Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Bereishis 5770- Justifications…

we have just come through Sukkot and Simchat Torah and start anew the annual cycle of torah readings.  This week we have possibly the most famous sentence in the Torah, the one that begins it all:

 בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱ־לֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. (Translation from online Judaica Press Tanakh at http://www.chabad.org)

following from this, we have the sequence of creation- a sequence that seems to stir contoversy over exactly how literal it should be- from the purely literal stance of the creationists, to the purely scientific stance that this first chapter alone disqualifies the book since it flies so hard on the face of scientific reality.  Of course, there are many people who find ways to get the science and the narrative here to relate to each other- Gerald Schroeder in “Genesis and the Big Bang” does an excellent job of that.

However, one wonders- why does the Torah start with such controversy? Rashi raises the question of why to start here- stating in the name of his father Rabbi Yitzchak thta it was necessary in order that the nations of the world could not afterwards state that the Jews were thieves- since if G-d is the creator and owner of the world, he has the right to dictate who should live where. 

At one level this makes sense- after all, don’t we see the exact issue being played out now in Israel?  Even with the fact that Israel is a country proclaimed by international law by the United Nations, you still get Palestinian radicals claiming that Israel is not the country that the Torah refers to, that the Temple mount is not where the Temple stood?  In essence, it seems that the Torah, written as a document for Jews is only truly believed by them- the Christians reinterpret and alter its meaning to suit their agenda, the Muslims claim it is corrupted whenever it doesn’t say what they want.  Given this, we cannot hold it up as proof of anything- the other nations of the world reject it!

Perhaps, the issue isn’t so much as having to justify it to others, but to get us to understand that ourselves.  We have the unfortunate situation where we see Jews attacking other Jews for political gain, to ingratiate themselves with others- whether it is the Norman Finkelstein’s of the world whose anti-semitic hype against the Jews just gathers steam as he is ever more cut off from the Jewish community- or a formally well regarded jurist being the titular head of yet another United nations sponsored anti-Israel witch hunt.  The outcome of the probe by Richard Goldstone was essentially written before he ever set foot in Israel, the terms of his mandate ensured it- yet he turned away from that and worried more about his image and international stature than any truth.

That is what starting the Torah at this point is telling us: it may be controversial- it may force us to have to study such texts in depth, struggle to reconcile the surface literal level with scientific reality- but it can be done.  Gerald Schroeder could do it with physics, Ramban could do it with far less understanding of modern science, but even the science of his day, mixed in with knowledge of the hidden midrashic and Kabbalsitic meanings, he derived lessons that could reconcile this passage to science.  It did not come easy to either man- for both it required an in depth knowledge of muliple areas of learning involving years of study and a passion for truth- yet we have their writings to show us that it can be done.

Unfortunately, the modern experience shows us that this delving for truth is too rare- too many people are willing to look at a surface image and make rash statements without regard for the truth.  Why did G-d start the Torah here?  So we could not be accussed of having stolen property form other nations- but this message is not just for the other nations, but it is for us as well.  For only when Jews realise that they have as much rights as everybody else- as much of a right to exist, live and be happy as everybody else and stop apologising for existing; for daring to be succesful, for daring to be happy and to protecting ourselves, can we truly be said to understand the message of Bereishis.

note:  As always comments, corrections and discussion are encouraged

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Current affairs, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments