“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins our Torah and one of the most familiar and most misunderstood stories in all of literature. So many ask: How could God have created the world in six days? What about the dinosaurs and evolution? Don’t we believe in that?
Of course we believe in that! The creation story in Genesis never was meant to offer a scientific account of HOW the world was created. It is rather an exquisite religious poem offering insight as to WHY we are here.
The biblical authors were not interested in writing science. The truths of the creation story are the religious ideas that it sets forth –ideas upon which all subsequent Jewish thought depends.
The first assumption of the story is that God initiated creation. However the world came to be our story contends that a single, good caring God started the process. God acted with purpose and meaning. Therefore, our lives have purpose and meaning.
In the story, everything builds on what comes before. Note the rhythm and the repetition of certain key phrases: “And God said ‘Let there be… and there was’” “And God saw… that it was good.” And there was evening and there was morning …” These recurring refrains convey a sense of order and intention.
The next major teaching of the story is that we human beings are in charge of and responsible for the world. Until the text (Chapter 1, verse 26) begins to tell of the creation of human beings, the method by which God creates is simple and clear: God said, “Let there be…” and the next step in creation unfolds.
When it comes to humanity, though, the method of creation changes. “And God said: “Let us create humanity in our image after our likeness. And they shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the air on the cattle and all the earth and everything that creeps on the earth.” And God created us human beings – male and female – in the Divine Image.
That does not mean, of course, that we look like God. God has no shape or form. It means that we human beings have God-like powers, and the Almighty has set us in charge of and responsible for the earth. God gave us awesome power, and we can use it for good or for ill.
The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 8:11) teaches that we human beings stand midway between God and the rest of the animals. Like the animals we eat, sleep, drink, procreate, eliminate our waste and die. But in a God-like way we have the power to think, analyze, create and shape the environment in a way that far surpasses any other creature.
We are the only creatures on earth that can go to the side of a mountain, mine ore from the mountain, and turn the ore into iron, the iron into steel and with that steel forge the most delicate of surgical instruments to heal and to save lives.
We are, also, the only creature that can go to the same mountain, mine the same ore and from that ore fashion bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill and to maim.
The implicit and overriding message of the story is that God wants us to use our power to form a just, caring, compassionate society on earth. But we – not God – must decide if we will.
. The final religious teaching of the story concerns Shabbat. On the seventh day God rested, and God wants us to rest too, but not just in the sense of relaxation. God wants us to have a day each week to step back and ponder how we can do a better job of fashioning the type of society God wants.
Genesis’ magnificent creation story makes no pretense of being scientific. Rather, it teaches the core values upon which our religious traditions rests. It teaches that God entrusts the earth to our care. It is, though, as the Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) reminds us, the only earth we will get. May that knowledge inspire us to care for it lovingly and use the talents with which God has blessed us to hand over a safer, sweeter more ecologically sound world to our children and grandchildren.
4 thoughts on “Back to the Beginning”
Thank you for sharing the creation narrative from the Jewish perspective.
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You are very welcome!
Dear Rabbi Fuchs: The inseparability of both freedom and responsibility (freedom being actually a pre-requisite of responsibility) is intimated in our being created in”the Divine Image,” … but I just wish that our ancestors would have made it more obvious, rather than having to wait until Exodus.
Thank you, so much, Rabbi Fuchs, for your nurturing inspiration ( ❤ ).
You are welcome, Mark! Thank you!