1. BEREYSHEET 5782

FROM THE TORAH

Genesis 1:1-6:8

On Simchat Torah the annual cycle of Torah reading was completed and celebrated.  Thus the next weekly reading begins with Sedra Bereysheet.  Incorporated within the recounting of the traditional cosmogony are exemplified moral lessons.  These are concerned with nature as divinely planned, man as somewhat divine, and the problem of competition among human beings.

First Conditions and First Ten Generations

CREATION
1:1-2:3

God began to create heaven and earth from inchoate land, water and darkness, transcended by God’s spirit.  God called forth light and considered it good.  God separated light from darkness, calling light day and darkness night.  There was evening then morning, One Day.

God called forth an expanse within the water, separating water below the expanse from water above the expanse.  God called the expanse heaven.  There was evening then morning, a Second Day.

God called for the gathering of water from under heaven so that dry land would appear.  God called the dry land earth and the water seas, and considered it good.  God called for the sprouting of vegetation, herbs producing seed, and trees bearing fruit containing their own seed, and considered it good.  There was evening then morning, a Third Day.

God called forth lights in the expanse of heaven to separate day from night, to serve as signs for seasons, days and years, and to shine upon the earth: two great lights, the greater to rule by day and the lesser to rule by night, and the stars.  God considered it good.  There was evening then morning, a Fourth Day.

God called for the water to abound with living beings and for the birds to fly over the earth across the expanse of heaven.  God created the giants of the sea, all kinds of moving living creatures from the water, and birds of wing, and considered it good.  God blessed them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and for the birds to multiply on earth.  There was evening then morning, a Fifth Day.

God called for the earth to produce every kind of living being—cattle, moving things and wild beasts—and God considered it good.  God further considered: “Let Us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).  God created Man in His image, male and female.  God blessed them and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and master it, and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living creatures that move upon the earth.  I give you and all living animals of land and sky the vegetation producing seed upon earth and trees bearing fruit producing seed for you to eat” (Genesis 1:27-29).  God considered all that He had made very good.  There was evening then morning, the Sixth Day.

Heaven and earth and all their array were complete.  God was finished on the seventh day with all of the work that He had done.  God rested on the Seventh Day and blessed it as the holy day.

THE GARDEN OF EDEN
2:4-3:24

When the Eternal God created heaven and earth, there were not yet plants in the earth, and herbs of the field had not sprouted, because the Eternal God had not brought rain upon the land and there was no man to work it.  Only a mist from the ground watered the earth.  The Eternal God formed the man, dust from the earth, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life so that the man became a living being.  The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed the man there.  The Eternal God brought up from the ground in the garden every beautiful tree with good food, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

From Eden there flows a river which waters the garden and becomes four branches: the Pishon, which winds through Havilah with its gold and precious stones; the Gihon, which winds through Cush; the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria; and the Euphrates.

The Eternal God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to work it and to care for it.  He permitted the man to eat from any of the trees except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “for on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).  The Eternal God also determined that it was not good for the man to be alone, so He would make for him a helpmate.  The Eternal God formed from the ground every animal of earth and sky and allowed the man to provide names for them.  Although the man found names for all of them, he did not find a helpmate among them.  So the Eternal God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and took one of his ribs to form a woman from it.  This time the man recognized it as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:21) and named her “woman,” derived from the name “man.”  So, when a man leaves his father and mother, he joins with a woman as one flesh.  Even though both of them were naked, they felt no shame.

The serpent was the most precocious of all the animals of the field which the Eternal God had made.  He questioned the woman, “Did God really say that you should not eat the fruit of any tree in the garden” (Genesis 3:1)?  The woman responded that God had prohibited eating only from a certain one of the trees in the midst of the garden and from any contact with it on pain of death.  “You won’t die,” said the serpent, “and God knows,” he said, “that when you eat from that tree, your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).  The woman also found the tree attractive and appetizing and its fruit appealing as a means to knowledge, so she ate some of it and shared it with her man.  Their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves to wear as garments.

In fear they hid from the Eternal God’s presence among the trees of the garden.  When the Eternal God questioned the man, he explained that he had hidden because he was naked.  The Eternal God asked him who told him he was naked and whether he had eaten from the forbidden tree, whereupon the man disclosed how the woman “whom You placed with me” (Genesis 3:12) had given him some of its fruit and he had eaten.  The woman, for her part, blamed the serpent for duping her.  In response the Eternal God attached to the serpent the curse of crawling on its belly and eating the dust, as well as enmity between it and womankind.  To the woman He attached the curse of pain in childbirth and her domination by her man.  Because of the man, Adam, He cursed the earth and thereby Adam himself with the arduous toil that would be required for its production of food: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, from which you were taken, for dust you are, and to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19).

The man named his wife Eve (Chava) because she was “the mother of all that lives (chai)” (Genesis 3:20).  The Eternal God provided them with clothing made from skin.  “Now the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22), said the Eternal God, so He removed him from the Garden of Eden lest he eat also from the tree of life and live for ever.  He would, instead, work the land from which he had been taken, and the way to the tree of life would be guarded east of the Garden of Eden by a moving sword-like flame.

CAIN AND ABEL
4:1-16

The man and his wife Eve became the parents of two sons: first Cain then Abel.  Abel became a shepherd and Cain, a farmer.  Both brought offerings to the Eternal: Cain, from the produce of the earth, and Abel, from the choicest of the first-born of his flock.  The Eternal showed regard to Abel’s gifts but not to Cain’s.  Regarding Cain’s displeasure, the Eternal encouraged him to do better in the future, but Cain rose up against Abel his brother in the field and killed him.  “Where is Abel your brother?” asked the Eternal.  “I do not know,” answered Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  “What have you done?” replied the Eternal, “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:9-10)  The Eternal thereupon denied Cain much success in farming the land, which had accepted his brother’s blood, and made him a homeless wanderer.  Cain despaired of surviving the curse, but the Eternal promised him sevenfold vengeance and placed a sign upon him to warn away any who might think to do him harm.  Cain removed himself from the Eternal’s presence and dwelled in the land of Nod east of Eden.

THE TWO LINES OF ADAM AND EVE
1. THE LINE OF CAIN
4:17-24

Numbered according to its respective named generations:

1  Adam and Eve

2  Cain and Wife

3  Enoch
A city that his father Cain built was named after him.

4  Irad

5  Mechuyael

6  Methusael

7  Lemech
He slew a man for wounding him and requested seventyfold vengeance
in addition to the sevenfold vengeance of Cain
upon anyone who would kill him.
He married (a) Adah and (b) Zillah.

8(a) Children of Adah:
Yaval,
son and ancestor of
dwellers in tents and amidst herds;
Yuval,
son and ancestor of players
of lyre and pipe.

8(b) Children of Zillah:
Tuval-cain,
son and forger of all implements
of copper and iron;
Naamah,
daughter.

 

2. THE LINE OF SETH
4:25-5:32

When God created Man, He made him in the likeness of God, male and female.  He blessed them and called them Man. (Genesis 5:1-2)

Numbered according to its respective named generations:

1  Adam and Wife
Adam begat in his own likeness sons and daughters.
He was 130 years old when he begat Seth and lived altogether 930 years.

Each named descendant, through the ninth generation, produced sons and daughters.

2  Seth
His name means:
God has “provided” me (Adam’s Wife) with another seed
in place of Abel, whom Cain slew. (Genesis 4:25)
He was 105 years old when he begat Enosh and lived altogether 912 years.

3  Enosh
Then people began to call upon the Name of the Eternal.
He was 90 years old when he begat Kenan and lived altogether 905 years.

4  Kenan
He was 70 years old when he begat Mahalalel and lived altogether 910 years.

5  Mahalalel
He was 65 years old when he begat Jered and lived altogether 895 years.

6  Jered
He was 162 years old when he begat Enoch and lived altogether 962 years.

7  Enoch
He “walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.” (Genesis 6:24)
He was 65 years old when he begat Methusaleh and lived altogether 365 years.

8  Methusaleh
He was 187 years old when he begat Lemech and lived altogether 969 years.

9  Lemech
He was 182 years old when he begat Noah and lived altogether 777 years.

10  Noah
His name means:
he will provide “relief” from toil on the land cursed by God. (Genesis 5:29)
When Noah was 500 years old,
he begat Shem, Ham and Jephet.

EPILOGUE OF EDEN
6:1-8

When descendants of the man became numerous upon the earth and daughters were born to them, divine beings chose wives from those whom they considered good.  The Eternal limited the extent of His spirit with flesh to 120 years.  In those times and beyond the Nephilim were in the land.  The daughters of man bore children of the divine beings.  They were the ancient mighty men of renown.

When the Eternal saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, He regretted having made him.  The Eternal considered, “Let Me blot out the man which I have created from upon the face of the earth, both man and animal, that which moves upon earth and the bird of heaven” (Genesis 6:7)! But Noah found favor in the sight of the Eternal.

 FROM THE PROPHETS

Haftarah for Shabbat Bereysheet
Isaiah 42:5-43:10

Thus says God the Eternal, Creator of the heavens and their expanse, who formed the earth and all that grows from it, granting spirit to the people that is upon it and breath to all who walk in it.  I call you in righteousness, I shall take you by the hand, I shall make you what you should be: “a covenant embodied by your peoplehood, a beacon of your nationhood” (Isaiah 42:6).  It is to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from the darkness of captivity.  “The Eternal” is My name, not to be confused with idols.  My past promises have been fulfilled, and new ones will be, as well.

“Sing to the Eternal a new song” (Isaiah 42:10), His praise, from the farthest reaches of earth and sea.  The Eternal is going to war, like an impassioned soldier, shouting and roaring, vanquishing His enemies.  For a long time I restrained Myself.  Now I gasp and cry out like a woman in labor.  I shall remove the mountains and drain the swamps, lead the blind along roads they have not known, make the twisted straight, turning their darkness into light.

Those who trusted in idols will fall back in shame.  O deaf and blind, hear and see!  Blind: none other than My servant, notwithstanding all that you have seen!  Deaf: none other than My messenger, notwithstanding all that you have heard!  The Eternal desires to spread His Torah, but it is a plundered and despoiled people, entrapped and abandoned.  Who allowed this to happen?  “Is it not the Eternal, against Whom we sinned” (Isaiah 42:24)!  He poured out upon Jacob the wrath of war, yet even in being burned the people did not understand.

But now your Creator, O Jacob, your Maker, O Israel, will redeem you and protect you from the water and the fire.  I, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel, am your Savior.  I offer Egypt and other people and nations in exchange for your life because you are dear in My sight and I love you.  Fear not, for I am with you.  Bring back My children from all the corners of the earth, this people whom I created for My glory, once blind, now with eyes, once deaf, now with ears.  Who among the nations would have expected this?  Yet they will be witness to the truth of these events.

“But you are My witnesses, says the Eternal, My servant whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 43:10), to know Me and put your trust in Me, to understand that no god was formed before Me, nor after Me shall any be.

FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH

Genesis Rabbah 8:3
The Heart

When God created Man, He said, “Let Us make Man…” (Genesis 1:26).  To whom was He speaking?  Rabbi Ami taught:  He was consulting His heart.  This may be likened also to a king who builds a palace.  When the palace is complete, if it fails to please him, whom should he blame?  The architect?  When Man was complete, the Eternal regretted having made him, in the Torah’s own words, “He regretted concerning His heart” (Genesis 5:6).

Genesis Rabbah 8:4
A Presumption of Righteousness

Said Rabbi Berechia:  When the Holy One blessed be He was about to create the first man, He envisioned both the righteous and the wicked springing forth from him, and He thought: If I create him, the wicked will spring forth from him, but if I do not create him, how will the righteous spring forth?  What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do?  He removed the path of the wicked from His sight and, embracing mercy, created Man.  Thus is affirmed: “The Eternal bonds with the path of the righteous while the path of the wicked is lost” (Psalms 1:6):  The Eternal lost the path of the wicked from His sight and instead created Man with a vision of mercy.

Genesis Rabbah 9:2
The Right Time, The Right World

“God considered all that He had made,
and behold it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Rabbi Tanchuma began his teaching with a similar verse from Ecclesiastes, “He has made everything just right for its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and applied it here: God considered all that He had made very good for its time; it would not have been fitting for the world to have been created a moment sooner.

Rabbi Abahu read our verse to include the previous worlds as well as this one, that the Holy One blessed be He created many worlds and destroyed them because they did not please Him.  So Rabbi Abbahu understands the verse this way: “God considered all that He had made previously, and behold only this one was very good.”

Ecclesiastes Rabbah 3:11
The Two Impulses of Man

“God considered all that He had made,
and behold it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Nehemiah son of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman said:  This refers to the sixth day, which is the day on which Man was created, as if to say, “Behold he was very good!”  “Good” obviously refers to the impulse in man that causes him to do good in the world.  Why was it necessary to say “very good?”  Those words include what we call the evil impulse in man.  But how can the evil impulse in man be implied by the words, “very good?”  To teach you that were it not for his “evil” impulse, a man would not build a house or marry or produce children.

Thus does Solomon say: “I see that all labor and all skill in work comes from a man’s envy of his neighbor” (Ecclesiastes 4:4)!

Talmud Chagigah 12a
Midrash Psalms  97:2
Light for the Future

“God called forth light and considered it good.
God separated light from darkness,
calling light day and darkness night.
There was evening then morning, One Day.”
(Genesis 1:3-5)

“God called forth lights in the expanse of heaven
to separate day from night,
to serve as signs for seasons, days and years,
and to shine upon the earth….
There was evening then morning, a Fourth Day.”
(Genesis 1:14-19)

“Light is sown for the righteous…”
(Psalms 97:11)

What is the difference between the light God brought forth on the First Day and the heavenly luminaries that He created on the Fourth Day?  The Sages said that they are the same: The heavenly luminaries were created on the First Day and placed in heaven on the Fourth.

Rabbi Elazar taught a different view:  By the light that the Holy One blessed be He created on the First Day could Adam and Eve see from one end of the world to the other.  But when God foresaw the sinfulness that would follow, He withheld that light and saved it for the righteous of the future.  This is what is meant when the Torah says, “God saw that the light was good”: He meant that the “light was sown for the righteous.”

Zohar Exodus II:148b-149a
Sustaining Light

“God called forth light and considered it good.
God separated light from darkness,
calling light day and darkness night.
There was evening then morning, One Day.”
(Genesis 1:3-5)

“In His goodness does He renew
each day continually
the work of creation.”
(Siddur Morning Service)

“By day the Eternal extends His goodness,
and at night His song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.”
(Psalms 42:9)

Said Rabbi Yosi:  That light was completely hidden after the First Day and has never been seen in the world since.

But Rabbi Yehudah taught:  If it had been hidden entirely, the world would not have been able to exist for a single moment.  Rather, it was hidden as a seed is planted and produces offspring, and from it is the world sustained.  There is not a day that it does not enter the world and sustain it.  By it does the Holy One, blessed be He, nourish the world.  “By its goodness does He renew each day continually the work of creation.” (Siddur Morning Service)  And wherever they toil through the night in the study of Torah, one thread of that hidden light spreads over them, as may be understood from the verse, “By day the Eternal extends its goodness when at night His song (of Torah) is with me…” (Psalms 42:9).

Zohar Genesis I:31b
Primordial Light

“God called forth light and saw that it was good…”
(Genesis 1:3-4)

The primordial light which God brought forth on the First Day is the light of the eyes.  That is the light which the Holy One blessed be He showed to the First Man, and He revealed it also later to David, who sang, “How great is Your goodness, which You have hidden for those who stand in awe of You” (Psalms 31:20)!  In the meantime He showed it to Moses, who beheld thereby from Mount Nebo the entire Land of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 34:1), having withheld it from the intervening evil generations, such as the generation of the Flood, so that they could not make use of it.

Talmud Niddah 30b
The Pure Soul

“God called forth light and considered it good…”
(Genesis 1:3-4)

“My God, the soul which You have given me is pure (of taint).”
(Siddur Morning Service)

While a child is yet in its mother’s womb, a light illumines its view from one end of the world to the other and it is taught all of the Torah, but when it is about to be born, an angel slaps its mouth and causes it to forget all of the Torah; at that moment it is made to acknowledge, “The soul which You gave me is now blank.”

Tanchuma Pekudey 3
Dust from the Earth

“The Eternal God formed the Man, dust from the earth…”
(Genesis 2:7)

The Eternal God formed Man from dust, but why is there the further emphasis, “from the earth?”  God formed Man of dust from the four corners of the earth so that no part of the earth could say, “You are not mine!”  His acceptance back to earth was thus assured wherever his life might end, as was said, “For dust you are and to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19)!

Targum Onkelos Genesis 2:7
What is a Human Being?

“He blew into his nostrils the spirit of life
so that the man became a living being.”
(Genesis 2:7)

Targum Onkelos: The spirit of human life which the Eternal God breathed into the man’s nostrils became within him the capacity for speech.  But what justifies this inference?

“God called for the water to abound with living beingsa Fifth Day.
(Genesis 1:20)

God called for the earth to produce every kind of living being
cattle, moving things and wild beasts…the Sixth Day.
(Genesis 1:24)

Rashi:  We see above that other creatures, besides the man, are called “living beings,” so what distinguishes man as a living being?  (As Targum Onkelos explains,) he was given the capacity of understanding and speech.

Pirkey d’Rabbi Eliezer 12
Man’s “Work” in the Garden of Eden

“The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden…
and brought up from the ground in the garden
every beautiful tree with good food…”
(Genesis 2:8-9)

“From Eden there flows a river
which waters the garden…”
(Genesis 2:10)

“The Eternal God placed the man
in the Garden of Eden
to work it and to care for it.”
(Genesis 2:15)

Since a river originated in Eden and God planted the trees to grow on their own, the only work for the man was the work of Torah, and the only thing for him to care for was the way to the Tree of Life.  The Tree of Life itself is Torah in accordance with the proverb, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it” (Proverbs 3:18).

Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13
Genesis Rabbah 14:6
Irrevocable Care and Its Caretakers

“The crooked cannot be made straight
nor can the wanting be found.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:15)

“Accept and respect the work of God,
for who can settle what He has convolved…”
(Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Ecclesiastes pondered the unfathomable complexity of God’s creation: “Consider the work of God: Who can straighten that which He (God) has made oblique” (Ecclesiastes 7:13)?  The same words also can be understood to mean: “Who will later restore that which he (man) has ruined?”

When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first man, He took him around and showed him the trees of the Garden of Eden.  He said to him: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are, and all that I have created, I have created for you. Therefore take care not to destroy My world! For if you ruin it, there will be no one after you who can repair what you have destroyed. ‘Accept and respect the work of God’ (Ecclesiastes 7:13a), for if you ruin it, ‘the crooked cannot be made straight’ (Ecclesiastes 1:15a)!”

This may be likened to an expectant mother who was sent to prison for a crime that she committed.  There she gave birth to her child, and as long as she continued to live there, so did her child.  Sometime after she died—and the child was still there—the king passed by the entrance of the prison.  The child cried out, “My lord king, here was I born and here have I lived, but for what crime I was put here I do not know!”  Replied the king, “For the crime of your mother.”

“The Eternal God formed the man,
dust from the earth…”
(Genesis 2:7)

Said Rabbi Levi: “The man” is “The man who was great among the giants…” (Joshua 14:15), Abraham (not Adam!).  He was called “great” because, although he was worthy of being created before Adam the first man, the Holy One blessed be He thought that the first man might make a mistake and then there would be no one to repair what he ruined.

Rabbi Abba bar Kahana taught: Abraham was like the center beam of a great hall which strengthens the beams encountered before it and after it.  So did the Holy One, blessed be He, create Abraham in the midst of the generations in order to bear the generations before him and after him.  Similarly, Rabbi Levi taught, when one seeks a new relationship, one searches for someone more refined, with fewer faults, than the previous partner.

“I shall remove the mountains and drain the swamps,
lead the blind along roads they have not known,
make the twisted straight,
turning their darkness into light.”
(Isaiah 42:16)

Seder Eliahu Zuta 25:3
Man in the Impure World

“They heard the sound of the Eternal God
moving about in the Garden…”
(Genesis 3:8)

The ministering angels asked before God:  Master of the universe, what did You find in Adam, the first man, to cause You to lower Yourself to his level, to build him a canopy in the Garden of Eden and to dwell with him there?  In the end he would violate all of Your commandments!

He said to them:  You angels are protected in a realm of purity, where the evil impulse has no effect.  But how else can I deal with flesh and blood, mired in an impure world, ruled by the evil impulse?  Moreover you went down to earth and seduced the daughters of man and caused them to sin, teaching them idolatry, worshipping the sun and the moon, My creations, as gods (cf. Genesis 6:1 ff.).  Surely, when one of Adam’s descendants sanctifies My Name in the world that I have created, I will again come down to earth, as it were, to rescue him!

Talmud Berachot 40a
Talmud Sanhedrin 60b
Forbidden Fruit

“The Eternal God forbade the man
from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
(Genesis 2:17)

What was the forbidden fruit?  Rabbi Meir taught that it was a grape, because drunkenness brings woe to a man, as it did later to Noah (Genesis 9:20-25).  Rabbi Nechemia said it was a fig, for after they ate and became aware of their nakedness, “they sewed fig leaves and wore them as garments” (Genesis 3:7): that which harmed them was used to protect them.

Genesis Rabbah 19:3
Talmud Sanhedrin 29a
A Fence Too High

“The Eternal God forbade the man
from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
(Genesis 2:17)

But Eve represented to the serpent more than what God had said: “Do not eat from it and do not touch it lest you die” (Genesis 3:3; cf. 2:17).  (God had not prohibited touching it, only eating it.)  Perhaps Eve sought to fulfill what the Men of the Great Assembly were to teach in their day, “Make a fence for the Torah” (Mishnah Avot 1:1): By not touching it they would not come to eat it.

But she overlooked the advice of Proverbs: “Add not to His words…lest you be found untrue.” (Proverbs 30:6)  Instead of making a protective fence for the Torah, she actually laid a siege against it!  Indeed when the serpent saw her walking past the tree, he pushed her into it and said to her, “See you have not died from touching it; likewise you will not die from eating it.”

So Rabbi Chiya taught: You should not make the fence greater than the garden, lest it fall and sever the plants.  Chizkiah taught: Whoever adds to the Torah ends up diminishing it.

Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 1:7
Prior Restraint

“I shall put enmity between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring…”
(Genesis 3:15)

Why did God put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between their offspring?  The serpent’s scheme was to have Adam die and then to marry Eve.  For that reason the Holy One blessed be He attached the curse of future enmity between the serpent and Eve and their descendants.

Genesis Rabbah 22:5
Cain’s Offering of Fruit

Both brought offerings to the Eternal:
Cain, from the produce of the earth,
and Abel, from the choicest of the first-born of his flock.”
(Genesis 4:3-4)

Abel offered God firstlings and fat, while Cain offered merely the fruit of the ground.  Cain’s behavior may be likened to that of a corrupt vassal who works the land of his king.  He keeps the early-ripening fruits for himself and presents the king with the late-ripening fruits that are left over at the end of the season.

Sifre Deuteronomy Ekev 45
Talmud Kiddushin 30b
Encouragement

The Eternal encouraged Cain to do better in the future:

“Surely, if you do good, you shall succeed,
but if you do not do good, sin crouches at the door,
and its desire is to you,
but you can rule over it!”
(Genesis 4:7)

Yet, after these words of encouragement, Cain killed Abel!

Through His encouragement of Cain, the Holy One blessed be He was encouraging Israel.  “Sin crouches at the door,” He said to Cain about the evil impulse, “and its desire is to you.”  But there is an antidote: “If you do good.”  That is Torah.  As long as you engage in matters of Torah, you have the therapy which “rules over” the evil impulse.  If you refrain from matters of Torah, the evil impulse, ever present, rules over you.  Thus, says the Eternal, at the end, “You can rule over it!”

Genesis Rabbah 22:9
God’s Indictment

“When Cain killed Abel, God exclaimed,
‘Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!’”
(Genesis 4:10)

Abel’s blood was crying out to God and not to Cain?  It was as if Abel were indicting God for allowing his brother to kill him.  After all, they were as gladiators before their king.  If the king had wanted to prevent his death, he could have separated them.  But he didn’t.  God, the King, cried out over Abel’s death, “Your brother’s blood cries out against Me from the ground, ‘Who will seek justice on my behalf before and against my King?!’”

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
Genesis Rabbah 22:9
Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 31:2
The Boundless Value of a Single Life

“Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!”
(Genesis 4:10)

Thus God confronted Cain for killing Abel.  But the actual words are in the plural: “Your brother’s bloods cry out to Me from the ground!”  Why “bloods?”  The blood of your brother and the blood of his eventual descendants whom you have prevented!

For this reason humanity was created from one person: to teach you that if one destroys a single life, it is as if he has destroyed an entire world, and if one upholds a single life, it is as if he has upheld an entire world.

Tanchuma Genesis 11
Talmud Sanhedrin 113b
The Transforming Effect of a Righteous Man

“Lemech begat a son and named him Noah,
which means ‘relief,’ explaining:
He will provide us relief from our work
and from the toil of our hands
from the ground,
which the Eternal has cursed.”
(Genesis 5:29)

How did the birth of Noah, ten generations after Adam, change the nature of “work…from the ground” which the Eternal had cursed?  Before Noah was born, for ten generations everything that they planted turned up from the ground thorns and thistles.  After Noah was born, if they planted wheat, they reaped wheat, and if they planted barley, they reaped barley.

Moreover, before Noah was born, for ten generations they did all their work with their bare hands, as Lemech said, “from the toil of our hands.”  But after Noah was born, he made for them ploughs, sickles, spades, and other tools.

When a righteous person enters the world, goodness enters the world; that is to say, good things are the result!

Genesis Rabbah 27:4
Regret or Relief?

“When the Eternal saw
how great was man’s evil on earth,
He regretted that He made him on the earth…”
(Genesis 6:6a)

But the Hebrew word for “regretted” [vayinachem]
can also mean: “He was relieved…!”

Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nechemiah:

Rabbi Judah interpreted:  I regret that I created him below (on the earth), because if I had created him above (in heaven), he would not have rebelled against Me!

Rabbi Nechemiah interpreted:  I am relieved that I created him below, because if I had created him above, just as he incited rebellion against Me among all of the earthly creatures—“All flesh had corrupted its way upon earth” (Genesis 6:12)!—so would he have incited rebellion against Me among all of the heavenly beings!

Rabbi Ayvu interpreted:  I regret that I created in him the evil impulse, for if I had not created in him the evil impulse, he would not have rebelled against Me!

Rabbi Levi interpreted:  I am relieved that I made him mortal on the earth, because whatever evil impulse he harbors ends with his burial in the earth.

“…and He was sad in His heart.”
(Genesis 6:6b)

Said Rabbi Berechia:  This may be compared to a king who commissioned a palace to be built for him by an architect, but when he saw it finished, it did not please him.  Whom should he blame?  The architect?  But not in this case: Thus was God “sad in His heart.”

Rabbi Yosi compared it to a king who made an important investment through a broker, and the investment was a failure.  Whom should the royal investor blame?  The broker?  But not in this case: Thus was God “sad in His heart.”

̶̶̶

Of this a skeptic asked Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha, “Can the Holy One, blessed be He, foresee the consequence of an action?”  “Yes,” he said.  Then why is it written, “He was sad in His heart?”  (Could He not have foreseen that the creation of man would be a failure and thus avoid it?)

Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha asked the skeptic, “Did you ever become the father of a son?”  “Yes,” he said.  “Then what did you do?” he asked.  “I rejoiced,” he said, “and caused others to rejoice with me!”  “But didn’t you know that your son would one day die?”  The skeptic answered, “There is a time for rejoicing, and there is a time for mourning.”  “So it was for the Holy One, blessed be He,” explained Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha; “’After seven days the waters of the Flood came upon the earth’ (Genesis 7:10):  For seven days the Holy One, blessed be He, mourned for His world before the Flood came upon it.  That is when ‘He was sad in His heart’ (Genesis 6:6) just as King David was ‘sad over his son’ (II Samuel 19:3) when he was ‘mourning over Absalom’ (ibid. 2)!”

Midrash brought by Rashi
at the beginning of his Torah Commentary
Cf. Tanchuma Buber Bereysheet 11
Why does the Torah begin with Creation?

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
(Genesis 1:1)

“He demonstrated to His people His effective power
by giving to them the possession of other nations.”
(Psalms 111:6)

Rabbi Isaac taught that the Torah (which is the Law of Israel) did not need to begin any earlier than the first mitzvah that was commanded to all of Israel, “This month shall be for you the first of months…” (Exodus 12:2)!  So, then, why did the Torah begin from “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)?

The answer is reflected herein: “God gave to His people the possession of other nations.” (Psalms 111:6).  So, if the other nations should accuse Israel of being robbers for having conquered the seven nations of Canaan, Israel can answer them:  All of the world belongs to God; He created the heaven and the earth!  Thus, it was His right to give it to whomever He pleased.  As it was His right to give the Land to them at first, it was also His prerogative to take it from them and give it to us!

Talmud Yoma 86a
Yerushalmi Bava Metziah 2:5
Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:3
Witnesses of the Eternal

You are My witnesses, says the Eternal…
that I am He…”
(Isaiah 43:10)

Abaye taught that if one studies the Oral and Written Torah, attends scholars dutifully, yet conducts his business dishonestly and treats others unpleasantly, of him shall they say: Woe unto him who studies Torah and woe unto his father and his rabbi who teach him Torah; see how corrupt are his acts and how ugly are his ways; and it is about him that the prophet said, “They profane My Name, these…the people of the Eternal…” (Ezekiel 36:20).

Rather:

“You shall love the Eternal your God.”
(Deuteronomy 6:5)

Abaye explained that this means not only that you should love the Eternal, but that you should cause the name of Heaven to be loved by others by virtue of your faithful treatment of them.  So if one studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends scholars dutifully, and conducts his business honestly and treats others with respect, of him shall they say: Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah!  For this man has studied the Torah: see how fine are his acts and how attractive are his ways!  Of him does the prophet say:

“You are My servant, O Israel,
so that through you
I may be glorified!”
(Isaiah 49:3)

Shimon ben Shetach was a purveyor of flax.  His students said to him: Rabbi, reduce your labor,  let us acquire a donkey for you so that you will not have to carry the flax yourself!  They went and purchased a donkey for him from an Arab, and it turned out that a precious stone was hanging from the neck of the animal.  So his students said to Shimon ben Shetach: Rabbi, from this time forth you will not have to work at all!  Why? he asked.  “A blessing from the Eternal makes rich!” (Proverbs 10:22) they quoted, and they explained: We bought you a donkey from an Arab, and a gem was attached to it.  Did the man know this? he asked.  No, they said.  Go back and return it, he instructed them.  But is it not true—argued his students—that even those rabbis who believe that property stolen from a gentile must be returned are of the opinion that what a gentile loses can be kept?  Do you think, answered Shimon ben Shetach, that I am a barbarian?  I bought a donkey, not a gem.  I would rather hear, “Blessed is the God of the Jews!” than possess all of the wealth that is in the world.  As it turned out, when the jewel was returned to its rightful owner, that Arab proclaimed, “Blessed is the Eternal, the God of Shimon ben Shetach!”

From the faithfulness of flesh and blood do we know the faithfulness of the Holy One, blessed be He!

SHABBAT SHALOM!

Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman

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