Sunday, October 07, 2012

Running commentary on parashat Bereishit, part i

Sefer Bereishit begins:

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

בְּרֵאשִׁית -- In the beginning of everything -- in the beginning of our religion, in the beginning of the Torah, the fundamental belief is that Hashem created the heaven and the earth. Rashi brings up the question why we do not start with the first commandment given to the Jewish people, of Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem, about Nissan. But reishit chochma yirat Hashem, and the heart of our religion stands an orthodoxy, not an orthopraxy. Even if one could argue (incorrectly) that technically, nowhere in Judaism is any sort of belief required, such a religiosity is stupid.

בְּרֵאשִׁית -- is in the construct form, it would seem. The absolute form, "in the beginning", would be berishonah. The construct form means "in the beginning of". But in the beginning of what?

  1. We could say that this is just a fancy was of saying berishonah, and that this is not exclusively a construct form. Use of this fancy form is appropriate for beginning a sefer.
  2. bereishit hakol, in the beginning of everything, with hakol as implicit
  3. bereishit of Bara elokim et Hashamayim veEt haAretz. That is (as Rashi explains), the first pasuk does not logically end at haaretz, but continues on, until the end of pasuk 3.

To run with option #3, this seems correct because of the vav hachibbur (connecting vav) in וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה in pasuk 2. The role of such a וְ is to introduce a parenthetical note about the state of affairs at the time. Thus, the וְ is properly rendered "when".

Thus, it should be read roughly as "In the beginning of Hashem's creation of Heaven and Earth, when earth was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, Hashem said 'Let there be light' and there was light." Thus, Hashem's first creative act was creating light, not creating heaven and earth. And this creating of light was part and parcel of Hashem's overarching creation of heaven and earth, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

There are two slight problems with option #3, however. First, it says בָּרָא, which is a verb ("created"), not בְּרׂא, ("the creation of"). Secondly, the trup is against it, since it ends the pasuk at the close of pasuk 1, not at the end of pasuk 3.

To this I would answer that Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzato notes that many classic Rishonim give a peshat in a pasuk against the trup (including sentence boundaries) and nikkud. He takes this as evidence that they held that trup and nikkud were not miSinai, and (at least in orthography, the graphic signs, but also more generally) were post-Talmudic. The trup and nikkud are thus not dispositive, such that one can argue against it, and revocalize it at bro and parse the pesukim with different trup.

I don't know that all those Rishonim knew (in every instance) that they were arguing against nikkud or trup. Sometimes, the parse given by the trup is quite nuanced. Admittedly, some Rishonim do talk about the author of the teamim. But aside from all this, a pasuk might be ambiguous and open to be interpreted in multiple ways, simultaneously. (And some sources say this explicitly.) The trup and nikkud represent a single chosen parse and grammatical form, but the text in a sefer Torah possesses neither, and perhaps many interpretations can be read into, or out of, the consonantal text.

While I am most convinced by option #3, at the same time, the Torah begins with words indicating that Hashem was the one who did the act of creating the heavens and the earth. And this (option #1 or #2) deserves emphasis; and so it is altogether proper that this stress be implemented by a silluq on הָאָרֶץ and the nikkud of בָּרָא.

Indeed, William Wickes, in his treatise on the accentuation of the twenty-one prose books of the Old Testament (that is, on trup of Tanach with the exclusion of Iyov, Mishlei and Tehillim, which have their own trup system) notes that the trup within this first pasuk is not in line with a simplistic general logical / and syntactic system of dichotomy. The major break in the pasuk is with the etnachta on Elokim. Thus, on page 32, he writes:

Thus, there is a purpose in this first pasuk, of emphasizing that Hashem created.

בָּרָא -- does this mean creation ex nihilo, yesh me'ayin? See Ibn Ezra on this:
ברא -רובי המפרשים אמרו, שהבריאה להוציא יש מאין. 
וכן: אם בריאה יברא ה'. והנה שכחו ויברא אלוהים את התנינים ושלש בפסוק אחד, ויברא אלוהים את האדם. ובורא חשך שהוא הפך האור שהוא יש. 
ויש דקדוק המלה ברא לשני טעמים, זה האחד. 
והשני: לא ברה אתם לחם. וזה השני ה"א תחת אלף, כי כמוהו להברות את דוד, כי הוא מהבנין הכבד הנוסף, ואם היה באל"ף היה כמו:להבריאכם מראשית כל מנחת ישראל, ומצאנו מהבנין הכבד ובראת לך שם. ואיננו כמו: ברו לכם איש, רק כמו: וברא אותהן, וטעמו לגזור ולשום גבול נגזר, והמשכיל יבין.

Especially if we parse like Rashi, as in option #3, then the items in pasuk two were already present at the time of this briah. That does not preclude an earlier creation of those materials yesh ma'ayin, of course, entirely before the Torah starts speaking.

אֱלֹקִים -- Chazal describe the difference between Elokim, as HaKadosh Baruch Hu acting with middat hadin (an attribute of justice), and YKVK, as HaKadosh Baruch Hu acting with middat harachamim (an attribute of mercy).

The Documentary Hypothesis divides the Biblical text into three (or more) authors, such as J (characterized by YKVK as the Divine Name), E (with Elokim as the Divine Name), and P (Priestly concerns, often also with Elokim). Given differences between the "first" creation narrative, in Bereishit perek 1, and the "second" creation narrative, in Bereishit perek 2, with Elokim in perek 1 and YKVK Elokim in perek 2, they can get an early start. And the Documentary Hypothesis solves many apparent difficulties in the Biblical text. Of course, divide any text into multiple streams and you will resolve many difficulties, simply by saying that text X with statement X is from the first stream and text Y with contradictory statement Y is from the second stream. On the other hand, there are linguistic similarities within the different texts placed together as a stream, and at the same time, the details within the stream of consistent; and what emerges appears to often be parallel descriptions of the same events.

Rav Herschel Schachter notes that of course there are multiple streams in the Torah. The Torah tells us that the Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael three times: at Har Sinai, in the Ohel Moed, and in Arvot Moav. Thus, in Bemidbar 1:1:
 וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:  בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--לֵאמֹר. 

and Vayikra 25:1:

 וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר. 

and it was given again in Arvot Moav:

אֵלֶּה הַמִּצְו‍ֹת וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל  בְּעַרְבֹת מוֹאָב עַל יַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ.

Each time, from a different perspective and a different voice.

To leap in here, without arguing for multiple authorship, there are different concerns and perspectives in the Torah. Sometimes the narrative takes place on the cosmic, macro-scale, and deals with e.g. the creation of the Universe and Existence, or the progression of generations. This is where we find Elokim as the Divine Name. Sometimes the narrative zooms in and takes place on the micro-scale, with the life events of the individual. This is where we experience the personal God, who interacts with the Avos -- YKVK. This macro / micro shift is obvious when you look for it, and accounts for certain otherwise chronologically out of order events (ain mukdam emeuchar baTorah). For instance, on the macro-level, we are told of the generations leading up to Avraham, and so are told as part of that genealogical segment of Terach's death. Then, the following micro-level zooms into details of Avraham's life, and these events occur well before Terach's death.

When Moshe returns from his first seemingly unsuccessful mission to Pharaoh, Hashem tells him something about His name:
ב  וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹקִים  אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי יְקוָק.2 And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: 'I am the LORD;
ג  וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְקוָק, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם.3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YKWK I made Me not known to them.
ד  וְגַם הֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם, לָתֵת לָהֶם אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן--אֵת אֶרֶץ מְגֻרֵיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר-גָּרוּ בָהּ.4 And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned.

Yet we see the name YKVK throughout sefer Bereishit, and indeed, Avraham calls the place YKVK Yireh, and see Bereishit 16:7.
ז  וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵלָיו:  אֲנִי יְקוָק,  אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים--לָתֶת לְךָ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.7 And He said unto him: 'I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.'
ח  וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי יְקוִק, בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה.8 And he said: 'O Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I 

 Rashi distinguishes between נוֹדַעְתִּי and הוֹדַעְתִּי. And indeed those names carry specific implications of the way in which God interacts with humanity. See what I wrote here. Thus the name Ehkeh in Shemot 3:13-15. See inside there for other various resolutions to this difficulty, especially a wonderful reparse by Targum Yonasan.

Another such resolution is that this is a retrojection of the later known name YKVK, where Moshe wrote this name earlier in the Torah.

אֱלֹקִים --  is singular. The best evidence is that the verb בָּרָא is singular. Elohim can sometimes mean plural deities. But here is refers to the singular God. The reason for the plural form is that adnus, mastery, appears in plural. For example, in the laws of responsibility for damages, in Shemot 21:34:
לד  בַּעַל הַבּוֹר יְשַׁלֵּם, כֶּסֶף יָשִׁיב לִבְעָלָיו; וְהַמֵּת, יִהְיֶה-לּוֹ.  {ס}34 the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money unto the owner of them, and the dead beast shall be his. {S}

The word baalev means the beast's singular owner, but baal takes the plural form.

אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ -- what is the difference between אֵת with a tzeiri and 
אֶת with a segol? Nothing, in terms of actual meaning. This is a phonological phenomenon, having to do with sound transformations. If the word אֵת stands alone, as its own word, then it receives its own stress, and the tzeiri remains a tzeirei. However, if it is joined to the next word by a makkef, a hyphen, then it does not receive its own stress. A phonological rule of Biblical Hebrew is that when the stress shift, the vowel often changes. And so it becomes the word אֶת. Thus, if you are leining, if the et has its own trup symbol, it will be with a tzeirei and if it is joined to the next word, then it is a segol.

Why is the word אֶת so often joined to the following word? For English speakers, it is difficult to fathom its function. It is the object marker. Nouns in a sentence might be the actor or the object. For instance, "The bear caught the fish." Both the bear and the fish are nouns, but it is the bear who is the actor, who does the action of catching and the fish who is the object, who is caught. We know which is which based on placement in the sentence. But, if we wanted to explicitly mark the object, we could say (though this would not be grammatical English) "The bear caught et- the fish." Once we mark objects in the manner, the subject verb object order is not strictly necessary. "et- the fish, the bear caught" would be just as clear. For example, Yosef says to his brothers, et-HaElokim ani yarei, "I fear God."

Quite often, the word et is used to include something akin to what is stated explicitly in the pasuk. This is technically justified (if derash indeed needs justification) because אֵת also functions as with. Regarding Noach, we are told et haElokim hithalech Noach, "with God walked Noach". And Chava states (Bereishit 4:1):
א  וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ; וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן, וַתֹּאמֶר, קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְקוָק.1 And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: 'I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.'
She has gotten a man with the Lord, not that the child she has given birth to is the Lord! Think also of the word iti, "with me". Thus, at least as derash, it is fair to take each אֵת as an invitation to consider what else is included. On a peshat level, though, do not try to assert that this is a difficulty in the text that requires explanation, such that derash is magically now peshat. It is perfectly normal and expected for a language to have an object marker.

Note also that it was by no means certain that every אֶת should be darshened. Shimon HaAmsuni tried to darshen every single et, and when he found one that could not be darshened a from a theological perspective, he took this as a refutation of the entire system. True, Rabbi Akiva rescued it, but still, it was possible that, even on a midrashic level, the et was not there to be darshened.

An example of such a derasha in our own pasuk, Bereishit 1:1, is found in Bereshit Rabba 1:14:
את השמים לרבות חמה ולבנה כוכבים ומזלות, ואת הארץ, לרבות האילנות ודשאים וגן עדן. ואלו כלל כל הנבראים בעל הגוף:
et-the heavens to include the Sun, Moon, stars and constellations; ve-et the earth, to include the trees, plants, and Gan Eden, and these include all the creations possessing a body.

One need not appeal to the word et to argue that all creations are described in this macro-macro-scale act of Creation (whether we parse like option #1/#2, or like option #3). 

See though how Ramban interprets this midrash, and the use of the word et:
ועוד יתבאר סוד בזה:

אם כן יהיה פשט הכתובים על נכון.
 משמעותו, בתחילה ברא אלוהים את השמים, כי הוציא חומר שלהם מאין, ואת הארץ, שהוציא החומר שלה מאין. 
"והארץ" תכלול ארבע היסודות כלם, כמו: 
ויכלו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם (להלן ב א), שתכלול כל הכדור התחתון. 
וכן הללו את ה' מן הארץ תנינים וכל תהומות (תהלים קמח ז), וזולתם רבים:

והנה בבריאה הזאת, שהיא כנקודה קטנה דקה ואין בה ממש, נבראו כל הנבראים בשמים ובארץ. ומלת "את"כמו עצם הדבר. ודרשו בה שהיא לעולם לרבות, כי היא נגזרה מן אתא בקר וגם לילה (ישעיה כא יב). ש

See the Rosh, who says that the reason the direct object marker et was explicitly employed here in the first pasuk was to make it clear that it was Hashem who created heaven and earth, and not, chas veshalom, earth and heaven who created Hashem.

אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ -- Here, we wonder whether shamayim means the abode of the angels and the Throne of Glory, or the physical heavens, where the stars and moon reside. Perhaps both simultaneously, and perhaps in the mind of the recipients of the Torah, they are the same place. To cite Berachot 48a, and perhaps against the Rambam, who holds that God is not localized:
The law, however, is not as laid down in all these statements, but as in this statement of R. Nahman: A boy who knows to whom the benediction is addressed may be counted for zimmun. Abaye and Raba [when boys] were once sitting in the presence of Rabbah. Said Rabbah to them: To whom do we address the benedictions? They replied: To the All-Merciful. And where does the All-Merciful abide? Raba pointed to the roof; Abaye went outside and pointed to the sky. Said Rabbah to them: Both of you will become Rabbis. This accords with the popular saying: Every pumpkin can be told from its stalk.1
Of course, these Amoraim are children (and children who have not listened to Uncle Moishe)! Yet they are praised for something.

If we take this et hashamayim ve'et haaretz as referring to the ensuing acts of creation, then just Hashem creates items on the ground, such as the dry land, plants, etc., so does He create Sun, Moon, and stars. And no explicit (peshat) mention is made of creating anything on the spiritual plane.
to be continued...

1 comment:

SPACE said...

What's your take on: Talmud Chaggiga 13b-14a states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam.


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