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    One day – B’reshit

    October 23rd, 2019

    Each day of Creation has a number. Without apparent logic, the text says, “And it was evening and it was morning, one day” (Gen. 1:5). Then it continues, “a (or “the”) second day, third day, etc.”

    Why doesn’t the enumeration begin with “the first day”?

    One possibility is Rashi’s idea (based on the Midrash) that the Torah is telling us that the opening day is “The Day of the One”, i.e. God. On that day the Creator was alone; the angels were not created until the second day.

    There is a connection with the opening line of the Sh’ma, which declares that God is One – Echad, although this time the word has a theological connotation and possibly means “Unique”.

    The Ramban (Nachmanides) has a more mathematical explanation of the phenomenon in our text. He says that the word “first” is only used when we know that it is followed by a second, a third, etc.


    Two creation stories – B’reshit

    October 23rd, 2019

    In a now well-known essay in “The Lonely Man of Faith”, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that the Torah begins with two accounts of Creation because the Adam who is the culmination of Creation is a different Adam each time.

    The two stories illustrate the tension in the human condition. Paraphrasing Rav Soloveitchik’s view, one might say that Adam I is prosaic whilst Adam II is poetical.

    Adam I sees the world as a challenge to be mastered; Adam II has a consciousness of God and himself.

    Adam I is concerned with how the world works whilst Adam II is an existential being who is concerned with his spiritual dimension and loneliness.

    Which is the authentic Adam?

    Both of them. Each of us is Adam I; each is Adam II. There are two sides to our character.


    He walked & was not – B’reshit

    October 23rd, 2019

    Enoch, from the Figures de la Bible, 1728

    The human beings who people the first section of B’reshit include Chanoch (Enoch) about whom the Torah says, “And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, because God took him” (Gen. 5:24).

    This cannot be a way of escaping from the blunt “and He died”, since “and he died” comes a number of times in the same chapter.

    Rashi says that the words indicate that he died early, since most ancient figures are described as enjoying very long lives. In this sense Enoch died before reaching a normal span of years.

    According to Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) he died without undergoing a prior period of illness.

    There is a tradition that Enoch never really died, though other traditions deny this, and the Targum Onkelos spells it out and says, “The Lord caused him to die”.

    The Targum – as usual – is bothered by the anthropomorphism of the phrase, “walked with God”, and re-words it as “walked in the fear of the Lord”.

    The fact that he “walked with God” indicates that his righteousness brought him a special fate.


    It isn’t Purim

    October 16th, 2019

    In popular thinking Simchat Torah is a sort of Purim, a day for carnival jollification. But the popular view is wrong.

    Simchat Torah is, in some respects, more spiritual. It epitomises the simchah shel mitzvah, the joy of the Divine commandment, a day to rejoice in the study and observance of the Torah.

    Purim is more down to earth. It symbolises the fear and fright of the antisemite’s plan to exterminate us, and our relief at escaping.

    Both are occasions of joy. The one reminds us that it’s hard to be a Jew, the other that being a Jew is good.

    Both, however, are days of happiness, and on both it is we have to share our rejoicing with others, not just by being generous but by being thoughtful.

    One Simchat Torah, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick of Melbourne asked one of his congregants who insisted on dancing with the Torah, “If you were a person who studied the Torah I would understand why you want a Torah to dance with!”

    The congregant responded, “If someone else has something to celebrate, I am happy too!”


    Drinking & thinking

    October 16th, 2019

    Some congregations wax and wane on Simchat Torah morning.

    There is a custom to call as many people as possible to the Torah reading. After each Aliyah it seems to be the practice in such places that the person who has just been called up immediately makes an exit from the synagogue.

    When I first encountered this practice I became a detective, following the person concerned to see where he was off to. I discovered that in a nearby room there was a drinking club in session. Each Aliyah was followed by a whisky (plus, in that particular shule, herring on a cracker).

    I must say I was underwhelmed. A whisky has its place and time, but what it adds to the love of the Torah which is the purpose of the Simchat Torah festival is highly debatable.

    I am even less impressed with the habit in some places of plastering young people with alcohol which often ends up as vomit in the gutters. No God, no religion, no spiritual joy.

    The answer is not necessarily to be a teetotaler, but can’t we think of something better? Can’t the policy be that of the Psalmist, “Worship the Lord in gladness, enter His Presence with song” (Psalm 100:2)?