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WHAT FAMILIES ARE SAYING ABOUT YCT

L’chvod Rav Avi, Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Linzer, Rabbi Love, Rav Katz and the rest of the faculty and staff, Obviously, we are grateful that you have created a holy place of learning for both Chai and Tzachi. But do you realize the profound influence you have had and continue to have in our lives? Thank you for helping us to create an open orthodox home where Torah is observed consciously. Thank you for modeling for us how to live the Torah that we learn. Thank you for helping us to raise our children with the knowledge that they could question anything that did not make sense to them, and that that is a proper and healthy attitude to apply to all aspects of Torah living. It brings us tremendous comfort and gives us strength knowing that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is here to inspire and guide all of us.

With heartfelt thanks,
Estelle and Harvey Posner
Parents of Chai Posner (YCT ’10) and Tzachi Posner (YCT ’17)

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Home arrow Learning arrow Parshat Bereishit
Parshat Bereishit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi David Almog   
Thursday, 19 October 2006

Finding God in Creations

OCTOBER 20-21 2006/ 29 TISHREI 5767

By Rabbi David Almog

Genesis 1:1-6:8

Once again, the Jewish people have started the cycle of the Torah reading afresh. We have returned back to the beginning, to our most cherished text's description of the creation of the world and of humanity. As we reopen the Torah again, we ask ourselves the question; what is this book? It isn't just stories, though it certainly has that element. Neither is it a book of laws alone, though it contains many ancient laws. It certainly doesn't read like a work of theology, although it has many theological implications. Indeed, we revere this text as a source of wisdom and holiness despite the fact that scientifically educated readers would not recognize what we read this week as an accurate depiction of our origins. What draws us back to it year after year? Is there something spiritually substantive to the often confusing and obscure language that our most sacred text provides?

A simple reading of Parshat Bereishit reveals some contrasting, if not conflicting presentations of ma'aseh b'reisheet, giving at least two different versions of the creation of the world and of humanity. While for some this theologically troubling, our tradition has found important meaning in these differences ranging from the midrash in Bereishit Rabbah, brought down in Rashi, explaining that the different names attributed to God reflects the creation of the world with both the attributes of Divine Justice and Divine Mercy, to Rav Soloveitchik's z"l description of two different archetypes of the human personality described his "Lonely Man of Faith." Indeed, as a colleague in Yeshiva had pointed out, a cursory glance reveals that there are three different accounts of the origins of Human beings, including the beginning of chapter five of Bereishit.

Turning our attention to the text, we can see some of the differences more clearly. God in the first story, the description of the Seven Days, is "divinely efficient." God states, "let there be light," and without delay there is light. Comparing verse 1:11 to 2:5, we see that in one, the Torah describes God having made a single statement saying, "let the land sprout vegetation" and ends with "and it was so." In the Garden Story, the Torah explains that the reason there was no vegetation was that God, "had not yet sent rain on the land, and there was no human to work the earth." The God of the first story needs no intermediate steps while the God of the second story seems less efficient. Indeed, the very verbs used to describe God's actions in the garden are more varied and numerous in fewer verses, with fewer clear results.

A corollary of this difference is that God in the garden is more detail-oriented. In the garden, God creates a specific garden, with a specific tree and specific bodies of water for one specific human being to work in. Each verb describes a particular detail of the creation of these singular items. Compare this to Seven Days story where God creates major classes of items, but is not seen as dealing with the "small" details.

Perhaps the most intriguing difference is one of effectiveness. The Seven Days story has a God who creates by fiat and it is all "good." In the garden, the juxtaposition is striking. Suddenly, it is "not good for Adam to be alone." What's more, God's first attempt at solving the problem, namely the creation of creatures from the earth, the same source Adam came from, failed to produce a suitable companion. This hardly sounds like the same God described a chapter earlier.

In the first few chapters we clearly see that our Torah is neither a science text book nor a theological dissertation. Instead, it presents in the language of mythology varying ways in which human beings encounter God. We may see ourselves as the pinnacle of the creation of a distant yet all-powerful deity or we may be partners with a God who is palpable in our lives, but in a world that is far from perfect with the possibility of "good and evil." What's more, if we include the creation story of chapter five, God could be an important starting point for an otherwise essentially human story. I believe that this diversity of versions demonstrates that different human beings have different perspectives on God's world and our place in it, and our Torah provides a means to encounter this truly human reality.

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Rabbi David Almog, YCT '05, is the Campus Rabbi of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel in New York City.

 

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