Rabbi Finkelstein

FIRST ALIYAH- The almost innumerable commentaries on the Creation Account cited in chapter one of Genesis unite on the one most important factor as the crux of our existence. Hashem created the universe, ex nihilo, something out of nothing. Hashem preceded creation, and it is impossible for the human, no matter how gifted or educated, to understand the processes involved in bringing the universe into existence. The seven day account of creation is to be taken literally in the eyes of the Ramban, and in modern times by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The modern day attempts to reconcile science and Torah in regard to the origins of the universe are speculative, as the Talmud tells us in Chagigah that we do not have the capacity to understand what happened in Creation. In fact, the Mishna in the second chapter of Chagigah restricts the numbers of those who can engage in this study of Creation.

What we can indeed gather from the account in Genesis is the primacy of the role of G-d in creation, with informational points indicated in the accounts of the various days of Creation to enlighten us with an appreciation of the power of G-d  The book of Job in chapter 38 clearly declares that we are poor in knowledge as to the intricacies of Creation.

We are mindful of the opening remarks of the Ramban who analyzes the question posed by Rashi as to why the Torah begins with the Creation Account if it is a book of law and not history. The Ramban comments that obviously, the Torah should begin with the Creation Account, in order to declare emphatically G-d’s role in that creation. However, the Ramban then comments that perhaps one can adjust Rashi’s opening question, and contend that as the events that accompany creation are so esoteric and beyond comprehension, that they should be omitted and reserved for those few whom G-d has blessed with the intellectual and spiritual talents to understand what occurred 5781 years ago.

The Ramban parallels Rashi’s answer that the beginning of Bereshit, indicating G-d’s control of creation as a rejoinder against those who claim that the Jews stole the land of Israel, is really a statement that G-d owns the land of the world, and can determine who rightfully can live where. Therefore, the Jews were promised that land by G-d, and no human force can obviate that fact.

The Ramban then declares that on that basis cited by Rashi, that G-d does not only determine the Jews’ national home, but also determines through the machinations of history where nations will live, and for how long they will exist. Empires rise and fall. Regarding the Jews, however, though they will suffer the pangs of exile in their history, they will surely return permanently to the land of Israel that G-d has promised them.

SECOND ALIYAH- The two accounts of the creation of man in chapters one and two lead us to the famous explanation of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik regarding Adam I and Adam II, in that the first human being in the opening chapter of Genesis is an explorer, a scientist, examining his new world, and in chapter two, he becomes a philosopher, a moralist, in creating a community with his counterpart, Chava, who is introduced in the third Aliyah.. In chapter one, he is a conqueror, in chapter two, he has a responsibility to work the earth and to preserve and protect it. Though chapter two is referring to the Garden of Eden, the requirement to protect the earth is universal.

In addition, the nomenclature regarding G-d expands to include the Tetragrammaton, the four letters of G-d, yud and hay, vav and hay, as an indication of mercy and compassion. In the opening chapter, G-d is referred to as Elokim, Judge. Rashi explains that G-d wanted to create the universe with compassion as well as law, but restricted His creation to law.

With the introduction of man, G-d’s name adds the new element of compassion. The complexities of creation require unbreakable laws which some call the laws of nature. Man, on the other hand, who is also judged by G-d, requires compassion as well. The rabbis of the Talmud tell us that compassion is the underlying foundation of teshuva, return or repentance, that man can fall spiritually, but rise again with G-d’s forgiveness and mercy.

THIRD ALIYAH- With the introduction of Chava, or Eve, we see the transformation of Adam into a communicator. He must engage in a relationship with Eve, and take responsibility along with her in their failure to heed G-d’s word not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, despite the importunateness and enticement of the serpent to indeed cajole them to eat that fruit to become like G-d Himself. Intriguingly, the Seforno considers the account of the serpent to be an allegory referring to the evil inclination of Eve that entices her to consume the forbidden fruit and to have Adam eat it as well.

In reflecting on the interpretation of the Seforno, one can note that Eve’s statement that G-d has forbidden even the touching of the tree, which G-d did not command, as an indication of her internal struggle whether or not to obey the word of G-d. People rationalize their miscreant behaviour by attributing in a puerile way that G-d has unjustifiably forbidden activity that is impossible to control. Therefore, the sinner exaggerates the prohibition connected to the particular behaviour at hand, to justify violating it. From Eve’s exaggeration, the rabbis derive the concept, that one who adds, really subtracts.

On the other hand, Adam fails in his test of personal accountability by blaming Eve for his actions, when confronted by G-d. Failure to take responsibility for his actions in eating the forbidden fruit, results in his loss of power and prestige as a master of the earth. He becomes beholden to the conditions of the land he has to work, in which his hard labour does not necessarily translate into productive results. He can only eat that which he has produced with the sweat of his brow, and his work on the land may results in the sprouting of thorns and thistles. As a result of Adam and Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, they are banned from it, and are forced to move into the outside world.

FOURTH ALIYAH- The births of Cain and Abel are described in almost antonymous terms. The name, ‘Cain’ refers to the opportunity of acquisition, while the name, ‘Abel’, relates to the idea that all is nothing, similar to the opening statements of Ecclesiastes concerning the vanities of the earth. The conflict of names of the two sons of Adam and Eve becomes a conflict involving reality, when G-d accepts Abel’s offering, and rejecting that which is brought by Cain. In midrashic literature, we read that Cain, to whom land is everything, tells Abel to get off of his land, the whole earth, which Cain claims belongs to him. Cain then kills Abel.

Prior to the murder, G-d gives Cain an opportunity to engage in a process of Teshuva, in order to redirect his priorities in life, and not to give in to the sins of temptation and nefarious activity. Cain refuses to consider G-d’s offer, and kills Abel. After the murder, Cain refuses to take responsibility for killing his brother, but is given a temporary reprieve and is told by G-d to wander the earth.

FIFTH ALIYAH- As the last Aliyah begins listing generations of descendants of Cain, we read about those who develop the first primitive tools to be use for agriculture. We also meet Lemech and his wives, who according to Rashi, are treated differently, by and abusively by their husband.

SIXTH ALIYAH- Lemech inadvertently kills Cain. We read about the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve, and we also read what a rabbi in the Talmud calls the most important verse in the Torah. Chapter five begins with the words, ‘This is the book of the generations of Man.’ The Ramban comments that this phrase refers to the Torah itself to serve as a Halachic guideline for man to conduct his life properly.

SEVENTH ALIYAH- Promiscuity and theft run rampant in this new world of the descendants of Adam and Eve, prompting G-d’s comment that a drastic change has to be made to undo the damage made by man. While the Hebrew word reflects on G-d’s ‘regret’ in having created man, one must interpret the word used in the text to refer to a different approach G-d will take vis-à-vis man. Noah’s appearance in the last Aliyah of this parsha points to him, as the agent of G-d effectuating change.