Light from the Sidra

B'reisheet (‘In the beginning’). 10th October 2015. 27th Tishrei 5776.

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

How did we get here?

Scientists around the world were jumping for joy a week or so ago because they’d found the best evidence yet that there is water on Mars. If there is water on the Red Planet, the people who know about these things reasoned, there’s a good chance there may be life there too. Not little green men, you understand, but ‘simple life’ such as bacteria. And if there is life on Mars, one commentator said, we will know that life is not a ‘miracle’ but an ‘infection’ pervading the universe. And, of course, if life is not a miracle, we can dispense with God. He will at last become surplus to requirements; an hypothesis we have no further need of.

Such sanguinity baffles me. The notion of ‘simple life’ in the form of single-cell creatures is an oxymoron. Life, by definition, is exceedingly complex. So much so that the creation of life in the laboratory has eluded scientists ever since Charles Darwin developed his unscientific hypothesis of evolution. Although the tiniest bacteria is incredibly small, it has been called ‘a veritable micro-miniaturised factory… far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.’

The most fundamental philosophical question of all is: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ It’s a question philosophers can’t answer. It’s a question scientists can’t answer. It’s a question only the Creator can answer and that’s why the first words of the Bible are so profound. B’reisheet bara Eloheem eth ha’shmeem v’ath ha’eretz:‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’

I’m astonished by the number of Jews – who are far and away the smartest people in the world – who have abandoned the Bible to embrace atheism or agnosticism. If there is no God, atheists have to explain how the universe came from Nothing. It won’t do to say the Big Bang caused the universe to exist because, if I understand cosmologists and physicists properly, there was absolutely nothing to go bang in the beginning. Explosions happen only when there is Something to explode and, when something explodes, the result is chaos, not order. But fans of the Big Bang tell us that out of nothing came something and that out of the chaos of the first explosion came order in the form of the laws of physics. Then, out of non-life came life. How life evolved from non-life has beat me. Perhaps I’m lacking in imagination but I can’t get my head around the idea that rocks can change into living creatures. And then there’s the development of consciousness. How did non-physical consciousness and thought evolve?

Maybe you can believe in those kinds of miracles but I don’t have that kind of faith. Not when there’s a better explanation.

In Genesis 1, the cosmos bursts into existence because an eternally existing, infinitely intelligent, wise and loving Being speaks the universe into existence and orders it. Life exists because a living God wills it into being. Living creatures are conscious and man is capable of abstract thought and is able to reason because he is created in the image of a wise Creator.

The Bible begins with God; and the first chapter of Genesis reveals who that God is. In the beginning all was ‘very good’ because all proceeded from God.’ The Torah begins with God: ‘I am HASHEM, your God...’ (Exodus 20:2). Redemption begins with God: ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham....’ (Exodus 3:6) All that is good begins with God, ‘Always put God first,’ says Milton B. Lindberg, ‘if you wish to be in harmonious relationship to God and to the world which he created’ (Redemption According to Moses and the Prophets).

God was before ‘the beginning’; he is the uncreated cause of all things, without beginning or end. He is almighty, capable of creating a practically infinite universe by a word of sovereign command. He transcends the universe he created, yet is close enough to oversee his works from the largest galaxies to the smallest sub-atomic particles. He is the God who rules, who speaks, who judges and blesses his creatures. Little wonder that in the Haftarah, this majestic God says he will not give his glory to another or his praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8).

Man is not a ‘naked ape’ who evolved from a common ancestry with the primates. Made in the image of his Creator, there is a huge chasm in the created order between mankind and the rest of creation. There are obvious similarities between humans and other creatures but the ‘image of God’ in man means the resemblances can never be more than superficial. Regardless of age, colour, social group, physical characteristics or intellect, human beings bear the image of their Creator. Mankind, above all other creatures, is capable of abstract reasoning, creativity, dominion and the enjoyment of fellowship with their Creator.

But great privilege carries great responsibility. In the Garden of Eden, God’s Torah consisted of a single commandment: ‘Of the Tree of knowledge of Good and Bad, you must not eat.’ Though the first man and woman were perfect, made in the image of God, and though Eve fenced the Torah – she added the stipulation that they were not to ‘touch’ the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad – when temptation came she and Adam failed the test.

The first temptation has a modern ring to it. The fruit of the tree, they were told, would enable them to know right from wrong without reference to God; it would provide them with the power of self-determination. Before she ever bit into the fruit, Eve sinned. The moment she ‘fenced the law’ by adding to it, she had effectively decided that she was wiser than her Creator.

The great irony of creation is that everything God called into being obeyed him, except man. After the sin of Adam, nothing would be the same again. Yet mankind was not left without hope, for in Genesis 3:15 HASHEM promised that the head of the serpent would be smashed by the offspring of a woman. Some eminent sages saw that utterance as the first messianic promise.

Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) understood the verse to mean: ‘the Messiah, the Son of David… shall wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked.’ The Midrash says, ‘Eve had respect to that Seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the Messiah, the King.’

HASHEM, who created the world also controls it and has determined the future. Central to the future of the world is Messiah who undoes the evil of Satan and the disobedience and fall of Adam. We’ll be encountering the promise quite a bit as we study the Torah week by week.

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