By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant In last week’s Torah Parsha (BEHAALOTECHA), we read about the Israelite’s turbulent saga of disillusionment, with their way of life in the desert. This...
By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
“In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and earth, God said: “Let there be light; and, there was light” (1). The first Torah Parsha (BEREISHIT) of the Book of Genesis is probably the most familiar of any other portions of the Torah.
The wondrous origination of the universe in six days; the dramatic story of Adam and Eve; the means by which a serpent intervened, and caused their exile from the ‘Garden of Eden’; the infamous response of Cain to God, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?, all comprise a narrative, rich in sensationalism and enchantment.
However, this very beginning of the Torah raises deep questions, which are the essence of Jewish faith; and, infrequently asked.
The focus of these apparent perplexities, comprise only two lines in Torah Parsha (BEREISHIT):
“God said let ‘US’ make man in our image” (2)
“Behold, man has become like one of ‘US’, having the ability of knowing good and evil” (3).
The first ambiguity pertains to whom God was speaking, in reference to the word: ‘US’. Most rabbinical scholars perceive God’s interlocutors as angels, who reside in heaven; and, serve as His agents. The Jewish belief in ‘angels’; and, their activities are not uncommon in our reading of the Torah. The Hebrew word for ‘angel’ is ‘malach’, defined as ‘messenger’. Maimonides had a unique perspective on ‘supernatural’ events, which are injected into the Torah: “Biblical authors have a singular talent, to engage readers of the Torah, through their imaginative faculties; once engaged, the people are able to utilize their intellect to discern the ethics, values and laws, which are so singularly divine in the Torah” (4).
The other issues, which created a frenzy of widely divergent opinions and theories, are based on the statements in the Torah, that ‘God created man in his image’, and with ‘freewill’. Although, we are so familiar with these words, we pause to reflect on the obvious paradox.
In creating humans, God brought into existence the one life form, with the sole exception of Himself, capable of freedom of choice. The salient fact is that God has no image. To make an image of God is the archetypal act of idolatry.
This signifies not just the obvious fact that God is invisible: “He transcends nature, and is free; and unbounded by nature’s laws” (5). That, wrote Sigmund Freud, was Judaism’s greatest contribution; by worshipping an incorporeal entity, Jews tilted the balance of civilization from the physical to the spiritual” (6). Maimonides elaborated: “By using our intellect, we are able to perceive the truth, without the use of our physical senses; however, God so far exceeds our capacity to have knowledge of the ‘divine nature’, that we are severely limited in how we are able to describe or comprehend Him” (7).
Perhaps, the words of Rashi, though brief, provide us with the most extraordinary insight on these issues: “The Torah is God’s supreme call to humankind: freedom and creativity; as well as responsibility and restraint” (8).
(1) GENESIS (1:1-3)
(2) GENESIS (1:26)
(3) GENESIS (3:22)
(4) Oxford University: Jewish TV (“Interpreting Maimonides”)
(5) Rabbi Elyahben Moses Delmedigo (1400-1460), Crete
(6) Sigmund Freud: “Moses and Monotheism”, 1993 (Knopf Publishing)
(7) Maimonides: “Thirteen Principles of Faith”
(8) Rashi: “On Genesis”