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October 12, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Bereshit

This is a really long Torah portion, and there are two things that struck me as interesting in Soncino’s commentary.

Early in the portion, God says that man shall have “dominion” over other life (Gen. 1:26).  Soncino cites Rashi’s statement that vyirdu (“dominion”) sounds a lot like the Hebrew word for descent, indicating that when man is not worthy “he descends below [animals’] level and the animals rule over him.”  I realize Rashi was not thinking about climate change, but this passage makes me think of rising sea levels and other possible problems.  If man is not worthy of addressing the climate change problem, it won’t just be the animals that rule over him, but the seas and other inanimate objects.    Unfortunately, the political process seems paralyzed not just in the U.S., but also in China, India, and other major emitters of greenhouse gases.  So humanity is looking pretty unworthy right now.

On a not-so-global note, the story eventually turns to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel.  Cain’s name is pretty flattering; it means “possession” (according to Soncino) and Eve says “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1).  By contrast, Soncino calls her other son Abel, derived from “vanity” (hebel).  So one son is a possession from God, and the other is just vanity?  It seems to me that as early as the baby naming process Eve is setting her children up for sibling rivalry, which of course ends badly.  Of course, this story also foreshadows the sibling rivalry among Joseph and his brothers; the difference is that the story ends somewhat less badly.

What’s going on?  First, the Torah wants us to keep this idea of sibling rivalry in mind.  But also, the Torah wants to show positive evolution, as the sibling rivalry situation goes from murderous (Cain/Abel) in the case of primordial humanity, to almost-murderous (Jacob/Esau, then Joseph/brothers) with pre-Torah proto-Judaism, to not-so-bad (after the giving of the Torah, when sibling rivalry becomes a weaker theme).   In other words, we are learning that covenant, and even more so Torah, can mitigate the natural urge of brothers to kill each other.

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