Oz Torah: To soul the world – B’reshit.


The Book of B’reshit leads us through four stages – man (and woman), family, tribe and people.

Each stage fascinated our ancient ancestors.

The stage we will concern ourselves with here is the first, depicting not just how humanity began but what the rabbinic age of Midrash and Talmud read into and out of the Biblical story.

There were two major ideas in particular:

1. Adam as the ideal prototype, the acme of beauty, dignity, goodness and intelligence – in the Psalmist’s words (8:6), “little lower than the angels”.

What shattered the dream?  Adam was not certain of himself – was he more like an angel or more like a beast?

When he was captured and captivated by the second option and could not master his desires, he no longer deserved to live forever or to inhabit the garden of paradise.

2. The emergence of the basic marks and ideas of civilisation. Cultural characteristics – speech, gender, food, clothing, work, skill, counting time, music. Ideas – morality, equality, love, community, compassion.

Every problem that confronted later generations was discovered as prefigured in the Creation story – problems such as marital dysfunction, sibling rivalry, wounding with words (“death and life are in the power of the tongue”: Proverbs 18:21), the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked.


The opening chapters of B’reshit see the creation of the first man and woman with God planting a garden for them to inhabit (Gen 2:8).

Source: World History: Ancient Civilizations.

The text says, “God planted a garden in Eden”, indicating that Eden was a place. The name means “delight”.  Its situation seems to be near the beginning of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

It is not certain what is meant by the garden being there “mikedem”. The Hebrew could mean “from of old”, which is the interpretation of the Targum based on the Midrash. Ibn Ezra says that God planted the garden there before creating man.

Another possibility is that it means “in the east”, which suggests that Eden was somewhere to the east of Eretz Yisra’el.

In Jewish theology “Garden of Eden” is one of the names of the World to Come, indicating that after the storm and stress of earthly living the soul will find eternal pleasure in the presence of God.

Of course this is poetic language which does not literally mean physical delight but spiritual perfection.


What did God do when He had finished creating?

The Torah says “vayinafash”, which is connected with “nefesh”, a soul. Pinhas Peli says in one of his essays on the Bible that what God did was that He souled the world, He gave the world a soul.

There are three possibilities when it comes to interpreting the Creation story: one, it is a scientific study of origins; two, it is a set of fairy tales; three, it was neither scientific or magical but spiritual.

Because of the word “vayinafash”, we are not dealing with inanimate wood and stones, nor with poetical Dreamtime hymns, but with spiritual principle. Because the world now had a soul it began to function, move and pulsate.

A simple analogy: when man turns on the switch, the machinery begins to operate. Because God instilled a soul into His world, it became a living thing.


credit: My Jewish Learning.

God divided the light from the darkness… God called the light Day” (Gen. 1:4-5). Why the name “yom” – “day”?

The dictionaries are uncertain about “yom”. Rabbinic sources offer various suggestions.

One view links the word with “mayim”, water, “since light comes from the water”, possibly understanding light as a wave motion. Another view sees “yom” as a derivative of “hum” or “him“, meaning to move.

Samson Raphael Hirsch, less grammatically, suggests a connection with “kum”, to arise, since day is the time when people stand up; by way of contrast, Hirsch links “lay’lah”, night, with a root that means to lie down.

Driver says, “God designed the distinction (between light and darkness) to be permanent, and therefore stamped it with a name.”

There are things to do during the day. The Psalmist says, “The sun rises… man goes forth to his work” (Psalm 104:22-23). Daytime is when one has work to do and can see how to do it.

Hillel Zeitlin said, “Each day in which no good was done returns to its Creator in disgrace. Each day in which good was done weaves a garment for the human soul.”

It is a waste of the daylight hours to spend them in night-time activities; Rabbi Dosa ben Horkinas said that morning sleep “drives a person out of the world” because valuable opportunities for work and study are being lost (Avot 3:14).

The night is the time for sleep, in order to be refreshed for the day ahead. To be unable to sleep is a major problem, but one of the ways of facing the problem is to try to restore the day-night distinction.

There are of course those whose occupation requires night-time work, but this should not be regarded as normative.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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