By: Gustave Dor'ePublic Domain
Just to make it absolutely clear, this is not a standard Torah commentary based on the teachings of the rabbis that one would obtain in a yeshiva. My background is in English and Comparative Literature and what we will be doing in this series of articles is examining the Torah in a similar fashion one might examine the writings of Shakespeare in a university literature class.
Accordingly, if you wish to make a comment on the article, I would like to request that you present your arguments utilizing an academic format, based on the text, and not quote outside sources. It is the purpose of these articles to introduce an alternative and, hopefully, a fresh perspective to what is written in the Torah and not merely to reheat and serve up the same ideas that have been presented again and again during the last thousand years.
Finally, I would just like to add that the inspiration for these articles comes from the works of the English psychologist Maurice Nicoll and that the source I used for the Torah was the website:
Genesis 1.1 – 6.8
Although most English translations use the phrase: “In the beginning…” it is my opinion that, since the Hebrew word “beresheit” actually contains the word for: “head”, a better translation would be: “at the head of all things” or: “of chief importance”.
Put another way: If the comedian Bill Maher and the scientist Richard Dawkins know that the earth is over 6,000 years old; there is a pretty good chance that God knows it too. Therefore, the translation of the Hebrew word “beresheit” cannot possibly be “in the beginning” as in: “in the beginning of time”. The correct translation into simple English should be: “The first thing it is important for the reader to understand is…..”
Thus the Torah is NOT giving us the story of the creation of the universe, but rather outlining for the reader God’s plan for the Hebrews or, if you prefer, The Children of Israel. Accordingly, the terms: "heaven" and: "earth" represent two levels of understanding (i.e. high and low). Another example of these: “high” and: “low” levels of understanding would be: Jerusalem being located on the top of a mountain, while Sodom is located in a valley (also, it is important to understand that the Hebrew word for: “heaven” also means: “sky”, thus it is very possible what is written is: “God created the sky and the earth”).
Another very important concept we are introduced to in this first chapter is that of: “wet” versus: “dry”. The key to understanding exactly what is being described here, however, can be found only in the 5th Book of Moses (i.e. Deuteronomy), where he says “my words are like a heavy rain”. What is important to grasp here is that in Hebrew the word for: “rain” can also mean: “materialism”.
Accordingly, in the opening lines of Genesis we see that: “the deep waters” are associated with: “darkness”. Since: “light” and: “darkness” are universal symbols for: “different levels of understanding”, this explains why, later on in the Book of Exodus, God does not want the Children of Israel to have too much water.
When Moses finally does concede to the demands of the people, by striking the rock to produce water, he cries out (in Hebrew) “you fallen ones”; meaning: “water” represents “a lower level of understanding” than the dry state of being associated with God’s spirit which is described as: “hovering above the waters”.
In addition to this, another theme we shall be dealing with throughout this series of articles is the connection between: “sons”, “fruit” and “the words of God”. The clearest example of this relationship can be found in the holy day of: "Shavout" which is also known as: “The Festival of the First Fruits”. Since this holy day celebrates God giving his Torah to his people and the Hebrew word for: “first fruits” also means: “first born sons”, the connection is fairly obvious.
Lumping all of these themes together, we can then begin to appreciate that the description of the first week does not really have to do with the creation of the earth, but rather is outlining the establishment of a school or teaching program. One indication that this interpretation is correct can be found in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.
In short: the Hebrew name: “Moriah” shares the same root as the word for: “teacher” and we are told in the story that “on God’s mountain he will provide”. Since we have already established that: “a mountain” is a metaphor for: “a high level of understanding”, what we can then see is that people must make their way to God’s mountain through their own efforts (i.e. working six days a week), but when they finally reach the highest level of understanding, they must then stop laboring in their studies and allow God the teacher to provide the final lesson (on the Sabbath).
Another indication supporting this interpretation can be found in the story of Joseph interpreting the dreams of the two servants of Pharaoh. Before going any further, it must be emphasized that this story has nothing whatsoever to do with literal food.
For centuries the rabbis have taught that: “the Torah is the bread of life” and: “wine” is always associated with: “the spiritual teachings of God”. Thus, pharaoh’s baker and wine steward are high ranking religious advisers and not kitchen staff (Unless of course you want to believe that the Emperor of Persia really did send a mere wine steward named Nehemiah to help Ezra rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem).
In short then, Joseph explains to us that the dream of: “the three branches”, as well as, the dream of: “the three baskets”, represent: “three days”. Branches provide fruit and baskets, traditionally, are used for serving bread. In addition to the connection made between: "fruit" and: "knowledge" in the Garden of Eden, we have already mentioned the connection between fruit and the words of God during the holy day of Shavout.
Furthermore, as already touched upon, the rabbis have always asserted that: “The Torah is the Bread of Life”. Thus: "a basket used to served bread" and: "a branch which provides fruit", represent: “sources of knowledge” and both these items are equated with: “a day”.
Hence: “a day” also represents: “a source of knowledge”, which is very easy for us to accept since in modern times many individuals like to claim: “I learn something new every day” and, traditionally, “old age” (i.e. the passing of time) is almost always associated with: “wisdom”.
Accordingly, the story of the first week teaches us that we must study God’s ways via our own efforts for six days, but on the seventh day we must stop studying and allow God to speak directly to us.
Thus the Hebrew word for: “the Sabbath” comes from the root of the verb: “to sit” and, traditionally, studying the Torah, or the rabbinical commentaries, is referred to as: “the walking along the way”. In a later article we will discuss numbers more deeply, but here I would just like to mention that as the first son of the second wife, "Joseph" should be associated with: "the number seven" and Joseph clearly stated that it was only God who provided understanding. In the same way, King Solomon ascends the six steps to his throne under his own power, but then he sits at the seventh level and relates to the people the wisdom he has received from God.
In regards to the story of Adam and Eve, I would just like to say that I believe that Adam was created on the eighth day and that he does not represent the first men who were created on the sixth day. Instead, “Adam” represents the first man with: “the spirit of God placed within in him”. This seems obvious since: How could God have declared the sixth day as: “very good” if Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit on the same day?
In addition to this, we must recall that Jacob returned to Canaan when he was eighty years old and Moses retuned to Egypt when he was eighty years old, so: “the number eight” should be associated with: “an additional source of knowledge provided by God” that somehow “returns” to the people (we shall discuss this further in relation to “Benjamin” the eighth son of Jacob).
Some of the crucial elements in the story of Eden are:
1. The word for: “naked” which, in Hebrew, also means: “cunning”.
2. The fact that the snake is punished by losing the use of his feet.
3. Fruit and trees are identified as sources of knowledge
In regards to the word naked/cunning we are told that the snake was the most cunning animal in the field. This implies that all the other animals, including Adam and Eve, were also cunning; they just weren’t as cunning as the snake.
Thus Adam was cunning before he ate the forbidden fruit. The change brought about by eating the fruit was that he began to focus on himself. In other words, before eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, Adam’s sole source of knowledge was God and, by definition, God is good. After eating the fruit, Adam became aware of himself, hence the definition of: “evil” is anyone who considers themselves “a source of knowledge about God”.
Accordingly, eating the forbidden fruit has given Adam the idea that he too is now a source of knowledge and this is why, of all the available leaves in the garden, he selects a fig leaf to cover himself. In the Book of Judges one of the sons of Gideon associates: “the fig” with: “goodness” and, as we have already noted, only God is good.
Adam, by selecting the fig leaf, in effect has attempted to change himself into a branch of a fig tree and we have just discussed that “branches” are: “sources of knowledge” (although it is possible that Adam was trying to disguise himself as a piece of fruit) .
Furthermore, God then proclaims that Adam has become like him and we have already explained that the function of God is to teach (i.e. Before obtaining the forbidden knowledge, Adam was merely a student).
What is absolutely the most crucial point to understand here is that after Adam disobeyed God and obtained the knowledge of good and evil, he tried to make himself appear to be either: “a fig” or: “a fig tree” (either way: he tried to make it appear as if he was: “a source of knowledge about God”).
After the 2nd temple was destroyed, a group of Pharisees got together and started to write the first edition of the Talmud. The name this group of Pharisees chose to describe themselves was: “Ha-Tannin” which in English means: “the figs”. And it is commonly accepted amongst Jews today that the Talmud is a higher authority on the meaning of God’s word than the Old Testament itself, which, in my opinion, falls exactly into the parameters set by the written Torah’s definition of: “evil” as we have just discussed.
This then brings us to the concepts of: “life” and: “death”. As we can see, Adam and Eve are not killed, yet they are expelled from the garden. We have just demonstrated that: “fruit” and: “trees” are associated with: “knowledge”. Since Adam is: “expelled from the garden” and this is described as: “death”, then what we can begin to appreciate is that: “knowledge about God’s word” brings: “life” which becomes a metaphor for: “understanding”, while: “separation from the teachings of God” brings: “death” which is a metaphor for: “a lack of understanding”.
Thus in the last days, literally dead people will not rise up out of their graves on the Mount of Olives, but rather in those times people who are literally alive yet: “spiritually dead” will be given: “understanding” and: “a higher level of spiritual life” by God (we have already shown that “a mountain” represents: “a higher level of understanding” and, in ancient times, olive oil was considered a source of light because it was used in lamps. Accordingly: “The Mount of Olives” represents: “a high level of enlightenment”).
God tells Eve that her descendants will try to crush the head of the snake, while the snake will attempt to bite their heels. In other words: “each will attempt to destroy the other’s source of knowledge”. The important element here is that the descendants are specifically described as: “Eve’s descendants” and Adam will call Eve: “the mother of all living”. Since Eve is not even the mother of Adam and she certainly isn’t the mother of the animals, what we can then see, once again, is that the word: “life” is a metaphor for: “understanding”.
Indeed, in modern times, the legal distinction between life and death is actually based upon brain activity. Furthermore, we have just touched upon the connection between trees, knowledge, life and understanding.
Accordingly, “The Tree of Life” represents: “a source of knowledge” which brings understanding and: “understanding the words of God” should be associated with: “living forever” which is a metaphor for: “unlimited spiritual understanding”.
Therefore, “the snake” represents: “a person who uses his brain and his intellect to learn about God’s laws”, while: “the descendants of Eve” use their feet to obtain information about God through: “intuition and communications via the school of the earth”.
Hence Moses is told to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. What is important to appreciate here then is that the walking stick of Moses, who is also described as: “the law giver”, will change into a footless snake, while the walking stick of Aaron, the priest of God, will change into the four footed crocodile (the English translation is incorrect).
There are many important aspects to the story of Cain and Abel, but probably one of the most important is the connection between Cain who wanted to sacrifice the first fruits of the field and the Egyptians who wanted to throw the male babies into the Nile. We have already noted that the Hebrew word for first fruits and first born sons are the same and their connection with the word of God.
In the Book of Exodus, God describes: “the Children of Israel” as being: “his son”. The key to understanding these two stories is that the Hebrew word for: “meat” also means “preachings” or “gospels”. So, if one were to read the title of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew it would be possible to interpret this to mean: “the Meats of Matthew”.
Thus, in my opinion, the connection between these two stories is that Cain and the Egyptians would like to sacrifice the words of God, as represented by the first fruits and the Israelite babies which we already discussed in relation to the Holy Day of: “Shavout”. By doing this they would be able to preserve their own religious teachings, which is represented by “meat”. Abel, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice his meat (i.e. give up his religious ideas and accept the teachings of God in return). Thus, Moses tells Pharaoh they want to go out into the desert to sacrifice animals (i.e. Sources of Egyptian meat), which the Egyptians might object to because they consider them sacred.
In conclusion: throughout this entire series of articles we shall be returning, again and again, to the issue of: “the teachings of men” versus: “the teachings of God”……
This being the major theme of the Old Testament
If you have any questions or comments, you can send them to my Facebook Page which I have set up specifically for this purpose: https://www.facebook.com/people/Dror-Ben-Ami/100011593230333
Dror Ben Ami is the author of the book: THE MISUNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to Metaphors, Images and Symbols Found in the Old and New Testaments.