This Week In Torah
Shabbat Bereshit 5774
From the Beginning
This week, on the Shabbat following Simchat Torah, we continue our cycle of Torah and Haftarah readings with the stories of creation and the Bible’s view of the first nine human generations or, if you prefer, stages of the development of human civilization. It is no easy beginning.
The first generation, represented by Adam and Eve, violate God’s instructions and, becoming self-aware, are chucked out of the idyllic ignorant bliss of the Garden of Eden. The second generation witnesses the first fratricidal murder and, by the ninth, Lamech, Noah’s father, is boasting of his having taken at least two lives. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad as, along the way, humankind develops the skills to make tents, raise cattle, play music and work metal.
Nevertheless, before we get finished learning of the early humanity that inhabits the world, God already repents of having created it and determines to wipe out most terrestrial life and start almost all over again, using Noah and family as seeds for the new beginning – – humanity’s first second chance. The rough start continues though next week’s parasha, Noah; but, in two weeks, things start looking a little better when God changes the game and plays ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with Abraham and his family.
What is different about God’s relationship with Abraham? In the generations prior to Abraham and Sarah there was no particular commitment to spread the understanding of God’s unique power as The Creator, and no people dedicated to witnessing God’s unity and demonstrating moral behavior based on the claims that The Creator has upon us.
This is the ‘job’ of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, as stated in the last verse of this week’s Haftarah:
“You are my witnesses, declares The Eternal, and my servant whom I have chosen to know, believe and understand that I am He. There was no god before me nor will there be one after me.”
Sound like we are supposed to be missionaries? Yes, in some ways we are. But, at all times and in all places, we are to conduct ourselves with the morality, honesty and dignity befitting the People of Israel’s mission, our illustrious ancestors and our Creator.
Rabbi Steve Denker