Parshat Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)
This Shabbat, we begin again at Breishit. The feelings we sense when renewing our study of the Torah are complex. On the one hand, these stories are familiar to many of us. Many of us were tested on them in school. Perhaps, the stories were shared with us when we were in kindergarten. Some of us even hear them every time we go to synagogue on Shabbat. If so, what more can we glean from them?
Some of us might find reading and rereading the same texts year after year quite boring. Yet at the same time, it feels great to know that we can start everything anew. It reminds us of how we began a new year, after Yom Kippur, knowing that we will be leaving behind the passing year, with all its achievements and shortcomings, and focusing on shaping a new and better future for ourselves.
Similarly, when we study Torah and reread its chapters, our present encounter with the word of Hashem and the way it reveals itself to us today diverges from what we discovered or encountered in previous years. This might be the secret behind why we resume studying the weekly portions every year, starting with Bereishit. It’s about discovering that we can have a fresh start, not just in our personal lives or with our families, but in our Torah study as well.
Parshat Breishit centers on the story of creation, which lasted six days, and was followed by Shabbat. We find one frequently recurring expression in the description of the six days of creation: “And Hashem saw that it was good” (this expression is used at the end of each day of creation, except for Monday). Yet after the description of what occurred on Friday, the text states: “And Hashem saw all of what He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
If so, the world isn’t just good. It’s very good. Our rabbis also explained why the Torah uses the expression “very good” in the case of Friday, suggesting that “the qualities of man enhanced creation, because he is very good”. In other words, the entire world is good, but it also contains one unique creation, humanity, which, thanks to its abilities and qualities, surpasses all other creations, and as a result, is considered “very good”.
Only several verses later, we encounter the following sentence: “And Hashem, the Almighty, said ‘it is not good that man be alone. I shall make him a partner (ezer k’negdo).’” If, until this point, we had deduced that the world is perfect and that all creations are good, and that man is even “very good”, we now realize that this isn’t the case. Suddenly, Hashem, himself, testifies that there is one thing in His world that isn’t good – man’s solitude.
At this point, we are taken somewhat aback, for two reasons: Until now, we believed that everything was good, but now, we see that this isn’t so. Moreover, we had just read that “Hashem created man in His image, male and female did He create them”. The text explicitly states that Hashem created both a man and a woman, and immediately thereafter, he endowed them with the blessing of being fruitful and multiplying, and conquering the world. Now, all of a sudden, we discover that man was created as a solitary creature, that he wasn’t in such a good state after all, and that now, he would need to find an “ezer k’negdo.”
Some of our rabbis explained this by suggesting that when the text states that “male and female He created them”, this was simply a statement of principle, which would only materialize later on in the story. Indeed, they say, man was created alone, and his “ezer k’negdo” was created later. This, they say, is why it is only after both are created that Hashem says that everything is “very good”. Nonetheless, a simple reading of the text would indicate something else.
We might try to understand these verses like this: the description of “very good”, which Hashem uses to describe His world, demonstrates the Divine view of the world. The truth is that God’s hands made a perfect creation. Nature, abounding with flowers, trees, birds and beasts in a rainbow of colors and in many shapes and sizes, is stunningly beautiful. Humans, too, become a part of this natural diversity, and in so doing, they meet the definition of “very good”.
Man is a sophisticated creature, with his impressive cognitive, communicative, creative and administrative skills. Perhaps, man’s relationship with woman was created along with him, as part of nature, a system comprised of creatures coming in pairs. Yet for all other creations, the perfection of creation is achieved at the moment of their own creation and the assumption of their identities, while for humans, creation is only the beginning.
Man’s point of view is very different from that of the rest of creation. Man was, essentially, born into a world that is decidedly not “very good”. It is a world that needs fixing, a changing world, a world in which progress and creation form the cornerstone of man’s existence. To understand man’s role in the world, we must first look at the “not good” side of humanity. Unlike the rest of the world, which had already achieved its purpose simply by coming into existence, man begins his role when he realizes that he was born into a world that isn’t good, and that he is there to fix it.
The beginning of this “fixing” lies at the most fundamental part of the existence of humanity, namely, in the relationship between man and woman. Humans weren’t simply created as males and females just like all other creations, so that they could merely procreate and fill the world with new humans, who would sustain human existence. Man needs to build families, with an “ezer k’negdo”. Man and woman create a new reality together, which would also be founded on the differences and disputes between them. The “not so good” part of human solitude defines the main task that man was entrusted with – to reveal the goodness of building a family, as part of building a better world.
[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]