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This season in the Jewish calendar is all about beginnings.

First we have Rosh Hashana, the "birthday of the world," when we are called to attention by the shofar. In the shofar service, we read of all God's creatures coming to have God judge their lives over the past year. This leads to ten days of making our peace with the people in our lives until Yom Kippur, when we struggle to make peace with God and most importantly with ourselves.

There is a custom that after breaking the fast of Yom Kippur one should begin to build a succah before going to bed. After this most solemn of days, we should begin at once to perform mitzvot and to prepare for the days of rejoicing. Life goes on. At the end of Sukkot we end the days of our rejoicing with Simchat Torah, celebrating and rejoicing in Torah. We roll the Torah scrolls all the way back to the start of it all, the stories of creation. We have an entire year to learn and to do better.

Rashi asked why Torah, which is a code of laws, does not begin with the first laws given before the Hebrews leave Egypt, but rather with creation, and I would add, with such a mystical story of creation? It certainly is not to tell us that the world is 5774 years old. I have seen and heard different commentaries over the years. Some emphasize that we all share common ancestors, so no one is intrinsically better than anyone else. Some point to the importance of the Sabbath.

I have also heard that Torah does begin with a paramount commandment, the commandment to create, to act on our world. The custom of starting to build a succah before going to bed after Yom Kippur reminds us of this; we must begin with an act of creation.

The modern JPS translation of these first verses is:

1. When God began to create heaven and earth -- 2. the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water -- 3. God said "Let there be light"; (sic) and there was light.
This chapter shows us some origins of tikkun olam, repairing the world. We are partners in creation. God stopped creating and rested, leaving his creatures to finish the work.

And yet...

The second chapter begins the story of our ancestors. Eden, like the surface of the deep, is a vague place. We don't know how long Adam and Eve's residence in Eden was, but it was not a fully human existence. Real life began with the discovery of good and evil and the expulsion into the world. Eden was infancy, where someone else meets one's needs, and there are only discomfort and satisfaction.

Our creativity began with work, sex, and children.

Shabbat shalom.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 10:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 10:30:12 AM PDT

  •  The JPS translation is based on Rashi's commentary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, livosh1, JDsg

    The division of the Bible into chapter and verse was the product of the Church during the Middle Ages.  If you look at a Torah scroll, there is no punctuation, which apparently didn't exist in ancient and rabbinical Hebrew.  There are paragraphs, where the next word begins on the next line, and spaces, where the next word begins on the same line but only after a long space.  This means that the medieval monks may not have put their periods and commas in the right places, so text may be susceptible to different interpretations.

    The first break in the very first column of the Torah is after "and there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

    Rashi believed that all the words before "And there was light" were a clause modifying "let there be light" so that God's first creation was not the heavens and earth but light.  And my idea was "light" not as the brightness from the Big Bang or stars or electric lamps but "light" in the sense of reason.  At least this is a thought for doing a diary next year.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 01:51:55 PM PDT

    •  "And God said (0+ / 0-)

      Let there be enlightenment; and there was enlightenment."

      Or perhaps light is not just literal light, but light in the sense of order. And time.

      Interesting.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 03:09:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  But There Was Work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp, ramara
    The LORD God took the man and put in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  (Gen 2:15 NIV)
    One of the first commands the Lord gave to Adam was to take care of the Garden.  

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

    by quarkstomper on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 02:43:05 PM PDT

    •  In the modern JPS (0+ / 0-)

      that is "to till it and tend it."

      But unlike after the expulsion, this work is almost effortless, since nature in the Garden responds easily. Only afterwards does Adam eat by the sweat of his brow.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 03:04:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's Work and There's Work (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zett, ramara

        I've seen "till and tend" in other translations too.  The NIV just happens to be the closest to hand by my computer.

        I had only time to post a quick hit-n-run comment before I had to run out.  I'm back now and have a little more time for thought.

        My suspicion is that the labor Adam performed in Eden was not exactly effortless; I think it was challenging enough that he could take satisfaction from it.  The difference, as I read it, is that before the expulsion from Eden, Adam and Eve worked to take care of the beautiful gift God had given them.  Afterwards, they worked to survive, to keep the wolf from the door.

        There's a strain of thought going back to the Medieval period and probably further, that All Nature was cursed by Adam's Sin and that therefore Nature is inherently corrupt and wicked.  I think this unspoken assumption underlies a lot of the knee-jerk reaction some conservative Christians have against Environmentalism.

        But there is a small faction of Evangelicals, who go back to the Gen. 2:15 passage I quoted and see that we descendants of Adam have a responsibility to take care of the Creation which God has given us.  A small faction, to be sure, but is pleases me to see it.

        Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

        by quarkstomper on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 05:05:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  before the light (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Navy Vet Terp

    Supposedly all the words of the alphabet went before God and each gave a speech about why it should be the first letter in the Torah. Bait won because it's numerical value is 2, which alludes to harmony and unity, as of two people who work and live together.

    Re: tilling the ground....

    Man was created on the 6th day (1:27) but in 2:5 "there was no man to till the ground" - the Zohar says this is because only the second creation is called a "living creature" - (2:07) because he receives a soul, the breath of life, from God. The first creation of man had no soul (that was Nachash, the serpent, married to Lilith) and was not fit to till the soil,  he was a beast of the field, but the second is called Adam.

    So I think I am with Navy Vet Terp on the light of reason point.

  •  Important note about this parsha (3+ / 0-)

    There is a lot of stuff in there that seems like fantasy -- in particular the talking snake. Judaism has never insisted on purely literal meanings of the Bible. No less a figure than Maimonides, in the Guide to the Perplexed, treated the snake narrative as an allegory. There is really nothing in the Jewish tradition that is comparable to the biblical literalism found in parts of Christianity.

    •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp

      and it's so apt to have this reminder at the very beginning.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 01:00:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In the Qur'an... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ramara, Navy Vet Terp

      While Iblis the Jinn (aka Shaitan) does indeed lure Adam (pbuh) and Hawwa' (Eve) into eating from the forbidden tree (2:30-39, 7:19-24 and 20:115-23, which Iblis described as the Tree of Eternity), there is no mention as to what form Iblis took when he appeared before the two.  Moreover, the Qur'an mentions that some verses are allegorical while others are not (3:7), so whether the verses here involving Iblis are allegorical or not is left open.  

      And Allah (swt) knows best.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 04:29:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting. (3+ / 0-)

        By the way, Eve's name in Hebrew is Chava, one of those names that seems to be essentially the same in Hebrew and Arabic. It means "life."

        Adam is "earth," which is not complete without "life." Talking about allegories...

        Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

        by ramara on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 10:42:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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