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A Taste of Torah: Weekly Commentary from the JTS Community

Parashat B'reishit 5767
Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
October 21, 2006     29 Tishrei 5767

This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS

Creation and the act of creating stand at the essence of Parashat B'reishit . It was Rabbi Jack Riemer, prolific author, scholar, and reviewer of Jewish books, who pointed out to me the connection between this week's parashah and the Hebrew word for health," bri'ut." Rabbi Riemer underscores the Hebrew root, bet–reish–aleph, meaning "create," which is found at the heart of bri'ut. What does it mean to be a healthy person? It is an individual who understands his/her role in creation — that is to say, it is one who creates who is healthy. Giving birth to creativity is indeed what sustains and perpetuates us. Thus, it comes as no surprise the extent to which we continually create new meaning and understanding out of our sacred text. One such instance of exegetical creativity is found at the beginning of the second chapter of Genesis. There we read, "The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array" (Genesis 2:1). Moshav Zekanim raises an interesting difficulty on this verse; why doesn't the text explicitly mention the sea as well? For it is only much later in the book of Exodus, Parashat Yitro which restates the text in a more appropriate way: "For in six days God made the heavens, the earth, and the sea, and everything in it and rested on the seventh day." How can we account for the absence of the waters of creation in this liminal verse of Genesis?

To illuminate our textual difficulty, Rabbi Matis Blum, author of Torah La'Da'at, explains, "Rashi writes, 'everything [that God created] was conditional and suspended until the sixth day, that is to say, the sixth of the month of Sivan in which the Israelites prepared themselves for the receiving of Torah.' All of creation was conditional on Israel accepting the Torah at Sinai." Far from understanding the creation of the world as an independent event, Rabbi Matis Blum and other traditional commentators before him seek to link the creation of the world with another significant moment in Israelite history — revelation. Creation could not and cannot be taken for granted. The physical chaos, which God succeeded in ordering to create the world in which we live, is reflected in the spiritual chaos of this world. God imposes boundaries on potentially destructive forces to create life; Torah imposes boundaries on human beings to similarly create light out of darkness.

The connection between creation and revelation is anything but trivial. This thematic bridge speaks to a profound truth. God plays an active role in willing the creation of the world. At the moment of revelation, the Israelites become active partners in creating a moral universe. Each is dependent on the other. Only by behaving in a moral, ethical, and responsible way can we nurture and sustain the physical world that God created for us.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Matthew L. Berkowitz


The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.