Seconds often make the difference between life and death and new technology makes the difference…
It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:
Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1): “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.
Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?
Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood and the builders of the Tower of Babel?
The fifty chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?
He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?
What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.
Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will, and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.
It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on the questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”
Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:
“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgment and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature.
“I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.”
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
In her diary, Anne Frank wrote words that provided hope for a humanity faced with suffering.
The Arizal taught this same approach, making the point that the Torah would never mention wicked people and their sins if there was not great depth involved from which we are to learn from.
Humility is not achieved when all is well and life is peachy but rather when times are trying and challenging.
In order to be free of the negative consequences of violating a shvu’ah or a neder, the shvu’ah or neder themselves must be annulled.
“I accept the ruling,” said Mr. Broyer, “but would like to understand the reasoning.”
He feared the people would have a change of heart and support Rechavam.
Ramifications Of A Printers Error
‘The Note Holder’s Burden of Proof’
Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.
In this case one could reason that by applying halach achar harov we could permit the forbidden bird as well.
“What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” my husband remarked. “Well, baruch Hashem we are safe, there was no accident, and I’m sure there is a good reason for everything that happened to us,” I mused.
The answer to this question is based on one of the greatest shortcomings of man – self-limiting beliefs.
Myth that niddah=dirty stopped many women from accepting laws of family purity and must be shattered
In every generation is the challenge to purge the culture of our exile from our minds and our hearts
Rabbi Fohrman connects the metzora purification process with the korban pesach.
Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat
Why should unintentional sins require atonement? What guilt exists when requisite intent is lacking?
Like Shabbat points to something beyond time, the people Israel points to something beyond history
The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will
Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron
With the synagogue, “Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion”
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/how-shall-we-live/2012/10/11/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: