The Beginning - Again
The first two parshayos in Bereishis (parshas Bereishis, psook 1:1 through 6:8, and parshas Noach, psook 6:9 through 11:32) present a picture of a simple, clean start to the universe, heading into utter complexity and moral ambiguity, followed by catastrophe, and the immediate re-introduction of complexity into the world. All framed in relation to man.
How must we understand this text?
One way, which people with whom I would rather not associate favour, is to see it as indisputable truth - the creationist point of view. 'This is how it happened, there is no more to it than this'.
Ober ez iz nit azoy poshut - not only is such a literalist interpretation contradicted by other versions of events (for instance, Derush Ohr Ha Chayim, which can be found in most editions of the Mishnah that include the commentary Tiferes Yisroel (*), AND the Lurianic concept of the breaking of the vessels), but it is flatly contradicted by all the evidence of evolution.
I will not go into either of the two other tale-perspectives I mention here; enough has been written on them already, and they both suffer from the same flaw which the first point of view has, namely ignorance and blindness.
I accept that the evidence for evolution points to actual occurrences, and an actual progression of events over millions of years, which, while we may not know all the details, and may never know all the details, prove that the version in Bereishis is only the slimmest rhetorical outline, given as a preamble to the tales that follow. A glib, offhand set-up, even. The birth of time did not actually happen in so simple a fashion, but as a basis for the subsequent narrative, it is all you need to know about the beginning of things.
[And, within the context of Torah, do you really need to hear all the scientific details? Surely not. What purpose would that serve? The Torah is many things, but it is not a dry text-book requiring no interaction from the reader.]
Think of this part of Sefer Bereishis as the first line in an anecdote: "there were these two naked people, see, and they were driven from their home with a flaming sword...."
A much more gripping start than "there were carbon atoms, and hydrogen atoms, and giant balls of flaming gas whirling through a void.....".
Within mere moments, in the sequence of the tale, we go from the idyllic innocence of ganeydin to the Byzantine complexity of motives and characters in the era of Noach and the tower of Babel. From the Homer Simpsonesque blankness of Adam and Eve to the glittering variegation of the early middle-east, with its diverse peoples and cultures.
This progression, and the contrasts and facets it highlights, present a much more interesting and stimulating picture than the pshat.
I hold that we should see this portion of the text as decidedly not mere reportage - instead, we should see it as the groundwork for a fascinating epic, a narrative of tribal formation, nationhood, kingship, human relations on multiple levels and the relation between human and the divine, an exploration of psychology, motivations, mystery, romance, and a contractual relationship. Everything, in other words, which we would expect to hold our attention, stimulate thoughts, goad an emotional involvement, prompt our questions, and spur us to find answers.
Reading it as data robs it of significance; both we, and the text, are deeper than that.
As readers, our task is to dig for meaning in the text. We have to question it, wrestle with it, embrace it - we might not fully understand it (rather like with evolution), but if we can get beyond that half-witted logic that accepts it as plain fact, we will at least have given it the respect it deserves.
To do otherwise is sheer laziness.
Blind, blinkered belief in a six day creation mythos requires stupidity and stubbornness - indicative of intellectual bankruptcy, certainly, but quite probably also a moral bankruptcy.
If that's all you intend to get out of Toireh, why bother?
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* RE: Derush Ohr Ha Chayim: According to an article by Moshe Lerman in Arutz Sheva dated October 13th., 2004. Surely you didn't think I was well read enough to have discovered that by myself?