Parashah Bereshit begins with creation, hope, and optimism but ends with despair, hopelessness, and gloom. Documented within is the creation of the world and mankind; man’s early life experiences and conflicts; and the rise (and then fall) of civilization. As Nechama Leibowits says in her book, Studies in Bereshis, “The Torah shows us how civilization and economic progress brought with them erosion in human behavior to the point where mankind’s very existence was endangered.”
At the moment of his confrontation with God, as Adam is confessing his wrongdoing, he uses the word “V’o’chal” (“And I did eat”). This verb, however, can also read in the future tense leading the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 19:22) to see within this confession an application to the future: “VeAchalti Ayn Kesiv Kan Elah Vochal” (“It is not written here ‘and I ate’; rather, ‘I will eat’”). Adam is declaring his intention to repeat his sin in the future! Since Adam is regarded as being “above the norm” in moral stature, how can we reconcile such brazenness at a time of such shame and exposure?
The crux of this problem lies in the deeper significance of the sin of eating of the forbidden tree.
According to the Ramban, before this act, it was Adam’s nature to do good and to perform nothing but the will of God. He lived in a state of purity and integrity in which shame or modesty were irrelevant. “Velo Yisbosheshu” (“And they were not ashamed of the nakedness”). Rashi explains that even though Adam was gifted with the power to give names, thereby demonstrating a profound understanding of the essence of each creature, there was still one discernment that was denied him — the power to differentiate between good and evil. Only after his sin did he know that difference. Before his sin, his perception of good and evil was of two forces patently and unmistakably opposed to each other, perceived with all the awareness with which truth and falsehood are distinguished. Once the experience of the sin penetrated Adam’s inner self, it was this clarity of vision that was lost.
From that point on, confusion became an integral factor of any moral issue: good and evil became somewhat entangled with each other, and the elements of a problem were no longer easily identifiable. Reb Chaim of Velozhin describes this change as follows: “Before his sin, Adam did have free will, but then his choice lay between being either entirely good or entirely evil. Eating of the tree, however, resulted in an intermingling of good and evil.”
The long-reaching effect of the sin is explained as being the first experience of physical pleasure in its own right. Before, physical acts had been completely imbued with spiritual purpose; now, for the first time, man knew the alienation from God that results from the use of any of his faculties for their own sake and independent of their value in the service of God. Once this new sensation of freedom had entered into man, he would never again be able to eat with the single-minded devotion of the period before his sin.
Parashah Bereshit offers the opportunity to look back as well as to look forward. It gives us a chance to face our human behavior, frailties, and conflicts. It offers us the opportunity to change ourselves for the better and to save the world.
Bereshit is the first day of the rest of our new and better life.
Candle Lighting Times and Torah Portions
Friday, September 3
Light candles at 6:57 p.m.
Saturday, September 4
Torah Portion: Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
Wednesday, September 8
Erev Rosh Hashanah
Light candles at 6:50 p.m.
Thursday, September 9
Light candles after 7:44 p.m.
Friday, September 10
Light candles at 6:48 p.m.
Saturday, September 11
Torah Portion: Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52)
Friday, September 17
Light candles at 6:38 p.m.
Saturday, September 18
Friday, September 24
Light candles at 6:28 p.m.
Saturday, September 25
Chol Hamoed Sukkot