OzTorah: Torah reading – B’reshit


Parashat B’reshit rolls round the Sefer Torah to the story of Adam. A famous analysis by Rav Soloveitchik says there were two Adams. We might call them practical Adam and poetical Adam. In a more basic sense there are two other Adams – Adam as Mankind, and Adam as a particular individual, the progenitor, with Eve, of all life. Rabbinic exposition addressed both issues.

* Adam as mankind

The angels urged God not to create Man. He would only mar God’s work; he would lie and cheat and be cruel and be quarrelsome. God would not have a moment’s peace. God heard the angels out but decided to go ahead regardless. The same Man who could do so much harm could also perform wondrous deeds of love and mercy, and be the Almighty’s co-worker in making the world beautiful.

God divided the world into many parts. Man too has many parts. The hands are to be constructive and helpful, the feet to run to do good deeds, the heart to feel for other people, the mind to think ahead and plan his actions.

God made Man in His image. This cannot be understood in a physical sense. “Image” is meant in a spiritual, intellectual and moral sense. Man can never be God, but he has godlike qualities which he can use to his own benefit and the glory of God.

* Adam as an individual

Even as an individual, Adam’s head was formed from the dust of Jerusalem, his body from the dust of Babylon and his other parts from the rest of the world. He belonged everywhere, and everything was at his disposal.When Adam was created the angels feared he would be their rival. Then God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him and the angels knew he was mortal. Man was not meant to be angelic but to live in the world and be truly human.

Why was Adam created last? Such a magnificent being, and the tiny fly came before him! One view: if he became too high and mighty God could remind him, “Don’t be so arrogant. Even the fly was made before you!” Another view: the stages of Creation became more refined as they progressed. All the earlier creations led up to the pinnacle represented by Adam.

The words, “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (Gen. 5:1), mean that God showed him all that would happen in the generations to come. If he disobeyed God, however, the whole future would be affected. Nothing Adam did was without its effect on history.



The order of creation raises fascinating questions. For instance, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).

Impressive, inspiring, poetic, but strange. Surely light came into being too early! For why is light necessary? To see by. But as yet there were neither plants, animals or human beings who could benefit from the light. It could have waited until the third day.

Yet the Midrash remarks,

“Just as a king wishing to build a palace does not do so spontaneously but consults architect’s plans, so God looked into the Torah and created the world.”

Thus in a metaphorical sense the light was useful for God Himself, and indeed the text says time after time, “And God saw that it was good”. Not that God is physical and literally sees, but in a spiritual sense He is aware of everything, and in the process of creation He “saw” what He was doing and approved it as fitting into His predetermined plan.

His Divine intention was to bring into being a world which would operate on harmonious, moral principles; stage by stage He checked what He had done and gave it a heavenly seal of approval. In due course the plant, animal and human kingdoms needed light in a physical sense, but the notion of light and “seeing” had their purpose for God Himself from the moment the work began.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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