Tag Archives: Genesis

Diminishing the Moon and Israel

God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.

Genesis 1:16 (JPS Tanakh)

R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller’? He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night’. ‘But what is the value of this’? cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight’? He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years’. ‘But it is impossible’, said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’. ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small’, On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller’. This is what was meant by R. Simeon b. Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.

-Tractate Chullin 60b

True, no human being ever heard the above conversation between the Holy One and the moon. We know of it only through our tradition. But we can actually see with our own eyes that very legend applying to that body which has been symbolized by the moon — Knesset Yisrael.

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 5: The Moon and Knesset Yisrael, p.25
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

I read this chapter last Tuesday after I reviewed the latest set of comments on my recent blog post Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism” and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the general themes involved in said-blog post. While I don’t ascribe great credence to the idea that the Moon and God actually had a conversation, I think there’s a principle we can derive from the midrash on the “relationship” between the Moon and “Knesset Yisrael” or the Assembly of Israel. It’s the same principle the sages have derived.

How can Israel be compared to the Moon, the lesser of two “great lights?” Think about the relationship between the Moon and the Sun as compared to the relationship between Israel and God.

An adult sitting at his father’s table is considered a minor; a minor independent of his father’s table is considered an adult.

-from Tractate Kiddushin

yom kippur katanJust as the Moon is always dependent upon the Sun for light, and the Moon’s light would be immediately extinguished should the Sun “hide his face” so to speak, so too would Israel be extinguished should God hide His face from her.

And yet, the diminishing of the Moon is not one that is performed on it from outside but an act which the Moon, upon the command of God, performs upon herself, reducing herself in relation to the Sun and the stars.

The life of the moon is marked by a terrible tragedy. The Holy One, at first glance, seems to unequivocally accept her argument. He fully admits that her claim is reasonable, but as an expression of commendation for her just position, He demands more of her no more and no less than, “Go and diminish yourself.”

-R. Amiel, p.27

Rav Amiel compares this to Rosh Chodesh (festival of the New Moon), for on Erev Rosh Chodesh, “Jews offer prayer and supplication as they do on Yom Ha-kippurim, the Day of Atonement. This is Yom Kippur Kattan service” (ibid p.26). Just as the new or reborn Moon is in a greatly diminished state, so too is the rebirth of Israel (and keep in mind, Rav Amiel wrote this in the 19th century, long before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel).

R. Amiel speaks of the pogroms and other offenses the nations have committed against the Jewish people, and the utter dependence upon the leaders and rulers of the various nations in which “Knesset Yisrael” finds herself in, even for existence. Israel has been exiled, Jerusalem is in ruins, the Temple has been destroyed, the people have been scattered. Hostile churches (historically) have burned her volumes of Talmud, her Torah scrolls, and her synagogues.

However, even as the least among the nations as she currently may be, there is a consolation:

On the one hand, we are the smallest of all the nations, mocked and despised among the nations. On the other hand, we occupy “The Eastern Seat,” the seat of honor.

-ibid, p.28

The Jewish Paul…my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

Rav. Amiel says something similar:

Israel orders the times for all nations and tongues. All our seasons, such as our “Festival of Freedom,” our “Festival of the Giving of the Torah,” are celebrated by all enlightened nations. In matters of time, we are emulated by all, even though sometimes the imitation is blemished by modifications — for example, the Sunday imitation of the Sabbath day — but it universally acknowledged that the original is ours.

Timewise, we are the most powerful of nations, the deciding factor. “Go and let Israel determine the days and years by you.” The nations’ calendar is based upon the birth date of a certain Jew.

-Amiel, p.28

The Rav, even in the admission of the lowered and diminished state of “Knesset Yisrael,” declares that in her weakness, Israel is great, for the rest of the nations follow her through (imperfect) imitation.

But he goes on:

This is our only consolation. It is, of course, only a partial consolation.

The moon “was not appeased.” Nor is Knesset Yisrael appeased. She thirsts for salvation and redemption, weeping bitterly, “When I remember this, O God, I moan…

-ibid, p.29

And does God not hear the cries of the oppressed and act in their defense?

“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”

Psalm 12:5 (NASB)

Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.

Exodus 3:9

…but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.

Jeremiah 26:15

JewishI know people who criticized me and the topic of my other blog post don’t see themselves as in any way oppressing Israel or the Jewish people. They certainly have no deliberate intent to do so. In many ways, they see themselves as doing the opposite, lifting the Jewish people up and joining them by performing the identical mitzvot as an obligation in the merit of Messiah.

You might say to yourself that if God commanded Israel to diminish herself as He did (in midrash) to the Moon, should not Israel and the Jewish people be humble and elevate the Gentile to a higher level than the Jews, offering the Gentiles all of the mitzvot; the mitzvah of Shabbat, of Kashrut, of tzitzit, of tefillin, of the Moadim? Shouldn’t Israel be “fair” and at least share all of her mitzvot? Don’t they all belong to us (Gentiles) now anyway?

Maybe not, and we cannot consider Israel diminished forever, just as the sages have said, “for every descent, there is an ascent.”

Therefore, Heaven forbid that we discontinue the custom of Yom Kippur Kattan. Even in Eretz Yisrael of today, Knesset Yisrael is still compared to the moon. And so it will be until that hoped for time when “The light of the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of the seven days.”

-Amiel, p.30

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

John 8:12

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 21:23

Moshiach is the light of Israel and the light of the world. Will he come to diminish Israel or to raise her up as the head of all the nations? As the people of the rest of the nations of the world who are called by Hashem’s Name, are we to continue to diminish Israel in disobedience to the Master? Why wait for his return? We can raise Israel up now by acknowledging her role and her place in the redemptive plan of God. We must do this now, lest we be counted among Israel’s enemies and even as disciples, be diminished ourselves in Messianic days.

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.Small plant

Zechariah 14:16-17

Admittedly, I’m playing a little fast and loose with my interpretation of that last passage of scripture, but do you really want to take the chance that I am wrong and God will not deliver consequences upon those of us to call ourselves disciples and yet fail to elevate Knesset Yisrael above all the peoples of the Earth?

There will be another “follow up” blog post on this subject tomorrow morning.

Genesis: Searching for the Self-Evident God

Simchat Torah

By contrast, on Simchat Torah we do not celebrate our national receiving of the Torah; we celebrate our personal one. God gave us the Second Tablets because He deemed us worthy of receiving them. He had just forgiven us on Yom Kippur and decided to take us anew. And we celebrate by each of us holding close that Torah God entrusted us with and dancing with it. And likewise every single member of the synagogue is called up to the Torah for the reading of a section.
-Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
“Simchat Torah: Just You and Me”

As you read this, it is Simchat Torah, the celebration of the end of one Torah cycle and the beginning of another. Yesterday was Shemini Atzeret which is considered the last day of Sukkot but in fact is a separate festival, the eighth day of assembly. Of course, sundown tonight begins the weekly Shabbat, and tomorrow in synagogues all over the world, the very first words of Genesis will be read again.

A lot is going on and almost all of it exclusively has to do with the Jewish people. Let me explain.

The seven days of Sukkot have a great deal of meaning, not the least of which is an invitation for guests to join a Jewish family in their sukkah. Some synagogues have congregational sukkot (plural of sukkah) and will invite in anyone who desires to enter. Especially the Chabad will invite non-religious Jews in order to reacquaint them with the Torah and Jewish religious practice, but it’s not unheard of for non-Jews to also join in on the fun.

But that’s for seven days. While Shemini Atzeret is considered an eighth day of Sukkot, it is not the same as the other days of the festival. I once heard a commentary stating that while guests are invited on the seven days of Sukkot and that everyone is engaged with each other and with God, the eighth day is more intimate, more of a personal encounter, a private exchange between the Jewish people and their loving Father. It’s like having a houseful of family and friends in your home for a seven-day party, but on the eighth day, the guests all go back to their homes, and the family spends one special day of closeness with their Father.

Doesn’t sound very flattering if you’re a guest but we understand that family is special and they need the time to be together as family.

But what if you’re a Christian? Aren’t you family? In terms of traditional Judaism, no (for the most part, Messianic Judaism would have a different take). It’s not that God isn’t the Creator of Jews and Gentiles, but Shemini Atzeret commemorates the unique relationship God has with the Jewish people and, as Rabbi Rosenfeld suggests relative to Simchat Torah, God commemorates His relationship on this day with each, individual Jew.

clinging_to_torahSimchat Torah celebrates the special relationship of the Jewish people and the Torah. While Shavuot (Pentecost) observes the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, Simchat Torah is the celebration of the unbroken joy of ending one cycle of readings and beginning another, dancing with the Torah and with God on the very final day of the holiday season, for tomorrow the Torah readings begin again.

And there’s something else.

“He stared at me for a moment seeming very moved by the idea that this Torah would help people come closer to Judaism. All of a sudden, he started crying — I mean really crying with tears streaming down his face. I was trying to get him to talk, but he literally couldn’t get any words out. Finally, he explained. He had drifted away from Judaism and married a Buddhist woman. This Torah scroll was his only connection, and at this point, he felt so cut off that he thought he might as well sell it. But when he found out that this Torah would help reconnect people to Judaism, he wanted to give it to me as a gift. In this way, he felt he would perhaps have the merit to be reconnected too and find his way home at last.

“I didn’t know what to say, but I certainly appreciated his incredible gift. I realized that this was a Torah that had been basically homeless for the past 50 years. There was no one to read it, hold it or keep it properly, and now God gave the Torah a home, and would hopefully bring this lonely Jew back in the near future as well.

“Now, what about an ark? That’s a story of its own. I found an online ad for an old Jewish artifact, a Jewish chest. The sellers weren’t Jewish, but they had bought it from a priest who told them it was of Jewish origin.

“When I opened the online pictures of the chest, I saw before me what seemed to be a beautifully crafted ark. It was small, so it wouldn’t be able to hold a regular sized Torah, but would be perfect for the Torah we had. But when I viewed a picture of the top of the ark, I almost fainted. There was a large cross attached to it.”

-Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky
“The Lost Torah Scroll: Bringing Torah Home”

simhat-torahI’ve read Rabbi Pruzansky’s story in years past, and it’s a good one. He relates how he habitually held Shabbos meals in his home for 30 or 40 young Jewish people, Jews who for one reason or another, don’t feel comfortable entering a synagogue. In a more home-like setting, the Rabbi wanted to give these young Jews the opportunity to eat a kosher meal and even to have an aliyah, to be called up to read the Torah from a kosher scroll.

As you read, he had some difficulties acquiring a proper scroll for a reasonable cost and an authentic Jewish ark for the scroll. In different ways, the scroll and the ark had “strayed from the path,” so to speak, with the scroll all but neglected and the ark having been in possession of a Christian Priest.

“My dear friends, look at what we have here. A Torah that was neglected for so many years was finally given a home in an ark that had been used by a priest. Yet the message was clear that God would never give up on them. He had not forgotten about this lost ark and Torah scroll, and finally the two of them were brought together and can now be used to bring young men and woman back to their Father in Heaven as well.

“This Torah has not been danced with for over 50 years, and now we have the chance to welcome it home. Let’s give it the welcome it deserves.”

I know Gentile followers of Jesus who steadfastly maintain that the Torah belongs to both Jewish people and Gentile believers in exactly the same way, but I consider this not only to be untrue, but to be incredibly insensitive to the connection between the Jewish people and God. It’s not that I don’t believe God loves those of us from the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), but I do draw a distinction between the nature and character of God’s relationship with and purpose for the Jewish people and how God relates to the rest of us (yes, even the rest of us who are in Christ).

Yes, I firmly believe Christians have a special role and purpose that God has assigned us and that only we can accomplish and fulfill. Yes, I do believe that God loves us as much as He loves the Jewish people and that we are not second class citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I also believe that the Jewish people are unique to God and have a place that is especially near to His heart. They are His treasured splendorous people (Exodus 19:5). I can hardly begrudge God and the Jewish people special times in which they meet just between the two of them to acknowledge, celebrate, and experience what is uniquely between God and the Jews.

Torah at SinaiWe need to acknowledge the complexity of human relationships with God, what makes the connection especially precious regarding the Jewish people, and what we all can share together as human beings who live in a universe authored by the Creator.

“In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth” “… God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all His work which God created to make”.

Genesis 1:1, 2:3

These two verses encompass all of Creation. The opening three words end in the Hebrew letters taf, aleph, mem which comprise “emet” (truth), and the closing three words end in aleph, mem, taf which spells “emet”. Reb Simcha Bunim of P’shis’che cites the Talmudic statement, “The seal of God is emet” and comments, “It is customary for an author to place his name in the opening of his book. God placed His Name, emet, in the opening chapter of the Torah. Emet thus envelops all of creation, a testimony to God as the Creator.”

Divrei Shaul notes that all traits can be a matter of degree. There can be greater beauty and lesser beauty, greater wisdom and lesser wisdom, greater strength and lesser strength. Only one trait cannot be more or less: truth. Something is either true or it is not true.

God is identified with truth. Just as truth can never be altered, because altered truth is no longer truth, there can be no change in God (Malachi 2:6).

The Talmud says that emet is broad-based, consisting of the first letter of the alphabet, aleph, the middle letter, mem and the last letter, taf (Shabbos 55a). Truth, therefore, has stability and durability. Falsehood, on the other hand is the Hebrew word sheker, consisting of three letters near the end of the alphabet. Sheker is top-heavy and cannot endure.

To the extent that a person lives with truth is the extent one identifies with God. Any falsehood distances a person from God.

Dvar Torah for Beresheet
Based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
as quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly: V’Zot HaBracha-Bereishit”

seek-truthOne of the things we all have in common if we have any sort of relationship with God at all is that we are all truth seekers. If we can see God’s “signature” on His Creation and know that it is truth, then we will seek out that truth. We will discover God’s truth, and in order to foster closeness between us and God, we will increase the truth in us and remove the falsehood.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

-Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

Once we accept the truth, God’s love and grace will be self-evident in all of our lives, Jewish and Gentile alike.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

John 17:20-23 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

Consider the Days of Old

New WorldOn the verse, “Consider the days of old, the years of the many generations (Deut. 32:7),” the 13th century scholar Nachmanides explains that “Consider the days of old” refers to the Six Days of Creation and “The years of the many generations” refers to the time from Adam forward.” Many leading rabbis who lived centuries before Darwin understood that when Adam appeared on the scene, the universe might have already been much older. Most notably, this is the opinion attributed to Rabbi Nechunia Ben Hakana who lived some 2,000 years ago, which is quoted by many mainstream, medieval commentators such as Rabbenu Bechaya, the Recanti, Tzioni, and the Sefer HaChinuch. Rabbi Yitzhak M’Acco, a student of Nachmanides, suggested based on kabbalistic calculations that the universe is thousands of millions of years old.

With regard to humans arriving on the scene, the Talmud (Chagiga 13b) states clearly that there were 974 generations prior to Adam. The famous Tifferes Yisrael commentary to the Mishnah wrote in 1842 (prior to publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species): “In my opinion, the prehistoric men whose remains have been discovered in our time and who lived long before Adam are identical with the 974 pre-Adamite generations referred to in the Talmud, and lived in the epoch immediately before our own.”

Of course, the key point where Torah and evolutionists diverge is on the question of “accident versus design.” Evolutionists say that life happened by accident; Judaism says that God made it happen.

from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
“Evolution and the Bible”

I know I’m going to get “heck” for this, at least from conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews. Evolution and Creation are supposed to be incompatible in both religion and science, but the Aish Rabbi crafts a response to the question of Evolution that allows for both.

Up to a point.

I just finished re-reading Gerald L. Schroeder’s book Genesis and the Big Bang (and just started reading his more recent book The Hidden Face of God ) and Schroeder seems to believe something similar (also, see my previous blog post For God Rolled the Dice and the Universe Came to Be for more).

One of the problems comes along with trying to reconcile the six days of Creation in the Bible with the 13.7 or so billion years science says the universe has been around. According to present scientific theory, the Earth has been in existence for about 4.5 billion years.

How do six days fit into billions of years and vice versa?

Schroeder suggests a rather complicated interplay involving time dilation and relativity to explain that, from the Earth’s point of view, billions of years passed, but from God’s perspective, it was only six days. Schroeder spent an entire chapter laying the foundation for his belief and I can’t find any way to compress it into a paragraph or two in this blog post and still have it make sense. Suffice it to say that both science and the Bible are right as Schroeder sees it.

But what about life and evolution? According to the Bible, God created all living things as they are known today, including human beings, in just a few days. There were no previous and less developed forms of life, that became more complicated over time as they adapted to environmental changes, resulting in the creatures we have on our planet right now.

The Aish Rabbi refers to the Talmud which states that “there were 974 generations prior to Adam” and that those generations describe the lives of those beings we refer to as “prehistoric man.” Presumably, during that time, other creatures were also created, existed, and faced extinction.

It all makes a sort of sense, but I’m still struggling with seeing Genesis as being able to wholly map to the observations and interpretations we have about our universe based on astronomy, geology, and paleontology.

ancient_skyI admit, that whether you believe the Earth is ten thousand years old or 4.5 billion years old, devotion to God and love and charity to human beings shouldn’t be impacted to any degree in the life of a Christian or observant Jew. Still, it’s a compelling issue because the extreme literal stance on Creation taken by conservative Christians is one of the barriers to evangelizing more educated secular atheists. Educated unbelievers can’t be past the “Christians are ignorant buffoons” factor and I myself feel embarrassed when I hear a Christian trying to convince someone that Earth is a mere ten thousand years of age.

Christians aren’t likely to take the Talmud as an authority but it’s telling that “the famous Tifferes Yisrael commentary to the Mishnah” was written in 1842, prior to the publication of Darwin’s famous “Origin of Species.” Darwin, like the stream of Judaism the Aish Rabbi represents, believes in some sort of evolutionary process but that it was not random. God was always the causal agent, the Master Designer.

According to Dr. I. Prigogine, recipient of two Nobel prizes in chemistry: “The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident is zero.”

Darwin himself wrote in Origin of Species: “…If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications — my theory would absolutely break down…”

The jury is still out regarding the sequencing of how life developed, over what time period, and the mechanics God employed. I believe God made human beings independently and as we are now without prior evolutionary forms, but what about animal life, which was never intended to have the unique position of man?

The Bible is well aware of evolution, although it is not very interested in the details of the process. All of animal evolution gets a mere seven sentences (Genesis 1:20-26). Genesis tells us that simple aquatic animals were followed by land animals, mammals, and finally humans.

That is also what the fossil record tells us, albeit with much more detail than these few biblical verses provide. The Bible makes no claims as to what drove the development of life, and science has yet to provide the answer.

In paleontology’s record of evolution, first came the discovery that life appeared on Earth almost 4 billion years ago, immediately after the molten globe had cooled sufficiently for liquid water to form. This contradicted totally the theory of gradual evolution over billions of years in some nutrient-rich pool. The rapid origin of life remains a mystery.

Then we learned that some 550 million years ago, in what is known as the Cambrian explosion, animals with optically perfect eyes, gills, limbs with joints, mouths and intestines burst upon the fossil scene – with nary a clue in older fossils as to how they evolved. It is no wonder that Darwin, in his “Origin of the Species,” repeatedly implored his readers (seven times by my count) to ignore the fossil record if they were to understand his theory.

The overwhelming weight of evidence tells us that something exotic certainly happened to produce life as we know it. Historically one of the most compelling arguments regarding the existence of God comes from the precision design found in nature. Design implies a designer, and Darwin’s proposal that evolution could have occurred without a Designer (by means of natural selection through random mutations) changed things.

The Aish Rabbi’s opinion is certainly controversial when considered from a fundamentalist Christian position and likely when seen from an Orthodox Jewish viewpoint (my wife says the local Chabad Rabbi believes the Earth is roughly 12,000 years old).


I’m writing all this, not to yank anyone’s chain (though I’m sure it will) but to explore my own thought processes on this matter. I didn’t become a believer until I was past forty years old, so all of my educational foundation is based on Earth being very old and that the basic process of scientific examination of our environment is sound and designed to produce more or less reasonable results (although history has shown that those results aren’t always correct upon subsequent examination).

Religion, for its part, has had to make up some rather fanciful stories to explain the fossil record, to explain our understanding of the size and therefore the age of the universe, to explain our understanding of the age of various geological formations on our own planet, and to explain a myriad of other findings from the world of science that seems to radically contradict an absolute literal reading of the Bible’s Genesis account.

I really enjoy reading about the sciences, though I’m quite the amateur. I enjoy astronomy. I like hearing about the latest “adventures” of the various robotic probes on the surface of Mars. I have an interest in reading about the journey of Voyager 1 at the edge of interstellar space. I think God created us with an insatiable curiosity about the universe around us and a drive to explore it with the intelligence he created in us.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:15-17 (NASB)

It is said that there was no death before the Fall (which happens in Genesis 3) so how could there have been life on a long-term scale before Adam and Eve? How could life in some form or another have existed for hundreds of millions of years before Adam and there not be death?

When God describes the consequences of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, how did Adam know what “die” meant? How could the serpent convince Eve she wouldn’t die (Genesis 3:1-5) from eating the fruit if dying was unknown to her? Why would she fear death and why would she have to overcome that fear in order to eat?

Reading the various consequences God visited upon Adam, Eve, and the rest of Creation as listed in Genesis 3, none of them say that all life was immortal before the Fall and suddenly became mortal afterward.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”

Genesis 3:22 (NASB)

Gateway to EdenIt seems as if the two humans in the Garden were mortal (along with all other forms of life) and only by taking and eating from the tree of life would they become immortal! The presence of death wasn’t dependent upon the Fall. All life in the Garden was mortal.

Why couldn’t any life that may have existed as created within the span (as the Aish Rabbi suggests) described in Genesis 1:20-26 (the millions and millions of years prior to the creation of modern human beings) have been born, lived, and died, and born, lived, and died, and born, lived, and died?

Yeah, I expect to get some static over this blog post, but I’m writing it to explore my own thinking process in this area and also to (hopefully) inspire others to think as well. We need to take a look at the evidence presented by our environment, take a look at the Bible, take a look at our dogma, and struggle with what all that is supposed to mean.

I believe God created us to think, to explore, and to struggle with the meaning of everything we see. I think He wanted us to wonder and to experience wonder. I don’t think He wanted the Bible to be some sort of cosmic solution machine spitting out all the answers to all the questions in bite-sized chunks, like eating from a bowl of Christian-Jewish fortune cookies.

We don’t have to get all the answers from the Bible. God gave us other tools to use as well. Telescopes, microscopes, and the Large Hadron Collider aren’t the enemies of the Bible. They complement it. They are the lens through which we examine the world which reveals God, just as the Bible is the story of the relationship between God and human beings.

Where Do We Find God?

Torah at SinaiWhere is the Torah?

-Shabbos 89a

It seems incredulous that Satan was unaware that Moshe had received the Torah and had taken it down to earth. Tosafos answers that at that moment, Hashem caused the Satan to become confused and confounded in order to avoid the risk of having Satan interfere with the giving of the Torah.

Maharsha notes that the Gemara had earlier reported that when Moshe came to the heavens, all the celestial angels presented Moshe with various gifts, and among those who gave Moshe a tribute was Satan himself. (This interpretation is based upon the fact that Satan and the Angel of Death are one and the same. It was the Angel of Death that divulged the secret of the incense to Moshe, and that it had the power to interrupt a raging plague.) Satan, we see, clearly was aware of the events surrounding Moshe’s mission and that his coming to the heavens was specifically in order to receive the Torah and to bring it back for the Jewish people. Why, then, asks Maharsha, was Satan surprised when Moshe took the Torah back to earth?

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“To where did the Torah go?”
Commentary on Shabbos 89a

This is midrash and as such, it’s not a good idea to try to take it literally, but perhaps there is something we can learn here. If we indeed have an Adversary who seeks to divert us from a life of holiness and an awareness of God and if this Adversary has the ability to succeed in his task, then how is a life of holiness possible at all?

Maharsha responds that…

Satan realized that the Torah was going to be given to Moshe. However, due to its extreme holiness and spiritual nature, Satan was certain that this was valid only as long as Moshe remained in the heavens. It did not seem possible that the Torah had any purpose in being taken to earth, to be shared with men who are made up of physical elements. When Moshe took the Torah to the Jews, Satan was shocked, and he asked, “What happened to the Torah? How could it be fitting for man to have?”

The truth is, though, that the purpose of Torah is indeed for man to have.

There are certain voices in Judaism who believe the Torah is far more than a document; a scroll with words that communicate information. They see the Torah as having a life of its own, it is wisdom and it is also part of God and thus it is the embodiment of God. Interestingly enough, Christianity’s perception of “the Word” is not far from this.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Everything was made to exist through him, and nothing that was made to exist was made to exist except by him.

John 1:1-3 (DHE Gospels)

But of course, there’s more.

The word was made flesh and dwelled in our midst. We have beheld his glory, like the glory of a father’s only son, great in kindness and truth.

John 1:14 (DHE Gospels)

The Bible exists between two “bookends,” between two instances wherein we see God dwelling among His people. In Genesis, we see that He walked in the Garden with man and in Revelation, we see God once more among those who love Him. And in between, the Torah was brought to earth by an emissary of God and given to men, both as the Torah from Sinai and the Word made flesh in Israel.

While midrash may ponder how the Adversary could allow the Torah to be brought down from Heaven to become accessible to man, the Bible tells us that he challenged such an action in the days of the second temple.

Then the spirit carried Yeshua into the wilderness so that the satan could test him.

Matthew 4:1 (DHE Gospels .. see Matthew 4:1-11 for more)

everlastingBut testing isn’t the same thing as stopping or preventing or defeating. As the midrash says…

The goal of the Torah is that it be studied and applied by man, in order for him to incorporate it into his unique blend of being made up of both physical and spiritual aspects.

And as told to us by John…

And from his fullness we all have received kindness upon kindness. For the Torah was given by Mosheh and the kindness and truth came through Yeshua the Mashiach. No one has ever seen God; the only son who is in the Father’s lap has made him known.

John 1:16-18 (DHE Gospels)

God has always desired to dwell among His special creation; among humanity. He has done so before, however briefly, and He will do so again in eternity. He has sent His messengers and His emissaries to us to give us gifts of Himself, the Torah of Moses and the Mashiach, the Christ. The means to know God and to be with God are within our grasp. As the sages say, the Torah is not in Heaven. As the Apostles of the Messiah say, the Spirit of God is with us in our hearts.

Blessings to you and all who are yours, and blessed be God who so loved the whole world that he gave us His only son.


Vayechi: Being Strong Until the End

Lion of JudahThe scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the lawgiver from his descendants, until the Moshiach comes . . .

Genesis 49:10

Every soul possesses a spark of the soul of Moshiach

—Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

After the passing of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch in 1772, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok led a group of chassidim to settle in the Holy Land.

One day, a somewhat deluded individual climbed the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and sounded a shofar. Soon the rumor spread that Moshiach had arrived, setting off a great commotion in the street. Rabbi Mendel went to his window and sniffed the air. “No,” he said, “unfortunately, the redeemer has not yet arrived. On that day, ‘the world shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea,’ and ‘all flesh will perceive’ (Isaiah 11:9 and 40:5) the reality of the Creator. I do not sense the divine truth that will permeate the world in the era of Moshiach.”

Said the renowned mashpia, Rabbi Grunem Estherman: “Why did Rabbi Mendel need to go to the window to sniff for the presence of Moshiach? Because the all-pervading truth of G‑d was already a tangible reality within the walls of Rabbi Mendel’s room.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Moshiach in the Air”

I know this commentary seems rather fanciful and not particularly realistic (can you smell Moshiach in the air?), but as I read it, I was reminded of how in certain corners of Christianity, the topic of the end times and the second coming are very prominent, almost to the point of obsession. It’s as if we haven’t read the Gospels in our own Bibles.

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Matthew 24:23-28 (ESV)

Why are we so worried about the coming Messiah? He gave us great advice about what worry is all about.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:30-34 (ESV)

But as I said before, it’s very difficult for us to change our thinking and to rise up out of the darkness as a light. It is very difficult to let the world be the world, to just do our best, and to have faith and trust that everything will work out according to God.

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:7-8 (ESV)

Who is Moshiach?Is waiting and rumor a test of faith? It’s been nearly 2,000 years since the ascension and we’ve been waiting ever since. Jews cry out “Moshiach now” but Moshiach has yet to come. Rabbi Mendel said that the world will be filled with the knowledge of God before the Messiah’s coming (return) but that’s just one of many different thoughts about what must happen beforehand. We can’t be that sure of our facts. In many ways, the Bible is a mystery containing clues we struggle all our lives to interpret.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazak, “the Shabbos of reinforcement,” because of the custom of declaring, Chazak, Chazak, Vinischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened”) at the conclusion of the Torah reading, in acknowledgment of the completion of the Book of Genesis.

The awareness nurtured by the reading of Vayechi generates strength. When a Jew knows he has been granted a heritage of life expressed through a connection with the Torah, and that there will come a time when this connection will blossom, he will acquire the inner strength to confront the challenges presented by his environment.

By heightening the expression of this potential in our people as a whole, we hasten the coming of its fruition in the Era of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
“True Life”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 160ff; Vol. XV, p. 422ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5751
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayechi

So Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were likewise born upon Joseph’s knees. At length, Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”

Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Genesis 50:22-26 (JPS Tanakh)

chanukah-josephs-tombThe final verses of this Torah Portion and the book of Genesis find Jacob and Joseph dead and Jacob’s descendants continuing to live in Egypt. This sets the stage for the birth of Moses and the centuries of slavery of the Jewish people under a “new king who arose over Egypt and who did not know Joseph.” If Jacob understood prophesy, he must have known what was going to come after his death, just as Joseph did. True, he was reassured by God that He would go down into Egypt with Jacob and his family, and that God would bring Jacob’s descendants back out of Egypt (Genesis 46:4), and yet what a bitter thing to go to your grave knowing your children and your children’s children will suffer.

As Rabbi Touger states, at the end of this Torah portion, it is customary to declare “Chazak, Chazak, Vinischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened”).”

Where ever you are in your life and whatever your experiences are, however you anticipate your future, whether it be long or brief, you…we…all of us must be strong.

But that can be so very hard. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

God be merciful, and may Moshiach come soon and in our days. Amen.

Good Shabbos.

Genesis: Learning Beginnings

And G-d said: “Let there be a firmament…”

Genesis 1:6

It is written: “Forever, O G-d, Your word stands firm in the heavens.” (It is written: “Forever, O G-d, Your word stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89) Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, explained the verse thus: “Your word” which you uttered, “Let there be a firmament…,” these very words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven and are forever clothed within the heavens to give them life and existence. As it is also written, “The word of our G-d shall stand firm forever” (Isaiah 40:8) and “His words live and stand firm forever.” (From the morning prayers) For if these letters were to depart even for an instant, G-d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become nought and absolute nothingness, and it would be as if they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance, “Let there be a firmament.”

And so it is with all created things, down to the most corporeal and inanimate of substances. If the letters of the “ten utterances” by which the earth was created during the six days of creation were to depart from it for but an instant, G-d forbid, it would revert to absolute nothingness.

This same thought was expressed by the Ari (Famed kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572), of blessed memory, when he said that even in completely inanimate matter, such as earth and stones and water, there is a soul and spiritual life-force – that is, the letters of Divine “speech” clothed within it which continually grant it life and existence.

-Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

One year, following the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi asked his son, Rabbi DovBer: “What did you think of during your prayers?”

Rabbi DovBer replied that he had contemplated the meaning of the passage, “and every stature shall bow before You” (From the “Nishmas” prayer received on Shabbos) – how the most lofty supernal worlds and spiritual creations negate themselves before the infinite majesty of G-d. “And you, father,” Rabbi DovBer then asked, “with what thought did you pray?”

Replied Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “I contemplated the table at which I stood.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Wooden Thoughts”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion B’reisheet

“I contemplated the table at which I stood” seems an odd way to begin a commentary on Genesis and the beginning of a new Torah cycle, but it tells us something about how Jews see life and, to some degree, the differences in generations. Maybe it also teaches us something about different levels of learning. Rabbi Zalman’s son, who was undoubtedly at a relatively early stage of his education, was focused on “the most lofty supernal worlds and spiritual creations negate themselves before the infinite majesty of G-d,” which is not such a bad thing to contemplate during prayers. But why then, would his father contemplate the table at which he stood?

What was God creating at the beginning of all things?

“Firmament” has also been translated as “expanse” (JPS Tanakh, NIV Bible, ESV Bible) or “space” (New Living Translation Bible) and can also be rendered as “canopy.” Although we may think of this as “sky” or “heaven,” there is an apparent “physicality” and “permanency” to God’s creating of everything. And why should God have to create the physical and permanent? For us.

Neither Rabbi Zalman nor his son was wrong about what they were contemplating during their prayers, but this also tells us something about the nature of God, man, and this week’s Torah Portion. Heaven and Earth aren’t necessarily the separate things we consider them in Christian thought. Everything, the physical and the spiritual, are from God, so we should consider them equally as eternal (or at least extremely long lasting) gifts from our Creator.

But I mentioned before about the differences between generations and the different levels of learning. The younger learner strives to reach up to God and the spiritual realm, and the older, more experienced Rabbi, has learned to see Him, even in a wooden table. I guess that tells us to relax a little when we think we can’t see God. He’s all around us anyway and in many ways. Even in the humble wooden table we’re standing next to when we pray. However, this isn’t always the traditional experience parents, Jewish or otherwise, have when trying to pass their traditions and culture from one generation to the next.

I also am not scoring high on the Jewish parent scale these days: my older daughter, who turned 9 in August, recently decided she hates all worship services and doesn’t want to go to Hebrew school. Even though she likes her teachers. My response, for now at least, is that she doesn’t have a choice about Hebrew school, so she might as well try to enjoy it. (Yes, I know, that sounds like the horrifically insensitive comment some clueless people make about rape.)

From toddler-hood until now was like a Jewish identity honeymoon; Ellie loved Hebrew school and her only complaint about services — they are a regular part of Hebrew school each week — was that she didn’t always get called up to the bima to read.

In fact, the first year we belonged to the temple it was my younger one — then 4 — who put up a fuss about Hebrew school, wanting instead to hang out with me on Sunday mornings. But after a few months of conflict, Sophie decided she adored her teacher and the teenage assistant teachers. Two years later, she has nary an objection (although I fear I’ll jinx that now), but Ellie complains constantly.

-Julie Wiener
“Tweens and Torahs”
from her “In the Mix” series

Wiener’s experience is probably more “normal” in terms of religious parents trying to make sure their children receive a “proper education.” I imagine Christian parents have similar struggles getting their “tweens” to go to Sunday school or some Wednesday night Christian kids meeting.

Last year, for this Torah portion, I talked about rerolling the Torah scroll as, in part, a way to reset the clock and turn everything back to the beginning. In the beginning, we not only find the familiar, but we look at it in new and different ways. That’s why I can write a commentary on Genesis from one year to the next and have them be quite different from one another.

But that’s a mature attitude. For a child, it might be, “Not Genesis again,” as if they were having meatloaf for dinner the third time this week. At a certain age, when children are in-between independence and childhood, they navigate a difficult course between parental priorities and their own.

For Jews, the additional layers aren’t just the religious but the cultural. While Julie Weiner is a Jewish agnostic and thus does not transmit a strong religious tradition down to her two daughters, the fact that she is Jewish means she must transmit a strong Jewish cultural identity to her two daughters. The fact that she’s also intermarried adds another wrinkle to the fabric, but that’s what her blog is all about.

It’s also what my blog is all about. It is sometimes incredibly interesting to be intermarried. There was a time when I attended Shabbat services at the local Reform-Conservative synagogue with my wife and kids (who are all Jewish). I felt pretty out of place at the time, but in my heart, I was worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If I had it to do over again, I would have become much more involved in the synagogue community, but I wasn’t in the right place mentally and spiritually back then.

I had no intention of evangelizing or making a nudnik (pest) out of myself. I tried to fit in as best I could but it wasn’t my culture or my identity. I followed the service and spoke to God, but none of that made me a Jew and really, I wasn’t practicing Judaism. I was worshiping alongside the Jews in the congregation (and since it was Reform, I wasn’t the only non-Jew present). I was “in the mix” to borrow from Weiner’s blog, in a group fraught with “mixes,” but I still was and am a Christian.

Rolling the Torah ScrollI mentioned quite recently that I see the mission of Christianity, and particularly those Christians who have an affinity for Judaism, is to support, promote, and encourage a return to the Torah for the Jewish people in our midst. An extension of that mission is to communicate to other Christians what our mission means and how we see it fitting in to the expansive plans of God.

Julie Weiner is trying to pass down Jewish identity from her generation to her children’s. That presupposes Weiner, as a Jew, having ownership over her Jewish identity. That would seem like a no-brainer for the vast majority of people including the vast majority of Christians and Jews, but as I said before, there are some Christians out there who seem just a little confused about who is Jewish and who isn’t. That question extends outward into the larger, “What is Judaism?” which includes What is Messianic Judaism?

The answers aren’t easy, but we can start at a basic foundation. We can see that being Jewish isn’t just a “religious” thing. Wiener (remember, she’s agnostic) can take her two daughters to Simchat Torah with encouraging results.

For Simchat Torah, I dragged the whole family to services, because I remembered how much fun it had been two years earlier (we had to miss it last year), and both girls love dancing. When I was invited to carry one of the Torah scrolls around the sanctuary, I asked Ellie if she wanted to join me, assuming she’d roll her eyes and say absolutely not. To my surprise, she not only came along (eagerly trailed, of course, by Sophie) but then, when offered a small Torah scroll of her own to carry, proudly took it. To her delight, someone took a picture of her marching around the temple with the Torah. (Yes, it’s a Reform temple, we take pictures on Jewish holidays. Go ahead and judge, judgmental reader.) And she danced with gusto for the rest of the night.

There are a lot of Jews in my area who attend Erev Shabbat services at our local Reform-Conservative shul largely for social, cultural, and community reasons as opposed to “being religious” (the Saturday service is thought as “too religious” by many of the Friday night folks).

Those of us who find Jewish cultural and religious practices attractive for whatever reasons, must strive to remember that attraction does not equal ownership. Julie Wiener and her daughters own their Jewish identity, religious and otherwise, because they’re Jewish. Chances are, most of you reading this blog are not. Chances are, most of you reading this blog have no problem with not being Jewish and thus not claiming Jewish identity, either conceptually or by behavior.

We are at a beginning point in the Torah reading cycle. Jewish children are at a beginning point in understanding and establishing a Jewish identity at the levels of religion, culture, ethnicity, and spirituality. It can be very hard to grant someone something that you don’t understand. How can we give the Torah and Jewish identity back to Jews and Judaism? We may think the Bible has told us all we need to know to comprehend what it is to be a Jew, but unless we grew up in a Jewish home and were raised by Jewish parents, in a lived, experiential sense, we don’t have a clue. We just have a little knowledge and a lot of imagination.

In Genesis, God creates the world and its various components and life forms and He creates man and woman. In Abraham, He created the first Hebrew by covenant relationship. At Sinai, by covenant relationship, He created the people and the nation of Israel, who were separated in perpetuity from the rest of the nations; the rest of humanity, in order to serve God in a very, very specific way.

While we Christians were also “created” in covenant relationship to God through the blood and death and life of Jesus Christ, and we are equal in God’s heart and God’s love to the Jewish people, we are not the same as the Jewish people. How all that will work out after the Messiah comes and after all things that are supposed to come to pass, have long since come to pass, I don’t know. I just know that right now, I’m a Christian. People like Julie Wiener and my wife are Jewish. Being Jewish means a whole lot of things and maybe not exactly the same things to all Jews. On the other hand, when you’re not Jewish, it’s pretty obvious, or it should be. For kids in intermarried families, it can be confusing, but the world has done away with enough Jews over the last 3,500 years or so and we need to stop. We need to make it easier for Jewish kids with intermarried parents to recognize what it is for them to be Jewish and not “muddy the waters” for them, so to speak.

Let the Jewish children have their beginning and discover who they are. We Christians should be busy discovering who we are and then teaching that to our children. May the Jewish and Christian children one day find out who they are in relationship to each other, and may all of our generations on that day, stand before the Throne of God and worship the One.