Simchat Torah: The Joy Of The New Beginning

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.”[1] 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.”[2]

 

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.

 

[1]     Deut 29:29

[2] 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/.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. yazmin taylor

    Thank you so much for your teaching. I always question myself about the difference between Chapter 1 and 2 of Genesis. I read so many things about it. Also that chapter one refers to a different creation of humanoids and a flood occurring which brought Genesis 2 where God Himself took the time to create human beings and that is why the order of creation from chapter 1 and 2 is different. Now these two chapters make more sense to me, more God oriented.

  2. Eddie Vaughn

    I will state things as I believe them to be, which means you and your readers are not likely to agree with me. I say this to make myself clear.

    The so-called first creation account is a synopsis of the Bible, except it precedes, for the most part, where the text proper begins in Chapter 2. Until we get to verse 26, where the creation account become more prophetical than historical. I came to see that the creation days were weeks of 7000 years, with days of 1000 years. Thus Adam died “in” the day that he ate the forbidden fruit, and there is no need to make anything mystical about his death. He was a creature formed from the dust of the ground and he returned to the dust of the ground. The Bible is much easier to understand when certain facts are known. There are words that cannot be understood for what they normally mean, like “the dead,” which sometimes refers to the unsaved, and “dust,” which sometimes refers to people.

    As for Genesis starting with B instead of A, it should be well known among Bible students that the second is more important than the first. David was better than Saul, Abel was better than Cain, Jacob than Esau, and Jesus than Adam. Why this should be so is consistency, and can be seen in John 3 and 1 Cor. 15, as well as other places, like Romans 9.

    As for God’s mercy, God is eternal with nothing ever lacking. If it were not for his mercy, Lucifer would have been destroyed long before God created the heavens and the earth.

    The second creation account is simply the beginning of the history of mankind and takes us back to Genesis 1:24, not Genesis 1:26. Man was not created righteous from the get-go. How would that work? Adam would have been an automaton. This is the lesson of the tree of knowledge and why the talking serpent was allowed in the garden. Genesis 1 speaks of man, meaning mankind, and Genesis 2 speaks of the first man, Adam.

    This sixth day of creation that we are living in now is a first stage toward making mankind in God’s image. Jesus, the last Adam, is the Adam we must become a child of so that we will be made in the image of God. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus, Paul in 1 Cor. 15, and in Romans 9.

    We are only adopted children in this life, for as long as we are alive we remain children of Adam. We cannot be fully children of God, except in conceptual form, as a child in the womb of his/her mother, until we die and are raised from the dead. In the resurrection, the just will be raised as children of God. They will be judges over the unjust, who are raised to judgment (not condemnation, for Jesus died for the sin of the world. We are all forgiven; just not all saved). I get this definition of judgment from Judges 2:16 and 1 Sam. 8:5. At the end of Judgment Day, the unjust will be judged by what they have done during Judgment Day (see Rev. 20).

    My God is greater than your God if you believe God is so inept, or lacking in power and knowledge, that most people will die and go to hell. For anyone to go to hell, meaning a place of everlasting torment, after this life, means that God has created people he knew would end up there and created them anyway. Everlasting torment is just too much punishment for any mortal person, who would gain immortality by not repenting.

    My understanding about God and salvation began when I realized that we are mortal beings and we would perish at death if it were not for the cross of Christ.

    1. Chris Whitaker

      You wrote:-

      “I came to see that the creation days were weeks of 7000 years, with days of 1000 years. Thus Adam died “in” the day that he ate the forbidden fruit, and there is no need to make anything mystical about his death.”

      This sounds a lot like a JW confusing and misguided explanation for the seven days of Creation. Is each day a week of 7000 years in that case the first six days would have been equivalent to 6 X 7000 = 42000 years + the seventh day of 7000 years when God rested.

      My answer to you is a definite NO. Each day of creation was one revolution of the Earth on its axis and represents a flow chart for the unfolding of the historical events using a scale of a day to a thousand years. The first sabbath day being equivalent to the millennium kingdom when Christ will rule for a thousand years after the six thousand years of mans rule under Satan. On the forth day God created the Sun, the physical manifestation of the source of light, representing the coming of the Messiah, the physical manifestation of the source of our knowledge of God, who incidentally was crucified exactly 4000 years after the creation of Adam.

      As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, on the day they ate the forbidden fruit their death passed from them to the animals God sacrificed to make clothing for them but not from the curse of death in the first thousand years. It may be interesting that this event was possibly on the 14th day of the first month of the first year, the very first Passover.

      1. Francis A. Andrew

        I believe the Genesis story is to indicate that there is an order and a creator and that evolution is directed and not mere chance events.

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Eddie, for your passion and for your comment, it was very interesting for me to read it. Definitely, I won’t agree with every statement you made, but in fact, this is the purpose of this forum/blog: we don’t have to agree with everything somebody else says (as I don’t expect my readers to accept everything I write). I am glad you found some food for thought in my article, and I hope you will continue following this blog.

  3. Therese

    Dear Julia. I very much enjoy to receive a new writing from you. Every article written by you I am very much enriched about the Torah.
    May I just add one thing I learned of Rabbi Don Petersen when I had him as a teacher in Biblical Hebrew level A course at formarly called eteacher. He said to us that the interpretation “In the beginning” is not correct. It should be “A beginning..” as we do not know which beginning we actually talk about in the Torah. I have “The Jewish Study Bible” book and the start of Genesis starts with “When God began to create…”.The same the Stuttgarter Erklärungsbibel (being a Swiss German now living in Australia) starts with the German word “Am Anfang” translated as “A beginning”. Lookingj forward to receive more of your articls.
    Shalom Therese

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Therese, thank you for you comment. You are right, in the word Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית‎) the definite article ( the Hebrew equivalent of “the”) is missing, but implied. However, we still have the prefix ב, so the complete word literally means “in [a] beginning”.
      This week, I will publish an article on the second Torah portion, Noah, there will be some really intriguing and unexpected Hebrew insights in this portion, so I hope you will enjoy it.

  4. Nick Edwards

    Thank you Julia once more for your words! I am reminded of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s book, (and equally impressive commentary by Rabbi Borah) The Lonely Man of Faith. It has been so huge to get some grasp and perspective on the origins of mankind’s plight, and then begin to appreciate the intentions of the teachings in the New Testament (i.e. make sense of my cultural religion-Christianity)

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Nick, you are so right: the teaching of the New Testament couldn’t be at all understood without Torah and Tanach! I am so glad my articles help my readers see it!

  5. Mandla

    Dear Prof J Blum

    You have done it again.
    Thank you very much, my hat off.

    Shalom

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Mandla, for your generous words! Blessings!

  6. Sally Scheepers

    Ive enjoyed reading this wonderful comments. May God bless you.