B'reishit, our first parashah in the Torah cycle, begins with the creation of the world. God creates the world in seven days, concluding with the first Shabbat. The parashah provides a second version of the creation story, in which Adam is created from the dust of the earth rather than as a result of a divine breath. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel out of jealousy and anger, and God sends Cain off to wander. Adam and Eve have another son named Seth, from whom Noah descends. Although God expresses disappointment with human corruption, God finds favor in Noah's character.
This week's selection, taken from the first aliyah, is God's assessment which follows the creation of the sixth day:
God then surveyed all that God had made, and look - it was very good!
And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (1:31)
On other days, God observes that the creation is good or at least acknowledges that creation indeed occurred. On the sixth day of creation, God pronounces that it is "exceedingly good" (Fox translation, Schocken Bible, 17). One possible interpretation is that the creation of human beings that occurred on the sixth day is unique when compared with the rest of creation. Humans are set apart from all of God's other creations, made b'zelem Elohim "in the image of God" (1:27). People are commanded not only to reproduce, but to "tame" or "master" the earth, "holding sway" over all the animals (1:28). Humans hold a unique position in that they have been granted a special relationship with God. In the Psalms we read, The heavens belong to God, but the earth God gave to humanity.(Psalms 115:16)
We might be led to believe that our mastery gives warrant for us to mold the world as we wish and to see the rest of creation's value as less significant than our own. Our egos, unique also to humanity out of all creation, may lead us to think that God's judgment of very good refers to us. Alternatively, imagine God as an artist, measuring decisions along the way, ultimately stepping back and positively viewing the final work. In this interpretation, God is not satisfied solely with human beings, but with the completeness and complementarity of Creation.
Commenting on Genesis 2:1: Completed now were heaven and earth and all their host, the Midrash teaches,
"Even those creatures that you may look upon as superfluous in the world, such as flies, fleas or gnats-they too are part of the entirety of creation. The Holy One effects God's purpose through all creatures, even through a frog or a flea" (B'reishit Rabbah 10:7).
Every element of creation serves God, not just people. Each one of God's creations is one building block in the total structure of the world, and without one piece, the structure would collapse. Lest we think that we are the only creatures on earth that can accomplish what God wants, we are to remember that even the seemingly insignificant fly and gnat also each have their own purpose.
Humans are indeed set apart. In one respect, humans are the pinnacle of creation, for the entire story to follow is of human-centered orientation! However, our blessing to master over the earth is to be understood as a statement of our responsibility as sentry over everything that has unique purpose. Among all God's creatures, we are the only ones capable of appreciating the moral value of the creation process. We do so every morning when we say the prayer that recognizes creation, the Yotzer. We praise God who "forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all," lessening the shock value of the verse from Isaiah 45:7, I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. The preeminence that humans have in creation is the unique ability to care for the rest of creation, to appreciate the scope, depth and sanctity of God's work, and ultimately to accept the responsibility of becoming co-creators of this world.
To Talk About
- God's role in the story of creation is not only to create, but also to appreciate each aspect of creation and approve of it. Why is it important to recognize good work, even your own? How do you do this?
- There are no creatures that do not have a function in creation. Choose one towards which you have negative feelings, and learn about it so that you can explain the important role it plays.
- In our commentary, we discussed several ways that humans are distinct from the rest of creation. In what other ways are we unique? What characteristics do we share with other creations?
The story in the first chapter of Genesis follows a pattern in which the first three days mirror the fourth through sixth days. Read through the chapter and illustrate the creation on each day. Try creating a collage on a sheet of 8.5x11" paper for each day and then cutting the paper into the shape of the number of the day it represents. In Hebrew, Sunday is called "a first day," Monday "a second day," and so on through Shabbat. Make each picture on the corresponding day and finish on or just before Shabbat. String the numbers together in a banner, bind them in a book or place them next to each other so that you can see how the second half of the story corresponds to the first half.
B’reishit, Genesis 1:1-6:8
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 18-55; Revised Edition, pp. 17-50;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 3-34