27 Tishrei 5776
October 9-10, 2015
Annual: Genesis 1:1-6:8
Triennial: Genesis 5:1-6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Is Sin Built In?
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
It’s hard to know what God envisioned when beginning to write the Torah – perhaps an ode, expressing lyrically the artist’s excitement at completing Creation, a magnum opus indeed. But by Chapter 3 it has become a saga of sin and redemption, or more exactly, of sin and God’s hope for human redemption. First Adam and Eve, then Cain, then all humanity. Such grand Divine intention; such painful disappointment. No wonder God almost threw in the towel (Gen 6:5-7).
Interestingly, two great religions pick different stories in our parsha as the prototype account of sin. For Christians, Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree of knowledge was the “fall” from which humanity has never fully recovered. Judaism reads that story differently – Rashi explains that the sexual awaking of Adam and Eve in 4:1 preceded the sin and the expulsion. Judaism learns the relation of man and sin from the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is clearly distressed by God’s preference for Abel’s offering; God tries to encourage him and direct Cain’s anxieties constructively – “Surely if you do right, there is uplift. But if do not do right, sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master” (Genesis 4:7).
Sin is a dangerous force in this world, we must be on guard all the time, but, God tells us, it is in our power to resist. In Cain’s case, however, gornisht helfen (nothing helps), not even God calms him down. The very next verse: “And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother… And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
Midrash, Rabbinic commentary on the text, thrives when there is ambiguity or a gap. And Genesis 4:8 is a great opportunity for the Rabbinic imagination – what did Cain say to Abel? What was the dispute that led to the first murder in history? Many English translations follow the Greek Septuagint – “Let us go into the field,” but B’reishit Rabbah (xxii:7) takes a much bolder approach. It suggests three possibilities:
1) “Come,” they said, “let us divide the world.” One took the land, the other took the chattels. The former said, “The land you stand on is mine,” while the latter retorted, “The clothes you wear are mine….”
2) R. Joshua of Sikhnin said in R. Levi’s name: “They split the land and chattels, so what did they quarrel about? One said, ‘The Temple will be built in my area,’ while the other claimed, ‘It will be built in mine.'”
3) Judah b. Rabbi said, “They quarreled over a woman.”
The Midrash not only fills in a blank space but it also identifies the three major sin areas in life – economic jealousy, status (who’s more important?) and sexual rivalry. In doing so it provides basis in the Creation story for Rabbi Elazar Ha-kappar’s statement in Pirkei Avot 4:28: “envy, desire (uncontrolled lust) and [the desire for] honor drive a person out of the world.”
A Vort for Parashat Bereshit
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
The Torah does not say “and God saw it was good” at the end of the second day. The Midrash says this is because
machloket (division, disagreement) was created that day, “may water be separated from water.” When light was separated from dark (the first day), that was good, because they are inherently opposite, but when things which are akin – families and friends – become divided, it is not good.
by Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Here are a few questions to help us think about some this week’s Torah reading.
Enjoy your discussion and add your own questions.
1) The Torah chooses to open chapter 1 with a description of how God created the world (although without some details that might have been helpful.) Why open our Torah with this?
2) Adam (a collective name for humanity) is placed in the Garden of Eden. Why? (2:15) What do you understand his mission to be?
3) Adam is commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. Why do you think that God created such a tree specifically in the middle of the Garden?
4) God creates a woman from the side of Adam. Why is the woman needed, according to the story told in 2:19-20?
* Notice the language changes that take place in describing the human being after her creation (especially 2:23-24). What was created in addition to the woman?
5) The serpent convinced the woman to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad (3:1-6). Why do you think that she decides to share the fruit with the man?
* a little more challenging