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B'reisheet - October 4, 2021 - Torah Portion

Torah Portions for Monday 4th October 2021

Genesis – B’reisheet meaning “In the beginning”: Genesis 1-6:8 – Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10 John 1:1-17

Genesis is telling us something radical and that is the reality to which Torah is a guide. The word “Torah” itself means guide, instruction, and law which is moral and ethical.

The question Genesis seeks to answer is not how the world was made or to tell us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven! It declares the way out for a troubled, bewildered, and bedeviled race, and it is the only book that speaks with authority in this realm.

It constantly uses the physical and material to illustrate and to reveal truth that is on a higher level -- the spiritual.

If we read this book carefully, noting what it has to say, we will discover that the God of Genesis is undoubtedly the God of the rest of the Bible. In the New Testament he is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father of all those who believe in him; he exercises a father's heart.

But our first glimpse of this same God is as the Creator. That is the way we are introduced to him in this beginning chapter of the first book of the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 RSV)

The supreme concern within God's heart in giving us the Bible has been, through the centuries, that we might understand what goes on in the human spirit, affecting everything we do. He has deliberately made the physical to correspond to the spiritual in such a way as to illustrate to us what is going on within.

Dr. F. A. Filby, who was the Senior Lecturer on Inorganic Chemistry in the UK wrote:

“There is indeed a spiritual law operating in the natural world, and God put us on a planet where light is separated from darkness for our spiritual education as well as for our physical needs. There is a spiritual, as well as a physical reason, for the pattern of creation and he who divorces science from true religion will never be able to come to a real understanding of the world.”

If indeed this is true, then it is evident that the physical heavens and earth are used to illustrate the fundamental difference which exists between human and divine life. God is not man – He is spirit. “Jesus says to the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the spirit and in truth” John 4:24

He operates quite differently from man, but it is his intention that man should share His life, and live as He lives. Obviously, then, we must learn a wholly different way of living. That is the supreme subject of the Bible: how to live on a different level of life -- the level on which God intended man to live and that’s on a spiritual level as well as a physical level.

God gave man dominion over fish, birds, cattle, wild animals and creeping things but not over man. Genesis 1 Vs 26

God said, “Let us make man in our own image",

God has no image because He is not physical. He transcends the physical universe because He created it. Therefore, He is free, unconstrained by the laws of matter. That is what God means when He tells Moses that His name is “I will be what I will be” (Ex. 3:14), and later when, after the sin of the Golden Calf, He tells him, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” He is Sovereign: He is Almighty God: God is free, and by making us in His image, He gave us also the power to be free.

This, as the Torah makes clear, was God’s most fateful gift. Given freedom, humans misuse it. Adam and Eve disobey God’s command. Cain murders Abel. By the end of this week’s Torah portion we find ourselves in the world about to be destroyed by the Flood, for it is filled with violence to the point where God regretted that He had ever created humanity. Will we use our freedom to respect order or misuse it to create chaos? Will we honour or dishonour the image of God that lives within the human heart and mind?

These are not only ancient questions. They are as alive today as ever they were in the past. The question raised by serious thinkers is whether justice, human rights, and the unconditional dignity of the human person are capable of surviving on secular grounds alone. Our Western concept of justice rests on the belief that

“all of us have great and equal worth: the worth of being made in the image of God and of being loved redemptively by God.” Wrote Nicolas Woltersdorff, [2]

That is surely what John F. Kennedy meant in his Inaugural Address when he spoke of the “revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought,” that “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”[3]

Momentous ideas made the West what it is, ideas like human rights, the abolition of slavery, the equal worth of all, and justice based on the principle that right is sovereign over might.[4] All of these ultimately derived from the statement in the first chapter of the Torah that we are made in God’s image and likeness. No other text has had a greater influence on moral thought, nor has any other civilisation ever held a higher vision of what we are called on to be.

It is a fundamental assault on human dignity that a man with power and authority makes someone do something against their will. This is a timely word for Nations operating under tyranny and injustice.

Shabbat shalom

Miriam Wakefield

Torah Portion Genesis 1-6:8

Notes from Hebrew4Christians

Notes from Ray Stedman on Genesis 1

[2] Nicholas Woltersdorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 393.

[3] John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Washington, DC, 20 January 1961.

[4] Read Rabbi Sacks’ Introduction to his Essays on Ethics

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