Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’resheet – Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

The Hebrew language is characterized by remarkable conciseness, which allows information to be conveyed in very succinct forms.  Along with that, it is also a very picturesque language, and often content and form (in the Tanach, especially) are congruous. Thus, this first Parasha, being as it is, a narrative of the origins, is replete with information, eternal patterns and principles, yet all are communicated very briefly, with matching terminology.  In fact, the latter deserves individual attention.  Although this time we will not cover the full gamut of terms included in Parashat (“Parasha of”) B’resheet, in the weeks to come some of them will show up in other Parashot, and it is then that we will try to do them justice. 

God’s name appears here as the composite “Elohim,” of the root “el” meaning “strong, mighty, powerful.” Elohim is in the plural form, a fact which lends the word much greater dimensions. But in addition to that, Elohim includes “El,” which is another word for God, as well as “Eloha,” yet one more word, of the same root, for the Almighty.

B’resheet is both the name of the first Parasha, and the name of the book of Genesis. “B’resheet bara Elohim…” At the first –b’resheet - created - bara – Elohim - God. The meaning of r’sheet is “first, beginning, start and prominence” and it stems from the root (resh, alef, shin) - “head.” (Notice the river in 2:10 that comes out of Eden and divides into four streams. The latter are also called here “heads”). The usage of this phraseology, therefore, establishes a foundation that the prime and first cause is Elohim, who is the initiator of everything.  In Colossians 1:16, 18 it says of Messiah Yeshua: “For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth… He is also the head of the Body… and He is the beginning… so that He might come to have first place in everything” (italics added).  This above passage indeed exhausts “r’sheet” to its fullest.  Interestingly, the very first 3 letters which constitute the Bible’s opening word, “b’re(sheet)” are also the same as the ones that make up the next word, “bara,” which is “created” (the letters being bet, resh, alef). Thus, “created” appears twice in a row in the very beginning of the Holy Writ, as if to add an extra emphasis to the fact that Elohim is truly the Creator. Note that the verb “bara,” to “create,” refers exclusively to the Creator, and never to man. The adjective for “healthy” or “fat” – “bari” (such as in Gen. 41:2; Jud. 3:17) also stems from the same root, as do verbs such as, to “clear up” an area (e.g. Josh. 17:15, 18), and “eat” (2nd Sam. 12:17); the latter two being almost contrary to each other. This, as well as other connected verbs, points to the act of creation as being multi-facetted. In fact, the primary meaning of “bara” is to “release the varying elements or materials so as to enable them to exist, materialize, express themselves, or grow.” 

The initial and foundational act of creation culminates with, “And Elohim called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (v. 5).  This “one day,” rather than “first day,” is “yom echad” unlike the rest of the days, which are termed, “second, third…” etc. Since “echad” -  unity of plurality – is such a significant term, and is attached to Elohim’s nature (“hear Oh Yisrael, YHVH our Elohim is ‘one’) its usage here may point to the Presence of Elohim in the creation process, underscoring the fact that the “one day” will continue to accompany the creation of each of the subsequent days.  

 The act of creation involved processes of separation.  Elohim separated light from darkness (Gen. 1:4); water from water (vv. 6, 7).  He created the lights in the heaven to separate the night from the day (v. 14-16, 18), and the seasons one from the other.  He also distinguished between the different types of flora and fauna (vv 11, 12), between man and woman, and finally between the weekdays and the Shabbat.  The verb used for separating is “havdel” (of the root b.d.l, bet, dalet, lamed), to “divide or separate.”

But when He separated the water from the land (or brought forth the land from the water), Elohim said: “Let the water under the heavens be gathered - yikavu - to one place” (1:9).  A “mikveh” is therefore a place of the gathering of water and stems from the root, k.v.h.(kof, vav, hey), which is also the word for hope.". Each time we read in English “wait for the Lord,” the verb in Hebrew is “kaveh.” Thus, our hope is found while we are being gathered to Him who is our Mikveh: “Oh YHVH, the hope ("mikveh," here, rather than the standard "tikva") of Israel… “ is the cry of the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) in 17:13.  According to Romans 6:3-5, we have been immersed into Him, which makes Him the mikveh (place of immersion), “for in hope we have been saved” (Rom. 8:24 italics added). Our hope, then, lies in the fact that we are in Him, and He is in us, and therefore we walk now in new life (see Rom. 6:4;  John 17:23) as a new creation.  Thus the "mikveh" stands for a place of being gathered to, and for 'immersion in hope,' seen both in the act of creation and in the act of the spiritual re-birth.

The progressive process of creation renders each day's accomplishment a preparation for the one that would follow.  And whereas above we touched on the 'separation' aspect of creation, here we see its integrative aspect.  Separation and integration, though seemingly mutually exclusive, actually work hand in hand and are typical of the Hebraic mind and character, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the first and second chapters of the Bible.

Although each day's creative work was different from the next, the days were separated one from the other in an identical manner, by an evening and a morning.  This set the pattern for the days that were to come, which unlike the days of creation, would be identical or similar one to the other.  The day began in the evening - erev - and it is interesting to note that among its many meanings, “erev” also means a “pledge” or a “guarantee.”  Thus, the promise of the day to come is found in the twilight of its predecessor.  “Boker,” "morning," is another word rich in diverse meanings, one of which is to “inquire, frequent or visit,” connoting concern and care (see Ezk. 34:11,12). Once again, there is an assurance for things hoped for from the One who is in charge of Time and who operates within it (e.g. Jer. 33:25, Lam. 3:22), as is apparent from 2:2. Elohim is seen there “resting” (after having completed His work), while the word in Hebrew is “sha’va’t” of the root sh.b/v.t* meaning to "cease, and is similar to the root - to "sit.” It is this root which also forms the word “Shabbat.”

As for the pinnacle of creation, man and woman, they were created "in the image and likeness" of their Creator (v. 26).  “Image” is "tzelem" - from the root “tzel” which is a “shadow.” At best a human being may reflect the Almighty in the same way a two dimensional shadow 'represents' (as a shadow) a three-dimensional object. “Likeness” is “d'moot, which contains the word “dam”  – "blood" (from which are derived words such as “adama” for “earth,” “adom” for “red” and “adam,” of course, for “man”).  Here we see a clear connection to the Messiah, who incarnated in a flesh and blood body as the “Last Adam.”  Man and woman were created different and at different times, yet “in the image (tzelem) of Elohim created He him, male and female created He them” (v. 27). Once again we see differentiation and oneness together.  He - man - was created both male and female, and likewise the male and the female together reflect the "tzelem" of the one Elohim. In 2:24 we read that they were to become “one flesh,” and yet that could only take place after woman was taken out (separated) from man’s own body (ref. 2:21). The woman’s formation was totally different than that of the man. Not only was she formed from the rib taken out of Adam’s side, but that act of formation is called “building” – va’yiven – literally, “and He [Elohim] built the rib which He took from the man, into a woman…” (2:22).

One more point concerning this union: In 2: 18, 20 the woman as the "help suitable" (as translated in most versions) for man, is actually described as a help “contrary or opposite” to him – “ezer ke’negdo” (“neged” being “in front of” or “opposite to”).  Originally, Chava* (Eve) was to be Adam’s counterpart, compatible to him. The two were to complement one another as two opposite forces do, attracting and polarizing at the same time thus creating life-giving energy.  

In the last verse 2:25 we read:”And they were both naked ("aroomim"/plural), the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.  In 3:7 a major change takes place, and so we read: “And the eyes of the two of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed for themselves girdles of fig leaves.” The man and his wife made for themselves coverings from the leaves of a fig tree. The latter hints at their attitude, as the word for “fig” - t'ena – is closely related to “to'ana” which is a “pretext” or “looking for excuses.” In Shoftim (Judges) 14:4 Shimshon (Samson) is seen looking for such a pretext or “an occasion against the Philistines.”

Chapter 3 verse 21 says: "And He clothed them, - va’yalbishem, the root being, which is the verb for to “dress” and also forms the word for “clothes, garment ” –“ l’vush or malbush. In chapter two’s last verse (25) we were told, “the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed,” the verb for “being ashamed” (plural) being “yit’boshashu” of the root Thus, although of no etymological connection, because of the similarity of consonants some rabbinical interpretations connect “l’vush” - garment - to “bosh” - “shame” (remember the b and v sounds are interchangeable), as indeed the garment’s purpose was to meet the need aroused by the shame of nakedness.

In the last episode depicting our protagonists, we see them being sent ("expelled" in Hebrew) out of the Garden, but not without a hint of a hope.  East of Eden, Elohim placed the Cherubim and the two-edged ("revolving") sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life (ref. 3:24).  This image conjures up another - one in which Cherubim were also placed above a "sword," that is the sword of the Word (see Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), in the form of the tablets written by Moshe (Moses). These tablets were placed in the ark, above which two Cherubim were instated.  Is this a subtle picture, inserted into the somber scene of the expulsion, of a future Holy of Holies where atonement (covering) was to be made? Once the Holy of Holies (through the ultimate atonement) became accessible to all, so did the way to the Tree of Life, through Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The post-Edenic life was very different from that which Adam and Chava had experienced prior to their act of disobedience – this is evideneced by the life of their progeny. The story of Kayin and Hevel demonstrates the immediate results that followed the great transformation which took place in man’s disposition. In fact, the description of the events in chapter 4 is replete with linguistic connections to the previous chapter, a fact which illustrates the direct link that the parents’ actions and attitudes had on their posterity. Let us follow a little chart of such comparisons, in literal Hebrew translation.
 Chapter 4                                              Chapter 3       
v. 2 Cain was a tiller of the ground           v. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
                                                                  till you return to the ground from which you were
v. 7 If you do well you will be ‘carried,’   v. 13 and the woman said, the serpent caused me to
but if you do not do well, sin crouches      be ‘carried’ [in sin], and I ate 
at the opening and to you is its desire,       v. 16 and to him [your husband] is your desire, and
but you will rule it.                                    He will rule you.
v. 9 Am I my brother’s keeper?               Chapter 2:15 ; and YHVH Elohim took man and                 
                                                                put him in the garden, to till and keep it.

v. 10 The voice of your brother’s blood    v. 10 I heard your voice in the garden and was
is crying to Me from the ground                afraid.

v. 12 When you work [till] the ground      v. 17 Curse is the ground for your sake, in sorrow
it shall no longer yield its strength to you    you shall eat of it
                                                                v. 23 And YHVH Elohim sent him out of the
                                                                  garden of Eden to work the ground from which
                                                                  he was taken.
 v. 14 You have driven me out today from
the face of the ground/earth and I shall
be hidden from Your face                           v.8 A man and his wife hid from YHVH Elohim
                                                                  v. 10 And I was afraid, because I was naked and
                                                                  hid myself.
16 And Cain went out from the presence      v. 24 and He [YHVH] drove out the man and 
 of YHVH and dwelt in the land of Nod        placed cherubim at the east of the garden of
east of Eden.                                                Eden.

Finally, let us follow the genealogy of the forefathers as listed in chapter 5. The names form the 
following: Man (Adam) is appointed (Shet) mortal (Enosh) sorrow (Keinan).  One who 
praises God (M’halal'el) will come down (Yared), teaching (Chanoch) that His death 
will send (Metushelach), the hidden king (Lemech, whose name contains the three letters 
for king, but not in the right order), and rest (No’ach). 

* B and V sound are denoted by the same letter – bet
* The “ch” consonant sound is the same as the “ch” in the Scottish “Loch.”