Light from the Sidra


Genesis 1:1 – 6:8 (Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10)

With a screenplay by Jewish writers Stewart Stern and Irving Shulman, and direction by Jewish director Nicholas Ray, the hugely influential 1955 film Rebel without a Cause addressed the growing problem of juvenile delinquency among America’s middle classes. A key scene occurs about fifteen minutes into the movie when Jim Stark (played by James Dean) and his classmates attend a planetarium lecture in which they are informed dramatically that the universe was birthed in a huge fireball and that all of existence will end in the same way. That being the case, the middle-class kids may have everything they want but not what they really need. An impersonal universe cannot provide the meaning and purpose we all crave. And if existence is meaningless, what does it matter how we live?

According to the Sidra, all things came into being at the direct command of the one true infinite, personal God; therefore everything has purpose and life has meaning.

Bereshit 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible; everything else follows from the astonishing revelation that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. If this eternal, infinite, personal, almighty, all-knowing, all-wise, sovereign Creator truly exists, the universe has meaning and purpose. And if he does exist, he must be far greater than we can ever grasp with our own unaided reason.

For example, every elementary Hebrew student knows that in the biblical language a singular noun requires a singular verb, and a plural noun requires a plural verb. But the Bible begins with a plural noun for God (Elohim) followed by a singular verb (bara). Technically speaking, Elohim bara (“God created”) is bad Hebrew.

And the problem doesn’t end there. The Shema (Dt 6:4) teaches us that God is one but, it would seem, there is more to his “oneness” than meets the eye:

“And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.’ And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26f, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. Jewish Publication Society ©1985).

Some scholars have suggested that the plural “us”, is the plural of majesty (remember Queen Victoria’s, “We are not amused” or Mrs Thatcher’s, “We have become a grandmother”?) but everywhere else in the Bible, God speaks using the singular pronoun. He cannot be referring to the heavenly host because the angels played no part in the creation of man, nor is man made in the image of God and angels (“God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him…”).

At the end of the first chapter, God pronounces his creation, ruled by a creature made in his image, “Very good”. But by the end of chapter 3, God’s “very good” creation has turned bad. And by the end of our first Torah reading, we discover “every plan devised by [man’s] mind was nothing but evil all the time” and things are so bad that God actually regrets he has made mankind (Gen 6:5, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures).

But right in the middle of this transition from very good to very bad, is a ray of light. God addresses the serpent who brought about the fall of mankind:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel” (Gen 3:15, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures).

It is unfortunate that the JPS translators of the Tanakh chose to translate the Hebrew word zerah (the singular noun for “seed”) as “offspring” and to use the plural “they” instead of “he”. In Genesis 4:25, the woman calls her son Seth zerah aher (“another seed” in place of Abel, who was killed by his brother. Eve recognises that neither Cain nor Abel could be the “seed” of 3:15, therefore the “seed of the woman” cannot be a reference to her offspring in general.

Add to that that Genesis 3:15 is the only place in Scripture in which a woman is described as having “seed” (the Greek equivalent to zerah is sperma!) and the mystery deepens. Make a note of these facts because, as we move through the Sidrot, the mystery of the “seed of the woman” will become clearer.

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