Category Archives: Commentary

Noach – A Covenant for All

I may have been too hard on poor old Noah, I admit. But aside from the mythological rainbow connection, the outcome of the flood was notable because God finally chose to set down the rules.

Enter, the Noahic Covenant. In the Hebrew Bible, there are many covenants, the best-known being the covenant that God gave the children of Israel in the form of the Ten Commandments and Mosaic law. In specific, this covenant is the only one that covers all of humanity, whether Jewish or Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. These are the new rules, at least according to the early Jews, that applied to all humanity for all time:

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Noach – Noah and the Flood

Okay, enough procrastinating and creating charts! It’s time to get to Noach because the rest of the world has already moved on to the next portion, Lech-Lecha.

The Noach portion, named for Noah’s name in Hebrew, covers Genesis 6:9, the beginning of the Noah story), to 11:32 the beginning of the Abraham story. That includes three main “tales”: the story of Noah and the Ark, the story of Noah and his drunkenness, and the Tower of Babil.

For me, the story of Noah has always been one of the more difficult for me to wrap my brain around. It’s not that the story is complex – it isn’t. My problem with the story is that it feels too much like mythology, like something that would happen to Odin,  Zeus, or Heracles, rather than a story that we should take any great meaning from. It doesn’t help that God acts “out of character” and lots of innocent lives, human and animal, are lost. And, like all great mythology, it aims to explain in a supernatural way a natural phenomenon: the rainbow. This isn’t something that fits well in modern Judaism or Christianity, but still it’s an important story, certainly one of the most well known, and here it is already in week #2.

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Bereishit – Cain and Able (and Seth)

I’m only a week into writing and I’m already struggling with “point of view”. Should this be a blog of ill-informed Torah commentary from a liberal something-or-other? Even in this first section, there are so many things that I want to write about, but haven’t. (Like how there are two fruits in the garden of Eden, the trees of “life” and “knowledge of good and evil”. And that it seems that the humans were allowed to eat of the first one, until they had eaten of the second… and that Eve was told not to eat the fruit of the “middle” of the garden, but at different points both are referred to being in the middle. Weird.)

The story of Cain and Able appears on its face to be the story of “country mouse and city mouse”, or more accurately “country mouse and hunter-gatherer mouse”. Between the two brothers, two of the primary occupations of early tribal Israel must have been personified:

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Bereishit – Adam and Eve

In Chapter 2 of Genesis, we have possibly the only scene in the Bible that is not only funny, but funny at God’s expense. Picture this: God has created the very first man and he (the man) is already hard at work tilling and tending the fields of the Garden of Eden. (And work he did. Genesis 2:15 is quite clear that Adam was to work, although presumably this wasn’t difficult work yet.) But God realizes, “Hey! This guy needs a helper.” And so God creates and brings to Adam all of the animals of the world (or at least the “wild beasts and birds of the sky”), one after the other, to see if one of them would be a fitting companion. You can just imagine Adam, sitting bored (but hopeful) under a tree while God leads an ill-behaved elephant up to him on a leash. “How about this one?”

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Bereishit – Literalism

Before I go any farther, if it isn’t clear already, I’m not a Biblical literalist. There are portions of the Bible that are literal history, more or less as they happened. There are portions of the Bible that are exaggerated or told from a particular point of view for a particular effect. I am not so proud to claim that I can tell which are which, but I believe that the Bible contains both.

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Bereishit – The Creation Stories and the Documentary Hypothesis

With something as big and complex and beautiful as the Bible, it’s difficult to know where to start talking about it. Just jumping in “In the beginning” hardly seems suitable because there is so much that goes into those works, into even the first several verses, that it’s awe-inspiring. And yet to talk about it, to digest it and dissect it in a way does it a disservice. And yet, I sit here with keyboard in hand and try to wrap my head around the best way to begin.

Of the books of the Torah, Genesis may be the most complex. One of the ways that Genesis is complex is through its pattern of repeating stories, or parts of stories, in different ways. This is evident immediately as we are presented with two separate creation stories: one from Genesis 1:1 to the middle of 2:4 and a second one from Genesis 2:4 to 2:24. The first story is the one that we are most familiar: “In the beginning…” (Though of course this is translated in a dozen different ways. The JPS offers the, probably more accurate but less poetic “When God began to create heaven and earth…”) In this story, God creates the universe in six days and rests on the seventh. In verse 1:27, on the sixth day, he created man: “And God created man in His image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In the second story, God creates man again and this is the story that we are familiar: He creates Adam first, Adam needs a companion, Even is created from Adam’s rib, etc. This second story differs from the first not only that man and woman were not created at the same time, but also in other details. For example, man here was created “when no shrub of the field was yet on earth” because “God had not sent rain upon the earth” but in the preceding story that was on the third day, not the sixth.

This is not to nit-pick the Bible, that is not my intention. But I find this duality fascinating and it happens over and over in Genesis: a bit in the Noah story, in the Abraham story, etc.

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