Presenting: the Spiral- the Torah portion of Beresheet

Our story of creation is a crazy story. It should have gone like this: ‘Once, whenever, G-d said poof and there was a perfect world; the end’. Instead, we have this: first G-d makes light. Then S/He says, this is alright, but, oops, what was I thinking? I should really separate the water above from the water below, but, well, that will take an extra day, I’ll do that tomorrow… Wait, I could gather the dirt and put some trees here, maybe even with fruits, ah, that looks good; And what about some sparkle? a sun and moon, maybe few stars in the sky? Yes, looks better… wait… wait!! I could make little creatures who would swim and fly and roam and walk the earth, maybe land animals? Oh yes, and how about a human who would be half soul, half dust, half divine, half flesh and bones; someone who at times, would cause all sorts of trouble to my planet and his peers, and at other times, would be absolutely amazing? That would be a nice touch!”….
But the Torah is not a history book, nor is it a physics, bio etc. Some scientific theories trying to align the two, and sometimes it matches but that is not the goal. It’s more like a letter to the human from the Divine talking about who they are and what’s their relationships like; a love letter if you will. From the very beginning, it speaks of second chances and make ups, of taking time, of doing things, of having opinions, of being deeply and fully engaged. That’s why we read it like this: did you see what s/he said here? I wonder what it means. We analyze every word, syllable, punctuation, options. We read it like our life depends on it, because, well, maybe it does.
I think that even if we spend all our life on the first few chapters of Genesis, there will still be more left to “wow” at. Just looking at the very first verse, there is very little we understand; ah, let’s just try the first word! Beresheet is often translated as “in the beginning”, but had it been that, it should have been baresheet (and not be-resheet). As it stands, the first word of the Torah is in a form of a סמיכות a grammatical proximity, that is, a word which is not a stand. It literally means – ‘In A beginning of”… but then goes to talk about something else. I must say that it took me a while to notice, having grown up with this text and pretty much learning it by heart and taking it for granted, but I actually love it like this. I mean, I am not the first nor only one to see it and in the scheme of more than 2000 years, someone could have corrected this minor punctuation difference, but we didn’t. We kept our first word of our most holy book as a proximity with nothing obvious attached, leaving us to wonder, maybe we are its other part -?
Ultimately, there is only one word we might understand in that first verse of the Torah: הארץ Ha’aretz – the earth, and also the term we affectionately use to describe “The Land”. If so, the verse means, “in a beginning, created G-d the heavens and the Land – of Israel”. A stretch?
Just earlier this week, on Simchat Torah, we finished reading the Torah and started right away again. We said we’re doing this to show that there is no beginning and no end. There is a teaching that when connecting the last letter of the Torah – — lamed and the first one — bet, we get the word lev, heart, so the Torah will be on our hearts continuously, and yet we don’t often look at it thematically.
In the last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses is teaching the Torah to the People of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:1. If all had gone well, he would have gone with them into the Land of Israel, bringing together the third pillar (the Torah, People and Land). In fact, we would have not gotten any more biblical books and lived happily ever after at home. Well, it didn’t quite work out this way, but that doesn’t prevent us from, one way or another, talking immediately now about the Land.
The same G-d who looked at creation said it’s good, also looked one chapter later and said, it’s not good: “It is not good for the human to be alone” לא טוב היות האדם לבדו (Genesis 2:18). The first human is a combination male and female. It’s great. They live in oneness; they do everything together; they have no arguments, no challenges, it’s all good. They also don’t see each other, can’t grow, can’t feel the pain of separation and the joy of finding each other again. The human who was לבדו levado (alone) was לבוד lavud – wrapped around himself. Too much loneliness makes people harsh, says an Israeli song says מבדידות האנשים יוצאים קשים – let Me make him a help-meet against him, says G-d, so he can figure out how to use these communication skills I gave him, so he can feel and laugh and cry and eventually, get out of himself and eventually rediscover Me too. And the rest is commentary.
Shabbat Shalom.

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2 Responses to Presenting: the Spiral- the Torah portion of Beresheet

  1. Tamar Beneli says:

    אני צוחקת ומאוד נהנית לקרוא את מה שאת כותבת
    כל הכבוד ונתראה בקרוב

  2. Rich Janis says:

    Hi Michal,

    While I’m waiting for a phone call, I can finally ask about your interesting suggestion to explain the word Beresheet as being a smichut. I enjoyed trying to reconcile that suggestion with my limited knowledge of that grammar in modern Hebrew, and my ignorance of Biblical Hebrew. Then I realized that the second half of that sentence seemed to address my confusion. You ended that sentence by describing a smichut as “a grammatical proximity, that is, a word which is not a stand.” Were you getting at its not being a stand-alone word, just the word in construct form to be followed normally (at least in modern Hebrew) by another noun (e.g., maybe something like Beresheet haolam)? Does Biblical Hebrew (or modern Hebrew, while on the subject) allow for such a stand-alone form? If not, then is there another way to address the apparent absence of the other half of the “proximity”?

    Shalom, -rich

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