B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

It is common knowledge that most rabbis tend to have an underlying theme that they inject into all their sermons. If this is so, then mine is likely to be the combination of scientific knowledge (including new technology and the digital information age) and accumulated religious wisdom in approaching the mysteries – the mystical wonders and connections — of the cosmos. And the wonders of the cosmos are certainly front and center in the Torah portion this week, as we joyfully begin the cycle of our Torah readings all over again, as we begin to peer into the Divine mind of God in terms of God’s power, capacity to design, and will.

At the same time, I am reminded of the questioning words that the famed and folksy author, Mark Twain (1835-1910), puts in the mouth of his literary creation, Eve, in his humorous rendering of “The Diaries of Adam and Eve.”[1]

“I feel like an experiment,” the fictional Eve says on the very day she is created, “I feel exactly like an experiment; it would be impossible for a person to feel more like an experiment than I do….Then if I am an experiment, am I the whole of it? No, I think not; I think the rest of it is part of it. I am the main part of it, but I think the rest of it has to share in the matter”. [2]

If Eve is an experiment, perhaps her mate, Adam, is too. In Genesis 1:27, the Torah portrays male and female as having been created simultaneously: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[3]

The pronoun “them,” has evoked much interest recently in terms of gender identity, especially in the LGBTQ community and in university student groups, such as Berkeley. At the latter, I’m informed, the proper current protocol is to ask a person by which pronoun that person prefer to be addressed (he, she, or they) before you make an assumption about their gender identity.

At the Beit Kulam Jewish study group that I teach twice monthly in Los Angeles, we spent a couple of sessions discussing the six genders that the Talmud identified so many years ago: [4] Zachar (male); Nekivah (female); Androgynous (possessing both male and female characteristics); Tumtum (sexual characteristics indeterminate or obscured); Ay’lonit (identified as female at birth, develops male characteristics at puberty, and is infertile); Saris, identified as male at birth but develops female characteristics at puberty). So “they” and “them,” it appears, are quite appropriate – if experimental — terminology.

Leaving gender identity aside, we note that in the next chapter of Genesis, the story of the creation of human life is told a little differently — God appears to have given Adam the world’s first anesthetic (“So the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, He took one o his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot” (2: 21), and then in the very next verse (2:22), he created the world’s first clone (“So the Lord God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and he brought her to the man). But Adam’s grateful reaction leaves the world of experimentation and expresses so poetically the joy and oneness of human connection – and companionship.

“This one at last

 Is bone of my bones

And flesh of my flesh.

This one shall be called Woman,

For from man she was taken” (2:23).

How different this joining – into one flesh – is from Yuval Noah Harari’s futuristic scenario (a possibility, not a prediction) of the extinction (like the dinosaur) of Homo Sapiens as a species and its replacement by far more intelligent Super-Computers (sophisticated electronic algorithms that keep learning).[5]  Human beings (biological algorithms, to which the same mathematical rules apply) will become mere microchips in the new “God” of data flow, a single data-processing system.  Harari’s new book his called “Homo Deus.” It’s a fascinating but depressing (if you’re a human being, not a computer) scenario.

Fortunately, I also picked up a copy this week of –Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate,” a beautiful book about the connectedness of trees.[6] Reading about these “discoveries from a secret world” it is restorative.  No tree is alone in the forest. Each one belongs to a micro-universe that is part of the Divine plan. (“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it….And God saw that it was good”(Genesis 1:11-12).Reading the Torah is restorative too.

* * * *

[1] Twain, M. The Diaries of Adam and Eve. (New York: Prometheus Books,2000).

[2] Ibid., 95.

[3] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. The New JPS Translation, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999).

[4]Fonrobert, C.E. “Gender Identity in Halakhic Discourse,” Jewish Women’s Archive, accessed 5/25/17.; Kukla,Rabbi Elliot., Sojourn blog; Mishna Kiddushin 1:7.

[5] Harari, Y.N., Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow (USA: Harper Collins), Kindle edition.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.