Thoughts on B’reshit

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat the yearly reading cycle begins again with Parashat B’reshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8.[i] In this parasha we read the general creation account (chapter 1), the specific creation account of humankind (chapter 2), the apparent fall of humankind (chapter 3), the first incidence of fratricide (chapter 4), the genealogical records of humankind from Adam to Noah (chapter 5), and finally the most horrific words possible,

ADONAI said, “I will wipe out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the ground, from humankind to livestock, crawling things and the flying creatures of the sky, because I regret that I made them.” (Genesis 6:7)

These first six chapters of the book of Genesis are familiar to almost everyone, whether Jewish, Christian or non-affiliated with any kind of religion. Many other religions around the world have creation stories that ultimately end in a judgement account such as the flood (next week’s parasha). As I started to read this week’s parasha, I was asking HaShem to show me something different than the traditional teaching that accompanies this well-known passage. Then something caught my eye as it were.

Genesis 1:4 – God saw that the light was good. So God distinguished the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:6-7 – Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water! Let it be for separating water from water.” So God made the expanse and it separated the water that was below the expanse from the water that was over the expanse.

Genesis 1:9 – Then God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered to one place. Let the dry ground appear.” (Seas were separated from dry land.)

Genesis 1:14 – “Let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. (This is not the divine light of Genesis 1:4, but the created luminaries, sun, moon and stars.)

Genesis 1:20-24 – all living creatures, animal, sea, insects, etc. were created “according to their species…”

Genesis 1:26 – “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness!” (Whatever this is, it is unique and distinct from the rest of creation.)

In all of the above verses of creative activity, two things specifically stand out, singularity and totality. Individually everything was considered good, cumulatively they were very good. Throughout the creative activity, there is a cumulative whole in that each part is part of “creation” as a whole, but each part inside of that cumulative whole is separate, distinct, and unique. Each good in their own right, but all working together to be very good.

A number of years ago, while visiting Switzerland, we stayed with a Swiss family who quite happily held to no religious persuasion and were in fact proudly considered themselves secular Swiss. During one of our discussions, we compared the concept of unity as it related to the United States and to the European Union. Our hosts felt that the EU was a much better example of true unity than was the USA. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that the original rally cry of the EU was Unity in Diversity.

According to Wikipedia, “Unity in diversity is a concept of ‘unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation’ that shifts focus from unity based on a mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” [ii] It is not my intension at this point to argue the correctness of this definition or the potential problems that extreme diversities can cause, or the problems that could arise from blending diverse ideas or ideologies into a homogenous, uniform bucket of goop. However, I do believe that there is an important key in the above definition, which is the reality of “a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” Looking back at creation, if there were no differences, can we even begin imagine what type of existence there would be?

Before leaving the thought of diversity within a cumulative whole, think of Rav Shaul’s discourse to the believers in Corinth concerning the diversity within the physical body – as it compares to the diversity in the spiritual body.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body—though many—are one body, so also is Messiah. For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body—whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free—and all were made to drink of one Ruach. For the body is not one part, but many. If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” is it therefore not part of the body? And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” is it for this reason any less part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the parts—each one of them—in the body just as He desired. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts, yet one body. (I Corinthians 12:12-20)

Did Rav Shaul change his mind or adjust his doctrine when he wrote to the believers in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua,” (Galatians 3:28), thereby removing the distinctions he seems to be affirming in 1st Corinthians? Not in the least. In Corinthians, as exemplified in creation, Rav Shaul is affirming the distinctness of the parts of the body as they work together in a cumulative whole. In Galatians, he did not remove the distinction, rather he affirmed that regardless of, maybe even within, our distinctions we are all one in Messiah.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_in_diversity. Last accessed Oct. 3, 2018.

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