To Begin Again

To Begin Again

Oct 2, 2010 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Bereishit

The shock of the unexpected, the fear of change, the guilt at having done something irreversible: feelings we know all too well.

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Back to the Beginning

Back to the Beginning

Oct 9, 1993 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

Back to the beginning! Without losing a step, we move from the death of Moses back to the story of creation. Israel circles the Torah much as the earth does the sun, with Simhat Torah to mark the moment when one cycle ends and the next begins. From its light we draw our wisdom, our identity, our cohesion as a people. To hear it read weekly in the synagogue is to keep the experience of Sinai alive. But we need to prepare ourselves or else the power of the event will elude us. Hence, the study of the parasha should be the religious curriculum of our week.

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The Profundity of Genesis

The Profundity of Genesis

Oct 1, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

The Torah’s story of creation is not intended as a scientific treatise, worthy of equal time with Darwin’s theory of evolution in the curriculum of our public schools. The notes it strikes in its sparse and majestic narrative offer us an orientation to the Torah’s entire religious worldview and value system. Creation is taken up first not because the subject has chronological priority but rather to ground basic religious beliefs in the very nature of things. And I would argue that their power is quite independent of the scientific context in which they were first enunciated.

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Isaiah Berlin and Kant

Isaiah Berlin and Kant

Oct 21, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

I like Isaiah Berlin’s favorite quotation from Kant: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built.”

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A New Purpose to the Creation Story

A New Purpose to the Creation Story

Oct 12, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

It happens every year: A fresh, slow reading of the Torah brings to light things I had not noticed before. Like Hagar lost in the wilderness with her son Ishmael, I failed to see the well which had always been there till God opened my eyes (Genesis 21:19). No chapter of the Torah is more familiar to me than the first, with its compressed and majestic story of the creation of the world. And yet here I sit astir with insights that eluded me till now.

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The Day Begins with Night

The Day Begins with Night

Oct 25, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

The Mishna, Judaism’s first legal compendium after the Bible, opens with a treatment of the proper times to recite the Shema in the evening and in the morning. The first line reads: “From when to when do we [liturgically] read the Shema in the evening.” The ensuing discussion in the Gemara (Mishna + Gemara = Talmud) asks why the Mishna doesn’t first take up the morning Shema. Since the day starts in the morning, wouldn’t this be the logical place to start? The answer of the Gemara is brief and far-reaching. The Mishna follows the order of creation. Six times the opening chapter of the Torah repeats the poetic refrain, “And there was evening and there was morning,” to signal the completion of a divine day’s work. The Torah seems to be going out of its way to establish the fact that the day does not begin with the crack of dawn, but rather with the setting of the sun (or halakhicly, with the appearance of three stars).

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Between Moses and Genesis

Between Moses and Genesis

Oct 17, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

For the rabbis, the gap between the death of Moses at the end of the Torah and the creation of Adam and Eve at the beginning is bridged by divine compassion. The Torah closes as it opens, with an act of kindness, in order to establish the doing of good deeds (gemilut hasadim) as the supreme value of Judaism. Our exemplar is none other than God, who in each instance is moved by human plight.

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Genesis As Hindsight

Genesis As Hindsight

Oct 9, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

The opening chapter of a book is often the last to be written. At the outset, the author may still lack a clear vision of the whole. Writing is the final stage of thinking, and many a change in order, emphasis, and interpretation is the product of wrestling with an unruly body of material. Only after all is in place does it become apparent what kind of introduction the work calls for.

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