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Parashat B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Here we go again. Parashat B’reishit begins the annual cycle of Torah reading by describing the origins of the world. God places Adam and Eve in Gan Eiden, the Garden of Eden, a perfectly balanced ecosystem. Because they disobey God’s command (not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge), they are exiled. Humanity has spent the rest of history trying, “to get back to the garden.”

B’reishit states, “And He expelled the man…” (Gen 3:24). Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl (1972-; Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue in NYC) says that’s what the text says, but not necessarily what it means. Citing the Zohar (13th Century Spain; the central work of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)), she points out the Hebrew word et comprises the letters alef and tav, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This makes it a symbol for completeness, and transforms it from an article of speech to a name of God. So when B’reishit says, “Vay’garesh et ha-adam…” (And He (God) expelled the man) the Zohar says B’reishit means the man (Adam) expelled God. This act of hubris leads to the human condition.

Buchdahl (and the Zohar!) suggests something important to a world besotted by technology. Knowledge is good. Knowledge is power. But rational, empirical, cognitive, “head” knowledge alone is incomplete. Without a sense of awe and mystery, without accepting how much lies beyond our knowledge, no place can be experienced and understood fully. Adam and Eve don’t (and can’t) know what they don’t know. Expelling God turns paradise into a parking lot.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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