Light from the Sidra

B'reisheet ('In the beginning'). 18 October 2014. 24 Tishrei 5775

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

Who is the Bible all about

I once heard a stand-up comic, famous for his ‘anti-religious’ humour, read the third chapter of Genesis – the chapter in which a snake tempts Adam and Eve – and then announced to his audience, ‘And this is the book they make you put your right hand on in court to make you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!’ Howls of laughter…

Yeah. Very funny, But, to be honest, I suddenly felt really embarrassed because Dave Allen had managed to make the Bible sound utterly ridiculous. But consider astronomer Heather Couper’s explanation for the origin of the universe in the opening paragraph of her book Big Bang:

In the beginning there was nothing. It was a ‘nothing’ so profound it defies human comprehension… Before space was created, nothing could exist; there was nowhere for it to exist in. Our Universe probably came into existence not only from nothing, but from nowhere… From nothing, a tiny speck of brilliant light appeared. It was almost infinitely hot. Inside this fireball was all of space…

Believing the early chapters of the Bible (and the later chapters for that matter) may have its problems but I don’t buy the idea that something can come from nothing without the aid of an infinitely powerful and wise Creator. Neither do I believe that order can come from chaos without an infinite intelligence to guide the process. And I definitely don’t have the kind of faith which accepts that, given enough time, a colourless, odourless gas called hydrogen can turn into human beings!

So until someone comes up with a better explanation for life, the universe and everything, I’m sticking with the Bible. Genesis is not only the best explanation I know for the existence of the cosmos, it also provides the best explanation for why true evil exists and provides the only realistic solution to the moral mess in which the world finds itself.

Genesis 3 also enables us to make sense of the rest of the Bible because everything that comes after that chapter is part of an unfolding of the curse and promise found in verse 15. Jewish scholar Everett Fox translates verse 15: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [zera: ‘seed’] and her seed [zera]. He will pound your head, and you will bite his heel.’

Rashi, following The Midrash Rabbah, taught that the Serpent was ha Satan, ‘the Adversary,’ the great Enemy of God and his people. The Midrash says that the Adversary saw Adam and Eve making love and ‘conceived a passion’ for Eve! Apart from that lovemaking business, Rashi was right to identify the snake as the Adversary. That interpretation is the only one that makes any sense of Genesis 3:15. One day, God says, ‘the seed of the woman’ will or crush the head of the Adversary, undoing the misery he had brought on the world. This promise is remarkable because in the rest of the Bible ‘seed’ is always traced through the man, never the woman.

The promise indicates a supernatural birth because when Eve gives birth to Cain in Genesis 4:1, she says she has given birth to HASHEM! She says, literally, ‘I have gotten [kaniti] a man, HASHEM!’ The Jerusalem Targum and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan try to make sense of Eve’s words by rendering Genesis 4:1: ‘I have begotten a man, the Angel of the Lord.’ Eve believed something supernatural was happening at the birth of Cain. She believed her firstborn son was the ‘seed’ born to crush the head of the Adversary. And who but HASHEM himself could do that! Eve, however, was to be disappointed, which is no doubt why she called her next son Havel (Abel), meaning ‘vanity’ or ‘a breath.’

From the moment of ‘man’s first disobedience,’ the human race has been divided into two ‘seeds’ – the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the woman – and in the Tanakh, each time they clash, the head of the seed of the Serpent is crushed. The promise of the seed of the woman was kept alive, ironically, by the pagan soothsayer Balaam when he saw ‘a star from Jacob’ who would ‘smash the head of Moab, an utterance Jewish commentators recognise as a Messianic prophecy’ (Numbers 24:17) In the period of the Judges – a time of national apostasy – God remained faithful to his promise through women rather than through their seed. Jael, a woman, kills Sisera by nailing his head to the floor of her tent (Judges 4:21; 5:26), and the head of Abimelech is crushed when a woman drops a millstone on him (Judges 9:53).

But in the Tanakh, the greatest fulfilment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 is when David defeats Goliath, a giant who stands six cubits and a span tall and is clothed from head to foot with ‘scale armour.’ There is something of the Serpent about Goliath and David saves Israel by cracking the giant’s skull and relieving him of his head (1 Samuel 17). But that is as high as the prophecy of the seed of the woman crushing the head of the Serpent rises in the Hebrew Scriptures.

‘All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah,’ says tractate Berachot 34b in The Talmud. The seed of the woman, prophesied in Genesis 3:15 is the Messiah and in the Tanakh we see the prophecy unfold. But when Malachi, the last prophet of Israel, sealed his book, he did so with a warning so severe that in the public reading of Malachi, the second to last verse is read twice so as to end the reading on a positive note.

Three hundred years after Malachi prophesied, a rabbi would write in the New Testament, ‘When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born subject to the Torah. He did this in order to redeem those who were subject to the Torah [the Jewish people], so that we might receive the right as sons.’ The Messiah for whom the Jewish people have been longing for more than 3,000 years came in fulfilment of the ancient prophecies.

The Jewish people today face an Adversary far more powerful than Sisera or Goliath, an Enemy far greater than anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism or the ‘Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions’ movement. But the ‘seed of the woman’, promised by God at the dawn of history, was born in Israel two millennia ago, did battle with the Serpent and crushed his head. But in the process, his heel was bitten by the Adversary. His hands and feet were pierced. And all because of humanity’s sin. All of us – Jews and Gentiles – are born in slavery to the Adversary and only ‘the seed of the woman,’ the Messiah, can rescue us. Why remain captive to the Serpent any longer? Bow the knee to the Messiah who, by his death conquered the Adversary, sin and death itself.

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