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The book of Genesis and new beginnings

10/23/2019 04:05:38 PM

Oct23

By Ofer Ben-Gai

The book of Genesis describes several new beginnings. It starts with a utopian creation in chapter one. God examines the creation and declares it tov (good) or tov  me’od (very good). There are no failures in this story. Next, we have a new creation story in chapter two. This creation story is not as utopian – humanity is put to a test it fails to pass. Humanity’s failures continue until God is so fed up that a total destruction in the form of a flood leads to a new beginning.
“This is the story of Noah” (Gen 6:9). Noah does not receive a readymade garden – he toils and plants one. But the planting of Noah’s vineyard does not happen until God recognizes the limitations of humanity and makes a covenant in which God tasks humanity with building and maintaining a civilization and God commits to avoid utter destruction.
Humanity fails again by a rapid adoption of technology in the building of the Tower of Babel (according to
Midrash, technological achievements and property were valued more that human life). God does not destroy humanity. This time, God disrupts their activity and forces a new beginning. This new beginning is the journey that Terach with his son, Abram, and Abram’s wife, Sarai, starts towards Canaan. Generations later, God and Moses find that the utopian revelation at Mount Sinai was followed by human failure to believe in the abstract and the human creation of the golden calf. The nation had to be rebuilt during 40 years of wondering and wandering.
New beginnings are what we now call history. Attempts to build utopias are bound to fail, and God recognizes the creativity as well as the imperfection of humanity. This is the same as parents recognizing that their children are not a replica of themselves, but their own beings, capable of learning from mistakes and failures and moving on to a new beginning.
(Inspired by Professor Eliezer Schweid’s article in the book
Opening the Week: Israeli Intellectuals Write about the Weekly Reading of the Torah).
Ofer Ben-Gai is a member of Temple Shalom.

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780