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Parshat B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

“God said, ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.’ ” (Genesis 1:29)

On Simchat Torah we read V’zot Habracha, the closing parasha, or portion, of the Torah and then return to B’reishit, the opening parasha, immediately. B’reishit introduces many of the Torah’s central themes, but not always in obvious ways.

When the Torah states,“ And God created mankind in God’s image…” (Gen. 1:27) it does not mean a physical likeness. Ovadiah ben Yaakov S’forno (c. 1470–c. 1550; Italian physician and commentator) explains it refers to free will, the difference being humans, unlike God, don’t always makes the right choice. This is made abundantly clear as the creation story unfolds.

When God asks Adam if he disobeyed God’s order to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam blames Eve, who in turn blames the snake (Gen. 2:11-13). Now, God already knows the answer; God asks the question to give Adam (and Eve) the chance to take responsibility, confess, and repent. But they each make a poor choice. This pattern is repeated later in the parasha, when God offers Cain the chance to admit to murdering his brother, Abel, which he declines (Gen. 4:9). S’forno anticipates Watergate by 2,000 years by suggesting it’s not the crimes, but the cover-ups, that get Adam, Eve, and Cain punished. It’s tantalizing to think what might have happened had Adam, Eve, and Cain owned up to their misbehavior.

S’forno claims these stories highlight God’s primary attribute: mercy. God does not expect mankind to be perfect, but simply to be honest. God prefers t’shuvah, repentance, over punishment (Ez. 18:23) and therefore creates an ideal world: one that allows second chances to make the right choice.

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