication for a week's d'var, please email me.
And so the cycle continues, the spiral returns, and yet not, to the point of beginning. There is comfort in seeing that first cycle nearby. So this is like a start and not. It is a good time to step back and see where we have been and where we are going.
I printed out last year's d'var -- oy! so many changes. Back then, I included excerpts of the Torah reading to make referencing easier -- it took almost two pages. And the d'var has matured, as I have grown. I didn't do an intro the way I do now, I just launched into the study itself. Oy, what I have learned and how incredibly much more there is to study and learn. Sometimes I think that Torah has so much in it so that students and rabbis will never run out of material to study and teach.
So this is the New Year of the Torah -- another start, another fresh beginning. And a chance to do a Torah-centered look at the past year. First, a thank you to my teachers -- thanks for your patience and your silence and your words. And to those who have been my students, whether by design or not -- thanks to you, too, for I learn so much from my students.
I have been lucky this year in growth and learning. I have had the honor to "teach a little Torah" at the Aleph Kallah (The Biennial Jewish renewal Kallah, held in DeKalb, IL this past year) and at Elat Chayyim (the Jewish renewal retreat center) as well as with my local monthly classes, now a local Sunday School and in places as far from home as Minneapolis, MN. And of course, I've issued these divrei. The list started with a few friends and teachers -- it now numbers in the low hundreds. These divrei are now published/archived on my website and read there as well. And wonderfully, my Torah Cards are starting to be used by people.
So where do I go this cycle of the expanding spiral? One of my teachers suggested that I could answer the questions I posed last year. Oy -- there are so many questions there, I could fill a book on just one Parsha, maybe even on one or two of the questions. So I'll re-read them and maybe take up a few briefly.
One of the things that has become ever more apparent to me is the influence of my father's (a"h) teachings in my life. I used to think I was closer to my mother (a"h) since she lived for 20+ years after my father. Over this year, though, I have grown to see that he was the source of much more than I had realized. I was only 21 when he died -- I have lived longer after his death then I lived with him alive.
When my mother first died, I was so overwhelmed with her loss that I even questioned what real impact my father had indeed had in my life. Over the course of this year I have come to recognize and respect the tremendous impact that they both had. And I am very grateful for that impact and for their teachings -- both subtle and overt.
My father had come out of a "traditional" European (Wacz, Hungary) background. He was trained in the traditional kheder (school) and yeshiva (seminary) -- as befitted a rabbi's family -- a long line of rabbis. My mother was about as opposite as she could be. She came from a "modern" Jewish family from Vienna and they met in NY. He was a rabbi and a cook at a kosher delicatessen (rabbis did other work to support themselves then) and she worked as a beautician. She was a "bleach-blonde" and he wore a hat and arba-confos (the fringe that show). Both families hated that they were going to make a life together. My father's family called her a shikse (non-Jew) and my maternal grandmother accused her of being bought with a dozen roses (there's a story here, but I'll taunt you there until another day).
It was even worse when she refused to wear a sheytel (wig) when they were married and proudly announced that her income would help them so that he could free up some of his time from the deli. They eventually moved out of New York and I was born about when they moved. So I was raised knowing my father as a small town Conservative Rabbi and my mother was usually the Educational Director. He sometimes wore a hat outside, as most men did then -- he wore a kipa inside (often one my mother had knit for him). As hats fell out of favor, he stopped wearing them. And he usually took off the kipa when he went into a store or someplace secular -- I guess that's where I learned the kipa habit I now usually follow.
I imagine that our ancestors, whether recent or ancient, really do impact you, even down to little details. And so we start with the very beginning, the things that shaped our very first ancestor.
1. Parsha details: Gen 1:1-6:8 ( tri 1:1-2:3 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10 ]
(triennial cycle starts again this week -- this year the first part)
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Creation story through the seven days, including man. Recap of creation including expulsion out of the garden, Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel), Sheyt (Seth) and the generations until Noakh.
Maybe it's because I heard these accounts so many times in my life that it has never bothered my that they are different and both included. Perhaps that is because of the way my father taught me about them. I remember asking him why Torah described creation the way it did -- was there a conflict between Torah and the science I was learning in school?
His explanation was:
Do you think God talked to Avraham or Moshe in words like you and I talk? Do you think God would say to Avraham or to Moshe, "Well, this one atom accelerated real fact and collided with another and they formed Helium, etc?" There are too many words that the other people couldn't understand if that's how it happened. Besides, they didn't need to understand the science of creation that way back then -- they just needed to know how the world was created and what their roll in everything was. But the description had to be as right as it could be. One way that you might understand it is to imagine God putting a picture, like a 3-d movie in your head, and then you write down, in words people can understand, what you see.
That simple explanation with some very powerful concepts. And within this context, two explanations of creation are not a problem. When you attend a lecture, the same concept is often repeated two or even three times, approaching it from different view points each time it is presented.
So the question becomes, what different things is Torah teaching in presenting these details these ways. The first presentation is really the simpler explanation, explaining how the various steps of creation built one upon the other in sequence. It is interesting that a set of books that are not highly concerned about strict chronology start out with a progression sequence. Maybe that is done to satisfy those who are very chronology-based and needed to see the natural progress as it developed in our world. Or perhaps it is because we start in the more basic sequential world and first observe what happens and only later sit back and say, Ok, what is the underlying story here?
If that is the case, then the second presentation is aimed more at the why -- as in why are things the way they are? And that fits. The first account is what and when (sequencing) and the story that has parts of the development out of chronological sequence more closely mirrors what thoughts might have gone into the process, the whys. This account starts out with V'Eyleh Tol'dot (And these are the generations). This phrase is used ten times in B'reyshiyt and only two other times in TaNaKh -- once in B'midbar (Numbers) in reference to Moshe and Aharon in Sinai and once in the book of Ruth.
The usage in Ruth is in a wonderful section at the ending which serves to tie Naomi and Ruth into the house of Perez, who is the son of Tamar and Yehudah and Boaz's ancestor (he married Ruth) and then take the begatting on to David. I highly recommend reading at least Ruth, chapter 4.
Modern Hebrew translates toldot as outcome or consequences. Most Torah translations carry it as generations. And it serves as a break in Torah between an ongoing narrative and a throw to the future from that point. So this is an interesting use, particularly since the progenitor is the Heaven and the Earth... The outcome of the Heavens and the Earth is the world, including man.
So we are formed of the earth, but we are also children of the heavens. And we are the connection, if you will, between the union of the Heaven and Earth and the people who become the central actors in the Sefer's (book) drama. This section is the bridge between the creation itself, obviously a key event, and later individuals about whom we will get more concerned.
Torah always abridges those things not viewed as critical to the story. How did the world get here is obviously a critical question and how did humans (adams) get to be the way we are is another critical question. Both of these are answered in summary and allegory because that is enough to define the immediate answer for most.
These accounts do not contradict science, they are simply very summarized tellings. If we allow their images to fill our minds as it might have for Avraham and Moshe, we can get a sense of how things probably happened. And these accounts have been read publicly, generating these images in the minds of our people for generations.
3. Some Observations
Last year, I commented about the Tikun and looking at it. It is indeed a key to the understanding of the Torah, especially in the reading of the white spaces.
Sometimes the writing in the Torah is described as black fire on white fire -- if this is so, then the white spaces are white fire on white fire. As with most accounts, it is not always the words that are spoken that carry the greatest message -- sometimes it is the words not spoken that speak volumes. And, just as the words in Torah are selected for a reason, so too are the breaks in paragraphs and the insertions.
The first creation account, the one with the seven days, has a paragraph at each day -- or age, if you prefer. The separation between each day is a key point for the first account -- it is the fact that things happened in stages that is the key here. First there was this, then that happened, and so on. A very short answer top "why is the world here?" would have been "Because God made it." It could have been as short as, God made this garden and man was in it -- but that is the second account -- key points had to be made before we could get to that summary.
And the key points are sharply delineated into separate days and sections. There is white space between each day. I can see the early reader or reciter telling this account (It must have been a popular and well known part), hitting the line, vayehi erev, vayehi boker, yom XXXX. The crowd would recognize the liturgy of the words, chime in and then he might pause, look around and know that everyone was picturing this "day" in their minds. After a suitable amount of silence, the reader would go through the next "day" the same way, pausing again after the formula.
In this way, the people would "live" through the creation account and recognize that there was a method to the workings of the Divine -- things are not random, things are not an accident as a result of petty fighting among God-like beings. This concept is so key to our tradition and, in fact, tends to distinguish this depiction from the creation stories in other traditions. While there are some themes that appear in many other cultures' accounts, the orderly and non-combative creation story of Genesis is very distinct.
And after the sequential creation account (which is an interesting start for a set of books well known for not being sequential), we get to an account that is not sequential, but rather topical. I asked my class of sixth graders to read the two accounts with me and tell me what discrepancies they saw. Their comments were that there were not contradictions, but shifts in emphasis. The second account, they said, was to fill in the details about why humans were created and that such a discussion wouldn't have been appropriate to the sequential account.
4. Expanding Expansion
What other qualities would you expect from the account of creation itself? Perhaps it is the scientist in me, with my picture of an expanding universe, thinking back to the very start, which we can still only theorize about scientifically. Expansion is exactly the quality that would most describe this parsha and the loving gift of the One, namely our lives and this universe.
1. Creating and Forming: Read the account of each day and stop, close your eyes. What did this look like? What did it sound like? What did it feel like? What did it smell like? What changed?
2. Eyleh Toldot (These are the generations/consequences): What are the consequences, the outcomes of the Heaven and the Earth? How does that relate to us? Are we children of the Heaven and the Earth? If so, how would we honor them and what does it say about us?
3. Expansion: Expansion comes to us as a gift. Can you feel it? Can you open yourself to it? Let it start as a tiny speck, a spark deep within you. Feel that Expansion grow within you. Let it fill you, saturate you, but not shatter you. Bask in the warmth of that Energy, that Glow.
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
Watch for a new renewal chavura in Cleveland -- cutting edge renewal. Watch for more info: http://KanfeYah.homestead.com/index.html
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
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) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved