B’reishit (At the start)

Genesis 1:1 to 6:8

While progressive scholars believe that the events of Creation and the Garden of Eden as outlined in Torah never occurred, the factors that are behind the story have shaped and influenced history through the ages.

Adam and Eve Lucas_Cranach_the1_Elder-_2And now we start all over again ….   B’reishit  – At the beginning …. As many progressive scholars, I have come to view the Torah, not as a materials given by God to Moses… but, as an incredibly rich document written by many people over many centuries. In the first half of Torah we discover a series of multi-generational stories that focus on the weaknesses, faults, and triumphs of both the Israelite nation and mankind in general. Then, in the second half of Torah, we find a complex series of rules, laws and commandments with the goal of shaping a better world.

Regarding this week’s text, B’reishit, I doubt there ever was a Garden of Eden… or an Adam and Eve. But the major themes of the two creation stories, the focus for the rest of these comments, are important because they influence the rest of Torah and become the basis for most moral and ethical principals of the modern world..

One God created the world and all its inhabitants

In verses 1:1 to 1:31, the first of two creation stories is told. Other peoples saw multiple deities involved in this process. We read that one powerful God created the world and will always retain ultimate control.

Man and women are created in the image of God

On the sixth day God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness, and let them hold sway over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the beasts, over all the earth, over all that creeps upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:26) The phrase “in our image” implies that mankind has some of the characteristics of God. And, because of this, mankind will have control over all the other creatures on earth…. Mankind is special!

The second creation story – The Garden of Eden – acts to further acts to define the relationship of humans to God and to each other. It also defines the roles of male and female.

At first, God creates man, without women, and places two trees in the Garden: A Tree of Life and a Tree of All Knowledge. God tells the man that he cannot eat of the Tree of All Knowledge. If he does, he will be “doomed to die.” (Gen. 2:9, 2:16) So, maybe, if Adam and Eve remained in the Garden of Eden they would have lived forever. But, outside – without the Tree of Life – they were “doomed to die.”

The roles of male and female are defined

“Then God Eternal considered, ‘It is not good that the man be alone – I will make him a helpmate.” (Gen 2:18) Woman is taken from man – actually formed from his rib and created to be a “helpmate.” Does this indicate a lesser significance for the woman?

Both male and female are in the Garden of Eden where all their needs are provided by the Eternal. There are no problems or worries. All is GOOD. … However, there was the Tree of All Knowledge and the temptation it provided. Why was it even in there? …. Mankind, having the spirit of temptation, would inevitably eat of this tree. Was this part of God’s ultimate plan? Adam follows God’s command not to eat it. However, I find it significant that it is the woman who eats first.

Eve eats of the fruit and changes mankind’s relation to God. But, as we see later in Torah, this is not the last time a female plays a major role. Later in Torah we see that Abraham follows God’s command. But it is Sarah who insists that the Hagar leave the household. And, after their son Isaac’s marriage to Rebehah, Isaac follows his mother’s traditions by moving into her tent with his bride.…. Then, it is with Rebekah’s help that Jacob gains his father’s birthright over his older brother. And it is Rebekah, who tells her son Jacob to flee for his life. While all these men follow the commands of God, it is the women who make these decisions that shape the destiny of our people.

After the fruit is eaten by Eve, and later by Adam, God punishes both with sentences that help define the roles of the sexes through the ages.. The Eternal tells Eve that she will 1) endure the pain of childbirth; 2) she will crave her man in spite of this pain; 3) the man shall govern her. (Gen. 3:16) Then the punishment for man is that he is forced to work – by the sweat of his brow – for the bread he needs until the day he dies. Is this source of the idea that women should be “pregnant and in the kitchen?”

Mankind loses immortality and gains knowledge

After the fruit of the Tree of All Knowledge is eaten, God realized “The humans are like us, knowing all things. Now they may even reach out to take fruit from the Tree of Life and eat, and life forever. So the Eternal God drove them out of the Garden of Eden…” (Gen. 3:22-3) While this is just a story… it demonstrates that mankind has FREE-WILL. They have the power to choose to obey or not obey God’s commands. They have the power to choose between good and evil. In the Garden of Eden they saw only good. Maybe, mankind’s curiosity made the exile from the Garden of Eden inevitable.

Threat of punishment for not following Gods Commands

In the second generation of mankind Cain kills his brother Abel. When asked by God – “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” While God does not directly answer this question… Cain is punished by banishment for his crime. (Gen. 4:8-12) Through this story we see that every person is responsible for “his brother.” … Not just for one’s own selfish desires. … And, if laws are broken, punishment follows.

Most likely, the stories presented this week never happened … but the concepts presented shape not only our Torah, but, most certainly, the world in which we live.

Earl Sabes

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