Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
This week we start the reading of the Torah from the first column of the scroll. This week we read Parshat Bereshit, the very first portion in the Torah and the descriptions of creation as imagined by our ancestors. I say descriptions in the plural because there are at least two versions of the origins of humanity in this week’s Torah portion! And while some try to conflate the two versions, they are very distinct. In the first, a human being with both male and female characteristics is described. In the second story of creation we have the more familiar story of Adam and Eve.
Every society has its stories of the beginnings of the world. The ancient Egyptians believed that at first there was only Nun, the primal ocean of chaos that contained the beginnings of everything to come. From these waters came Ra who, by himself, gave birth to Shu and Tefnut. Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture gave birth to Geb and Nut, the earth god and the sky goddess. And so the physical universe was created.
The Babylonian creation myth begins this way:
When the skies above were not yet named
Nor earth below pronounced by name,
Apsu, the first one, their begetter,
And maker Tiamat, who bore them all,
Had mixed their waters together,
But had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds;
When yet no gods were manifest,
Nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed,
Then gods were born within them.
What is most powerful about the retelling of the creation myth in our Torah is that instead of many gods and goddesses collaborating to make something out of the chaos we have a single entity that creates the universe out of chaos and void. As it says in Genesis 1:1, “When God began to create, the universe was chaos and void,”
The rabbis added to this creation myth by imagining eternal things and ideas that were created or contemplated by God even before the creation! These include the Torah, and the Throne of Glory, the Patriarchs, and the People Israel, The Temple and the name of the Messiah! (Midrash Bereshit)
These stories of Jewish tradition are not about science. But the creation myths are about understanding the eternal values which help us place ourselves in the world and in relationship to other people around us. Our stories of creation and the beginning of the world and the beginning of humanity help us to see our partnership with God in the care for our Garden Planet, Earth and our need to understand our role in perpetuating eternal values of goodness and justice for all people.
So the next time someone wants to read the Creation story literally with you. Tell them the literal understanding is in the values of caring for our world that they should be consumed with.