Admiration and Rejection: In the beginning – Ba Reshit בְּרֵאשִׁית Genesis 1:1-6:8

The first chapter of B'reshit, or Genesis, wri...

The first chapter of B’reshit, or Genesis, written on an egg, in the Jerusalem museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a week when the former Pope Benedikt calls Richard Dawkins a man of science fiction we can only marble by the arrogance that religion has shown across the board towards evolution.

The story B’reshit to me is both testimony to the anti-thesis to religion, as much as it owes the greatest respect for attempting a an admirable explanation of how the world came to be.

What I like most about it is the concept of stages, and the elements being there first, not that far from what we later new about evolution.  Yet this story is 1000s of years old, testimony to the human genius and in this case of Jewish  thought and tradition.

It also stands at the foundation of something one may still wish to call godly, the miraculous and rare accident of the solar system with the very rare blue planet.

But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.

But for a secular Jewish person, this is where it ends.  In god’s image we are all, because we are all components of biochemistry and atoms, along with all things in the universe.

Neither does God care, but more so, we should.  The accident is rare and so great, that we carry all God like responsibility to keep and maintain the blue planet.

“And the Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time.”

To put human conflict and lie right at the beginning of the story, first with Adam and Eve, and then with Cain and Able, the Torah puts much of the essence of human existence at the beginning of the book.  Another symbolic great strength.

It is also very interesting to learn that Adam may have been man and woman united and thst the word “rib”is a false translation.. Rather a whole psrt of Adam’s side became the first woman. Also that nowhere the Thora speaks of original sin. Adam and Chava receive their consequences equally, punished is only the snake. Chava does not get “painful pregnancies” but hard work in general and many pregnancies of sorrow ( suggesting all: a painful birth process, still-birth and child mortality before children live)..

Also fascinating are traces of Iraqi mythology (world created by a murder of a Goddess (Hebrew uses the word to translate as wild waters) and Greek mythology (divine beings mate with pretty human women, causing a reduction of human life expectancy in off spring in Greek mythology humans become superhumsn through the same – if only Chava had eaten from the tree of life rather from the tree of knowledge) read mor: Eskenazi & Weiss: The Thora, A Woman’ Commentary)

We also hear about one of Edens rivers coming from Kush, putting possible African locations (Nile) on the map next to the Euphrat, though there are big debates about Edens true locations not made easier by two streams in Israel having biblical names.

Overall we see that in the beginning there was peace and order, and then humans came along….

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Earthquakes are supposedly God’s rage. Kol Ha Moeid Sukkot. Ezekiel 38:18-39

English: earthquake focus

English: earthquake focus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So natural phenomena are assigned to godly powers, which are instituted against the invasion of Gog’s troops:

38:18 “On that day when Gog attacks the land of Israel, the heat of my rage will boil over…..  I declare there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel…”

Put in the context of its time, they may have had no other explanation for earthquakes, in deed most human societies had similar explanations.  So I take it as an anthropological and historical curiosity how ancient people understood this.  I am adamant that we as know better today how earthquakes come to be that we completely reject any claims on complete truth here.  We are in touch and privileged to consider ancient civilisations thoughts, but it is not more than that.

In deed the argument is continued n 38:22 when we read how troops will encounter torrents of rain, hail, fire and brimstone.  Not the least we know that earthquakes did occur and that volcanic activity was known of course also in ancient times.  To assume that God would just kill in order to prove himself, even would put the sword of each brother against brother,  or give the killed as food to the birds and others rather than make beautiful wonders to win people over is a rather disappointing thought.

Perhaps after wars and pests in deed birds and animals would pick on dead bodies.

We are then reminded again in Ezekiel 39 about the historicity of this passage.  The talk of bows and arrows can not be held accurate for some time and at best be understood metaphorical.  But clearly there was a time of bows and arrows.

One could imagine a competition of interpretation of natural phenomena.  Israel’s preferred way it is God’s punishment or rage against somebody.

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Jonah and the Whale.

Detail from a relief showing the story of Jona...

Detail from a relief showing the story of Jonah and the fish/whale. From the tomb of Albrecht Thumb von Neuburg (1554–1613) at the north side of the choir of the Peter- und Pauls-Kirche (Saints Peter and Paul church) in Köngen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. About 1615, artist unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of Jonah is finally a story we can say is but a story for telling sake.  We know that there could never have been a whale swallowing a man, not the least spitting a person out.  Whilst to some desert folk perhaps the story may have been credible, I think we can take the story as a metaphorical story, one that was not meant to be taken literal, but symbolical, such as our contemporary fairy tales, perhaps.

In such the story has great value. The fact that Christianity, Islam (Yanus) and Judaism value the story is no mistake.   Jonah is too self conscious.  He fears wat people may say should he say what God, after all had tasked him with.  God is taken as the certain truth.

He hides on a boat and a storm breaks out.  Only when he admits to his identity and asks as such to be thrown over board does the bad weather end, but he is subsequently swallowed by the whale.

Self-searching in complete darkness he comes to the conclusion to come true to himself and God.  This results in him being spit out, and he proclaims the message he is tasked with to Niniveh.

Yet after this the city repents, and his vision does not come true.

ג  וְעַתָּה יְהוָה, קַח-נָא אֶת-נַפְשִׁי מִמֶּנִּי:  כִּי טוֹב מוֹתִי, מֵחַיָּי.  {ס} 3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ {S}
ד  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה לָךְ. 4 And the LORD said: ‘Art thou greatly angry?’
ה  וַיֵּצֵא יוֹנָה מִן-הָעִיר, וַיֵּשֶׁב מִקֶּדֶם לָעִיר; וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ שָׁם סֻכָּה, וַיֵּשֶׁב תַּחְתֶּיהָ בַּצֵּל, עַד אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה, מַה-יִּהְיֶה בָּעִיר. 5 Then Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
ו  וַיְמַן יְהוָה-אֱלֹהִים קִיקָיוֹן וַיַּעַל מֵעַל לְיוֹנָה, לִהְיוֹת צֵל עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ, לְהַצִּיל לוֹ, מֵרָעָתוֹ; וַיִּשְׂמַח יוֹנָה עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה. 6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his evil. So Jonah was exceeding glad because of the gourd.
ז  וַיְמַן הָאֱלֹהִים תּוֹלַעַת, בַּעֲלוֹת הַשַּׁחַר לַמָּחֳרָת; וַתַּךְ אֶת-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, וַיִּיבָשׁ. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd, that it withered.
ח  וַיְהִי כִּזְרֹחַ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וַיְמַן אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ קָדִים חֲרִישִׁית, וַתַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עַל-רֹאשׁ יוֹנָה, וַיִּתְעַלָּף; וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ, לָמוּת, וַיֹּאמֶר, טוֹב מוֹתִי מֵחַיָּי. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die, and said: ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
ט  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-יוֹנָה, הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה-לְךָ עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן; וַיֹּאמֶר, הֵיטֵב חָרָה-לִי עַד-מָוֶת. 9 And God said to Jonah: ‘Art thou greatly angry for the gourd?’ And he said: ‘I am greatly angry, even unto death.’
י  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה–אַתָּה חַסְתָּ עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָמַלְתָּ בּוֹ וְלֹא גִדַּלְתּוֹ:  שֶׁבִּן-לַיְלָה הָיָה, וּבִן-לַיְלָה אָבָד. 10 And the LORD said: ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night;
יא  וַאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס, עַל-נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה–אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ-בָּהּ הַרְבֵּה מִשְׁתֵּים-עֶשְׂרֵה רִבּוֹ אָדָם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע בֵּין-יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ, וּבְהֵמָה, רַבָּה.  {ש} 11 and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?’

These are some great lines addressed to the self pity in all of use, the depressions of minor vulnerabilities that are blown out of proportion.  It is not unknown that people will act exactly as Jonah does.





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Moses dies וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה Ve Zot HaBeraha Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

The story of Moses ends here.  He can see the land promised to his forefathers but not enter it.  Once he has seen the land he dies, aged 120 years.

Mythology has it that we do not know his burial place.  One of the Rabbis I once listened to thought of this as wise.  Moses grave would have been subject to worship and battle.    One only thinks of the grave of Abraham.

Another point to is that great deeds like the exodus must not depend on personal finish, but the greater finish of the good for all.  One day perhaps we will see human missions to planets  that may advance humanity, but may not bring personal fulfilment to those embarking on the project.  But in much smaller ways too personal initiative should not be measured by personally getting to the finished accomplishment, if the direction taken can help many others.

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Re’he: ( רְאֵה ) Destroy those of other faiths in your land? Kill your family or friend?

You may look at those old texts of inspiration.  Little of that can be said of the passages in this weeks parasha, truly troublesome passages, which are showing clear bias and intolerance of others.  What’s more a licence to murder even one’s own daughter, wife or friend, or even slaughter the inhabitants of an entire town for the crime of worshipping other gods.

Once again we get a divine instruction to behave beyond acceptable norms.

We read in Deuteronomy 12.2 and 12.3

You must  destroy all the places where the nations, that you shall possess, worshipped their gods, upon the lofty mountains and upon the hills, and under every luxeriant tree. ב. אַבֵּד תְּאַבְּדוּן אֶת כָּל הַמְּקֹמוֹת אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ שָׁם הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹרְשִׁים אֹתָם אֶת אֱלֹהֵיהֶם עַל הֶהָרִים הָרָמִים וְעַל הַגְּבָעוֹת וְתַחַת כָּל עֵץ רַעֲנָן:
3. And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place. ג. וְנִתַּצְתֶּם אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתָם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם אֶת מַצֵּבֹתָם וַאֲשֵׁרֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ וּפְסִילֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶם תְּגַדֵּעוּן וְאִבַּדְתֶּם אֶת שְׁמָם מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא:

and then most astonishing: 13.7 a licence to kill family that goes to worship other gods:

7. If your brother, the son of your mother, tempts you in secret or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your embrace, or your friend, who is as your own soul saying, “Let us go and worship other gods, which neither you, nor your forefathers have known.” ז. כִּי יְסִיתְךָ אָחִיךָ בֶן אִמֶּךָ אוֹ בִנְךָ אוֹ בִתְּךָ אוֹ | אֵשֶׁת חֵיקֶךָ אוֹ רֵעֲךָ אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשְׁךָ בַּסֵּתֶר לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַאֲבֹתֶיךָ:
8. Of the gods of the peoples around you, [whether] near to you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; ח. מֵאֱלֹהֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתֵיכֶם הַקְּרֹבִים אֵלֶיךָ אוֹ הָרְחֹקִים מִמֶּךָּ מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ וְעַד קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ:
9. You shall not desire him, and you shall not hearken to him; neither shall you pity him, have mercy upon him, nor shield him. ט. לֹא תֹאבֶה לוֹ וְלֹא תִשְׁמַע אֵלָיו וְלֹא תָחוֹס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וְלֹא תַחְמֹל וְלֹא תְכַסֶּה עָלָיו:
10. But you shall surely kill him, your hand shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. י. כִּי הָרֹג תַּהַרְגֶנּוּ יָדְךָ תִּהְיֶה בּוֹ בָרִאשׁוֹנָה לַהֲמִיתוֹ וְיַד כָּל הָעָם בָּאַחֲרֹנָה:
11. And you shall stone him with stones so that he dies, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. יא. וּסְקַלְתּוֹ בָאֲבָנִים וָמֵת כִּי בִקֵּשׁ לְהַדִּיחֲךָ מֵעַל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:
12. And all Israel shall listen and fear, and they shall no longer do any evil such as this in your midst. יב. וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּן וְלֹא יוֹסִפוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כַּדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה בְּקִרְבֶּךָ:

not satisfied with that the passage gives licence to kill an entire town, starting at 13:

If you hear in one of your cities which the Lord, your God, is giving you to dwell therein, saying, יג. כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּאַחַת עָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לָשֶׁבֶת שָׁם לֵאמֹר:
14. “Unfaithful men have gone forth from among you and have led the inhabitants of their city astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods, which you have not known.’ “ יד. יָצְאוּ אֲנָשִׁים בְּנֵי בְלִיַּעַל מִקִּרְבֶּךָ וַיַּדִּיחוּ אֶת ישְׁבֵי עִירָם לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתֶּם:
15. Then you shall inquire, investigate, and ask thoroughly, and, behold, it is true, the matter is certain, that such abomination has been committed in your midst: טו. וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְחָקַרְתָּ וְשָׁאַלְתָּ הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּקִרְבֶּךָ:
16. You shall surely strike down the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroy it with all that is in it and its livestock, with the edge of the sword. טז. הַכֵּה תַכֶּה אֶת ישְׁבֵי הָעִיר הַהִוא לְפִי חָרֶב הַחֲרֵם אֹתָהּ וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּהּ וְאֶת בְּהֶמְתָּהּ לְפִי חָרֶב:
17. And you shall collect all its spoil into the midst of its open square, and burn with fire the city and all its spoil, completely, for the Lord, your God; and it shall be a heap of destruction forever, never to be rebuilt. יז. וְאֶת כָּל שְׁלָלָהּ תִּקְבֹּץ אֶל תּוֹךְ רְחֹבָהּ וְשָׂרַפְתָּ בָאֵשׁ אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת כָּל שְׁלָלָהּ כָּלִיל לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָיְתָה תֵּל עוֹלָם לֹא תִבָּנֶה עוֹד:

Debt remission is to occur after seven years, however the passage takes exception to foreigners:

Deut 15. 3 “From the foreigner you may exact; but what is yours with your brother, your hand shall release.

Haftarah Isaiah 54:11

The kind of talk in any religious texts, follow me and any one who attacks you wil fall and be defeated.

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More rebellion! Num: 16:1- 18:32 Korach | קֹרַח

English: Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abira...

English: Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not surprising, following the former chapters, even the biblical characters question MosesKorah, Abiram  and Dathan went to Moses and said:  You have gone too far!  We are all holy, why do you raise yourself above anyone else?

“We will not come! Is it not enough flowing of milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us? Even if you would have brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possessions of fields and vineyards, should you gauge out those subordinate eyes?  We will not come!” 16:12-14


Moses orders the community congregate for the next day.  There he holds a speech how wicked the three are and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up  with their households, all of Korah’s people and all their possessions.  They went down alive into Sheol

There are a few things here,  Significantly Moses has one night to prepare perhaps a covered ditch of some sort, or to set up a camp in a place of quick sand where the accused are asked to stand. Another problem here is the word Sheol.  It means underworld.  It stems from a time when people believed in a heaven above and hell below.

The story continues with the killing of another 250 people through the incense fire, and then a plague comes over the people killing 14700 people.

The passage ends with specialness relating to first born male children. This can not be deemed appropriate given the achievements of equality in modern times.

Haftarah is Samuel I 11:14-12:22

In this reading Samuel prays to God for rain, to proof God exists, and “the eternal sent thunder and rain that day!” You better believe it!


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שְׁלַח-לְךָ Shlach L’cha Num. 13.1-15.41 Moses: Do as I say!

English: Moses and the Messengers from Canaan,...

English: Moses and the Messengers from Canaan, by Giovanni Lanfranco, oil on canvas, 85-3/4 x 97 inches, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emissaries are sent into the promised land by Moses to inspect it.

After the emissaries return from their inspection of the promised land the message is mixed.  The first message is that the people who live there (Nephilim, Anakites) are too strong to enable the Israelites to settle there without being defeated (“we look like grasshoppers to ourselves”).

As a result of this message there is a night of moaning and crying amongst the entire people:

“if only we would have died in Egypt or in the wilderness.  Why is the Eternal one taking us to a land where we will die by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken off!  It would be better if we go back to Egypt! And they said to another, let’s go back to Egypt! And Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembled Israelites” (14.1-15.1)

When other emissaries Nun and Caleb state that the land is good, one of milk and honey (indicating good pasture and agriculture riches) the anger of the Israelites remains standing, and they threaten to stone the two men.

Moses pleads with God whose patient has run out.  God wants to leave the people, but Moses says of you do that then all will say there is no God behind their names, or not a strong one.  God, slow to anger, it says here, pardons the people, but punishes them with the penalty of that nobody of the entire generation is to see the promised land except Caleb and Nun.

But when Moses announces this to the Israelites it sounds like his speech rather than Gods (it was presumably all along, with God being the metaphysical metaphor or authority).  He says that God says:  None of you shall enter the land in which I swore to settle you, but your carcasses shall drop in the wilderness, and your children wonder for 40 years because of your inequities, a year for each day that you scouted the land.

The emissaries who reported about the land as being difficult to take then die of the plague, whilst the others survived.  Punishments by God. But more probably they were poisoned to deal with voices that fall out of line.  Nun and Caleb are the only who are left.  Supposedly the picture was one of people that were settled in the ancient land and it was much more forest about than the current contemporary landscape that was to become biblical Israel, and other parts were desert.

Moses using fear rather than persuasion through logic and information.

Somehow the speech and poisoning seem to have worked.   Now a group of Israelites want to go right now to take the land.

Moses warns them.  This he calls a transgression of the Lords words just uttered, and he warns them you will die at swords of the Amalkites and Caanites.  And this is what happened.

Presumably putting things together Moses did think moving into the land was too early.  Presumably the perished emissaries were correct and what we see here is

1.) An attempt to buy more time in order to prepare for the taking of the land and 2.) an attempt to restore authority and control. If this is true, Moses is not an honest leader but relies on leading by decree and fear rather than by informed and wise consent, like saying:  “OK the land is good but the people are strong, lets prepare!”

Presumably Moses does not know exactly what lies ahead.  His reliance on fear is perhaps an expression of his own insecurity.  As long as people fear me as the prophet of God they will do as I say, because perhaps the most logical and certainly most popular demand here is to go back to Egypt.

Yes its a Jewish story from the Tanah:  Another Stoning!

The reading ends with an episode no better than what was said of the fundamental ways of the Taliban not so long ago.  A man is found collecting wood on Shabbat:

15.35 – 36:  “Then the Eternal said to Moses:  “This fellow shall be put to death:  the community leadership shall pelt him with stones outside the camp! So the community leadership took him outside the camp and stoned him to death – “as the Eternal had commanded Moses.”

The Eternal One is so powerful he needs man to punish another man?  Surely this is a human killing another human on his own behalf, washing his conscience clear by claiming it was God’s will.” If God is all powerful surely he would not need a human to do the job of killing on his behalf?

At th every end comes the instruction for tzizit, fringes at the need of the garment, throughout the ages.  This simple custom of dress code, important in days of cultural distinction in the Middle East (there are other examples of tassels worn by people there) is taken as as divine decree by religious Jewish people until today.

Haftarah: Joshua 2:1

Joshua son of Nun (see earlier) sends two spies to explore Jericho.  The kind of Jericho somehow hears about this and looks for the men.  These seek refuge with Rahab, a prostitute, who hides them, and lies to the kings troops.   The story here seems to be that a prostitute, even though biblically illicit, can still be worthy of noble acts. It is a contradiction with regard to the laws of the Israelites, but because Rahab is not an Israelite but a stranger.  She is heard saying that we have heard that this land is promised to you by your God and how the eternal one dried up the Sea of Reeds when you were leaving Egypt.  She bargains, that when the Israelites take over Jericho, her family be spared in return of her hiding the men.

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