Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 132

October 21, 2022 (26 Tishrey 5783)

Take It From the Top

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. Thank you so much for helping us to make a meaningful and uplifting holiday season for our community. Your participation always makes a great difference.

This Shabbat we will join for in-person services in our sanctuary, and as well over our regular zoom prayer link. We look forward to welcoming you either way.

This Shabbat, we once again start the annual cycle of Torah readings by chanting the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. Fun stuff!!

For many, the study of the introductory chapters of the Torah provides an entry into the concept of biblical criticism. That is to say, the careful reader will note that there are significant differences between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. These types of differences provide the fodder for the framing of the documentary hypothesis.

Allow me to share a few observations.

First, we should note that the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 consistently use different names for God. Whereas the first account uses the generic term ’Elohîm (up to Gen 2:3), the second account uses the compound name YHWH ’Elohîm.

The two creation accounts also have different literary styles, scope, and organizational principles. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the entire cosmos (Heaven and Earth) over six days, with repetition and patterning, climaxing with God’s rest on the seventh day. By contrast, Genesis 2 (the first chapter of the Garden story) is more straightforwardly a narrative in the formal sense, with a series of tensions and resolutions. Furthermore, in contrast to the wide-angle view of Genesis 1, which surveys the cosmos as a whole, Genesis 2 zooms in telescopically on humanity on the Earth.

The two accounts also have differing evaluations of the various stages of creation. Genesis 1 is peppered with statements at multiple stages of the creative process that “God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and ultimately that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). By way of contrast, at one point in Genesis 2, we find YHWH God saying, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” (Gen 2:18) which specifies a plot tension in the narrative that is resolved by the creation of the woman (Gen 2:21–22).

Perhaps most significantly for those attempting to harmonize Genesis with science, there is a different order of creative events in each chapter. To begin with, the two creation accounts open with different (indeed, opposite) descriptions of the initial state of the world. Whereas Genesis 1 starts with the Earth inundated with water (Gen 1:2) so that God must separate the waters for the dry land to emerge (Gen 1:9), Genesis 2 begins with the Earth as a dry wilderness (Gen 2:5), until a stream or mist emerges to provide water (Gen 2:6).

Then, attending to just those creative events mentioned in both chapters, the following divergences are evident. Genesis 1 has water first, then land, followed by plants, animals, and finally humans (’Adam, consisting in male and female together). By contrast, Genesis 2 begins with the existence of land, then comes water, followed by a human, then plants, animals, and finally a woman.

One approach is to think of these two differing depictions of creation as balancing each other. Whereas the first account (Gen 1) pictures God as more transcendent, speaking creation into being by his word, the second account (Gen 2) portrays God as more immanent, forming the human from the dust of the ground (like a potter working with clay), and conversing with humans. And there is certainly validity and much to value to this approach.

As we begin our readings this week, please feel free to share your own observations, questions and comments so that together we can begin again, our new year, immersed in Torah text and study.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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