Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Bereshit

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il


Shabbat Bereshit 5760/1999

The Image of G-d in the Stories of Creation

Gabby Barzilai

Dept. of Bible

Much has been written on the differences between the two accounts of Creation, the one in Genesis, Chapter 1, and the other, Chapter 2.[1] To wit: G-d the Creator is referred to as E-lohim in Chapter 1, and as Hashem E-lohim in Chapter 2. In Chapter 1, Creation begins in a universe of water, whereas in Chapter 2 the universe is dry, no rain having fallen. The process of Creation in Chapter 1 is divided into six well-ordered days, whereas in Chapter 2 there is no such division. The story of Creation in Chapter 1 has a clear conclusion, while the narrative in Chapter 2 flows into the story of the Garden of Eden. In Chapter 1, man is the last thing created, comparable to a king who comes to the table after it has been set, whereas man in chapter 2 is created at the beginning of the narrative and sees the entire world being created before his eyes; and so on and so forth. Bible critics have sought to view these differences as evidence of two separate Creation stories, transferred to the Torah from two different sources. In their opinion, the "redactor (editor) of Genesis" included both stories because both found favor in his eyes and he did not want to choose between them.[2]

Jewish Bible scholars wished to discount the idea that the two stories entered the Bible by chance and therefore tried to find real reasons why both accounts were included and to show how they reflected different aspects of existence. Umberto Cassuto viewed the narrative of Chapter 1 as expressing G-d's sovereignty as the creator of the physical world, and Chapter 2, G-d as the leader of the ethical world.[3] Rabbi Mordechai Breuer drew a distinction between the natural world as described in Chapter 1 and the revelatory world, in which G-d and man walk side by side, as described in Chapter 2.[4] Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik was unique in his treatment of the figure of man in the two stories of Creation.[5] He chose to delve into a specific aspect of the stories of Creation and not discuss the stories in general, since he viewed these stories as enveloping too many messages to be encompassed in a single sweep.

According to Rabbi Soloveitchik's article, in Chapter 1 the Torah describes man as a creative being who asks, "How is the world constructed?" "How does nature operate?" out of his desire to imitate nature, to improve and control it. In contrast, man as described in Chapter 2 is a philosophical being who asks questions of cause and effect: Why was the world created? To what purpose was man created? Who is the Creator, who is the Ruler of the Universe?

Rabbi Soloveitchik's main point is that beyond the messages to be found in each of the narratives individually, an important message can be found by considering them in conjunction. Man is not one-sided, solely a creative or a philosophic being; rather, he has the characteristics of a thinker and of a creator at one and the same time. The two stories present different aspects of human beings, since humans are complex, not to be encompassed in a single story. Thus Rabbi Soloveitchik draws our attention to the Torah's special way of portraying the complexities of existence, by breaking them down into two simpler components that can be understood by all sorts of people.

Just as Rabbi Soloveitchik shed light on the figure of man, one of the main characters in the story of Creation, so I shall try to shed light on the other main character--G-d the Creator. The two stories of Creation portray the Creator in quite different ways. In Chapter 1, G-d creates the world by fiat: "G-d said: ... And it was so..." All the things created are created to perfection, and all are judged by the Creator, Who sees "that this was good," and therefore does not correct a thing. G-d the Creator is omnipotent and needs no assistance.

In contrast, the Creator in Chapter 2 is portrayed in a far more human manner. He does not create by fiat, but by fashioning and forming, like an artisan modeling clay vessels. He plants and causes things to grow, in short, He works with his hands. The Creator in Chapter 2 also thinks in human terms, wishing to fashion a perfect being, trying again and again until the ultimate improvement is achieved. For example, after creating man and instilling in him the breath of life, G-d examines His creation and concludes, "It is not good for man to be alone" (2:18). How different this approach from the message conveyed repeatedly in Chapter 1, "And G-d saw that this was good." G-d the Creator seeks to change this situation which is not good by making man "a fitting helper for him." Therefore G-d makes "all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky." He forms them out of the earth, since man was formed out of earth, and perhaps by being made of the same raw material they will suit man. Indeed, man gives names to all the animals, thus defining their essence and role in the world, but nevertheless, "for Adam no fitting helper was found." Having tried without success, G-d tries again. This time, however, using the same raw material does not suffice; rather, He creates Adam's helper from Adam's own body. He takes a part of man and from it He forms woman.[6] Adam identifies the new creature as part of himself and therefore accepts her as a full partner and a fitting helper for him.

Why does the Torah present two views of the Creator of the universe which are so different from each other? The answer, it seems to me, lies in the weaknesses of each one. The G-d of Chapter 1 is omnipotent, mighty, and remote. This portrayal stresses the greatness of G-d, but a person reading this description finds it very difficult to identify with such a G-d. How could one expect such a great and mighty G-d to have anything at all to do with lowly human beings, for "what is man that You be mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:5). Such a depiction of G-d would make it senseless for us to pray and worship Him and would be likely to lead humans to a mechanistic view of the universe, left to run according to the laws of nature, since both the world and human beings are too small and insignificant in the eyes of G-d.

The portrayal of G-d in Chapter 2 is the diametric opposite. He cares for man and sees to his needs from the moment of his creation. It is easy for humans to identify with such a G-d, who resembles them in His behavior, caring for all man's wants. It is easy to feel affinity for such a G-d, to pray to Him and expect Him to respond. However this portrayal also has a major weakness. A G-d who is so human is not essentially distinguished from other gods, and Heaven forfend that the Torah present the one and only G-d as just another deity.

Thus the Torah's original message lies in combining both portrayals. The Torah wishes to present an incomparably complex G-d. On the one hand He is an omnipotent G-d who created the world unassisted, there being no other G-d but Him. Yet for all His mightiness, He is not above caring for each and every person, seeing to the needs of His world and all its inhabitants.

We are accustomed to ascribing human patterns of behavior to G-d, comparing Him to a king of flesh and blood. In so doing, we ascribe to G-d the behavior of a high and mighty person, and high and mighty persons, as we know, deal with lofty and important matters. The less important affairs they leave to their assistants: "Have them bring every major dispute to you", Jethro told Moses, "but let them decide every minor dispute themselves" (Ex. 18:22). The complex message conveyed by the two accounts of Creation taken together is to set our thinking right, for the Lord of the Universe is without limitation, yet in His mightiness He also concerns himself with small things. He is so great that He can deal with everything, both with nations and individuals, with personal events and with the entire course of history.

[1] For one example of many, cf. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Jerusalem 1961, pp. 84-96.

[2] Cassuto, ibid., p. 85.

[3] Cassuto, ibid., p. 87-88

[4] M. Breuer, Pirkei Moadot,Vol. 1, Jerusalem 1986, pp. 14-16.

[5] Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith (Doubleday, 1992), pp. 19-28. [First published in Tradition, Summer 1965]

[6] Disagreement regarding the part G-d took in order to form woman goes back to the time of the Talmud. Some of the Rabbis believed zela to mean "side," in the sense of G-d cutting man into two equal parts and forming woman from one of them. Others believed that zela meant rib, as the Hebrew word is used today (cf. Eruv. 18a; Rashi, Ibn Ezra an Radak on verse 21). The bearing of these views on the status of women deserves special attention.

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