GENESIS — 1:1 began

Tradition teaches that G-d’s original intention was to create the world solely with the attribute of judgment. We can still see the results of this intention, because the fundamental laws of nature are themselves immutable.  If you put your hand in fire, it will be burned, no matter what you might say or think.  A world created according to the quality of judgment requires that everything be a specific way, with no deviation whatever. But we are told that G-d realized that the world (and especially people) could not survive if the world were set up so that strict justice was exacted instantly for every error or wrongdoing.  A world run only according to the principle of stern justice would leave no room for free will, learning, change, or growth, because mechanical rules would meet out the results instantly and without variation. To forestall such an insufferable rigidity, G-d included the attributes of compassion as an essential feature of creation, right alongside judgment. … G-d reflected, “If I create the world with only the attribute of compassion, no one will be concerned for the consequences of their actions, and people will feel impunity to act badly. But if I create the world with strict judgment alone, how could the world endure? It would shatter from the harshness of justice. So I will create it with both justice and compassion, and it will endure.”  Rashi.  Genesis Rabbah 12:15. MORINIS 77-78
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GENESIS — 1:1 began

The Rabbis teach that G-d created repentance even before He created the world. Genesis Rabbah 1:4.  G-d knew that He would endow human beings with free will, which they would sometimes misuse.  Thus, G-d needed to provide humankind with a way to atone for and correct wrongful behavior. Without a process such as teshuva (repentance), even good people would be overwhelmed by guilt, both toward G-d, Whose laws they had broken, and toward those whom they had hurt.  TELVOL 1:151
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GENESIS — 1:1 beginning

Rabbi Elazar said, A good heart. Pirkei Avot II:13-14  This seems to denote a spontaneous, open love for the good everywhere, an intuitive grasp of what is good in every situation, and a desire for it.  This would appear to have little to do with reason or intelligence. As people say, “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.” [Blasé Bascal (1623-1662), Pensees, iv. 277]  If someone can cultivate within himself such an educated perception and appreciation of the good, then he has, indeed, the “master key.”  This is the “good way” to take in life, that includes within it all other good ways.  It is the “royal road” to spiritual achievement.  The Five Books of Moses end with the letter lamed Deuteronomy 34:12 and begin with the letter beth.  [this verse]. Put them together and you have the word lev, heart.  This is indeed the most crucial organ of all.  For Judaism the heart symbolizes the seat of freedom, the decision-making element in man.  He who has a “good heart” has won all.  He who has an “evil heart” has lost the innermost citadel.  SINAI1 181
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GENESIS — 1:1 beginning

In the Book of Proverbs the wise Solomon [provides the insight]: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 1:7.  Wisdom, the knowledge of science, can give you explanations of phenomena as they occur today. It can formulate into laws of probability certain constant relations which seem to hold between phenomena.  But “wisdom” of this kind if of little avail when we try to determine “beginnings.” When we ask about the origin of things, about the beginnings of life, even the beginnings of the hydroGenesis atom, science is blind and still.  Neither science nor philosophy can answer the question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Nor will it help any to give science more time to discover the answer, for it lacks the very tools to do so.  Questions relating to “beginnings and origins” and to “ultimates” are, in principle, beyond the competence and range of science. To determine these basic presuppositions, these first principles, and by finding ultimates to resolve questions of value, we must turn to the realm of religion, the world of faith.  “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d”: first we must know that “in the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth.” [this verse].  In the light of this great, transcendent principle of Judaism …. We have a telling, accurate diagnosis of the ills of human society today.  The unprecedented advances of science and technology have not been matched by a corresponding development in the religious and moral awareness of man.  Wisdom, scientific knowledge, has merely supplied man with new weapons infinitely more devastating than anything previously known, to be used in his struggle to satisfy his basic greeds untempered by moral restraints. SINAI1 276-7
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GENESIS — 1:1 create

Within the history of Judaism, the relationship between creation and revelation has sometimes been viewed as sequential and progressive.  From this perspective, creation is only a prelude to revelation in the history of G-d’s relationship to the world.  G-d’s will is only partially revealed to humanity at large, but is fully revealed to Israel at Sinai.  It follows that the normative order established through covenant and Torah takes precedence over that established through creation.  Any universal moral law, then, is but a precursor to Torah and is necessarily subordinated to it.  This view finds expression in midrashic statements that, in G-d’s mind, “the thought of creating Israel preceded all else” and “the world and the fullness hereof were created only for the sake of Torah.”  Genesis Rabbah 1:4  G-d’s purpose in creation can be fulfilled only through revelation.  In effect Rashi expresses this view in his famous commentary on [this verse]. The Torah begins with G-d’s creation of the world, he suggests, so that when Israel comes to possess the Land of Canaan and expel the native inhabitants, they can appeal to the fact that G-d has created the world and can give it to whomever G-d chooses.  For Rashi the whole purpose of creation is to justify Israel’s place in the world.  Such a view, of course, has significant implications for the doctrine of Israel’s chosenness.  Israel possesses a truth unknown to the rest of the world and to this extent the differences between Jews and non-Jews are more significant than the similarities.  [According to some midrashic texts, it is the oral law that distinguishes Israel from the nations.  G-d has given Scripture to all, but the remainder of G-d’s revelation in the form of oral tradition is communicated to Israel alone. See Tanhuma B, Ki Tissa #17; Tanhuma, Ki Tissa, #60; Exodus Rabbah 47:1. [Discussion continues at Genesis 3:22 PASTIMP 135-6] PASTIMP 134-5
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GENESIS — 1:2 void

… the Torah announces many, many times that G-d cares a great deal about whether we obey the commandments. Only then would it make sense for G-d to promise generous rewards for doing so and threaten excruciating punishments for failing to do so, and only then would G-d bother to establish law for us in the first place as an act of love. G-d in Search of Man is the title of a book by 20th-century Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, and it correctly suggests, as he demonstrates in the book, that classical Judaism portrays a G-d who is very much interested in what human beings do. G-d does not need any physical sacrifice, as the pagans of old thought, but G-d “rejoices in His creatures,” as the Psalmist says. Psalm 104:31  The Rabbis were nevertheless able to step back from this theological foundation of the commandments to maintain that even without the religious reasons to obey them, there are good reasons of self-interest to do so – namely, that Jewish law calls us to become our higher selves, to improve our character and our human relations. The Rabbis thus sound in these passages as if they were speaking to many 21st-century Jews!  On the other hand, the Rabbis asserted the exact opposite claim too. You should obey the commandments not for your own benefit, but for G-d’s.  G-d, in fact, cares very much that Jews observe the commandments – so much so that G-d has made the continued existence of the world contingent on whether Jews fulfill the Torah’s commands: “What is the meaning of the words, ‘The earth feared and was still’ Psalms 76:9?’ …Before Israel accepted the Torah, the earth was afraid, after they accepted the Torah, it was still …. For the Holy Blessed One stipulated a condition with the earth: If Israel accepts the Torah, you may exist, but if not, I will return you to the state of being unformed and void [as before Creation, according to [this verse].” Shabbat 88a  “G-d said, ‘If you read the Torah, you do a kindness, for you help to preserve My world, for if it were not for the Torah, the world would again become ‘without form and void.’ … The matter is like a king who had a precious stone, and he entrusted it to his friend and said to him, ‘I pray you, pay attention to it and guard it, as is fitting, for if you lose it, you cannot pay me its worth, and I have no other jewel like it, and so you would sin against yourself and against me; therefore, do your duty by both of us, and guard the jewel as is fitting.’ So Moses said to the Israelites, ‘If you obey the Torah, not only upon yourselves do you confer a benefit, but also upon G-d,’ as it is said, ‘And it shall be a benefit for us.’ Deuteronomy 6:5 [The Midrash takes “us” in this biblical verse to mean G-d and Israel, and the word tzedakah – “righteousness” – it takes to mean benefit, which led to its later, more familiar meaning as charity.] Deuteronomy Rabbah, Nitzavim 8:5  To believe that G-d would never have created the physical world without the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah – that is, to take this rabbinic comment literally—not only tests the limits of our credulity but is disgracefully chauvinistic. Furthermore, it flies in the face of Judaism’s appreciation of people of other faiths being in the Noahide covenant with G-d. The comment, though, can have credible meaning, indeed, very important meaning, if we read it in the context of other things the Rabbis said. The first chapter of the Mishnah’s tractate Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) contains two passages that suggest that the Rabbis thought that the continued existence of the world as we know it functionally depends on the foundational values embedded in Jewish law: “Shimon the Just … used to say: ‘The world stands on three things: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of kindness’” 1:2; “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel taught: ‘The world exists on the basis of three things: on justice, on truth, and on peace’” 1:18. It is not the physical world that depends on these values inherent in Jewish law. Without Torah, we would not have the gift of G-d’s guidance for our lives; without worship, we might think that only we matter, making it impossible to escape the self-centered way in which we are all-too-prone to think and act; and without acts of kindness none of us would be able to survive, either physically or emotionally.  Similarly, without justice and a government that enforces it, people would “kill each other alive,” as another passage from Avot [3:2] proclaims; without truth, nobody could know whom or what to trust; and without peace, as the Rabbis say elsewhere, none of the blessings of life matter.  Numbers Rabbah 11:7 In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel continues his teaching thus: “And all three are intertwined: when justice is done, truth is served, and peace ensues.” Ha-Am, Al Parshat Derakhim, 3:30 It is in this sense that the world—and especially human societies—depend upon these values underlying Jewish law. DORFFLGP 174-77
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GENESIS — 1:2 void

Israel’s acceptance of the Torah was the reason it had a special covenant with G-d: “If it were not for My Torah that you accepted, I should not recognize you, and I should not regard you more than any of the idolatrous nations of the world.” Exodus Rabbah, Ki Tissa 47:3 Moreover, as asserted in sources cited earlier [See (this verse) “void” DORFFLGP 174-77] the Torah is Israel’s gift to G-d and the world, and through it Israel gains not only worth but beauty. … In sum, then, the Rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash, who were the framers of Judaism and gave it its distinctive case, held unequivocally that a Jew must observe the Torah’s laws. They also held, though, that the Torah was not given once and for all at Mount Sinai but rather must be interpreted and applied anew in each generation. Only if this happens can the Torah continue to be an important concerns of Jews, a program of living. The alternative is to let it petrify into a relic of history. Thus it is not so much “tradition and change,” a phrase suggested by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman to typify both the rabbinic tradition and the modern Conservative (Masorti) movement, as it is “tradition, which includes change.” DORFFLGP 205-6
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