Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

B’reishit 5772

KOSHI: How does creation frame our faith? 
Genesis I: 1-7
B’reishit 5771

V.1   In the beginning God created
the heaven and the earth…

RASHI…This verse says nothing if not: “Darsheyni!”  If you would come to explain it in accord with its p’shat, explain it as follows: “In the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was bewilderment and void…”  For the verse does not come to teach us the order of Creation, for if this is what it meant, it should have written “BaRishona—At first…”  If this were so,  you should be perplexed by yourself, for the waters preceded the heavens and the earth, as it says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” …

BACHYA…The first word “B’reishit,” should be rendered as independent in form, not attached to what follows.  Thus we understand  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

VILNA GA’ON.…  The word “Reishit” was chosen to indicate a definite beginning, before which one cannot imagine any forms of existence…Thus, “At the beginning…”  It cannot be a construct phrase, but must rather stand alone because it designates the very first state of existence, preceding all of Creation and preceded by nothing except for God.

ABRAVANEL… “B’reishit Barah Elohim”   is the unprecedented act of God’s creating, as the three mentions in association with the creation of man and woman make clear, for it refers not simply to physical formation but to the imaging of ‘a likeness’—a being with reason & intellect…

R’ S.R.HIRSCH… “Barah” means to bring something into reality which only before existed in the mind.  Before Creation, the world existed only in the “mind of God.”  “B’reishit Barah–In the beginning” is then the materialized thought of the Holy One…God’s unfolding imagination made real.

 NACHMANIDES… [13th cent, Spain…Poet, Phil., Physician, Sage. Torah Commtator—leader of Spanish Jewry…] RASHI says, “The Torah, which is the book of laws, should have begun with the verse, “This month shall be unto you the first of the months…” [Ex 12:2]  What then is the reason it begins with creation?…”

It was indeed very necessary to begin the Torah with “In the beginning God created…” for this is the root of faith, and he who does not believe in this and thinks the world was eternal denies the essential principle of the Jewish religion, and has no Torah at all.

R’ MOSHE LEIB of SASSOV… “In the beginning, God created…”  The first thing a Jew must know is this: God created the heaven and earth.

 V.2   Now the earth was unformed-tohu and void-vohu—
with darkness sweeping over the face of the deep…

SEFER HaBAHIR… [Book of Bright Light, Kabbalistic midrashic commtry, 11th cent, Provence]  R’ Berachya asked: “What is the meaning of the verse “And the earth was Tohu vaVohu”

What is Tohu?  It is a thing which “astonishes” people.  For it becomes “Bohu”  And what is Bohu?  It is a thing which was nothing and suddenly attains substance, the complete opposite of what its surface meaning implies. As it is understood—bo  hu—in it there is substance.

NACHMANIDES… [13th cent, Spain…Poet, Phil., Physician, Sage. Torah Commtator—leader of Spanish Jewry…] “In the beginning—B’Reishit…” RASHI wrote: “If you wish to explain it in keeping with its plain meaning, explain it as: “At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth…”  If this is so, the whole text leads to the creation of light…R’ Abraham IBN EZRA explained it in an identical way, and following his understanding, only light was in fact created on the first day…Listen now to the correct and clear explanation in all its simplicity.  The Holy One created all things from absolute non-existence.  Now we have no expression in the sacred language for bringing forth something from nothing other than “bara—created” …God brought forth from total and absolute nothingness a very thin substance—devoid of corporeality, but having a power of potency, fit to assume form and proceed from potentiality to reality.  This was the primary matter “created” by God…He did not “create” anything, but He formed and made things with it…bringing everything into existence and clothing the forms into a finished condition…


 Rabbi Eugene KORN… [Director of the Center for Jwsh-Christian Understanding]
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”  Belief in Creation was a major point of contention between the Jews and the Greek philosophers who believed that the world was eternal….At stake for the Jews was the possibility of miracles, the power of God over nature and the truth of Revelation, but the metaphysical debate seems stale today.  In our modern scientific view of the universe, what difference does it make?

Maimonides understood the issue differently.  He was a student of Aristotle and was deeply committed to science and reason.  Because of this commitment, he conceded that if there was a valid proof against Creation, he would drop the idea but still believe in the Torah….However Maimonides demonstrated that Aristotle’s proof for eternity was flawed and so insisted on continuing to believe that God created the universe.  Yet the Rambam’s creation was hardly the traditional one of God acting at a specific moment in time….Maimonides’ Creation was the Divine overflow of God into the world, a continuous connection between God and His creatures, the one thing that Aristotle’s self-sufficient, supremely solitary God lacked.…For Maimonides, then, believing in an uncreated, eternal  universe means believing in a world that is an impersonal, mechanistic arena….Belief in Creation is significant not because it demonstrates God’s power over nature, but because it turns the universe into a caring place, one where God showers compassion towards people and, in turn, where people are able to reach beyond themselves and love others…

Creation is the bridge between philosophy and ethics, between the contemplative and the activist life…The idea of Creation is essential to a Jewish understanding of the world, for its importance lies not in relating scientific truth, but in laying the foundation for human ethics and the godly life…Human acts of “chesed” mirror the overflow of Creation’s unfolding, so Maimonides was fond of quoting Psalm 89:3, “The world is build with chesed.”  Though Rambam would have translated it as “The world is created with chesed,”…every single day.

[The Jewish Week, The Jewish Stake In Creation, 10.1.10]

 The INTERPRETER’s BIBLE… [Abingdon Press, 1952] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”  Does the universe have a meaning?  The Bible is sure it does, and that the meaning is a heavenly one…As some cosmogonies relate, it is a dark and doubtful welter of forces from which the world and human life emerge.  Later philosophies are more intellectual, but they are equally arid for hope and faith to grow in. …But in the one strong opening verse, “In the beginning God created…” there throbs the virile Hebrew faith in the unconditioned creatorship of God.  The universe did not come into existence by chance.  It did not advance by the blind gropings of unconscious energies…On the contrary, it was the purposeful creation of One who is the fount of life.  Therefore in God all things belong to some consistent pattern; the world makes sense…With faith in a Divine Creator, there is coherence in the fabric of existence, and though the pieces may not always seem to fit together, there is an unfolding purpose in history and in life.                                        [Volume I, pgs 466-467]


Franz ROSENZWEIG… [The Star of Redemption, 1918-19] We learn that God loves but not that He is love.  He draws near to us in love…[yet] the what—the Essence—remains concealed.  It is concealed precisely by being revealed.  A God who did not reveal Himself would not permanently hide His essence from us…We catch sight of the Creator and Redeemer only from the vantage point of a God of love.  We can see what has been and what is to be only to the extent that a flicker of that divine love shines…Revelation teaches us to trust in the Creator—and hopefully, to wait for the Redeemer…[Thus] Revelation extends as far back as the Creator.  Its first word is “In the beginning,” its second, “He created.”  Before the beginning there may have been that inner vitality of God which grew out of divine self-creation…but we could only depict it analogically…by allowing God to experience within Himself what emanates from Him…Such vitality concealed within itself hid God from us too…To answer what He might have been then, we would have to say: Nought.  For vitality in the Uncreated—in the realm of the dead, is nought… Though the God of the proto-cosmos had not Himself been dead, he was Lord of dead matter.  From Creation we learn that the meaning of the proto-cosmos is death, just as we learn in Creation that the meaning of the cosmos is life…We Jews, we who know The Name, who are called by it, and on whom The name is called, we acknowledge it—though we are not allowed to pronounce it.  For the sake of our eternity, we must anticipate the silence in which it and we together will one day rest.  We must substitute for the Name itself that which God is as long as He is still called upon as Creator of the world of Being…The Lord, we call Him, in place of His Name.  For as Creation spells out His Name in Revelation, so too will it fall silent one day on our lips when He is All-One in all the world, when His Name is One.


One response to “B’reishit 5772

  1. egrotta October 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Earlier this week, as I was going through my books to see which I felt needed a place on our new winter home’s bookshelves, I came to the shelf with Greek and Roman classics. Plato…Aristotle… Sophocles..and of course the playwrights.

    These books have moved with me from place to place in the more than 40 years since my Great Books class at the University of Michigan, but, sadly, most have not been opened since I first placed them on the shelves in Larchmont.

    Would I really need them again?

    Then this morning at Larchmont Temple’s Chevra Torah, studying B’reishit and the story of creation, there they were, right in front of me again. Reading about Maimonides, I learned he was a student of Aristotle and struggled with his principles. And then Elizabeth recalled Plato’s concept of the human condition, in which (wo)men see only shadows in the cave and know nothing of the real world.

    I realized I do need to read them again. So Plato, Aristotle and the rest of them are now in a carton, already enroute to our new home. I promise it will not be 40 years before I crack them open again.

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