Dvar Torah – Parashat Bereshit

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

The holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and SheminiAtzeret/Simchat Torah are over. On Shabbat, we renew the annual Torah reading cycle with the Torah portion, Bereshit and the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and the story of God’s creations in six days. God then rested and proclaimed that we too must rest on the day that He called Shabbat (Genesis 2:1-3)

The Torah reading then proceeds to the story of God placing a “Garden in Eden” in which there are two unique trees – the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve are warned that they may eat “from every tree of the garden but from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”, they may not eat (2:16-17).

The remainder of the story is well known. The serpent tempts Eve who eats the fruit of the Tree and then gives a fruit to Adam. Adam and Eve – and the serpent - are punished. The serpent “must crawl upon your (its) belly and eat dust”. Woman must bear children in pain and man must work by “the sweat of his brow” to produce bread and food. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden (2:14, 16, 19, 23).

This story has intrigued all Bible readers for generations but it begs us to ask many unasked questions:

Why did God forbid Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of this particular tree? If the serpent was “more cunning than any animal of the field that God had made” (3:1), what can be said about the other animals? Could they also speak? If so, which language could they speak?  Hebrew? What did the serpent look like before it was punished by God to crawl on its belly? Could it stand? Did it have 2 legs or 4? What was the fruit that Adam and Eve ate? Rabbinic commentators offer these suggestions: a fig, a pomegranate, an apricot, an etrog. Our sages even suggest a grape which could be fermented and made into intoxicating wine or wheat which could be brewed into beer. The idea that the fruit has commonly been represented as an apple may be due to a play on words based on the Latin word for apple., The representation below can be readily seen in the painting of the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder painting (1528)

However, the answer to perhaps the most important question – why were Adam and Eve punished – seems to be plain and simple. They ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge which was forbidden. To that question, rabbinic sources offer an alternative!

After Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit, God asks, “Did you eat of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat”. Adam answers, “The woman whom You made, gave me the fruit and I ate” (3:11-12). In other words, instead of taking responsibility for his action, he not only blames Eve but blames God for creating her (3:11-12).

We do not have to look far to find public figures and leaders who instead of taking responsibility, prefer to put the blame on someone else.  We can look even closer…at ourselves! How many times have we made excuses and found the opportunity to put the blame on someone else.

Judaism teaches:כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה  Each person is responsible for his/her actions. We have to take responsibility for ourselves but our actions must also show responsibility towards the other. In today’s world, we must wear our masks, observe social distancing and wash our hands regularly and promote good health in our schools, places of work and to our peers and family.

Wishing you a good and healthy Shabbat Shalom!

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