Master and Slave: Independence

Israel’s Independence Day starts next Wednesday evening at sundown and is celebrated on Thursday 19 April 2018, a shifting date on the English calendar, for the date is set in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th day of Iyar 5778. In Hebrew, it is called Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות. Yom means day and ha’atzmaut means independence. If we want to understand what we are celebrating when we take joy in the festivities – whether Jew or gentile, whether Israeli or member of another nation – we must understand what independence means for a nation, and, before that, what it means for an individual.

A week from today in the evening, the holiday of Yom Hazikaron, יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן, begins, that is the Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or otherwise in the defence of Israel and for those who have been victims of terrorism – Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah (יוֹם זִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה).  It is a very solemn day.  For 24 hours, everything is closed; it feels like Yom Kippur. A siren sounds this evening Israeli time at 8:00 pm and all traffic stops for two minutes of silence. This is repeated on 18 April at 11:00 am Israeli time. The end of the siren wailing is followed by a memorial service and recitation of prayers at military cemeteries. If we want to understand what independence is, we must understand what sacrificing one’s life for a nation means.

Further, both holidays follow less than two weeks after Passover, Pesach, פֶּסַח, the week when Jews celebrate their exodus from slavery in Egypt and the quest for freedom. It is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Matzah, the festival of freedom from slavery. To understand the point of these two holidays next week, it helps to have a brief review of the holiday that just passed.

Passover is a celebration of God’s efforts to bring Jews forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow and pain into joy and happiness. Likewise, next week we repeat and reinforce the experience over two days of going from mourning into festivity. As we celebrate Pesach to re-enact this redemption, this movement from slavery into freedom (Exodus 13:8), the moment must be re-experienced, must be repeated over and over. We must re-experience that journey. We must recognize that it is a spiritual and physical trip that we ourselves must make. We must recognize our personal redemption. We are obligated to see ourselves as if we left a state of bondage for freedom. (Deuteronomy 6:23)

What does it mean to experience being a slave in Egypt? One can think of it as simply physical slavery. Eritreans fleeing their oppressive country have often been enslaved by traffickers and held for ransom until they were redeemed. Slavery does mean enforced servitude. Freedom means being free of such external coercion. But that is not all it means. When a slave is in bondage to a master, he or she is not only forced to work for and supply the needs of the master, he or she must also recognize the master as his Lord and Saviour, he upon whom the preservation of one’s life depends. Further, he or she recognizes the master as his or her superior, and, therefore, himself or herself as his inferior.

This recognition is double-sided. Mastery supposedly defines an ideal. The slave is in bondage to a false idol, another human perceived as superior to oneself. ‘Freedom from’ will mean both freeing oneself from physical bondage, but also freeing oneself from the mental bondage branded into one’s soul so that one is conditioned for a long time to retain a slave mentality, to see oneself as dependent on another for one’s life and to perceive that other as the epitome of life.

That is NOT accomplished by following the guide of Yerachmiel Israel Isaac Danzigerof Alexander (Poland 1853-1910) who in the Yismach Yisrael Haggadah (p. 107a) interpreted the obligation to re-experience one’s freedom from slavery as a process of recognizing one’s “essence,” atzmo, citing Exodus 24:10 – “It was the very essence (etzem) of the heavens for purity.” To quote: “This is an allusion to the inner divine spark found in each of us. A person must strengthen this holy spark no matter how low a state he reaches. In Egypt, we were so deeply mired in impurity that the Prosecutor said ‘both the Israelites and the Egyptians worship idols.” If strengthening the “inner spark” sounds retro as well as new age, it does. I suggest that etzem has nothing to do with an inner spark, and nothing to do with a process of purification, though it certainly has to do with casting off idolatrous propensities.

Exodus 24:10 reads:

י  וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.
10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.

The phrase the “like of the very heavens,” the translation of וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם

is interpreted by this commentator in a Platonic way, envisioning transforming and raising up an inner spark into a purified state akin to the heavens, a variation of realization of a pure pre-existing form. However, is we read the biblical text where etzem appears, independence as in Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות, the reference is indeed to sameness, but to physical sameness.  Genesis 2:23 reads:

כג  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת. 23 And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Etzem of my etzem, bone of my bone, עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

Genesis 2 follows the six days of the creation story with the seventh day of rest. The earth still did not have humans nor, for that matter, any vegetation or crops. For it had not rained. Then a mist went up from the earth to water the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living soul, that is, a man of flesh and the breath, the spirit of life. There is no discussion of purity. There is no reference to an inner essence, a divine spark. The imagery is water, earth (flesh) and air and not fire. Then God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in it to groom the trees and plants.

Three things then happen. God tells man that he is free, free to eat whatever he wants from the garden. With one exception: “of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.” Why? Because if you eat of it, you will have knowledge of your certain and inevitable death. Second, God made birds and beasts. And Adam gave them their names – cows and goats. Third, Adam was put to sleep. Why? Because God saw that man needed a help meet. Not man. Adam did not even know he was lonely.  When Man was asleep, woman came into being for Adam. Woman for Adam is a projection of his unconscious. In Adam’s dream, the woman was an extension of himself, made from his own rib. It is then that man pronounces that woman is “now bone of my bone,” etzem of my etzem: עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

If etzem means independence, but woman is here envisioned as simply a physical extension and projection of man, one might reasonably conclude that these are opposite states. To be merely viewed as a physical extension of another would appear to be the opposite of independence. How does this make any sense? Unless, of course, the tale is read ironically. Though the woman is perceived as an extension of man’s physical self, she in reality is the true expression of his real self. The real self is not a hidden spark within, but a real presence of another outside whose independence and otherness is not initially recognized. Man discovers his own independence by and through discovering the independence of another. Initially that independence is that of a woman.

One answer is that etzem means “essence,” the bone marrow of the matter, roughly, the heart of the matter, “the essential fact of the matter.” However, Exodus 12:51 reads:

נא  וַיְהִי, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–עַל-צִבְאֹתָם.  {פ}
51 And it came to pass the selfsame day that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. {P}

The same day, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם

Like bone of my bone, the stress is on sameness, not difference, not autonomy, not independence. This is also true of Leviticus 23:14.

יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד-עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.  {ס}
14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until ye have brought the offering of your God; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. {S}

The sense is that of identity, as oneness with oneself, oneness with another, and oneness with the experience of escaping oppression. Again, in Leviticus 23:29-30 we once again find etzem translated as sameness.

כח  וְכָל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, הוּא, לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
28 And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.
כט  כִּי כָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תְעֻנֶּה, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–וְנִכְרְתָה, מֵעַמֶּיהָ. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.

What is going on? How is repetition and sameness equated with independence and freedom? How is a woman projected as simply a physical extension of man connected to independence?

To be continued

With the help of Alex Zisman


Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel


Howard Adelman

The story is only nine verses so I print it below.

Genesis Chapter 11 בְּרֵאשִׁית
א וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים. 1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.
ב וַיְהִי, בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם; וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
ג וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ, הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, וְנִשְׂרְפָה, לִשְׂרֵפָה; וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה, לְאָבֶן, וְהַחֵמָר, הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר. 3 And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
ד וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם: פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ. 4 And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’
ה וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built.
ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. 6 And the LORD said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they propose to do.
ז הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם–אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’
ח וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.
ט עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ, בָּבֶל, כִּי-שָׁם בָּלַל יְהוָה, שְׂפַת כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם יְהוָה, עַל-פְּנֵי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ. {פ} 9 Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. {P}
There is one classical interpretation of the Tower of Babel story. The theme of the tale is the folly of humanity in trying to build a world of uniformity. It is a tale of hubris, of what happens to humans when led politically by too much ambition to become great. The destruction of the tower and the multiplication languages, peoples and nations, were all intended to curb human ambitions. Unlike the Garden of Eden, where humans are exiled from the garden because they can have sex and know good and evil, this time the people who built the tower are forced to disperse to the ends of the earth and cannot simply migrate to another place.

Why is tyranny and ambition associated with human unity since in ordinary political life, populist feelings led by authoritarian figures are associated with nativism not human unity, with xenophobia and distrust? In this story, xenophobia and the division of the world into different cultures, languages and nations that occupy different geographical spaces is a result of the hubris of being unified. Or is it? Of ambition to be like the gods, certainly! But human unity of language, culture and geography was the precondition and not the result of what takes place. However, was it the necessary condition and hence the partner of ambition to reach the heavens? What is viewed as an attempt to rise into the divine world through creating a united nation across the globe creates the conditions for the antithesis, for ambition to enter the divine realm and for the disintegration into warring nations and languages.

The Garden of Eden began with humanity leaving the Garden of Eden and settling mentally, settling in their imaginations, in the south-west through the use of the imaginary Gihon River in the land of Cush. Humans do not take the Pishon to the ends of the earth. They do not multiply and populate the whole world. In reality, they settle in the fertile crescent to the south-east, in Mesopotamia otherwise known as the Shinar plane.

These are the descendants of Cain, the farmer, who killed his brother Abel, the nomad and shepherd. These heirs built cities. The flood came and humanity and most of nature was wiped out, with the exception of the family of Noah who saved a core of nature and finally found dry land on Mount Ararat in the north. Once again humanity set forth, moved south and east to Mesopotamia, to Shinar, settled there and built a city and a tower “with its top in heaven,” the vault that separates the waters below from the pure and sweet waters above that fall as rain. At that height, according to Josephus, as high as Mount Ararat, they could not be flooded out. It was a time when all humans spoke a common language.

Why did they build such a city and such a tower? To prevent going outwards to the River Pishon and being scattered to the ends of the earth. What would prevent such a dispersal? By building upwards and making a name. By Trumpifying the world and building the largest and the tallest structure, a structure built with bricks that had come through fire (i.e. clay bricks in contrast to the found and much more solid and permanent stone which is shaped and used to build the buildings in Jerusalem and Amman) and slime to serve as mortar to hold those bricks together. After watching the current American election, does anyone have trouble recognizing what the slime is that is used as mortar?

Note, contrary to Rabbi Ovadia S’forno of Italy (16th century), the humans who built the city which held the highest structure in the world did not do so to “create a world of homogeneity.” The world already spoke just one language and spoke in the same tongue. It was already a unified cosmopolitan world. That is the first verse. It is a precondition, not a goal. But in this classical interpretation, this condition becomes a goal, this goal is the making of a homogeneous world in one city instead of proliferating and occupying the whole of the earth, instead of diversifying into nations that each spoke its own language.

What did God do? What humans did not. He scattered humanity over the whole globe after humans built a Tower of Babel towards the heavens, a Tower of Babel, that turned out to be a tower of confusion, from the Hebrew bll, to confuse, and the gate of god, bãb-ilim. It was punishment for not occupying the whole earth and creating political and economic unity out of diversity across the globe and instead trying to build a nativist culture that aspired to be the greatest, that aspired to be divine. God did not want competition from humans. Humans were not on earth to aspire to be gods, but to complement God, to build a material world that is man-made and one in which humanity assumes responsibility.

Most rabbinical commentators thought the Tower of Babel was built in rebellion. Nimrod, the hunter as opposed to the farmer, the progenitor of Esau in contrast to Jacob, the archetypal populist tyrant who leads a rebellion of the people mentioned in the Table of Nations, the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham and great-grandson of Noah, is said to be the builder of the tower, an idolater and proto-Trump who would build a material edifice to his own name rather than to God, a new or renewed imperium. A tyrant builds on a foundation of human anxiety, a widespread fear of a new and strange world, a society, though very strong on the outside, but one in which the population feels weak and vulnerable, a population that wants most of all to huddle together and not extend out into the world. They accept a leader that does just that, but upward rather than outward, to his own glory rather than to the glory of humanity.

The new technology of burning bricks in a kiln rather than baking a mixture of straw and mud in the sun, facilitated building on a scale that neither the use of stone nor the old-fashioned mud bricks could achieve. However, instead of the technology being used to build a unified and richer world of diversity, the effort became deformed into the ambition of building upwards and creating a nativist realm. The foundation was technological unity of uniform bricks, but used to erect human cultural and political unity via exclusion. There is a false dichotomy between manufacturing through means of replicated and identical bricks, versus unhewn natural stone where God, ever the conservative and even reactionary, prefers the latter – “If you make me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stone, for if you use a tool on it, you pollute it.” (Exodus 20:25) ¬

The new imperium of nativism erected on a foundation of technological and uniform manufacturing envisioned building a human world on the same premise, like a bee hive or an ant hill with economic divisions of castes to serve the principles of conformity. Judy Klitsner in “The Tower of Babel and the Midwives of Egypt” noted that the devarim ahadim feared diversity of thinking and preferred that thought mirror the bricks baked in kilns. In Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other, Klitsner focused on the different dialogues between and among the different narratives as later stories undermine and subvert earlier ones. I have a different focus – on the complementarity of the original cluster of tales.

As I reconstruct the geography of the Torah before the story of the Israelites as a nation begins, the world exists within a perimeter of geological time with natural elements both in contention and interaction. Within that perimeter are four stories of the development of the nations – the Garden of Eden tale, the story of Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood and then, finally, the very short and intense story, the Tower of Babel.

The outer perimeter of this geography of the imagination consists of light or fire that divides night from day and even a light to enlighten the darkness, namely the moon, the vision that comes during sleep as the unconscious erupts as a precondition of the development of self-consciousness. There are also earth and air, and the spirit of the divine is expressed through ruach and the air that flows over the water of the seas. Finally, there is also the fresh water that comes from the other side of the vault of heaven to refill the fresh water rivers that represent change. Sometimes it comes in excess of earthly and human absorptive capacity.

Within this perimeter, there are four tales of human development that can be arranged as follows:
Garden of Eden

Tower of Babel Cain and Abel

Noah and the Flood.

Look at the contrasts between the stories opposite one another.

Garden of Eden Noah and the flood

Sex Gender
Disobedience Obedience
Failure to accept Responsibility for Actions Carrying Responsibility via Obedience
The Male as Nerd The Male as an Action Hero
Becoming Earthly Cast onto the Waters
Divine Expression thru Language & Naming Divine Intervention thru Destruction
Male who Others His Body Male Who Emphasizes Bodily Survival
Female Objectified The Female that Fades into the Background
Knowing We Will Die Determination to Survive
Difference Indifference
Courage in the face of the Unknown Fear of What is Known
Know Thyself as a Principle Celebrating the Know-Nothings
Non-conformity Conformity
Stress on Diversity Stress on Uniformity
Global citizens vs Nativist
Emigrants Refugees

Cain and Abel Tower of Babel

Genesis of Cities Implications of City Life
Nature Technology
Uniqueness Replication
Rivalry of the Farmer vs the Shepherd Rivalry of Globalization vs Nativism
Quest for Recognition Personal Ambition
Fields versus Plains Valleys versus Heights
Horizontal Rivalry over Turf Vertical Rivalry over Ambition
The Principle of Division The Principle of Unity
Murder Mayhem

As we face another divide in the river of life, it is well to recognize clearly what is at stake.

With the help of Alex Zisman




Howard Adelman

“Bereshit” in the Torah means, “In the beginning.” This past Saturday we began the cycle of once again reading through the whole of Torah. The previous Saturday we had ended Deuteronomy with a discussion of the relationship between nature and nurture couched in terms of nature and spirit. The study text in Deuteronomy was posed indirectly by means of an essay by Jeremy Bernstein, a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at Hebrew University. The essay was entitled, “Nature vs. Torah” and began with a quote by a second century Jewish sage, Rabbi Ya’akov, who viewed the appreciation of nature as a distraction from Torah study. One knew immediately that this was a foil towards a very different position because Jeremy Bernstein was well-known as an environmentalist.

In his survey of a number of different positions on interpreting a piece of text discussing the relationship of nature and spirit, it became clear that Bernstein was also not in favour of the very opposite interpretation to the one expressed by Rabbi Ya’akov, a position often part of Zionist thought that also saw nature and religion as oppositional. That Zionsim favoured nature over spirit, physical labour on the earth in opposition to eyes directed towards heaven via detailed study of text. That position is akin to the underpinning of the bulletins I receive on “Environment and Climate in the Middle East” that can be found at For example, a recent study warned that the Mediterranean was warming fast with the consequence that one could forecast deserts spreading in Europe. Ignoring nature for the study of Torah may not only be an erroneous interpretation of Torah, but it could have drastic consequences.

Jeremy clearly wanted to adapt a both/and position rather than an either/or one of either pole. One of my former graduate students who lives in Michigan and serves as a spiritual leader in the U.S. engaged in the understanding of “what it means to co-create heaven and earth” is a strong advocate for one variation of Jeremy’s position of both/and as she tries to educate a broader audience on the responsibilities of becoming a global citizen. Thus, the positions are divided into three main groups: 1) spirit rules over nature; 2) nature has priority on our attention [1 & 2 both read text as dictating either/or positions], and 3) a both/and approach that tries to give due credence and attention to both spheres. For religious Jews, the premises of one’s interpretation depend on how we read the metaphysical foundations of Judaism that are compacted and read in Bereshit (Genesis 1.1 – 6.8), the first reading of Torah which was read this past Saturday.

[I intended to write a commentary prior to that date, but I was, and remain, very busy in my new position as a nurse’s aide.]

Bereshit is called Bereshit because it means, “In the beginning” and it is the first word in the Torah. The argument among Jews and others interpreting text begins over the words that immediately follow, בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים, variously translated with the first word “bereshit” as, In the beginning, God created…,“ or “When God began to create…,” or, thirdly, “In the beginning of God’s creating…,” or fourthly, and most literally, but also most radically, “In the beginning of created Elohim.” There is no dispute that what is being created is heaven and earth, however differently those two terms may be translated and interpreted, but the different interpretations of the verb, the action and the agent are crucial, not only to understanding this piece of text, but the foundation of the whole Torah.

If the text is translated as, “In the beginning, God created…,” as it is in the King James version of the Bible and many, if not most, Christian Protestant biblical texts, then it means that creation began at a certain point in time, an assertion which can be taken back to the Big Bang, but that would take away from the usual meaning that God created the world out of nothing, ex nihilo, or to a date just over five thousand years ago that ends up being contradicted by the discovery of evolution. Martin Luther – this is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his ninety-five theses on the large door of the cathedral, a specific date used to mark the beginning of the Reformation – in his lectures on Genesis: Chapter 1-5, interpreted the text “literally” as he read it to mean that Genesis recorded the beginning of day one (not the first day) of six days in which God created the world in all its perfection. Similarly, in John Calvin’s version of the text, “In principio creavit Deus…,” the text is seen to read, “In the beginning, God created…” This interpretation of text was radically different than Saint Augustine’s allegorical treatment of the creation story in his least allegorical treatment in his volume, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, but these Protestant interpretations are consistent with St. Thomas Aquinas’s version, “In the beginning God created…” and his premise that God created the first principle from which all else that exists emanated.

However, if the second or third translations above are accepted – which are both truer to the Hebrew and which are used in both Chabad and Reform translations – the process of creation is already underway. There is no discussion of a beginning point to all that has come into being, but rather a discussion of God’s role in becoming. In the fourth and most radical interpretation, it is the story of God or Elohim becoming. God develops in partnership with man; it is not a one way revelation. In any of these other three versions, there is no trouble with 1:2 where it is stated that earth was unformed with the clear implication that God’s role was to give form to the chaos of a material world that already existed. We enter the story at the beginning of that process of giving form and order. Genesis does not start with cosmology, but with the creation of order in the world.

The first step in creating that order involves four entities plus God as Elohim:
1. An unformed and “void” earth – וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ; Earth
2. Darkness;
3. The deep which has a surface or face – a primordial ocean or Nun Water
4. A wind or ruach, God’s spirit which swept over the face of the water. Air

What is missing of the four ancient elements is fire that brings light into the darkness of the world.

In a dominant Protestant tradition, that of Restitution theory, the chaos and void were not what followed God’s creation, which is inherently perfect, but the actions of Satan, the fallen angel, who ruined God’s original and perfect creation. However, in the dynamic interpretation wherein the text is about Becoming and not about Being, what is described is God’s intervention in a barren world in which there were waters but nowhere to view one’s reflection because darkness prevailed. When God’s spirit swept over the face of the waters, and God said, “Let there be light, there was light as well as darkness, light by which the barrenness of the earth could be observed as well the coming to be of self-consciousness. Only with light could one see the face of God reflected. And so the text can also be read as a process of God’s self-development as God reflects on what He has wrought. The Torah then can be read as a history of the development of self-consciousness.

Clearly, this interpretation, ironically much closer to the literal Hebrew freed up from the imposition of Greek philosophy, is far closer to the allegorical interpretive tradition. As Rashi and many others have said, the text is not about cosmology but about a philosophical framework for the constitutional development of the Hebrew nation. After light arrives, enlightenment arrives and disjunctions arrive, the disjunction of heaven and earth and the disjunction of light and darkness. We have Day and Night, Dawn and Dusk even before we have the sun and the moon that make possible the morning and the evening. But the sun and the moon are both lights, the light that rules the day, consciousness, and the lesser light that rules the night, the unconscious, viewed as the fourth stage of creation.

What happens next after you have the creation of light in the midst of darkness and after the creation of two different realms from which enlightenment emerges? In 1.6, an expanse is created in the midst of the water that separates the water above and the water below, an expanse called heaven. This is a key stage in God’s creating heaven and earth. But what is that heaven? In Rabbi Plaut’s commentary, the expanse is considered the vault of the sky in which the lights of the sky, the stars, were implanted. On the other side lived the divine entities. Thus, the passage is simply an adaptation of pagan mythology.

But that does it an injustice. For the issue is not where an idea originated, but what the division means. In Greek mythology, the souls of the dead were ferried to another realm across the dark waters of the River Styx that separates the world of the living from that of the dead. In that mental framework, if the dead cross back over the River Styx, if the dead become the living dead of zombies, we have one kind of horror movie.

But in the Torah, the tension is not between the living and the dead, between humans and zombies, but between the pure fresh water, Apsu in Babylonian myth, the fresh clear water that brings rebirth, and Tiamat, salt water, the water that characterizes tears and grief. Heaven or the expanse is not above both but between them, between the strife and troubles on earth and the aspirations of purity that exist beyond the heavens that water the earth and bring forth the vegetation that supports life. So the conflict is not between the living and the dead, but between two forms of life, one open to growth and renewal and being showered by the pure waters coming from the other side of the vault of heaven, and the salt water tears of our grief and struggle on this earth. Ideals, aspirations, hope for renewal are necessary to watering life, but do not constitute the characteristics of life itself on this earth which itself is divided between the salt waters of the sea and the fresh water that falls and is needed to bring forth vegetation on the land.

The sixth day of creation is most interesting, for on that day after animate life arose, animate life proliferated into a plethora of species, but one stood out, humans made in the image of Elohim, God the creator. Humans, both men and women, also exist on earth to create. Accompanying that creativity will be the responsibility of ruling over both the world man inherits, nature (and which in turn and in some sense rule mankind as distinct from the self-legislated laws of the Torah), and the artifacts man brings into creation. God had finished His work and created the fundamental parameters for humans to continue the process of creation, a creation that was not just declared good, but very good.

Frameworks are dry and detached, formal and impersonal Now the more interesting part, the creation of the much more personal and human world and one which rewrites the story with humans at the centre even before there was vegetation, even when there was no rain falling from the heavens from the waters beyond the firmament, a firmament created and not something simply given form by God when He pronounces and says, “There is.” Man is created as a living being from the dust of the earth and God’s spirit that blew over the darkness and face of the waters is now blown into the nostrils of the human creature He has created. And the human as a man is planted in a garden called Eden where plants are provided for food except for two, the Tree of Life at the centre of the garden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, which is not given a locale but is somewhere in the midst of the garden.

We are now reading a record of a male dream that can be viewed literally as a night mare, of a vision of creation that comes in the night as opposed to the story that comes with the creation of light. The key clue is that man alone is created, and not in the image of God, but formed solely out of the dust of the earth. The male is created as a creature formed entirely out of nature without the spirit of God. Creativity, in a male’s consciousness, brings forth from his own flesh a living creature. Creativity in a context of womb envy does not require women. In fact, women will be regarded as an objectification of and for man, but this in a minute.

First, we must deal with the four rivers that water Eden and flow forth into four branches, Pishon, Gihon, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Only the latter two refer to real rivers. There have been many attempts to locate the Pishon and Gihon rivers as geographical locales as well. Josephus claimed the Pishon was the Ganges. Others say it is the Indus. Rashi claimed it was the Nile. Other scholars claimed it to be a cluster of springs (פוץ, after all, means overflowing) and still others the long wadi running from the Hijaz mountains to Kuwait.

But there is no known river to which the Pishon (פִּישׁוֹן‎‎ Pîšōn) can be connected. In the Torah (2.11), the Pishon encircles the golden land of Havilah. Further,פִּישׁ means to be scattered in the sense of being distributed to the four corners of the earth, to being cast out and exiled, one version of the exile. Pishon is the imaginative river which will take us in exile from Eden into the four corners of the earth, for Pishon is the river which circles the earth. In contrast, Gihon or, more properly, Giħôn, גיחון means bursting forth or gushing forth. Gihon is the river that encircles just Cush, but all of Cush. Like the Pishon, there have been a plethora of efforts to link the Gihon with various different rivers, but it too is best viewed as an allegorical river, like the River Styx.

On the other hand, the land of Cush itself is real and the people of Cush are generally thought of as Ethiopian Jews or as the Tutsi of the Great Lakes region of Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo and Uganda. Without concerning ourselves at this point with any precise correspondence, two alternative visions are adumbrated for leaving Eden – forced into exile and scattered to the far ends of the earth, presumably for being wicked and giving way to temptation. But where do we go but to Trumpland, a place of precious metals. Alternatively, the exodus from Eden can be conceived as a gushing forth and relocation to a specific locale where one can shepherd cattle and goats. The emphasis is not on either place as the Promised Land, but on the process. One is a forced dispersion. The second is a gushing forth and a welcome relocation. The first is a story of refugees. The second is a story of immigrants.

However, both the Pishon and the Gihon flow south-west. In the Torah going west is equated with escaping family and social responsibilities, with the frontier, with innovation, but also with encounters with enormous challenges. In contrast to this romanticism, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow south-east from the mountains of Turkey, the latter from the confluence of the Murat Su and Kara Su Rivers in eastern Turkey before the Euphrates joins the over one thousand mile long Tigris River that has on its banks the city of Mosul, so much in the news these days, through to Baghdad to form the Shatt al-Arab and flow into the Persian Gulf. Nineveh, the great Assyrian city to which Jonah was instructed to travel to rescue civilization from its immorality, was also located in Upper Mesopotamia in modern Iraq on the east back of the Tigris River. The two rivers make the areas of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria into the fertile crescent, the cradle of civilization where both animal domestication and agriculture, writing and the wheel, were all invented.

With the cosmology and geography of the imagination set, the drama now begins with Act II in chapter 2 of Genesis. Verse 2.5 describes the situation very differently than the one left at the end of chapter 1. There are no trees or herbs growing. Chapter 2.5 does not describe a fertile crescent, for the earth was barren and there was neither rain to bring growth nor humans to till the soil and bring forth crops. Water came first as a mist and man came formed out of the dust. God blew air into the nostrils of man to make him a living soul. (2.7) So water, earth and air came together to form man. Where was the fire? Where was light? In this version of creation, there is no light. It is a dream.

We now know we are reading of the creation of man in the male imagination, for man does not spring forth from woman. In the male imagination, man comes prior to woman as an independent being. In the east, God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in that garden where man was given responsibility for working it (who said that there was no labour required to maintain the garden?) and to protect or guard that garden. (2.15) [From what???] But there were two trees planted in the garden, the Tree of Life in the centre, the vision of possessing divine immortality (which man made in the image of God believed he already possessed), and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the other core foundation for the imagination and human life, but grounded in the flesh rather than in fantasy, grounded in sex and, hence, procreation. Man was instructed NOT to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil lest he die.

God said that something still was not good – who said that God had created a perfect world after six days? Man was alone. He needed a help meet. What was man doing in the interim? He was engaged in taxonomy, in naming different classes of things, the foundation stone of science and objective knowledge. But all the naming did not help him find a help meet. In fact, man did not even recognize that he needed one so caught up was he in his nerdy existence. God put Adam to sleep and in Adam’s imagination, the creation of life is reversed and woman is made from man rather than man emerging from woman. Further, to demonstrate his detachment, man will leave his parents and cleave to his wife, “and they shall become one flesh.” They will have sex and become intimate.

But did not God command man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Yes and no. God warned man that if he did eat of that tree, if he knew another being carnally, he would recognize that he would know that he would die, and, therefore, might want to eat of the Tree of Life to retain the immortality that he had. So if he had sex, he would have to leave the garden lest he really seek immortality, seek to become a God.

In chapter 3 we are presented with a man and a woman naked in the garden. A third agent is introduced – a snake, an erect snake, and a snake that speaks, and a snake that is cunning. Who is that snake? (וְהַנָּחָשׁ) Recall that Adam is a nerd who walks around thinking he is immortal and, like God, names things and, thereby, brings them into being in his cognitive consciousness. But he knows nothing about his body. He knows nothing about his feelings. He does not even know he feels lonely and needs someone else. God has to tell him. So when his penis becomes erect and has a non-cognitive voice of its own, Adam others it. Like teenagers in the locker room, the penis becomes Oscar or Peter or … – an independent being with its own voice.

The snake-penis queries Eve and Eve says God told then not only not to eat of the tree but not even to touch it. “You won’t die,” says the snake. But our eyes will be open and we will recognize what is good and what is evil. How prescient! And God is surely right for Adam and Eve are until then clueless. Eve agreed with the snake that sex was good so she ate and he ate. End of innocence. Both knew shame. It could have been written that then the man turned over and went back to sleep.

God then asked – where are you, not physically. What head space are you in now that you have had sex, now that you feel ashamed of what you did? After all, I warned you. I told you what would happen if you ate that fruit. And lo and behold, Adam says, “It wasn’t really me. She did it. She offered me the fruit.” Eve said, “I didn’t do it. It was the serpent. It was the snake that tempted me.” So the erection became limp and would henceforth be hidden and live a life in the dirt and the dust. Further, as much as lust will drive you towards woman, God will ensure that enmity will also exist between the two of you.
As far as Adam is concerned, the penis, the snake, will crush your head, will undermine you as a cognitive and thinking person and you, in turn, “will bite his heel,” his עָקֵב, will greet nightfall or twilight or the end of the day, the loss of light with fanged teeth. You will always be forced to turn backwards and tear apart the tracks that you have covered, to indulge in second-guessing. Women will bear children in pain and men will no longer merely work the garden and protect it, but will toil on earth with the sweat of their brow. And, in the subconscious account, the two were forced to leave the garden and travel to the River Pishon in search of their fortunes at the ends of the earth.

On a totally other level, Adam and Even gush forth from the garden, freed up from their ignorance and their repression to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and what it means to take responsibility. No longer unaware, they can reflect on themselves and one another. The cost is great, but has it not been worth it? They go to Gush via the Gihon and escape the prison of innocence for a rich world of wonders, for the pleasures of nature and for self-reflection and responsibility for themselves and the world.

The implications:
1. The Garden of Eden is not an allegorical ideal but an infantilizing of humans.
2. Man has a consciousness of the world of objects and believes that is what it is like to be God, to name and order the world.
3. Man (not women) inherently constructs a division between mind and body, between spirit and nature.
4. Man initially does not take responsibility for the actions of his body.
5. Man objectifies his own body driven by passions and will also objectify women.
6. Man in his fantasy world sees woman as an extension of his body and, hence, without a thought of her own.
7. When woman responds to the attractions of the flesh, it is she who seduces him, not he her.
8. The beginning of self-consciousness starts with humans recognizing their actions BUT refusing to take responsibility for those actions.
9. The Torah story will be primarily about humans and the Israelites learning to assume that responsibility.
10. Finally, though God creates the opportunities to learn, God plays the role of the trickster that makes God appear as if He is on the side of holding men and women back. From the very initial story and onwards, God will play the role of the reactionary provocateur.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Commentary on the first six books of Genesis

Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1.2-6:8)


Howard Adelman

This week Jews (and some others) begin the annual re-reading of the Torah. And the beginning is my very favourite part. Why? Because it is about what we are given as gender beings and how that forms the foundation of our ethics. We are born equal, man and woman; God created men and women as equals. But not in man’s head. Man has the delusion that he was born first and that woman is but a physical extension of a man. While man does not take responsibility for his own penis and sexual drives, he presumes woman is merely an appendage and physical extension of himself to serve him. This inversion of how man regards his own body and how he regards a woman’s body are the foundation of ethics and what it means to say a man is born in sin. It not because he is sexually driven; rather, it is because he does not take responsibility for his sexual drives, for his embodiment. Further, he turns a woman, not into an object, but into an extension of his own agency and does not respect her as an agent in her own right.

Take the issue of revelation which supposedly divides the Orthodox – or, at least, most of them – from the non-Orthodox in a debate over whether the Torah as written is the word of God transcribed on the page or the collation of a number of writers over years when the importance of the Torah is that, as one reads and examines the text, the text reveals to us profound truths, beginning with the roots of sin and the need for ethical norms and their compass. The usual division of Bereshit starts with the first seven days (1:1-2:2) and then moves to the Garden of Eden Story (2:3-3:23), then to the story of Cain and Abel (4:1-4:26) and ends with the prelude to flood (5:1-6:8). I want to cover all four sections in one commentary.

Though the narrative begins in cosmology in the discussions of light emerging from darkness, the emergence of the sky, the earth and the heavenly bodies, and then the creation of the fish of the sea, the birds in the air and the animals on earth and finally, the relatively new species, human beings, the significance of the story has nothing to say about how the world was created. Rather, it is a set up. Nature is good. God says it over and over again. Then God created humans and, understandably, needed a day of rest.  

When we throw light on nature, when we separate the darkness and allow light to bathe over not only the earth but even the deep depths of the ocean floor, one has to be amazed. Just watch an episode of National Geographic or the BBC series on deep water exploration. What a fantastic place we live on! It is truly a wonder to behold. By the fourth day, we have a cosmos that gives us our days and nights, our weeks and our years, the rhythms of time in accordance with which we live. And even when monsters and wild beasts came into being; it was all perceived as good.

And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (verse 27)  So begins the problem and the paradoxes. Man is created in God’s image even though God has no visible presence. But what is clear is that he created both male and female. (verse 28) And then we have the first blessing and the first commandment: “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” Being created in God’s image is not about physical appearances but about the human role as an agent – a creator AND a ruler. “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (verse 32) In ch.2:3, God rested and blessed the 7th day as He looked with satisfaction on what He created. 

But not for long! Then the dissolution set in. God discovers for the first time, and it will not be the last time, that He made a mistake. For what he thought of and pronounced as good was no such thing. Why? 

We then move onto the second segment and read the second story of man’s and woman’s creation, and in this story they are not created equal. For this is the story as the male imagines it. Man is the product, not of a virgin birth, but of a femaleless birth. He is made sui generis out of earth and water and air that is used to inflate him. And then God created the Garden of Eden with all kinds of trees, but two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a huge garden fed by four great rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon (where the wealth of the earth’s resources, especially gold and precious gems, can be found) and the Gibon (the Nile ?) that runs through the Cush. The Garden extends from Babylon or Iraq down through the Arabian Peninsula where Noah’s son, Shem, and his son, Joktan (the Ishmaelites) (Genesis 25:18) will settle, down into East Africa where Noah’s descendent, Cush, the son of Ham, will settle. 

God issues the second commandment, not to eat and enjoy, but rather not to eat, specifically not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man eats thereof he will realize that, unlike God in whose image he is made, man will know that death is certain. Further, man in the Garden of Eden did not recognize he was lonely; God observes that. God pronounces that as not good. In the second imaginative version of creating woman, woman is fashioned out of Adam’s rib, but for a specific function, to be man’s helper and aide de camp. Rulership is perceived as extending over women. Third, man is given a job. He becomes a biological taxonomist giving names to the different species of animals and fish and birds and perhaps even the insects in the billions. Perhaps this was the reason he did not even recognize his emotional need for a woman – he was so caught up in his mental work of naming and imitating God as a creator. Finally, it was observed that man and woman were together and were naked and were not ashamed.

Chapter 3 tells the story of what is often called “The Fall”, on the supposition that until this moment Man and Woman lived in a state of grace. But if in man’s imagination he was born not from woman, that woman was created as a projection of himself, and in service to himself, then the seeds of trouble had already been planted. We are introduced to the Serpent, a new character in the story. Who is the Serpent? He is shrewd. He is a wild beast. He is erect. Unlike other animals, he speaks. He is masculine. And who does the Serpent talk to? Not man, but woman. And what does he say? He does not behave like man walking around the Garden as a biologist naming everything and therefore serving as a surrogate in bringing things into being in the realm of knowledge. Instead, he behave like Socrates sceptically asks a question. 

 “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 2 The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who knows good and bad.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.


Why were they embarrassed? What were they ashamed of? They had disobeyed a commandment. But the disobedience had been very pleasurable. Further, they became wiser in some sense in taking pleasure from themselves as sexual beings. The serpent had been correct. They did not die from eating the fruit. Only their innocence died. They became ashamed of their bodies. Why? Because, commandments and ethics did not determine what they did; their bodily desires did. So they recognized who the serpent was. This erect figure, this male penis, was not an independent voice, but the voice of male desire for which the man did not take responsibility. Just as the woman was seen as an extension of his own body, the penis became an independent agency for which man did not take responsibility.


Both were internally conflicted, each torn inside and confused. When God sought them out, they hid. God clued in. He immediately knew that they had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God knew that they had the sexual relations, those relations that Bill Clinton denied he had had with Monica Lewis. God asked, “Did you eat of the fruit that I had forbidden you to eat? The gender wars were now on. The male said, “She did it. She put me up to it.” So really, God, it is not only her fault. It is Your fault. For you created her as company for me. The woman was not much better in refusing to take responsibility. The serpent, his penis, tricked me, she said. So God addressed the penis directly and said that henceforth, the penis would no longer stand erect but crawl on the belly of man. Henceforth, this now shrivelled and wrinkled piece of flesh would be the source of enmity between man and woman and the male and female children of man and woman that will spout from their loins. She will strike at the head of man, at man who attempts to rule over woman by guile and rational cleverness. Man will strike back, nip at her heel and forever undermine her as he attempts to seduce her and then rule over her. In spite of that, her desire will be directed towards him. As a result, she will have children, but bring them forth only in pain, and not simply physical pain.


As for man, no more would he simply be the biologist and taxonomist, but he would, like his scrawny shrivelled penis, be cursed and henceforth survive only through physical toil in an earth no longer bountiful but full of thorns and thistles. Man would have to become a farmer and a herdsman and work all his life by the sweat of his brow. You thought you were made from dust so to dust shall you be returned. And Man named his wife Eve – no longer a generic name but a particular name, but as a generic name in a different sense than as a class term, the mother of all of humanity and even of everything that lives. Woman would henceforth be Gaia. And man would henceforth not be allowed a life of leisure, simply living off the fruit of the land.


The third segment of Bereshit begins with Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. For if the story of cosmology is a tale of awe and wonder and the beauty and bounty of nature, and if the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the story of the inner conflict within each between Desire and Life and between not only the two of them and between Desire and Life, but between Desire that envisions man as God living off the earth and ruling over that bounty and Desire for Woman and becoming one flesh, and between Life that aspires to immortality and Life that simply endures the hardship of survival, the story of Cain and Abel moves into a new struggle, the struggle for recognition between two alpha males and between two different ways of life bequeathed to humans who no longer live in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of emerging from the second stage of what began to be called in modern political theory, ‘the state of nature’.


Cain, the eldest was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd, a herdsman. But the cowboy and the farmer could not be friends. Each wanted exclusive recognition of his rights. For their ways of life were pretty incompatible. One needed fences. The other needed open pasture. One life meant being on the move. The other meant settled life. Each offered the best of what he produced as a sacrifice to seek recognition for his way of life at the same time demonstrating that they were still above the work of mere survival and wanted divine recognition. God gave it to the shepherd, not the farmer.


God had said that the farmer could do fine without recognition as the superior way of life, as the way of life worthy of divine sanction, but the farmer did not want to live on the margins of a pastureland, as in the pampas of Argentina, or to lose the status as God’s chosen imitator. It was not the man dedicated to domesticated animal husbandry who killed the farmer, as one might imagine, but the farmer who killed the peaceful shepherd. Farming became the dominant mode of earning a living and herding animals and sheep or camels was thrust off into the margins. Agriculture became the central route to building civilization and cities. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain, unlike his parents, did not seek to hide but replied equivocally: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”


Ironically, his smart-assed reply revealed the very core of the ethical code necessary to avoid murder and mayhem. As punishment, the man of the soil who only wanted to settle in one place, was made a nomad, driven to seeking more fertile soil always elsewhere. He became the unsettled settler, the migrant par excellence and not just a nomad. He went to live in the Land of Nod (ארץ נוד), East of Eden, the land of wanderers, for “nod” is the root of the Hebrew word, “to wander” ((לנדוד). Ironically, the desire and need to wander would become, not so much the source of agricultural settlements, but the foundation of cities where man lives uprooted from the soil as neither a farmer nor a herdsman.


What is the mark of Cain that God put on him to protect him from murder? Cain was made into a fugitive and wanderer alienated from nature and destined to live in cities. To live in a city, man requires protection. No more could a man be recognized for what he did and how he brought forth the means of survival by his labour. The mark of Cain is recognition that man must be a citizen of a polity to be protected; he can no longer rely on his own devices; he must have membership in a political collectivity. This is his mark of Cain. He can enjoy no freedom without such a membership. So in the fight for recognition of one way of life over another, neither wins. A new form of polity centred on the city and civilization comes into being where man must be recognized as a member of a people and ruled by a government in order to survive. Ironically, the mark of Cain is citizenship. It is the mark that means man has totally left the state of nature and entered into the world of polities. So Cain and His wife bore a son, Enoch, who founded a city. And another son born of Adam and Eve, Seth, gave birth to another line of humanity.


And so humanity grew and multiplied and settled the world until Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth came along. The fourth segment of Bereshit is told following the alienation from the wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, following the discovery of treachery and duplicity rooted in a failure to take responsibility for ourselves as embodied creatures, and then following the war between different ways of life and the search for recognition of the superiority of one over the other only to end up with murder and the emergence of a new way of life, living in cities and a polity where each carries a mark of identification, the artifact of citizenship, as the means of protection. But civilization will breed classes, those who sacrifice themselves for the future and develop their capacities and means of sustenance, and those who look sceptically upon the whole effort of service and duty to family and nation and country and simply want to get satisfaction from life.


Then who were the Nephilim, divine beings, the heroes of old, men of renown, who cohabited with the daughters of men and who made wickedness the prevailing mode of life on earth, and who made God regret that he had created life on earth altogether so that he wanted to start all over again to correct his mistake and decide to bring forth the flood? The Nephilim are neither those who achieve mastery over men and themselves nor those who are self indulgent. Why are these Nephilim equated with those who fell who are associated with wickedness, children of God and fallen angels, or, alternatively, those who cause others to fall, giant Samurai, heroic warriors of a bygone age worshipped in epic tales?


The Nephilim are both. They are the knights of the roundtable, chivalrous men whom women idolize. They are gods and God Himself becomes God si love. True love becomes amor where the new ethical basis is between the idealistic knights who dedicate their might to an abstract ideal and the ladies who worship those knights. Knights were not wicked in the sense of bestial, lewd beings in pursuit of the satisfaction of a night of passion. Rather, they were the epitome of courage and valour, of honesty and integrity, loyalty and fealty and dedicated in a totally pure way to the women to whom they gave their troth. Women were not perceived as physical extensions of man but as a source of inspiration. They are put on a pedestal and, in turn, appreciated as an ideal. Life itself becomes etherealized. And man is no longer in bondage to man but in bondage to a heaven-sent partnership that has nothing to do with the passions of the flesh and everything to do with mutual recognition, with grace, with mutual protection and mutual fulfillment in an ideal conception of life.


Why would God see this as wickedness? Why are heroic fearsome giants (Numbers 13:32-33) viewed as a source of distress and discomfort? Because in a land of heroes and romanticism, in a land built on the premise of romantic love as the source of ethics, in a land built on an ideal of purity and perfection as the fullest expression of life, that land devours its inhabitants. That is not a land rooted in the family and in children, but in ethereal passion and self-sacrifice for abstract ideals. These children of God become the real source of the virus of wickedness and repression. And ordinary humans are seen as grasshoppers or cockroaches, inyenzi, insects to be exterminated where the rule of law and of civilized men is sacrificed in service to an abstract ideal and dream of perfection.


So God will strike first and drown all but the select few.


So it is no surprise that the Haftorah reading comes from Isaiah, for Ashkenazim, Isaiah 42:5-43:10. God opts for nationhood and not heroism, for enlightenment and not self-repression in stark opposition to idolatry of any kind. God becomes dedicated to innovation and not nostalgia where the citizens of cities will lift up their voices. The warriors will not be knights of the roundtable but, rather, the Lord will go forth like a warrior, raising a war cry and prevailing against idolatry. And so we are given an apocalyptic vision of a God in labour giving birth to the new:


  הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי, מֵעוֹלָם–אַחֲרִישׁ, אֶתְאַפָּק; כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, אֶשֹּׁם וְאֶשְׁאַף יָחַד.

14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman, gasping and panting at once.

טו  אַחֲרִיב הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת, וְכָל-עֶשְׂבָּם אוֹבִישׁ; וְשַׂמְתִּי נְהָרוֹת לָאִיִּים, וַאֲגַמִּים אוֹבִישׁ.

15 I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools.

טז  וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ–בִּנְתִיבוֹת לֹא-יָדְעוּ, אַדְרִיכֵם; אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר, וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר–אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, in paths that they knew not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and rugged places plain. These things will I do, and I will not leave them undone.

יז  נָסֹגוּ אָחוֹר יֵבֹשׁוּ בֹשֶׁת, הַבֹּטְחִים בַּפָּסֶל; הָאֹמְרִים לְמַסֵּכָה, אַתֶּם אֱלֹהֵינוּ.  {פ}

17 They shall be turned back, greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images: ‘Ye are our gods.’ {P}

יח  הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת.

18 Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

יט  מִי עִוֵּר כִּי אִם-עַבְדִּי, וְחֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי אֶשְׁלָח; מִי עִוֵּר כִּמְשֻׁלָּם, וְעִוֵּר כְּעֶבֶד יְהוָה.

19 Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is wholehearted, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

כ  ראית (רָאוֹת) רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע.

20 Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

כא  יְהוָה חָפֵץ, לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ; יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה, וְיַאְדִּיר.

21 The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

כב  וְהוּא, עַם-בָּזוּז וְשָׁסוּי, הָפֵחַ בַּחוּרִים כֻּלָּם, וּבְבָתֵּי כְלָאִים הָחְבָּאוּ; הָיוּ לָבַז וְאֵין מַצִּיל, מְשִׁסָּה וְאֵין-אֹמֵר הָשַׁב.

22 But this is a people robbed and spoiled, they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth, for a spoil, and   none saith: ‘Restore.’

(Hebrew-English Bible/Mechon-Mamre)


But they can and will be redeemed.