A Tale of Two Worlds: The IS and the ISN'T YET

Parashat Bereshit: Genesis 1:1-68

A leading characteristic both of our Torah and our Peoplehood is that we are constantly grappling with our notions of what life is and what life can really be. It is particularly significant that the opening chapters of the Torah deal not with Jews or the Land of Israel or Covenant, but rather with universal meanings, applicable to all people.

We are presented in chapter one (which we might call “The Seven Days”) with the view of a God-created world characterized by the harmonious interdependence of all the created parts: first the sea, then dry land, followed by vegetation, animal life and, finally, Man. In an atmosphere of quiet and serenity, without even a hint of turmoil, strife or contention, a world comes into being which is ordered (“day one … a second day… a third day … ”), stable (“ … and it was so … ”) and dependable (“ … and it was evening and it was morning … ”). It is a world that does not know of death (“ … be fruitful and multiply …), a world in which Man and the animals co-exist benevolently ( “ … I give you all vegetation for food… ”), and, finally, a world of harmony and self-sufficiency (“God finished His work …”). It is a world the sum total of whose parts is pleasing to God and “very good.”

Contrastingly, as the Adam and Eve Story draws to a close, we see a world of prohibition (“from the tree of the knowledge of all things you shall not eat …”) and violation (“and she ate … and he ate”); a world of blame (“she gave me and I ate”) and a world of flawed relationships (“the man and the woman hid from God … enmity between you and the woman … the land will sprout thorns and thistles for you …”); a world of ache (“in pain shall you give birth …”) and a world of death (“and to the dust you shall return”).

The world of Adam and Eve (humankind) is the flawed and corrupted world we all know, all too well. It is a world colored and determined by the exercise of free will. Eve was told not to eat and yet she and her mate did. They were told what the consequences of their misdeed would be and yet they forged ahead. The world was changed, humankind was changed, and interdependent harmoniousness was broken.

Remarkably, the Eden story is placed alongside the world of The Seven Days, a world for which we long but also a world we have not yet known. All the rest of Bible and Jewish history (and everyone's history) has been less than the picture of The Seven Days. But, then again, The Seven Days is not what is, rather what isn't … yet. How do we get there? The Torah shows us The Seven Days' perfected world because all the rest of Torah and Jewish tradition will be the program for bringing it about. No universal ideal can be accomplished without a particular program. We're still working on ours.

Dr. Brauner is Professor of Judaic Studies at Siegal College, Cleveland, OH