Parashah 1: B’resheit
(In the beginning)
Although it might be tempting to call the first part of the Book of Genesis primeval history, since it shares with us the beginning of everything, in reality these first few chapters have been called “man’s mission in the universe.” Here, in the first two chapters, we read of the creation of the universe, the world and of all life on the earth, including human beings. We learn, from Chapter One, God created the world in six days and, on the seventh day, He rested. This is how we come to have a Sabbath, the seventh day of rest. Did God really create the world in six days? I know, this is new and probably strange to you and I don’t want to confuse you with a lot of theology or arguments that support the understanding of creation. You’ve read and been told the earth has been around for millions of years. Let’s just say that God created the earth in a time period that we understand to be six days. One particular line from this beginning of our story is very important, for here we read, God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Notice we are told ‘God saw’. In English, the verb ‘to see’ is passive and merely connotes the process of processing physical sight. However, in Hebrew understanding, the language in which the original manuscript was written, the verb ‘to see’, ra’ah, has a deeper meaning – to know.
|Adonai Elohim, the Lord God, is Perfection|
What does it mean for something to be very good, in God’s eyes? One of the most important understandings of God is: He is perfect; wouldn’t you agree? Of what value or importance would there be to have a God who wasn’t perfect? How could we ever look up to or even worship a god that was imperfect? Right, then, we know when our Perfect God tells us something is very good, we know it to be perfect. Thus, when God created the world, it was perfect. But then the inevitable occurred.
And so it was with the two people who first inhabited the world, Adom (Man) and Chava (breath of life), Adam and Eve. Oh, don’t get me wrong, God created a perfect man; God created a man who was, initially, immortal; He made man to walk with Him and have a perfect relationship with Him. From this perfect man, God created a perfect woman and they walked through Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, together, in perfect relationship with Adonai, God.
The Fall of Humankind
But, then, both Adom and Chava betrayed Adonai by allowing themselves to be seduced by the serpent, which was taken over by a tempter, possibly Satan himself. Did you read of the serpent’s seductive powers? Do you hear the doubt being introduced in the words? Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’? (Genesis 3:1) Oh, how innocent and defenceless Chava was, in her response to this seemingly innocuous question, We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die’. (Genesis 3:2-3) Chava believed this to be true but listen to how the serpent challenged her assumption of God’s Truth: No! You will not die. . . In fact, God knows that whenyou eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4-5) What a wily challenge the serpent gave Chava. Once she began to doubt God’s word, that’s all the serpent needed to complete his task. Here is the first instance of pride bringing people down, recorded in Scripture: Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. (Genesis 3:6)
Ah, the desire to be like God; what a seduction and both Chava and Adom fell for it. Ever since, people have been saddled with their own human natures, considered to be focused on our human desires, the things of the world – ambition, desires, hungers and power. And, so, human beings ‘fell’ from the perfection of God and fell from God’s perfect favour, chen, in Hebrew, grace. Did they die? Well, yes they did, just not right then.
Listen to how Adonai told them of the loss of their immortality: You will eat breadby the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust. (Genesis 3:17-19) After such a horrendous consequence of their sin, you might have thought, Adom and Chava would have taught their children and grandchildren of the importance of being true and faithful to their Heavenly Father.
Cain and Abel
Adom and Chava had two children, when they left the Garden. The first born was called, Qayin or Cain, which means agriculture, and the second was called, Havel or Abel, which means herdsman. In Hebrew, names were given to people displaying what they did in life. Cain grew grain, while Abel raised livestock, predominately sheep and goats. Instinctively or perhaps having been taught by their parents, the two boys brought offerings to Adonai, in thanks for the fruits of their efforts. Abel put some thought into the offering he brought, as we read: some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. (Genesis 4:4) However, Cain appears not to have done the same, as we read: Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. (Genesis 4:3) Naturally, Adonai regarded Abel’s offering more highly than He did Cain’s, which angered the older brother. We get a picture of his reaction in the following words: Cain was furious, and he looked despondent. (Genesis 4:5) Why was Cain angry? Perhaps he felt God didn’t value him as much as He valued Abel. But God saw Cain’s reaction and asked him: Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:6-7) Here Adonai is teaching Cain how to relate in relationship with Him – treat Me properly; bring Me your best produce; put some real thought into what you are offering Me. Don’t allow sin to get a foot-hold within you. I guess Cain didn’t heed God’s advice and he killed Abel, out of jealousy and perhaps feelings of rejection. Here is where we see human nature really beginning to move away from the ideal God wanted from His people and, not too many generations later, we find the behaviour of the human beings on earth to be the worst it could ever be.
Adom and Chava had many children; two additional sons are worth noting: Shet and Lemekh. In Chapter 4, we are given the understanding Yahweh has been on the minds of people since the beginning. It was during the lifetime of Shet that people began to call on the name of Adonai. However, during the time of Lemekh, others took a different path, the path of violence. Read Lemekh’s poem, as found in verses 23 and 24: Adah and Tzilah, listen to me; wives of Lemekh, hear what I say: I killed a man for wounding me, a young man who injured me. 24 If Kayin will be avenged sevenfold, then Lemekh seventy-sevenfold!
In Genesis 5, we read of God’s thoughts about the behaviour of His children, who followed the path of violence and whom it seems became the majority – When Adonai saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time,Adonai regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Genesis 5:5,6) Then He made His decision: I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky – for I regret that I made them. (Genesis 5:7)
The Flood – Punishment
However, there was one man and his family that Adonai found was true to Him and did not worship idols made of wood and stone. Listen to how Adonai spoke to this man, named Noah: Understand that I am bringing a flood – floodwaters on the earth to destroy every creature under heaven with the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will die. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. (Genesis 5:17-18) But not only did Adonai want a family who would repopulate the earth with those who loved Him and worshipped only Adonai, He wanted to repopulate all the animal life; so, He asked Noach to bring into a huge ark, which God commanded Noach to build, two of every kind of animal life that existed on the earth, at that time. Here is Adonai’s command: You are also to bring into the ark two of all the living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of everything – from the birds according to their kinds, from the livestock according to their kinds, and from the animals that crawl on the ground according to their kinds – will come to you so that you can keep them alive. Take with you every kind of food that is eaten; gather it as food for you and for them. (Genesis 5:19-21)
Whether or not you believe this event actually happened, my friend, I ask you to examine the faith of this man and his family. Imagine yourself in his position – God has asked him, in a vision, to build a huge boat to carry not only his own family but two of every species of animals in existence in the world at that time. Examine the dimensions with me – This is how you are to make it: The ark will be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. You are to make a roof, finishing the sides of the ark to within 18 inches of the roof. You are to put a door in the side of the ark. Make it with lower, middle, and upper decks. The volume of this craft would have been 1,518,750 cubic feet or 43,006 cubic meters. We’re talking about one large floating menagerie, not unlike one of today’s ocean cruise ships.
Now let’s stop here a moment and ask ourselves how could we believe this actually happened. Well, there is physical evidence to support that a world-wide flood actually occurred. However, rather than interrupt the story this early in its telling, I ask you, at some time, to read the appendices. Here I have dealt with these thorny issues that often try people’s patience. And, so, let’s return to our story.
 Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, General Editors, 2000, The Chumash, Menorah Publications, P. 2.