As we begin to study Torah from Bereshit בְּרֵאשִׁית once again, it is important to remember that it is God who reveals to man and not vice versa. There are more religions in the world today than we can count, one for every taste and each one is vying for position trying to tell us what God was really saying to us. No religion will satisfy God, only a relationship with him. People have many good ideas which sound good, but we need to get back with God is really saying. For example, we often hear the expression "God helps those who help themselves". It sounds good but God never said that. We read in Bereshit about man’s climb to reach and even substitute himself for God with the building of the tower of Babel. Man’s nature has not changed from the time of Adam. Our technology may be more advanced, but we have certainly not evolved.
Our God is not a Jewish God. He is the God who created the Jews. To me, the book of Genesis is more metaphorical than literal. It needs to be read and understood in the context of the people to whom he revealed the Torah, their nature, how they lived, their understanding of nature and who they were as a people. All these details are important when taking into consideration what God was trying to teach us.
There are many methods of interpreting the Torah. Our own sages use a method called PaRDeS, which is an acrostic for P’shat – the direct meaning Remez- the idea or the hint of what is being said, Drash- the teaching on the portion for practical application and the Sod- the mysterious or mystical which delves below the surface, the deepest revelation. Over these next weeks, in line with the theme "paradigm shift" which I began some time ago, I would like to look more into the Sod aspect of Torah, which we sometimes run away from.
In the early 1900’s, two great German theologians Graft and Welhauser taught what is known as Biblical Criticism. Biblical criticism, defined as the treatment of biblical texts as natural rather than supernatural artifacts, grew out of the rationalism of the 17th and 18thcenturies. To my mind, this method of interpretation destroyed the validity of the Torah as a divine book. The problem is that they were mere humans but their word is accepted as ultimate truth. This idea has permeated humanity today and is seen both and Judaism and Christianity through the liberals who believe that Torah is basically human wisdom. It is as if we humans have invented God. These two theologians developed the idea of the different sources such as: J.E.D.P (J or Yud stands for The Yahwist source, E or Aleph for the Elohim source, D for Devarim or Deuteronomy source and P for Priestly Source,) whereby each holds its own position and method to editorialize the Scriptures.
There is also textual criticism which is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand. All these methods of interpreting the Word of God has led us into more confusion than truth.
There is a term called “chiasmus” which is used in poetry where ideas are stated in parallelisms and the same thing is said two different ways. The Torah is filled with these types of repetitions. We see this in Genesis 1and 2 with the descriptions of the creation. It is important to consider this when trying to make broad statements that the Torah is a book of confusion and contradictions.
The Torah is holistic and we Jews have learned to speak in a circular fashion. Torah paints pictures for us with a broad stroke. For example, there are three portions in the book of Genesis which describe the history and future of the world. The first is from Adam to Noah, the second is from Noah to Abraham and the third is from Abraham to Jacob and his son Joseph. The picture depicted here is that man fails; God helps us and brings us back. Another is in the story of our three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, each depicting the life, past, present and future of the people of Israel. Abraham is the picture of our going to the Promised Land, Isaac is the one who never leaves the Promised Land and Jacob relates to Israel being born in the land, expelled and living as a foreigner in another land and returning in death awaiting a new life. All of these stories contain the final redemption of humanity, where God forgives man and renews humanity, bringing us back to the Gan Eden!
These are not linear stories; they are not black-and-white, but instead live in the gray areas. I hold the position that God is far more intelligent than man and we need to be more humble and admit that there are things that we simply do not know. God gave his Torah, his message to that generation but it transcends all generations meaning that it has application for us today. Instead of being literalist trying to dissect every word, (as is done in many schools) we need more to look at the application for our lives and to look at it for the larger picture that it paints for us.
Only when God is dwelling with us do things become clear. The Hellenistic mentality wants exact answers. This mentality needs to be doctrinally correct and think that they have all the truths (they are black or white and they are absolute!). It is God who saves, not doctrines.
How many times in your life have you needed to change directions? Sometimes we need to admit that we are on the wrong track and have to turn around. Apologetics and arguments don’t get us anywhere. Thank God that is in charge and even if we are on the wrong path, he will turn us around bring us back himself. God is very interested in having us walk correctly and is constantly reaching his arms out to us.
In Hebrew, there are two words – to give – לתת and – to take לקחת . God never asks us to give him anything. Instead, one of my Golden Nuggets is the understanding that he has already given us everything and he only asks us to take to him what we have been given by him. He provides everything. We are off the mark when we say that we are paying our tithes. He has provided all our income and only asks us to joyfully take a percentage to the altar.
A principle about Bereshit is that he created everything just for mankind to enjoy. It says first he created (Bar’a בָּרָא ) then he made (Asah עָשָׂה ). Man is to make use of what God created. We were created in the likeness and image of God. Likeness refers to our capability to think and to speak, characteristics which only humans have. It does not refer to shape or form since God has neither. Image refers to the fact that we have been given authority to govern over all his creation. We have been given the order to be sovereign and to care for all that he made.
There is so much to see in His Word that it is impossible in one hour to describe all that
He has to show us. For instance, have you thought about the fact that God created the grasses and the herbs on the third day while he created the sun and the moon on the fourth day? God is light and he is in control of everything that grows.
God gave us the seventh day to rest. He uses the word, mela’khto מְלַאכְתּוֹ , derived from angels מלאכים. The word salt is מלח – melach which the word salary was derived from salt a commodity in that day. God knows the nature of man and how he would be driven work seven days a week. He knows not only do we, but the animals a day of rest. What a beautiful gift to mankind. The Angels were created before man and it was most probably to the angels that he was speaking when he said" let us make man in our image." There is so much to say, on this subject alone and in the weeks ahead, we will be examining the layers that we have missed over the years, even after we have read these portions over and over.
Rabbi Shaul or Paul told us look into everything, examine everything, to search and to take what is good and to get rid of what is not. Like him, I do not believe in censorship. Religion teaches censorship. Let us start Bereshit again with an open mind, looking forward to a paradigm shift in our thinking.
May God add blessings to His Word
By Netanel Ben Yochanan
Tags: acrostic, bereshit, book of genesis, expression, jewish god, jews, nbsp, paradigm shift, pardes, practical application, religions in the world, revelation, rsquo, sages, shat, sod, taking into consideration, Torah, tower of babel, world today
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