Part of the my project for the year isn’t just to make my own commentary as I reread the Torah, but also to find some commentary from others and try and read and understand that. And in the Jewish theological world, one of the key voices was “Rashi”, otherwise known as Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. Rabbi Yitzhaki lived in the 11th and early 12th century and wrote comprehensive commentary on the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. I’ve picked up a copy (in English, with explanations) of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah and will be following along with him as I read. Sometimes, I’ll try and post something about it.
If you are following the calendar, you’ll notice that I’m already behind. It’s week two and I should be writing something about Noach, but I’m not quite in the swing of things yet so please forgive me.
I’m not going to claim to follow Rashi’s deeper explanations of the text and there is so much that he talks about that I don’t really have the context to describe properly. Although I fear it reduces his work to the least common denominator, I’ve pulled out some things that either he discusses or comments on from the text. Some of it is very weird. As I understand it, Rashi postulated that the Torah was perfect and, as such, it states in the fewest number of words necessary to make the desired point. In places where it appears to use more words than necessary, that is because there is deeper meaning to the repetition that must be pulled out. The corollary is that if the Bible says something, it is important, no matter how trivial it may seem. Much of his commentary (to me) appears to be fully utilizing the words that are available to draw conclusions of meaning that we may not ourselves make.
Continue reading Rashi on Bereishit
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:
Continue reading Bereishit – Cain and Able (and Seth)
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?”
Continue reading Bereishit – Adam and Eve
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.
Continue reading Bereishit – Literalism
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.
Continue reading Bereishit – The Creation Stories and the Documentary Hypothesis