As we already know, Sukkot is “the season of our joy” – and the joy of Sukkot reaches its peak during its final day – Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah (lit.: The Joy of Torah) is a holiday that marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah reading, and the beginning of a new cycle. The first Torah portion, Bereishit (In the Beginning), is read this week, and today we are going to touch on just a few points of this incredibly deep portion.
THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH
|א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.||In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.|
Most of us are very familiar with these words. Some even know them in Hebrew: Bereishit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et haaretz . Why? Why is this verse so significant that sometimes even people who claim not to believe in God, still know these words?
I’ve always had a feeling that this single line – the first line of the whole Bible – is like a secret pipe connecting us with God’s plans and His mysteries for all time and eternity. If we look closely through this pipe, we can catch a glimpse of the breathtaking depth of His mysteries from the beginning of the world. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this word that introduces the whole revelation of God to mankind: Bereishit, In the beginning בְּרֵאשִׁית –
– there are so many things we can say about this one word, so many questions we can ask here. The first question being: why does it begin with Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and not Alef, the first letter? Even if you know nothing of Hebrew, you can probably guess that this letter – Bet – like Beta in Greek, like B in English, is the second, and not the first letter of Hebrew alphabet (the first one being Alef – like Alfa in Greek, or A in English). Wouldn’t it seem much more appropriate to start the book of beginnings with the first letter? So, why not Alef?
The answer is very simple and very profound at the same time: We are not meant to know everything. From the very beginning, God did not mean to reveal everything – but He revealed to us only enough to know and to fulfill His will. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” In this sense, the Bet in the beginning is like a wall separating the things that belong to the Lord, from the things that He wants to reveal to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. It is not accidental, but rather it is extremely meaningful, that this Bet in the Hebrew text is bigger in size than other letters. There are only a few cases like this in the whole Tanach, and all of them have deep meaning. In this case, this is indeed the Beginning, with a “capital letter”, even though there are no capitals in Hebrew!
THE EARTH AND THE HEAVEN
You probably know that there are two different accounts of creation in the Scripture: Genesis chapter one and Genesis chapter two. Verse 4 of Chapter 2 is the opening verse of the second account, and after this verse, the language and tone change drastically and some very significant changes emerge. The most striking difference between the accounts is in the names for God: the first account referring to the Creator as “God” or “Elohim” in Hebrew, while the second refers to the Creator as the “LORD God,” or “Adonai Elohim”.
This difference has been noted since ancient days, and has been the starting point for midrashic comments, as well as for the biblical criticism. The latter sees two creation stories as stemming from two different traditions: the former is usually assigned to the P-source, the latter to the J-source. It is a huge topic, and I won’t be able to cover it here. As for the Jewish comments, it’s worth mentioning that Jewish tradition interprets the names Elohim and Adonai as explanations of the two sides of the nature of God, Elohim representing the quality of justice, Adonai, the quality of mercy. “The Midrash says that the world was originally created by God as Elohim (Gen 1), but that afterward He is called Adonai Elohim (Gen 2) because He saw that without the added quality of mercy creation could not have endured.”
The creation of man is also different. In chapter one, he is created “in God’s own image”. Nothing like that is said about the Adam of chapter two, who is said to be “formed… of the dust of the ground”. One can easily think that we have two different Adams here – one created in chapter one, and another created in chapter two. I believe, however, that the explanation of this dual account has to be sought in the dual nature of humankind, rather than in two different sources. These are not two different and contradictory stories – these are two different pictures of the very same story, but taken from two completely different angles.
Let’s take a closer look at Adam in both accounts. The first chapter presents Adam’s horizontal projection: the role and the functions he would have on the earth and towards those living next to him on this earth. This Adam has to play his social role successfully and perform his social functions well in his relationship to others.
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27,28)
The man we see in the second chapter is still the same Adam, but now the picture is taken from a completely different angle, now we see the vertical projection; we see Adam in his relationship with heaven, in his communication with God.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:15-17)
Even the order of the words in the two accounts is completely opposite: whereas the first chapter begins with the famous “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth“ (1:1), it is said in chapter two: “the Lord God made the earth and the heavens“ (2:4). The account of chapter 1 starts with the heaven and then proceeds to the earth and those inhabiting it; the account of chapter 2 starts right away with the earth and those belonging here. In this sense, chapter two is like a slow motion version of those verses from chapter one, where God is dealing with the earth – and thanks to this slow motion, for the first time we realize something that could easily be missed in the fast-moving change of episodes in chapter one: this man, whom God declared to be created “in His image and according to His likeness,” is not some sort of angelic, spiritual being, having no fleshly desires or concerns and occupied with purely spiritual matters – no, he is a very material man, he is “formed… of the dust of the ground!” Or, to put it differently: Adam, who is “formed… of the dust of the ground”, is destined to, and is longing to, fellowship with God and be part of heaven. From now on, this incredible tension between the dust of the ground we are formed from, and God’s image we are created in, will mark every single page of this book – and every single step of our human lives.
 Deut 29:29
 The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. By W.Gunther Plaut, , NY,1981,
I would like to remind you, my dear readers and followers, that eTeacher is offering a wonderful new course: Parashot Shavua commentaries along with some New Testament interpretations (it’s called Weekly Torah Portion course – WTP). As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information (and for discount)!. Also, I know, that some of my readers have been waiting for the book about Hidden Messiah since my Hidden Messiah series on this blog; I am happy to tell you that the book has just been published, it’s called As Though Hiding His Face and is available on Amazon and on my page on this blog: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.