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  • Rabbi Skorka

Genesis

Updated: Oct 9, 2018


Having celebrated on Simchat Torah the ending of the annual cycle of Torah reading and study, immediately a new cycle now commences. The Torah’s words do not change, but its readers are in constant change. The passing of time and the added maturity it brings challenge us to discover new interpretations and new aspects of these ancient writings. These revelations from God to human beings, according to Jewish faith, will through the spiritual-intellectual exercise of studying them improve the human condition of each individual.


The Torah begins with the narrative of the creation of the Cosmos and has two different versions (one in chapter 1 and the second in chapter 2), or, according to some exegetes, there are complementary aspects of a single story (see especially in The Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s exploration of this issue). This opening Genesis narrative should not to be understood as a scientific description of the creation, despite the fact that some scientists have found coincidences between it and scientific discoveries and theories. Science is developing with the constant appearance of new theories, unlike the Torah which is immutable (if always also subject to new readings). What is this message? What is immutable? The first answer is that there is a Creator who has created everything from ex nihilo; there are not theogonic stories which describe the birth of the gods, nor are they stories of the wars of deities. There is only One God who with His words creates existence.


The second message is the centrality of human beings and their mission in the Universe. For them was everything created; only with human being does God maintain a relation of dialogue. After the description in Genesis 1 of the things that were created during each of the six days, the biblical text says that God observed everything and realized that it all was good. Only after the creation of human beings, does the text say that all of creation is very good, which in Hebrew reads: Tov Meod. Rabbi Simon (Bereshit Raba (Theodor-Albeck), Parashat Bereshit, Parasha 9, Dibur Hamathil: VaIaar Elokim Et Kol Asher ´Asa VeHine Tov Meod) teaches us to discover in the word Meod (very), that by changing the order of its letters, the word adam, human being can be made. He deduced from this that the human being is essentially good. But, in order to discover the word Adam in Meod requires an effort. An intellectual-spiritual labor is needed to find the intrinsic good which lies in each human being.

Beyond the many interpretations that could be given to the story of Adam and Eve´s eating of the forbidden fruit, one comes to the claim that the human being possesses the freedom to choose. God commanded him not to eat a certain fruit, but in doing so put into the human’s hands the possibility to choose to obey the commandment or to transgress it. The human being has to exert himself to choose the correct path and so transform God´s creation into the “very good.”


From the way in which it was written the verb that describes the action through which God shaped the human being, VaYYietzer (2:7), in which the consonant Y is repeated twice, the sages of the Talmud deduced (Berachot 61,a) that two Yietzarim –drives- has the human being, the one for good, the other for bad. With them he has to fight to build a reality which makes sense.


Freud ends his essay “Civilization and its discontents” (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur), which first edition was in 1930, saying:

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two ‘Heavenly Powers’, eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and with what result? (Translated from the German by James Strachey)

The final sentence was added in 1931 at the time that the totalitarian bloody regimes, with Hitler and Nazism at the head, began to be a notorious menace for the future of humanity. Freud, through a way absolutely different of that of the Genesis, but with a great humanistic dimension that unites him to it, reached the same dramatic question. What way will elect the human being?


The full name of Freud was Sigmund Shlomo, Shlomo in remembrance of his grandfather that lived in Buczacz, a little town in Galitzia with a famous illustrated Jewish community. These roots are conducting us to suggest that the great question raised by the father of the psychoanalysis regarding the fate of human being not merely by chance is coincident with that of the Torah.


Shabbat Shalom!

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