Saturday, September 25, 2010

Woman, Siblings, Religious Conflict, Envy, Screaming Blood & Divine Reflection - Bereshit 1

Lessons from First Humans
The first humans as described in the Torah can be seen as archetypes with all of us as their descendants having some of their characteristics[1]. What are some of the lesser known interpretations in Jewish tradition of these creation stories? What lessons might these offer us?

Woman
There are two opinions about what Eve was created from, 1. When Adam was created he was actually two people in one male on one side and female on the other then these were split. 2. Eve was created from Adam tail (זנב)[2]. If we go with the first opinion, this ties in nicely with the idea that when we are created, we are only half a soul and when we get married our souls are complete again. I am not keen on speculating what conclusions men might reach based on the tail interpretation.

Religious Conflict- a red herring?
The first account of a religious dispute is an interpretation of a surprising phrase in the story of the murder of Abel by his brother. “and Cain said to Abel his brother, and it was as they were in the field, Cain rose up to his brother Abel and killed him”. We are not told what it was that Cain actually said.

Cain said to Abel his brother let us go out into the field and when they both went out,
Cain said to Abel: There is not justice and there is no judge (G-d) and there is no other world (heaven) and there is no reward for the righteous or punishment for the wicked and the world was not created with mercy and He does not speak with mercy.  What would justify that your offering was accepted with good will while mine was not accepted?
Abel replied: there is justice, there is a judge (G-d), there is another world and there the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished, and the world was created with mercy and He acts/leads with mercy as my deeds were better than yours therefore my offering was accepted with good will but yours was not. They both fought in the field then Cain rose up on Abel his brother and killed him[3].

Quite an argument, but not worth recording in the Torah, as Rashi explains “Cain got into words of strife and argument to create a pretext to kill him”.

I wonder how many other so called religious conflicts are just window dressing and pretexts for other motives such as revenge, fear, envy, pursuit of power and resources.

Screaming blood.
I wonder if there is a commentary that can further enhance the power of G-D's rebuke to Cain “the voice of your brothers blood is screaming to me from the earth”. Whatever bloodshed we are responsible for around the world, in that we might have some influence in stopping it, whatever the justification this is a phrase worth bearing in mind.
(The Divine reflection in chapter 6 needs further investigation)


[1] Steinsaltz A. (1984) Biblical Images, BasicBooks/Harper Collins P 3.
[2] Talmud, Brachot 61a. The idea of the tail could be linked to Genesis 2:7 “and the man became a living soul”, the word for living is the same as animal and one interpretation is that he had a stalk or tail (Beresheet Rabba 14, cited in Torat Shlaima).
[3] Jerusalem Targum.