Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 

Genesis (Bereishis)

This book begins with...the Beginning. The creation of the world, the animals, and the first human beings, is described in this book. Creation is told terms that hint at much more than a simple history story. Behind every word and every grammatical nuance might lie the deepest of secrets. The stories themselves beg to be interpreted with a little more sophistication than childish "Bible stories."

For instance:

The fact that man was created last could teach a few things simultaneously...

  • It teaches us that man is the very purpose of creation (the "stage had to be set before the star arrived" see Rashi to Bereishis 2, 5).
  • It humbles us ("even the smallest insect was here before." Gemara Sanhedrin 38a).

Man was created alone (i.e. we all descend from the first couple). This teaches us a few things:

  • "whoever kills one soul is as though he had killed a whole world"
  • No one could say "I'm more important than you, my ancestor was such and such..." because ultimately, we all descend from one source.
  • The greatness of G-d. In the raw material of that single couple, there was the genetic information needed to create all of the immense variety of human life (Sanhedrin 37a).

This book is much more than just a story book about the first murder, the first flood, the first organized rebellion against G-d, or the first generations of the Jewish people. True, there are stories about all of that and much more, but that's not Genesis' deepest point. This is the book about the way the world was built; its rules and purpose; its people, both great and small. This along with the Tanach as a whole is the book about G-d Himself. Everything that is ever possible to know about Him is in these pages. But it would take many lifetimes to see and learn it all. Perhaps the main goal when learning the Tanach is to overcome the simplistic grade school understanding of these great people and events and examine them for the first time through mature eyes.

Back to the simple "Bible story" level.

Genesis describes creation, the early generations (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the birth of Jacob's twelve sons and one daughter), and finally the descent of this small family into the spiritual wasteland of Egypt.

Genesis begins at the beginning which was year "0" according to the Jewish dating scheme, that is the year 3760 BCE. The book finishes with the death of Joseph in the Jewish year 2309 (1451 bce).

Many passages of the Torah were written in a way that hides much more than it reveals. If you compare the simple version of the story of Jacob meeting his brother Esau (Gen. 32), with the story according to the oral tradition (see the commentary of Rashi), you'll see two very different approaches. Of course, there's no story or description in the Five Books (Chumash) that isn't true (that's nothing more than, say, a parable), but what the oral Torah adds is more than just extra detail. It's a whole approach, it's a 3 dimensional understanding. The Chumash without the classical commentators (who's words are based on the Talmud and Midrashim) is nothing more than Bible stories. They seem nice... but on second thought they don't make much sense.

For some examples, look up the following passages and see if you can find any logical reason why G-d (or anyone else) would want us to read them.

  • Gen. 15: 8:17 (Ask: "what do the animals and the sun's setting and the fire have to do with the conversation?")
  • Exodus 4: 24:26 (Ask: "What does anything here have to do with anything?")
  • Deut. 22:12 (Ask: "What does this passage refer to?")
So why the secrecy? Why couldn't the Author of the Chumash have been more straightforward? By way of an answer, it could be said that even the written Torah is a little bit "oral," it too needs its own key. Why? So that even if a copy of the Bible - the Jew's Bible - has come into possession of other nations, they still wouldn't really know what's going on without the commentary of the oral law. In other words, it's still the property of the People that stood at Mt. Sinai.


Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada). You may reach him with comments and questions at bclinton@torah.org.

You can now read some of Rabbi Clinton's essays on Torah life at http://www.ncf.ca/~es625/essays

You can also buy his collection of essays on the Book of Shmuel (Samuel) in printed form at www.lulu.com/marbitzmedia

Copyright 2000 by Rabbi Boruch Clinton and Project Genesis, Inc.

 






ARTICLES ON LECH LECHA:

View Complete List

Environmental Hazard
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5774

Why The Land of Israel?
- 5768

The Founders of Our People
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5772

Looking for a Chavrusah?

The Ordeal of Departure
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5771

That Fire Within
Rabbi Label Lam - 5765

Hey, Hey, Hey!
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5767

ArtScroll

Once a Jew, Always a Jew
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5759

Environmental Hazard
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5771

From Egypt to Israel
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5766

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Avraham Initiated The 2000 Years of Torah
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5766

Obstacles and Opportunities
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5763

Reaching for Perfection
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5761

> He Thinks Highly of You
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5775

Freedom of Man
Shlomo Katz - 5760

Long Distance Call
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5761

Every Drop Matters
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5758



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information
 






ARTICLES ON LECH LECHA:

View Complete List

Not Just A Tool
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5773

The Grand Prize of History
Rabbi Label Lam - 5773

I Believe
Rabbi Raymond Beyda - 5766

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Reward May Come
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5760

Home Sweet Home
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5773

I Lift My Hands
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5762

ArtScroll

Redefining Pleasure
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5775

The Founders of Our People
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5772

The Mind's Eye
Rabbi Label Lam - 5772

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Bless You!
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5766

A Fuzzy Picture
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5759

Suicide Moms
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5762

> I Too Was Struck
Rabbi Label Lam - 5768

Paradoxical Lot
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5758

Don't Walk in Front of Me (Anymore)
Shlomo Katz - 5763

The Ordeal of Departure
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5767



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information