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Parashat Bereshit 5779 — 10/06/2018

Parashat Bereshit 5779 — 10/06/2018

Bereishit 1:1 – 6:8

This year I will be turning to a contemporary source for inspiration. R. Shmuel Goldin has a BS in psychology and an MA in Jewish education from Yeshiva University, and served as a Rabbi in Englewood, NJ. He is also past president of the Rabbinical Council of America. He has written a 5 volume set called Unlocking the Torah Text which analyzes closely selected passages from the weekly parashah in accord with the approaches of several traditional commentators, and then adds his own insight. I used to read excerpts on the OU website ( — where there is a wealth of knowledge) but apparently it is not there anymore. The five-volume set is available for about $130 from OU Press or from Amazon, or per volume at about $30 each. And as usual, any complaints are to be directed to me, not R. Goldin!

R. Goldin launches right into a series of questions that have always bothered me regarding Adam and Eve’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

Questions abound concerning this familiar story: What “knowledge’ is represented by the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why are the consumption of that fruit and the attainment of that knowledge prohibited? Why does Gd plant the tree in the first place? What kind of knowledge did Adam and Chava possess before eating of the tree? Can free will exist without knowledge? If not, how can Adam and Chava be held culpable for the crime?
Finally, the whole episode seems to be a recipe for predetermined failure – a setup. Take a child and place him in a room surrounded by an array of attractive toys. Place in that room as well a sealed package with the instructions that all the toys may be used with the exception of the object in the sealed package. It won’t take long before the child gravitates to that one sealed package.
How could Gd expect Adam and Chava to ignore the lure of the one prohibited tree in the garden?
Compounding the problem, of course, is the fact of Gd’s omniscience. Gd knows from the outset what will occur. Why doom man to predetermined failure?

Here are some of the ideas R. Goldin presents to answer some of these questions:

  • Abarbanel, whose works we used last year, suggests that the tree of knowledge represents the quest for physical pleasure and material gain. In other words, eating of that tree is emblematic of our dual nature – we have a soul, which is a portion of the Divine, and that soul inhabits a body, which is of the earth.
  • Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya suggest that free will entered the human condition when they ate from the tree. Before that, Adam and Eve only did Gd’s Will. The trouble with this approach is that if they only did Gd’s Will, why did they then violate Gd’s Will by eating from the tree? And if they had no free will prior to their “sin,” where was the sin? They were like robots! And therefore, how could they be punished? I might add that the text has the serpent inciting Eve, who looks at the fruit and appears to make a conscious decision to eat it – this looks quite like free will to me.
  • R. Goldin offers that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the prohibition to eat of it represent the absolute nature of morality. Morality is not determined by man or by society. The extreme example would be the Final Solution – in the perverted society built by the Nazis, killing Jews was the right and moral thing to do. How did the Allies dare to try them for “crimes against humanity,” imposing foreign values on a sovereign nation?! Rather, Gd determines morality, and the sin of Adam and Eve was to try to usurp that prerogative, substituting limited, human understanding for perfect, Divine knowledge.

There is more here than one can cover in a reasonable length, so I will try and give an approach that is not often considered and see if it sheds some light on these questions. We have discussed over the past year or two that underlying all the various forms and phenomena we see in the physical world, is a single Unified Field. This field vibrates in different modes, each mode corresponding to one or another of the elementary particles of which atoms, molecules, and macroscopic objects are composed. It turns out that all of space and time and the matter and energy within them, is nothing more than a very complex pattern of vibration of this underlying, self-interacting field. Clearly, if we could station our awareness on the level of this field, which transcends space and time, then all of the past and the future of the universe would be laid out before us. Certainly this is Gd’s vision. The question is, where does this leave our free will? If we can predict what the vibratory pattern will be tomorrow based on what it is today – that is, if the laws governing the vibration of the Unified Field are deterministic – then it would appear that we are caught up in a web of time and causality from which there is no escape.

It turns out that in fact the behavior of the Unified Field is not wholly deterministic. The Unified Field is a quantum field, and any quantum object actually does not have a well-defined state at any point in time. In fact, a quantum object is in a combination of all possible states at any one time, and it is only when we go to measure the object that it assumes one state. In some way, human consciousness interacts with quantum systems to force them into a particular state. Might it be that our moral choices somehow affect the state of the universe as a whole? That instead of encompassing all paths into the future, now we are constrained to one? And of course the earlier on, and the more fundamental a choice, the greater the impact on all future history.

This idea of course does not square our free will with Gd’s foreknowledge, and I suspect that the question makes no sense while our awareness is limited to the world of specific boundaries. R. Akiva famously said, “Everything is foreseen, and free will is given…” (Pirke Avot 3:19) In the world of boundaries, we have a paradox. In Gd’s world, there is no paradox.

R. Dovid Rosenfeld quotes Maimonides on the web site:

[Maimonides] then explains as follows: Gd’s knowledge is not external to Him, as is man’s. And, just as man cannot comprehend Gd’s essence, he cannot comprehend Gd’s knowledge. Therefore, although it is beyond our understanding how Gd can be aware of an indeterminate future, His awareness is as removed from our universe as Gd Himself and thus in no way impacts on the reality of free will. Thus, our futures truly are our own to decide. Gd’s knowledge of our eventual decisions is so to speak not yet a part of this world — and has not assumed a form which impinges on the independence of this world.

What is perfectly clear is this: Gd gives us choices in the same way as He gave Adam and Eve a choice. We may not understand Gd’s reason for creating us as He did, but we do have to reckon with the consequences of our choices.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Bereishit

Torah is beyond language, beyond verbal definitions and grammar—it is the fundamental liveliness of Gd. On our level of life, of awareness, the sound value of Torah comes closer to the transcendental and all-pervading quality of Torah than does the meaning value.

From this standpoint, here are two sources to listen to the beginning of Bereishit: the first is traditional; the second is creative.
1. Bereishit 1-8 with cantillation: Very sweet, easy to listen to.

2. Very lively. Award-winning singer Noa sings Bereishit with Philarmonic Rishon Le Tzion.

Consider Bereishit the seed of Teshuvah — return to Oneness – and V’zot HaBeracha, the last parshah of the Chumash, the fruit: Do we see that the seed has borne fruit?

If we take it on plain level of meaning, no: the children of Israel (that’s not only long time ago but today and in all times) have not yet entered the Promised Land, and Moses, the great leader, never will.

But perhaps we can say that Moses, one of the guests that visits the sukkah during Succoth, has entered Gan Eden, as tradition has it, and so the human race has returned at least a few people to Gan Eden from which Adam and Eve were evicted: not quite Teshuvah but definitely a return to a higher status.

And later in Bereishit, we see Enoch mentioned as walking with Gd — definitely teshuvah — and Noah as being a righteous person, one who Gd trusts to maintain life on our planet when the rest of humanity, due its wickedness, is destroyed in the flood.

So even early in Torah, taken on the level of meaning, we see examples of the fruit of the seed appearing: people who walk with Gd, who are righteous.

And perhaps dying by Gd’s mouth, as Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah tells us Moses did, is connecting with Gd, The One, and so is teshuvah.

Perhaps, also, we can say that in Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah, we learn that through Gd’s blessings, given by Moses to each of the 12 tribes, the tribes were united, and became One, symbolic of Teshuvah, return to Unity, to Oneness.

Having considered the fruit in Parshah V’Zot HaBrachah, let us consider the seed:
Bereishit begins in Hebrew: “Bereishit bara Elohim et HaShamayim v’et Ha’aretz…”

The way this is commonly translated to English, Bereishit reads: “In the beginning, Gd created heaven and earth…”.

The way the ArtScroll Chumash and translate it, it reads, “In the beginning of Gd’s creating the heavens and the earth…”

This is not only according to scholars more grammatically correct but makes more sense because Gd is without beginning or end, so beginning can only refer to some relative beginning, not to an absolute one.

In addition, Wikipedia notes that not only is “bara” a verb that is only used in reference to Gd but it doesn’t mean “create”, it means “differentiate/separate, assign roles to.” From this standpoint, the heavens and the earth already existed but they were not separated/distinguished from each other until Gd did so. So Bereishit refers to the beginning of distinguishing “heavens”, the inner, subtle, abstract levels of the details of Gd, from “earth,” the concrete aspect.

Gd is always One, Unity in Diversity, as it is described in Maharishi Vedic Science so it is necessary to consider what Torah means by “beginning.”

The best way of looking at the meaning of ‘beginning” is that it refers to any point in the infinite liveliness of Gd — separation and unification are always going on, everywhere and so at any point heaven and earth are always being separated and united.

Within every point is the Whole Unbounded Ocean of Gd and everything is always going on everywhere, in sequence and also in simultaneity. To Gd, Gd is always Totally Present, Infinitely Lively, Infinitely Silent, Omnidirectional, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omni-Joyful, Omni-Loving, and so the idea of beginning is just part of Gd’s “let’s pretend to be limited.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in his “Body, Mind and Soul: Kabbalah on Human Physiology, Disease and Healing”, notes that “create” and “heal” in Hebrew have the same root: b-r-a: from this angle, we can say that the beginning of Torah is always the beginning of healing, of teshuvah, of healing we humans of our limits and restoring us to our unlimited status as impulses of One in which the Full Ocean of One functions and also restoring us to full memory of the reality that only One exists and we are This.

So creation – healing – begins, when Torah, the fundamental liveliness of Gd, begins to be perceived by individual humans.

We humans are individual impulses of Gd who pretends to be limited for the fun of playing Hide and Seek Peek-a-Boo in us, so He, pretending to be we limited souls, can have the fun of seeking as us, and Gd as Gd, can have the pleasure of hinting Reality through Torah sounds, Torah stories, Torah mitzvah and whatever way He wishes.

In this game, this Game, little by little, and also suddenly, we find – we Find!

Gd dissolves the veils of limits and reveals to us that Gd is All, within us and all around us, everywhere, One without a Second.

And this can happen with any sound of Torah, any word, any parshah, even the last one as we suddenly See and Know the Truth within the Stories.

And because Torah in the book is only the most infinitesimal aspect of Torah as One with Gd, Torah can hint to us and reveal to us through the taste of orange juice, when we’re eating breakfast; through the sounds of our footsteps when we are walking down a street; through our dreams when we are snoozing — at any time, any place.

Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good And Evil as well as the serpent, are within us, ready to be clearly experienced as Omnidirectional, All-in-All Points of One, and the duality between Gd and the uncreated creation, is ready to be experienced as the Fun of Gd, always within Gd as One.

So, too, are the all the details of Torah as the Book and Torah as Gd.

As we do our best to “Be still and know!”, “to love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and all our might”, to “love our neighbor as our self”, as our Self, we begin to see, hear, taste, touch, smell the Beauty of Gd in every leaf, every sound, every bite of food—everywhere.

Very encouraging!

Let’s keep on doing it.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Baruch HaShem.