Torah Portion

Bereshit

בראשית

Genesis 1:1-6:8
Isaiah 42:5–43:10

The Human Desire to Be Godlike

The Human Desire to Be Godlike

The stories of Enosh, Noah, Nimrod, the Tower of Babel, and the marriage of the “sons of God” to human women (Genesis 4–11) all feature the Leitwort החל “began,” signaling an attempt to be more than just human.

Prof.
James A. Diamond
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The Secret of the Garden of Eden: Knowledge or Immortality

The Secret of the Garden of Eden: Knowledge or Immortality

YHWH advises Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge but does not disclose that the reason they will die is because they will lose access to the Tree of Life. YHWH does not allow humans to become gods, both wise and immortal (Genesis 3:22), and thus expels them from the garden. Consequently, the woman must bear children to perpetuate the species, and the man must till the earth to produce food.  

Dr.
Joseph Ryan Kelly
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What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden

What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden

The primordial man and woman may believe they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, but they actually ate from the Life-Giving Tree. This causes a chain reaction leading to the emergence of sexuality, procreation, and continuity for the human species.

Prof.
Jack M. Sasson
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Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: An Etiology for the Human Condition

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: An Etiology for the Human Condition

The expulsion from the garden of Eden is not a story about human error or sin. It is the inevitable result of the human desire for knowledge.

Prof.
Robert S. Kawashima
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The Genesis of Creation

The Genesis of Creation

God creates life in the heavens and the earth: the first three verses of the Bible explained.

Dr.
Lisbeth S. Fried
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How the Forbidden Fruit Became an Apple

How the Forbidden Fruit Became an Apple

Wheat, grapes, citrons, figs, pomegranates, and olives have all been presented as the fruit that Adam and Eve ate, yet the apple, which only entered the scene in the 12th century C.E., became the most popular candidate.

Prof.
Azzan Yadin-Israel
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Why Is Creation in the Torah?

Why Is Creation in the Torah?

History according to Rashi, science according to Maimonides. In Maimonides’ view, the Sages knew that hidden behind the allegorical language of the creation account is Aristotelian physics. This knowledge was lost until he (Maimonides) figured out the secret on his own.

Prof.
Menachem Kellner
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A Relationship with God Is Not Enough: Adam Needed Eve

A Relationship with God Is Not Enough: Adam Needed Eve

Human perfection cannot be achieved only through intellectual and spiritual development, but requires companionship and physical intimacy.

Prof.
Kenneth Seeskin
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Woman: Helpmate No Longer

Woman: Helpmate No Longer

Eve was created as Adam’s עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדֹּו ʿezer ke-negdo (Genesis 2:18). What is the meaning of this enigmatic phrase?

Prof.
Gary Rendsburg
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Creating Order from Tohu and Bohu

Creating Order from Tohu and Bohu

God encounters the primordial תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu and bohu), dividing it into its constituent parts and reshaping it into a wiser, more orderly world, a task entrusted to humans thereafter.

Prof.
James A. Diamond
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Cain, Son of the Fallen Angel Samael

Cain, Son of the Fallen Angel Samael

What made Cain capable of murdering his brother? Why was the flood generation so wicked? According to Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer, the fallen angel Samael embodies the serpent and seduces Eve, whereupon she conceives Cain. Engendered by this “bad seed,” all the descendants of Cain become corrupt, destined to be wiped out by mighty waters.

Prof.
Rachel Adelman
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Making Kiddush: Mysticism in the Age of Science

Making Kiddush: Mysticism in the Age of Science

The Torah describes God creating through speech, midrash mores specifically understands creation through the letters of the aleph-bet, and the kabbalists envision it as a series of divine emanations, contractions, and primal pairings. What meaning can we find in these ancient creation myths in light of evolution?

Prof. Rabbi
Arthur Green
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Seven, the Biblical Number

Seven, the Biblical Number

Biblical authors employed the number 7 in numerous ways to express the ideas of completion, perfection, and holiness and to highlight keywords or elements within a text.

Dr.
Elaine Goodfriend
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Why Did Cain Kill Abel?

Why Did Cain Kill Abel?

God rejects Cain’s sacrifice while accepting Abel’s, then in the next scene, Cain kills his brother. Does this mean that Cain killed Abel out of jealousy, or could other factors have been present? Ancient interpreters explore many possible motivations, from the simple to the bizarre.

Dr. Rabbi
David J. Zucker
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Did God Originally Intend the World to Be Vegetarian?

Did God Originally Intend the World to Be Vegetarian?

In the creation story, God tells humans to eat plants. Only after the flood, does God permit them to eat animals. Interpreters have understood this to mean that vegetarianism was God’s original plan for humanity. Gersonides found the claim that God changed His mind scandalous, but this is more about countering Christian claims than the simple meaning of the text.

Prof. Rabbi
Marty Lockshin
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The Torah Begins with Creation to Defend Israel’s Right to the Land?

The Torah Begins with Creation to Defend Israel’s Right to the Land?

The theme of a divine creator’s right to assign territory to his people is pervasive in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern literature. Perhaps the rabbinic midrash which suggests that the Torah begins with creation to defend Israel against the accusation they stole the land of Canaan were onto something.

Prof.
Jason Radine
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Demigods and the Birth of Noah

Demigods and the Birth of Noah

The Sons of Elohim sleeping with women and producing demigods (Genesis 6:1-4) is sandwiched between the birth of Noah and the flood. This juxtaposition of passages prompted 1 Enoch and Genesis Apocryphon to question whether Lamech was Noah's father or whether Noah was a demigod.

Dr. Rabbi
Samuel Z. Glaser
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The Genesis of Time

The Genesis of Time

The simple meaning of Genesis 1–2:4 is that God created the world out of primordial elements. And yet, one important new initiative was the construction of time, embracing the day, the month, the year, and the week. The week, however, does not depend on a cosmic phenomenon but served to introduce the concept of a people holy to a creator God.

Prof.
Jack M. Sasson
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Feminist Biblical Interpretation: History and Goals

Feminist Biblical Interpretation: History and Goals

Feminist biblical interpretation is more than simply paying attention to texts about women. It is also a means of achieving a more accurate understanding of life in ancient Israel and of the composition of the Bible.

Dr.
Sarah Shectman
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Creation from Primordial Matter: Did Rashi Read Plato’s Timaeus?

Creation from Primordial Matter: Did Rashi Read Plato’s Timaeus?

Rashi interprets the opening verses of the creation story as describing God’s use of primordial substances to form the world. This idea appears in various forms in rabbinic literature but some of Rashi’s particular notions are only found in Plato’s Timaeus. Could this be one of Rashi’s sources?

Prof.
Warren Zev Harvey
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The Gender of God

The Gender of God

What is the gender of the God of creation? Of YHWH in general?

Prof.
Marc Zvi Brettler
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The Benei Elohim, the Watchers, and the Origins of Evil

The Benei Elohim, the Watchers, and the Origins of Evil

The story of divine beings procreating with human women (Genesis 6) is expanded upon in the book of Enoch to tell how these angels also bring sin to humanity, causing the ancient flood as well, and this sin is the source of disease in the present day.

Dr.
Miryam Brand
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God Abandons the Garden of Eden and Dwells with the Cherubim

God Abandons the Garden of Eden and Dwells with the Cherubim

Four Aramaic targumim (ancient translations) have God, and not just cherubim, taking up residence east of the garden. This is based on a slightly different vocalization of the Hebrew text, which is likely a more original reading than our current biblical text (MT).

Dr.
Raanan Eichler
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The Evolution of Civilization: The Biblical Story

The Evolution of Civilization: The Biblical Story

Reading Cain’s murder of Abel and the account of Cain’s descendants as a metaphor for the trajectory of human development and the change in patterns of human behavior.

Dr. Rabbi
Samuel Z. Glaser
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Can the Torah Contradict Halacha?

Can the Torah Contradict Halacha?

At stake is Ibn Ezra’s curse: “May your tongue stick to your palate… may your arm dry up and your right eye go blind.” 

Dr. Rabbi
Zev Farber
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Cain’s (Im)Penitent Response to his Punishment

Cain’s (Im)Penitent Response to his Punishment

Eight possible meanings of Cain’s response גָּדוֹל עֲוֹנִי מִנְּשֹׂא (Genesis 4:13) and what this tells us about his character as presented in the Torah

Dr. Rabbi
Eliezer Finkelman
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Reintroducing the Myth of the Fallen Angels into Judaism

Reintroducing the Myth of the Fallen Angels into Judaism

Literature and art are replete with images of angels descending to earth and joining humanity. One source for this image is a terse account in Genesis describing fallen angels, which is expanded upon in Second Temple literature. This interpretive tradition is suppressed in the classic rabbinic literature only to resurface again in the late narrative midrash, Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer.

Prof.
Rachel Adelman
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The Exposition of the Garden of Eden Story

The Exposition of the Garden of Eden Story

The Garden of Eden story includes a lengthy introductory exposition (vv. 2:4b-3:1a), whose seemingly tangential details contrast the utopia of Eden with the dystopia of the real world.

Prof.
Yairah Amit
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Gender Equality at Creation

Gender Equality at Creation

A methodologically rigorous reading of the account of the Woman's creation reveals a fundamentally egalitarian view of the sexes that is both nuanced and psychologically sensitive.

Dr.
Raanan Eichler
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Did God Bless Shabbat?

Did God Bless Shabbat?

“And the Lord Blessed the Seventh Day and Consecrated It” (Genesis 2:3). Can time be blessed?

Prof. Rabbi
David Frankel
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Why Are there Demigods in a Monotheistic Torah?

Why Are there Demigods in a Monotheistic Torah?

Divine beings come to earth and have offspring with human women (Genesis 6). What is a story which sounds like a pagan myth doing in the Torah?

Prof.
Benjamin D. Sommer
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Differing Conceptions of the Divine Creator

Differing Conceptions of the Divine Creator

The two creation stories of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2-3 (P and J) introduce two long narratives which continue throughout much of the Torah. Each is working with a different conception of the creator—a rather human-like God versus a majestic and distant deity.

Prof.
Marc Zvi Brettler
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In the Beginning There Is the Question

In the Beginning There Is the Question

The bridge that enables the annual traversal from the ending of the Torah back to its beginning is the anticipation of new questions.

Prof.
James A. Diamond
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My Encounter with the Firmament

My Encounter with the Firmament

The Torah describes God’s fashioning the firmament (רקיע) on the second day of creation. This piece of the universe, however, doesn’t actually exist—a problem obfuscated in my yeshiva education.

Oren Fass M.D.
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Bereshit

בראשית

Genesis 1:1-6:8

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם׃

בראשית א:כז

And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Gen 1:27

Genesis

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