Friday, October 17, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’reisheet 5775–One Favorite Things (not a typo!)

A few days ago on Facebook, a friend posted a request for people to list their favorite verses of Torah. It generated many interesting (and many predictable) responses. (The author of the post compiled the answers on Sefaria and you can find them here.

I’m not fond of being asked to name a favorite anything. (The title of this musing is NOT a typo. Read on.)I like many things, even, and especially, in the same genre.(As Oscar Hammerstein II put it, “these are a FEW of my favorite things.” He understood.) Like many things in my life, the things I like, and the order/priority of my liking them can and does change regularly. Some might accuse me of being disloyal. If you won’t pick one, pick a few, and stick with them.Sorry, I can’t (and won’t) do that. Others argue that if I truly liked something, or it made a significant enough impact on me, I would always remember it and it would always appear in my list of favorites. Not so. Our minds don’t work like that. We cannot call up data as directly as we can from a computer’s digital memory. Our memories are more like a web, with all sorts of factors influencing which paths our thoughts travel collecting the data of memories. Internal and external factors can greatly influence how, on any given day, at any given moment, I construct a list of favorite things in any topic.

Luckily for me, I happened upon the thread on Facebook long after others had posted. Some of them posted verses that I would consider among my favorites, and might have posted myself. I decided to behave and not be my usual gadfly self, protesting at being asked to list one favorite. I just listed one. It is, indeed, one of my favorites, and here was the perfect opportunity to share it. In point of fact, there were several occasions over the past few weeks when I referred to this verse – with adults and with youth. I’ve even written about this verse before, back in my 5761 musing.I wrote then:

How ripe Bereshit is.

Simple but powerful messages.

G”d creates. G”d punishes. G”d saves. Failure to obey has a price. Humans can overcome and survive tragedies. Humans can and will kill each other. One day in seven is set aside to honor the one who created us.

But there is for me, no more powerful statement in all of Bereshit than this:

Even after the pain and torture of having one son murder another, Chava was willing to have the faith to have another child.

That simple statement of faith means more to me than almost any other I know of. It is a lesson for all of us.

Here is the verse to which I am referring:

וַיֵּדַע אָדָם עוֹד אֶת־אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ שֵׁת כִּי שָׁת־לִי אֱלֹהִים זֶרַע אַחֵר תַּחַת הֶבֶל כִּי הֲרָגוֹ קָֽיִן

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and she called his name Seth, because
El-him gave me another seed in place of Abel, because Cain slew him.

We’re told, a few verses later, that Adam later had other sons and daughters, but they are not named. (There’s an opportunity here for a fascinating digression. The Torah is replete with geneaologies, including Cain’s. Why does the Torah only mention Cain, Abel, and Seth? Another story to write some day? Adam’s other children. Rife with possibilities and opportunities for some modern midrash. If I’d thought about it sooner, I might have suggested we welcome Adam and Chava’s other children in our Sukkot as ushpizin! Next year I must remind myself to do just that. For now, we’ll leave this loose thread un-pulled, lest this whole musing unravel.)

(Wait a minute. I can’t do that. I have to stop and imagine for a minute just how Adam and Chava’s other children and their descendants might feel at being left out of the Torah. A chopped liver reference comes to mind.

There is a possible explanation in verse that follows 4:25.

וּלְשֵׁת גַּם־הוּא יֻֽלַּד־בֵּן וַיִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ אֱנוֹשׁ אָז הוּחַל לִקְרֹא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָֹֽה

and to Seth was also born a son, and he called his name Enosh; It was then that he began to call out in the name of Ad”nai.

It was with Enosh’s generation that worship of Ad”nai began. Adam and Chava’s other children don’t matter because they were not among those who did so. At least, that’s one possibility.

But wait! Cain gets a genealogy. He may be cursed, but his line is reported in 4:17-24, just preceding our verses.

The Hebrew of verse 26 is tricky as well. Most translations try to gloss over the Hebrew by translating a verb that is 3rd person masculine singular (i.e., he, or it) as a collective or plural. The implication is that this is the time when all people began to worship G”d. The Hebrew doesn’t quite say that, at least not plainly. Me, I’m all in favor of following the principle of lectio difficilior potior – the more difficult reading is stronger (i.e. preferred.)  Thus I’ve left the translation as “he began to…”  He could refer to Enosh, but one could also substitute “it” giving the words a potentially more universal feeling – as in “It was then that it was begun to call out in the name of G”d.” That leaves a little mystery.

Perhaps we avoid the issue of a genealogy of Adam and Chava’s other children to help us avoid other obvious glaring questions like “where did Cain’s wife come from?” The rabbis answer this by saying Cain had a twin sister and Abel had two twin sisters. Some modern scholars suggest that the “author” of the Torah wasn’t concerned with other “people” that may have already been around when G”d created Adam and Chava. The Torah never specifically states that G”d only created Adam and Chava. This is the creation story of the Israelite community, and only concerned itself with that particular narrative and the people that mattered to it. That’s also another possible explanation for why there are no genealogies for Adam and Chava’s other children. They just weren’t a part of “our” story. This can also be coupled with the argument made by some that Torah does not specifically state that G”d covenanted only with the Abraham and thus the Israelites. Other covenants with other peoples remain a possibility. They are just outside the scope of Torah. This argument is further bolstered by the apparent insertion of a more universalistic creation narrative at the beginning of the Torah before the Adam/Chava creation narrative. Few scholars doubt the Adam/Chava story is the older of the two. Scholars believe the opening creation story was added later. Some are bold enough to suggest that Gen 1:1-2:3a was potentially added during Babylonian exile. I’m not sure I agree, but it is a thought-provoking idea.

So let’s add to our list of missing voices in the Torah those of the other children of Adam and Chava. Time to move on.

Back to Adam and Chava’s choice (hmmm-was it a choice for both of them?) to have another child after Cain slew Abel. This takes tremendous courage. It’s easy to write this off as simply normative in ancient times. (It is still true today among more traditional Jews. Having children is a mitzvah, not to be taken lightly. ) After all, children died all the time. (Wait a minute – if indeed Adam and Chava were the only people on earth, how would they know this? Then again, all they knew as p’ru u’vru.)  However, this was a murder. Their child took the life of their other child. The grief must have been unbearable. Yet they soldiered on.

There are many possible explanations for their choice, some of them quite mundane and pedestrian . The Pollyanna in me wants to hold on to the more beautiful and hopeful understanding of the choice that Adam (and Chava?) made. Adam and Chava could have decided to not have any more children. If their children were capable of such horrible things, why bring more into the world? is this only a modern sensibility? I’m not sure.

This one verse has provided more than ample fodder upon which I can muse. The same could be said about any number of verses in the Torah. I have a whole year of them to which I shall look forward. I can’t wait to get started.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'reisheet 5774 - Toldot Adrian
B'reishit 5773 - Mixing Metaphors
B'reishit 5772 - The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B'reishit 5771 - B'reishit Bara Anashim
B'reishit 5770 - One G"d, But Two Trees?
B'reishit 5769 - Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors
B'reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D'mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd's Regrets
Bereshit 5762--The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763--Striving to be Human
Bereshit 5761--Chava's Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand

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