The first section of the most sacred part of the Tanakh, takes us with the primeval history from the Bri’at HaOlam, the creation of the world through the birth of Abram’s father nineteen generations later. Its stories are short, loosely strung together, and connected only by genealogies that identify the generation in which the action takes place. There is, however, an overriding theme: the spread of human wickedness, the refusal of humankind to accept their creaturely status, as they seek to blur the all-important boundary between the human and the divine and, as a result, bring catastrophe upon themselves.
The eyes are directed at Jehovah God, Him being the centre of attention, portrayed rather anthropomorphically and speaking directly and frequently to us human beings, condemning or sparing, announcing His judgment or His merciful forbearance.
In a previous post we have seen that largely because of its focus on creation, the primeval history exhibits a number of contacts with Mesopotamian mythology, the account of creation with which the Bereshith opens (1:1–2:3) having affinities with the Assyro-Babylonian epic Enuma elish. For the world it is important to know that there is only One True God who deserves supremacy over other gods, high people and idols.
The story of Noah (6:5–9:17) with her close connections to the Mesopotamian story Atrahasis, shows us how mankind had gone astray from God in such a way that the Bore wanted to give mankind a new start. The Bore sends a flood to wipe out the human race, with the exception of one man, who had proven his loyalty to God. From Noah’s family, humankind may begin afresh.
From the first books people may get the impression that God’s relationship to human beings in that primeval history is marked mostly (but not exclusively) by judgment, expulsion, and exile. In the story of Abraham the dominant notes are the contrasting ones of blessing and promise, especially the promise of the land. But the narrative does not spare us the knowledge that while the blessings and promises are as yet unrealized, Abraham’s family have, like most families their ups and downs, their moments of anguish and even ugliness.
God, portrayed for the most part less anthropomorphically than in the primeval history, overcomes the obstacles to His promises and blessings, so that Abraham finally acquires both the son from whom the promised nation shall descend and a foothold in the promised land.
The Word of God given in our hands, shows that we are given ancient Israel’s distinctive record of its search for God. Everywhere we can see how the Torah attempts to record the meeting of the human and the Divine, the great moments of encounter. Therefore, the text is often touched by the ineffable Presence. The Torah tradition testifies to a people of extraordinary spiritual sensitivity. Some may say that God is not the author of the text, but that the people are. Though nobody can deny that it is the Kol of Elohim (God’s Voice) that may be heard through theirs. Lots of people prefer giving their own sort the preference or first place. But undeniably it is the Divine Maker Whose Voice is dominant and demands all our attention.
From the onset, we come to learn that the Bore does not demand so much, but requires acknowledgement and gratitude. He shows to mankind how He is willing to be with them and even do miraculous works. From the stories we can clearly see how God is prepared to guide those who are willing to hear His Voice. He does not want to be a dictator but wants that people choose for Him out of free will. Nobody is obliged to take Him as their God, but they should know that their choice shall be deciding for their future life. By the fall of man death has come in human life. Nobody can escape it, but the Bore is willing to give a way out if people are willing to listen to Him and to follow His Guidance.
As the story of Abraham unfolds, its human protagonist, despite some arguably serious lapses, gradually assumes the role of the ideal religious person — obedient to God’s Mitzvot (even at the cost of the most painful sacrifice), faithful even when the promise seems impossible, gracious, generous, and hospitable, yet committed to justice and compassion even to the point of firmly (if deferentially) questioning God’s counsel.
We can see in the Torah a people’s search for and meeting with God. Throughout the many stories we can learn how the Elohim is willing to give an ear to His creatures and how He is always prepared to be close and helpful to them. Those stories of man and their relationship with God provide a record that by its very nature has something to say about the essentials of human existence. Most people when growing up, start questioning why they are here, what the reasons are for things happening a certain way and wonder what happens to them and what they would have accomplished when they die. They always find themselves confronted with life and death.
For those who see in the Book of books only the human quest, with all its strengths and weaknesses, there ought to be something special about it. For over two and one-half millennia the Torah has been the keystone of Jewish life, before it became the starting point of Christendom, and the background of Islam. Even people who do not believe in the Bore have found the Torah an interesting book to give background for life. As such it has played and continues to play a significant role in the world. A great number of people have used those set-apart Scriptures to form themselves and their way of life. We can even go as far to say that Western people especially are what they are in part because of this book — because of what the Torah actually said or meant to say and because of what it was believed to have said and to have meant. A lot of people based their community on the Judaic-Christian moral and ethic rules and are still proud to base their way of living on Judeo-Christian principles, tradition and values.
There is a long tradition of holding up the book like a prism. Discovering through it and in it a vast spectrum of insights, makes the Torah unlike any other work. This is particularly true for the Jews and Jeshuaists. They cannot know their past or themselves without this book, for in it they will discover the framework of their own existence. and that is why it is also so important even for the secular Jew. For them too in our present times is the Torah a revealing book.
Many outsiders may consider the Torah just an old book of not much value for today. But that is because they have not read it and as such do not know it. Because a lot of things written in it are very relevant for today. Even when it is such an ancient literature, it is a “Today’s Book”. In addition to the original meaning and the interpretations offered over the centuries — the Torah speaks directly to our time.
All those stories telling about how people reacted to certain circumstances and how their attitude, like pride and arrogance, brought them somewhere, are lessons for every generation. (Consider for example the story of Babel.)
The great power of that ancient book is also that it does not just give one answer, but raises issues without providing single answers that close the door to further inquiry. There is no doubt that tomorrow’s generation will hear the words differently again and that the search for new answers will always continue. When I or fellow brethren attempt to give a commentary it can only reflect this open-ended quality of the Torah. My and my brethren views will never be determining everything, but will often provide some options so that many additional questions can and will be asked by the readers who will be motivated to search for their own answers.
Looking at those ancient writing it is very important to keep in mind that the biblical authors thought and wrote in terms of their own time and not ours. For us, reading the Bible should be an attempt to understand it within our head the search for understanding the ancient idiomatic language and way of presenting the matter. We can not keep to a cut-and-dried exercise in our own contemporary dogmatics. We must not come to the text with preconceptions but should try to let it speak to us in its own way. Only then will the door be open to meaningful reading.
When we allow ourselves then to be carried away in the language of those ancient Scriptures we shall come to see the richness which is in them and how those stories can still come to life today and give us the same hope as our ancestors had. Opening our mind to the words of that important masterwork we shall receive a ‘fertiliser’, having us to eat delicious fruit eat fruit to instil in our minds and souls the idea that our actions should bear fruit, and shall enable us to serve the Hashem to improve the lives of others and make them sweeter, rather than simply bringing ourselves temporary gratification.
- The One Who divinely inspired the writers of the Bible can also preserve it
- Word of God
- Bible Inspired Word of God
- Bible exceptional Book of books where nothing can be taken away or added
- Proof of origin and reliability of the Bible
- Importance to read the Bible regularly and gain understanding
- Vital importance of reading and following the Kitvei Hakodesh
- Everything from the Bible is useful for humans
- God’s promises
- God’s promises to us in our suffering
- Promised Land
- Studying the Bible
- Challenging claim 4 Inspired by God 3 Self-consistent Word of God
- With the Bible, honour should be given to God and not to people
- Noahide Laws or Seven commandments incumbent upon all of humankind
- Does God really care?
- Jewish People Inventors of Hope