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Parasha Bereisheet: In the Image of God

genesis 1:1, in the beginning,

Bereisheet (In the Beginning)
Genesis 1:1–6:8; Isaiah 42:5–43:10; John 1:1–18

In the beginning [Bereisheet] God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.”  (Genesis 1:1)

Isn’t it wonderful to have a fresh start? To have an opportunity to begin again?

This is the precious gift we are given each year at the completion of the fall feasts with Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), when we start our cycle of Parashiot (Torah study portions) all over again — from the beginning.

Weekly Torah portions adopt their names from the first unique Hebrew word that appears in the reading, instead of being given a name or title from a theme in the text.

Both this first Parasha in the yearly cycle of Torah readings and the first book of the Bible take their name from the first unique word in the text — Bereisheet, which means in the beginning.

In English, the Book of Bereisheet is called Genesis.

Reading the Torah

Reading the Torah

A Good Creation

Parasha Bereisheet opens with a dramatic, awe-inspiring narrative of the creation of our world.

In as few as 31 verses and 469 words, Genesis describes how God takes confusion and emptiness (tohu v’vohu תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ) and creates a delicate balance of order and beauty.

“The earth was unformed and void [tohu v’vohu], darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.”  (Genesis 1:2)

In this Parasha, the Ruach Elohim (רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים The Spirit of God) hovers over the waters (mayim) as God separates the light from the darkness and land from the water.  He creates vegetation and creatures — fish of the sea and birds of the air, as well as land animals. 

Sunrise on Israel's Hula Valley in Galilee (Photo: Go Israel, Itamar Grinberg)

Sunrise on Israel’s Hula Valley in Galilee (Photo: Go Israel, Itamar Grinberg)

Adonai looks at everything He has made and declares it good; however, He is not quite finished.

On the sixth and final day of creation, God brings forth the first human — Adam (אָדָם) — out of the dust of the earth (adamah אדמה).

“Then the LORD God formed man [Adam] of the dust of the ground [adamah], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  (Genesis 2:7)

Notice that it takes the breath of God to transform Adam into a “living soul” — a being of flesh and blood with personality, emotions, and desires.

Contained within the name of the first “man” on earth is the Hebrew root word dam (דָם blood).  This is not a coincidence, since God tells us often that life is in the blood (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23; Leviticus 17:11).

Notice as well that humankind — both male and female — are created in the very image and likeness of God.

Hebrew uses the word b’tzelmo — בְּצַלְמוֹ (in His image).  The Hebrew root word tzelem (image) is used in modern Hebrew to mean taking a photograph or making a photocopy, and there is a very definite family resemblance between us and our Heavenly Abba (Dad).

An artist at work in Jerusalem (Photo: Go Israel)

An artist at work in Jerusalem (Photo: Go Israel)

“And God created man [Adam אָדָם] in His own image [b’tzelmo], in the image of God [b’tzelem Elohim] created He him; male [zachar] and female [nikeivah] He created them.”  (Genesis 1:27)

In the Image of God: Creativity

While we don’t necessarily resemble God in our temporary vessels made out of dust, we do resemble Him in our souls and spirit.  One of the ways we resemble God is our capacity for creativity.

Just as God delighted in the creative process of earth and life, so is there an innate quality within each human being to also be creative, which can express itself not only as art, writing, and music but also business, engineering, strategic thinking, etc.

But how did God create the universe?  The Bible says He spoke it into existence using words.  For that reason, each act of creation begins with the phrase “And God said ….”

“And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”  (Genesis 1:3)

Although we are not gods, as some in the New Age movement claim, we have been given creative power in our words.  Even the power of life or death is in the tongue!  (Proverbs 18:21)

Yeshiva (Orthodox seminary) students in Jerusalem discuss Torah.

Yeshiva (Orthodox seminary) students in Jerusalem discuss Torah.

We see this principle at work when God tells the Israelites that He would give them exactly what they had declared with their own words, even if that meant that they would all die.  The people fostered unbelief and disobedience and spoke death over themselves.  The result of their faithless words was that the entire generation perished in the wilderness.

“‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness.’”  (Numbers 14:28–29)

Keeping this in mind, let us carefully guard our mouth and watch our words — for they have the power to create good things in our lives and the lives of others, or to cause destruction.  (Proverbs 15:4)

Moreover, the Word of God spoken in faith is powerful and effective to create light in the darkness, and order out of confusion and emptiness.

In the beginning, everything in God’s creation worked perfectly, and everything made perfect sense.  He had spoken all into existence in faith, hope and love.

A 13-year-old Jewish boy reads from the Torah publicly for the first time.

A 13-year-old Jewish boy reads from the Torah publicly for the first time.

Six Days of Labor, One Day of Rest

After six days of actively creating, God instituted the seventh day Sabbath, a time to cease from labor and simply rest and be refreshed.

“By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:2–3)

This holy day of rest is so important that God included it in the Aseret HaDevarim (Ten Words or Commandments), chiseling these words onto the stone tablets:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  (Exodus 20:8–11)

Lighting shabbat candles

Lighting Shabbat (Sabbath) candles to usher in the Sabbath on Friday evening is a rabbinically mandated law.

The Problem of Loneliness

“And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’”  (Genesis 2:18)

When Adonai placed man in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), He declared that it is not good for a man to be alone.

He saw man’s need for a helper, counterpart, and companion; therefore, God put Adam into a deep sleep and took from him a rib to create a suitable partner for him.

“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof.  And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, He made into a woman, and brought her unto the man.”  (Genesis 2:21–22)

A second century Jewish sage, Dosetai ben Yaanai, wrote that it is natural for a man to woo a woman.  Why?  Because he seeks for that which he has lost (his rib).

An Orthodox husband and wife take a few moments to enjoy the beauty of nature together.

An Orthodox husband and wife take a few moments to enjoy the beauty of nature together.

In Hebrew, a man is called ish and a woman, isha, the feminine form of ish.  God uses this term when He woos Israel and promises a time when Israel will regard Him with fond affection, rather than stand at arm’s length from Him, viewing Him as a stern authority figure.

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD, “That you will call Me Ishi (my Man) and will no longer call Me Ba’ali (my Master).”  (Hosea 2:16)

God wants Israel to serve Him out of love — love like that of a woman for her husband. Likewise, His love for Israel is that of a devoted, tender husband.

Furthermore, God is utterly concerned with our intimate relationships — with Him and with one another.  He wants our relationships to be borne of love and devotion, not ruled through domination, control, manipulation, and coercion.

And because good relationships and preserving purity are so highly prized, Judaism has an effective method of finding mates for singles that is uncommon in the non-Jewish world.

The Jewish system of shidduchim (matchmaking) attempts to bring Jewish men and women together for the purpose of marriage.  Creating a successful shidduch (arranged match) is considered a great mitzvah (good deed) in Judaism. 

Mediterranean Sea-Israel-Orthodox couple-man and wife

An Israeli husband and wife relax by the sea.

Although the verse describing Chavah (Eve) has often been translated as “helper” or “helpmate,” the word used for the role of a wife in Genesis 2:18 is ezer kenegdo, which literally means a helper against him.

The medieval Torah commentator Rashi comments on this text, saying: “If he [Adam] is worthy, [she will be] a help [ezer]. If he is not worthy [she will be] against him [kenegdo] for strife.”

The word ezer means a protector, a guard, an aid, and a help.  So we can understand from this text that helping a husband doesn’t means always agreeing. A woman was not created to be a yes person.  There are times when she must stand in opposition to her husband if he is planning something that is ungodly or unwise.

We can look at the example of Haman’s wife in the book of Esther who tried to warn her husband that his attempts to destroy Mordechai would never succeed because he was of Jewish origin.

To his detriment, the anti-Semite Haman did not listen to his ezer kenegdo.

As well, being a wife does not mean that the woman is less important or inferior to her husband.  After all, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is also called The Helper.  And while being the helper in Scripture connotes superiority, the addition of “kenegdo” to the word “ezer” reveals that the position of wife is a position of equality.

The Fall in the Garden

Sadly, due to a crafty serpent’s trickery, Eve sinned and Adam sinned soon after her; humankind went from grace to disgrace in a single day!

Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, and men and women have been pointing the finger at one another ever since.

There, in the Garden, for the first time in human history, we see the emergence of shame.  With shame came forth a fear of God’s wrath.  In his utter humiliation, Adam hid among the trees, having become aware that he was naked.

From their utopian, sheltered, and innocent existence in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were thrust into a cruel and unforgiving world of hardship and pain.

Being cast out of the Garden prevented them from eating from the Tree of Life in their fallen state.  Doing so would have turned their temporary fallen state into an eternal fallen state.

The barred door of the Garden actually opened the door for redemption in the fullness of time.

Torah scroll with Yad (Torah pointer)

Torah and yad (Torah pointer)

How quickly the order and beauty of God’s creation deteriorated into moral degeneracy, even to the point of brother murdering brother (Cain and Abel).

With humankind spiritually separated from God and deciding for themselves what was good and what was evil, only six chapters into the Book of Bereisheet, mankind descended to such depths of evil, depravity and violence that God’s heart breaks, and He regrets ever creating mankind.

The good news, however, is that none of this came as a surprise to God.  Even before the foundations of the earth were laid, God had a plan for redemption.  God sent His one and only Son, Yeshua (Jesus), to pay the penalty for all of our sins.

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”  (Revelation 13:8)

white lamb

A pure, spotless lamb.

A New Beginning

“By the word [davar] of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.”  (Psalm 33:6)

The New Covenant book of Yochanan (John) echoes the Creation story.  The very first word of this book is the very same first word found in this Torah portion: Bereisheet (In the Beginning):

In the beginning [Bereisheet] was the Word (HaDavar), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  (John 1:1–3, 14)

Yeshua was there at the beginning, and Yochanan describes Him as the agent of creative power, the power that made everything through the spoken word (davar).

It is also through Yeshua, who is called HaDavar (the Word), that we enter into a relationship with God and our true conversation with Him begins.

When we accept Yeshua, HaDavar has a home in our hearts.  This means we are born again and given a new beginning as a child of the Heavenly Father, the God of the Universe.

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