Between the Lines—Bereishit

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

Midrash Temurah (Eisenstein, 583)

אוצר המדרשים (אייזנשטיין) תמורה עמוד 583

ומעשה שבא מין ואמר לר' עקיבא העוה"ז מי בראו א"ל הקב"ה, א"ל הראיני דבר ברור, א"ל למחר תבא אלי, למחר בא אצלו א"ל מה אתה לובש, א"ל בגד, א"ל מי עשאו, א"ל האורג, א"ל איני מאמינך הראיני דבר ברור, א"ל ומה אראה לך ואין אתה יודע שהאורג עשאו, א"ל ואתה אינך יודע שהקב"ה ברא את עולמו, נפטר אותו המין, אמרו לו תלמידיו מה הדבר ברור, א"ל בניי כשם שהבית מודיע על הבנאי והבגד מודיע על האורג והדלת על הנגר, כך העולם מודיע על הקב"ה שהוא בראו.

"God created" (Gen. 1:1) It happened that a heretic came to Rabbi Akiva and asked: "This world—who created it?" Rabbi Akiva replied: "The Holy One, blessed be He." The heretic said, "Show me clear proof." Rabbi Akiva replied: "Come back to me tomorrow." The next day, when the heretic came, Rabbi Akiva asked him, "What are you wearing?" The heretic replied, "A garment." Rabbi Akiva asked, "Who made it?" The heretic: "A weaver." "I don't believe you," said Rabbi Akiva. "Show me proof." The heretic: "What can I show you? Don't you know that the weaver made it?" Rabbi Akiva then asked, "And you, do you know that the Holy One made this world?" After the heretic departed, Rabbi Akiva's disciples asked him, "But what is the clear proof?" He replied: "My children, just as every house proclaims the builder, a garment its weaver, a [door] its carpenter, so does the world proclaim the Holy One, Blessed be He, that He created it."

If the ancients worried to prove God's existence, the challenge of Darwinian evolution posed an even greater threat: counterevidence to the biblical account of Creation. In the postmodern era, we Jews-in-the-center find ourselves oddly caught in the middle of a debate portrayed in the news media as between those who insist literally on the biblical account and those who reject it altogether. What the mainstream media misses is the nuance that distinguishes liberal Judaism: our willingness to embrace science and faith, to be intellectually honest and spiritually open.

Rabbi Arthur Green makes a bold claim in his recent theological work Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition. Opening with the claim that "the evolution of the species is the greatest sacred drama of all time," he writes:

With regard to "Creation," I understand the task of the theologian to be one of reframing, accepting the accounts of origins and natural history offered by the scientific consensus, but helping us to view them in a different way, one that may guide us toward a more profound appreciation of that same reality . . . We would understand the course of evolution, from the simplest life forms millions of years ago, to the great complexity of the human brain (still now only barely understood), and proceeding onward into the unknown future, to be a meaningful process. There is a One that is ever revealing itself to us within and behind the great diversity of life. That One is Being itself, the constant in the endlessly changing evolutionary parade. Viewed from our end of the process, the search that leads to discovery of that One is our human quest for meaning. But turned around, seen from the perspective of the constantly evolving life energy, evolution can be seen as an ongoing process of revelation or self-manifestation. We discover; it reveals. It reveals; we discover. (p. 20)

The reason-versus-faith construct is a false one; as Conservative Jews we should feel intellectually challenged by the former and spiritually inspired by the latter.