I’ve been wondering for many years what prompted the definitive statements of the Tanach. It’s very easy, in fact almost effortless, to say, “God told me so.” Why did He speak to you and no one else? Wouldn’t it be better to say most of these statements were attempts to bring about some civilized society among Jews and the proof was “God told me so.” If you didn’t have rules and regulations pertaining to the worth of human life, what would prompt people to abstain from violence? It’s much easier to accept the verse, “uproot the evil among you.” If I have a bat in my hand or, in later times, bows and arrows, spears, and of late, guns, and engage their power, it’s a natural thing to use that power. We may say it’s beyond reason, but it’s not beyond nature. Some realized: If you’re going to have any kind of society, the society needs brakes, some force that says “stop” when you’re ready to destroy. I think that’s the beginning of the dialectic.
Read carefully the Cain and Abel story and think about the passage where God says to Cain, “Misdeeds lurk at your door enticing you and seducing you.” You can, if you want to, say “no thanks” and follow another path. In other words, it’s in our power as humans to put a halt to the negative and the destructive in human society.
From my reading of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Tanach, the human is God’s representative on Earth who has been given the task of making sure that the Earth stays whole and that its potential is realized. It’s a simple statement, but its ramifications go deeply into the very psyche of the Human. To us, if we accept this Biblical notion as reality and not as the figment of someone’s imagination, we humans have tremendous power. But, as the voice of Adonai says to Cain, the opportunity for going one way or another lurks at your very door. The choice is yours. All of Scripture is but an example of this thesis applied.
We plan in this composition to address our proposition and try bit by bit to show its application and its success or failure.
Let us begin at the beginning. According to our sages, we should read the first verse in Genesis, or as it is known in Hebrew, B’rayshit, as follows: “With Rayshit (another word for Torah), God formed or created the Universe—the skies above and the earth below.” Now, assuming there was a document prior to Creation that the Creator consulted, we are faced with the possibility that this document was a summary of all other attempts at creation prior to the one in which we are living. It can also be Scripture’s way of dealing with DNA. If this be true, then the notion that this Universe, in which we find ourselves, is the Creation is open to question. This Rayshit or document of past experiences is, therefore, greater than the Torah or the Tanach itself.
There were and are many fundamentalists among our Jewish people who shun such doctrines. They said the Torah or the Tanach which we now possess comes directly from God. The Torah especially was presented to our ancestors at Mt. Sinai after their release from slavery/serfdom in Egypt. Many questions arise in our mind when we assert this fact. What shall we do with the Midrash that says there were many creations prior to this one? Why must we follow the rationalists’ tradition that always said such Midrashim are sacrilegious? They are not to be taken as the true words of our living tradition. Some say they are in a category known as “Midrash Pelie,” strange Midrashim. Yet there is another tradition which we hear again and again in Jewish studies: “I have gained wisdom from all my teachers,” whether from the tradition or from elsewhere. Throughout the rabbinic literature, such Midrashim are cited and often times used as positive proof for a thought or a tradition.
In our studies, we have found time and again thoughts, deeds, approaches which remind us of our tradition. We know wherever we Jews have been, we have become acculturated and absorbed, and sometimes we redefined the traditions of our guest hosts. We cannot at any point say this or that is wholly Jewish. Just as we cannot say of any human that his or her DNA is solely his own and nowhere in this world can a duplicate be found.
Let us return to Rayshit. Let us continue our translation. With Rayshit, Elohim (which is a collective name for all the God forces that exist in this universe) created or formed the upper spheres known as shamayim, heaven or sky, and the lower spheres known as erets, earth, or better still, terra firma. We are not told what energies, what force, what physical manifestations occurred at that moment. This statement is quite clear: It happened.
For us to completely understand what “Adonai asks of us,” we have to go behind the text. One can’t expect Adonai to ask of a human that which is impossible. For many, many millenia, the accepted notion was “to the victor belongs the spoils,” “might makes right,” the conqueror is not bound by restraints. If he has conquered “fairly and squarely,” then whatever is there belongs to him or her. Along comes the Biblical tradition and says, nope, that’s not the way it works. You have to choose between one way and another. The important thing is you must always ask yourself the question, what will assure human survival? What will aid the earth and the fullness thereof in its desire to produce all that is needed for human survival?
If you read the Book of B’Rayshit (Genesis) carefully, you will note that the early chapters are examples of failed human endeavors. Immediately after the story of Noah and the ark, or better still, the Great Flood, the Creator states that there is an evil streak in the Human. He is not like us. He is not the perfect imitation of the Godly. He is not an Adonai, Jr. But, says the Creator, even so, I will never allow for the utter destruction of the Universe and the Human.