Light from the Sidra

B'reshit.22 October 2011.24 Tishrei 5772.

Torah:Genesis.1:1-6:8.Haftarah:Isaiah 42:5-43:10

In the beginning…

In 2004, a news headline rocked the academic and intellectual establishment: ‘Famous Atheist Now Believes in God...’ The atheist was Professor Antony Flew, a philosopher who had been one of the leading champions of atheism for more than half a century. In There is a God, published in 2007, Flew says there are three questions that puzzle ‘reflective scientists’: ‘How did the laws of nature come to be? … How did life as a phenomenon originate from non-life? And … How did the universe, by which we mean all that is physical, come into existence?’

Following the argument ‘where it led’, Antony Flew could not escape the logical conclusion that an infinitely wise divine ‘Mind’ is responsible for the universe.

For almost 4,000 years, the first verses of Bible have revealed to those who are willing to listen to the Mind that created the cosmos. The first few chapters of Genesis make sense not only of the rest of the Bible but also of ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’. The first chapters of the Bible reveal just about everything human beings need to know in order to live life as God intended. They reveal the origin of the universe and the reason why the world is in the mess we find it. More than that, the Torah hints at how everything will be put right.  

So long as the great minds search for reasonable and meaningful answers while ignoring the Torah, they will never find them. So long as philosophers and scientist seek meaning while holding that the universe is essentially the meaningless result of Nothing exploding, they are like blind men searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there.

In Genesis 1-6, we find the beginnings of the cosmos, mankind, war, the ecological problems, suffering, death and the promise of ultimate redemption through the Messiah.

We also find lots of loose ends that can only be tied together by the Messiah who crushes the head of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15).

In the comments on the Parashot this year, we will consider rabbinic comments on the passages in question and also passages from the Brit Hadashah (New Testament), the authors of which were Jews. As both sets of sources are allowed to speak for themselves, readers may judge the reliability of those sources.

The Midrash on Genesis says six things preceded the creation of the world: the Torah, the Throne of Glory, the Patriarchs, the creation of Israel , the Temple and the name of Messiah. (Midrash Rabbah I.4, Soncino Press, 1961)

In the first century of the Common Era, the former rabbi Shaul of Tarsus wrote in a letter to a congregation of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. Some scholars believe Shaul (or Paul as he was later known) was concerned that the predominantly Gentile members of the congregation were beginning to look down on the original Jewish members. He wanted the Gentile members of the congregation to respect their Jewish brothers and sisters and, in order to encourage them to do so, reminds them there are great advantages in being a Jew. The blessings he lists are remarkably similar to the six things that ‘preceded the creation of the world’.

In the ninth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul lists eight divine blessings bestowed on the Jewish people (two more than the list in the Midrash but remarkably similar): ‘To them belong the adoption [or creation of Israel as the people of God], the glory [the throne of glory], the covenants, the giving of the law [Torah], the worship [Temple], and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Messiah who is God over all, blessed forever.’

While the idea of six things preceding the creation of the world is intriguing, Paul’s observation is far more grounded in reality and is demonstrable. It is also practical.

But take another parallel passage, from the first chapter of the Gospel according to John, or Yochanan In the first two verses of his Gospel, Yochanan ben Zavdai, takes us to the first verses of Genesis. He tells his Jewish readers something they already know: ‘In the beginning was the Word’: God created the universe by his word. ‘The Word,’ he tells them, ‘was with God,’ something his readers knew, but he then drops the bombshell: ‘and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.’  

The Word by which God created the heavens and the earth is inseparable from God. The Word is a Person. The Word that created the universe was God himself, which sheds some light on why God says, ‘Let us create man in our image, after our likeness’ in Genesis 1:28.

But Yochanan drops an even greater bombshell when he tells his Jewish readers that the Word who was with God and was God, actually became one of us to accomplish Tikkun Olam, the restoration of the universe. To bring the cosmos into being God had only to speak; he worked outside his creation. To rescue and restore his creation, he had to work from the inside out.

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