Parsha Project — Bereshit

The Parsha In 250 Words (Or So)

We begin with God creating the world in six days by (1) separating darkness and light, (2) forming the heavens, (3) setting the boundaries between the earth and the sea and creating plants and trees, (4) fixing the position of the sun moon and stars and thereby allowing for the creation of days and years,  (5) creating fish, birds and reptiles, and then on sixth day, creating animals from the land and, finally, man.

On the seventh day, God rested.

God creates man by bringing him forth from the dust. This is Adam. Then, from Adam’s rib, God creates for him a partner, Eve. Adam and Eve dwell in the garden of Eden and are told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, a serpent convinces Eve to eat from the tree and she shares the fruit with Adam. Consequently, the serpent is condemned to crawl, Adam and Eve are condemned to die, and Eve, to suffer during child birth.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden. After, Eve gives birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain quarrels with Abel, kills him, and is exiled. A third son is also born, Seth, whose descendant we learn, after much genealogical detail, is Noah, the only righteous man in the world.

Initial Thoughts 

As we’ll see throughout Bereshit, there’s a lot of action here.  Most people know very few of the stories from the Torah, and here, in the opening lines, are three of the most famous — the creation of the world, Adam and Eve in the Garden, and Cain murdering Abel.

After so much action, we transition to a genealogical retelling of the descendants of Adam and Eve. We’ll see that this is a device often used to transition the action, here from Adam and Eve to Noah, generations later.

Questions For Later Discussion

Why are Adam and Eve barred from eating from the tree? And why does the serpent try to get them to?

What was a serpent before it was cursed to crawl on its belly?

How did the world go so wrong after the expulsion from the Garden?

 

Some Thoughts on Vaera and the First Four Plagues

This is a text of a d’var Torah I gave at Altshul on January 25, 2020 

 

 

First, I want to say that I am so glad my family joined altshul a year and a half ago. The generosity and kindness of this community is amazing. I feel lucky to be a part of it and to get to say a couple of words today.

This week, we begin the plagues. Reading them this year, I was struck by their structure, their slow reveal, and I want to take some time to look at that aspect of them, especially as it plays out in the first four plagues.

We begin with God telling Moses to tell Aaron to act. He raises his staff and first turns the rivers to blood, then brings forth frogs. Aaron does this, but remarkably, Pharaoh’s magicians do the same.  It is a sort of tit for tat, between God’s actor, Aaron, and Pharaoh’s, the magicians, with neither getting the upper hand.

Then in the third plague, Aaron brings forth from the dust, lice. Here, the magicians cannot follow. Instead they proclaim that surely this is the work of God.

Only now, in the fourth plague, does God himself act – there’s no Moses, no Aaron, just God. He brings forth the wild animals, perhaps the most mysterious of the plagues. And for the first time, God declares that he will protect his people, that the horde, the wild animals, whatever they might be, will not descend on Goshen, where God’s people live.

Tradition tells us that the Jews suffered from none of the plagues. But why is God’s protection only articulated here in the fourth plague? And for that matter, why is it only here, well into the action, that God alone brings forth a plague?

Rashi tells us that Moses did not take part in the first three plagues because of his personal relationship with the river. But that doesn’t explain why we have to wait to the fourth plague for God to take center stage.

Perhaps to explain this it’s helpful  to think of the plagues as revelation of God’s power and omnipotence, not only to the Egyptians, but to the Jews as well.

We know the plagues can be broken into three sets of three, with the final plague standing alone in its horrible power. The first three show God’s existence, the second three, his providence over the earth, and the final three, his omnipotence. When Aaron is acting under God’s direction, he is also publicly confronting Pharaoh’s magicians. Does the God Moses speak of exist? Will he really save the Jews from bondage? Moshe says so, but when Aaron turns the Nile to blood, so do the magicians; when he raises the frogs, they do the same.

The tension builds.

But then Aaron raises the lice and the magicians are awed – they are in fact the first non-Jews in Exodus to admit God exists. Right after, God himself takes over and makes clear that he alone holds these powers over the earth. He directs the horde of wild animals towards the homes of the Egyptians and for the first time, states that he will protect his people in Goshen.

Here is God, finally taking direct control. And here is God, not Moses, and not Aaron, defining who his people are and assuring them that he will protect them.

Why does this take so long?

As a friend’s son asked, why doesn’t God just teleport the Jews out of Egypt?

Surely if the Jews were to suddenly disappear, the Egyptians would be awed. But perhaps the Egyptians alone are not the audience here. Perhaps we too are the audience, and we are the ones who need to be shown, and reminded not once, but twice every year, that God is greater than human tricks, and that God alone decides who is, and isn’t, among his people.