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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The Relevance of History

The Relevance of History

Oct 1, 2010 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Bereishit

Although the book of Genesis is exceedingly familiar to us, there is not a year that goes by when most of us are not struck by one aspect or another of the text, as if reading it for the very first time. It is the universal and profound message of Genesis that enables us to look at the parashah, year after year, and find in it something new, fresh, and even inspirational. One of the central themes of the reading, Bereishit, is that God created humankind in God’s own image.

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The Torah and Its Clearly Ambiguous Message

The Torah and Its Clearly Ambiguous Message

Oct 17, 2009 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Bereishit | Simhat Torah

There is a verse that I love to invoke whenever I teach about “the poetics of biblical narrative,” and it doesn’t come from this week’s portion (but who’s keeping score, anyway?). Instead, it is found in the first extended legal section, Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24). Loosely translated, this is the text: “In all charges of misunderstanding . . . whereof one party alleges, ‘This is it!’—the case of both parties shall come before God” (Exod. 22:8); the Hebrew phrase underlying the words “this is it!” is: כי הוא זה (ki hu zeh). The verse seems to be addressing a case in which no one side has a total claim on the truth; in such a case, then, one is bidden to consider both possibilities.

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The First Mitzvah

The First Mitzvah

Oct 24, 2008 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Bereishit

If the Torah is fundamentally a book of law, a work intended to instruct us on how to live a life that is holy and good, why did the Torah begin with the story of creation? More precisely, why did the Torah begin with the story of Genesis—of God’s creation of the world—and not the first commandment to the Israelites which is to establish a calendar: “This month shall be unto you the beginning of the months,” found later in Exodus 12? This is the first question that Rashi, the central medieval commentator on the Torah, asked on the opening words of the book of Genesis.

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Making Meaning From Chaos

Making Meaning From Chaos

Oct 5, 2007 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Bereishit

The opening words of B’reishit are exhilarating. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

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Creation and Revelation

Creation and Revelation

Oct 21, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bereishit

Creation and the act of creating stand at the essence of Parashat Bereishit.

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Between Creation and Revelation

Between Creation and Revelation

Oct 21, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bereishit

Creation and the act of creating stand at the essence of Parashat Bereishit.

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Creation As Preparation for Sinai

Creation As Preparation for Sinai

Oct 21, 2006 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bereishit

Why did the Torah begin where it does, at the very Beginning, rather than with the first commandment given the children of Israel, which comes well into the Book of Exodus?

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Between Creation and the Flood

Between Creation and the Flood

Oct 29, 2005 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Bereishit

In the beginning, Dr. Ismar Schorsch was a rigorous scholar, a great teacher, and Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

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In God’s Image

In God’s Image

Oct 25, 2003 By Rachel Ain | Commentary | Bereishit

In Parashat Bereishit , we are told that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).

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The Garments of Adam and Eve

The Garments of Adam and Eve

Oct 25, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

When Franz Rosenzweig published his unconventional German translation of ninety-two Hebrew poems by Judah Halevi, he headed his afterword self-effacingly with a plea from a German translator of The Iliad: “Oh dear reader, learn Greek and throw my translation into the fire.”

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The Gift of Shabbat

The Gift of Shabbat

Oct 25, 2003 By Rachel Ain | Commentary | Bereishit

In Parashat Bereishit, we are told that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).

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The Conversion Controversy

The Conversion Controversy

Oct 5, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

Conversion is back in the news. During the High-Holy-Day period just ended, a Conservative rabbinic court in Eastern Europe completed the conversion process of eighteen Czech and nineteen Polish converts to Judaism. Some 80 per cent had Jewish roots. All studied formally for at least a full year (many more) and were obliged to be active in their respective Jewish communities. Prior to conversion, the men underwent either a full or symbolic ritual circumcision (if already circumcised), while both men and women went through ritual immersion. Another half-dozen in Prague are on their way to completing the conversion process.

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On New Beginnings

On New Beginnings

Oct 5, 2002 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bereishit

As a teacher for JTS Kollot: Voices of Learning, I hear many voices of Torah that open my eyes to creative ways of reading the texts of our sacred tradition.

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Sight and Knowledge

Sight and Knowledge

Oct 5, 2002 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bereishit

As a teacher for JTS Kollot: Voices of Learning, I hear many voices of Torah that open my eyes to creative ways of reading the texts of our sacred tradition.

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The Genome Project

The Genome Project

Oct 28, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

The genome project holds out the promise to alleviate some social as well as physical ills. This past summer the New York Times ran a long article in its weekly Science section (my favorite) to the effect that the noxious concept of race has no genetic foundation. Caucasians, Africans and Asians are genetically indistinguishable No more than .01 percent of our gene pool determines our external appearance, the basis on which we make racial distinctions. In contrast, many thousands of our 80,000 genes combine to produce such traits as intelligence, artistic talents and social skills.

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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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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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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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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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