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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 1:31 very

“Behold it was very good” [this verse]. Rav Nahman bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav Shmuel bar Nahman, “It says, ‘good’ – this is the yetser tov, but it also says ‘very [good]’ – this is the yetser ha’ra.’  Is then the yetser ha-ra’ ‘very [good]’? [Yes, for] were it not for the yetser ha-ra’, a man would not build a house, marry a woman, have children, and engage in business as it says …  Bereshit Rabba 9:7 [note the tradition is from his father and that he bears his grandfather’s name].  COMMENT: This midrash on Genesis 1:31 proposes an answer to two questions: What is the “it” in the verse; that is, what is the antecedent to the implied pronoun? And, what is the meaning of “very”; that is, what kind of goodness would be “very” good? The answer given here is that the yetser ha-ra’, which in rabbinic psychology is the source of sinfulness, contains a germ of goodness in it, for it is the sexual and ego drives that move humanity to achieve.  The inclination to do evil, then, is part of the goodness of creation. (There is an alternate midrash that suggest that death is the kind of goodness that is “very” good and, hence, included in creation in Genesis 1:31).  BANAL 191

GENESIS — 2:7 formed

Deep in rabbinic psychology, there is the idea that humanity was created with a yetser tov (good impulse) and a yetser ha-ra (evil impulse). “And G-d formed (Heb., va-yiitser) the human being from the dust of the earth” [this verse] – with two impulses, a good impulse and the evil impulse. Bereshit Rabba 14:4; shortened form in Talmud, Berakhot 61a]  COMMENT: The original biblical Hebrew text spells the word for “formed” with two letters yod, implying some sort of double creation.  The midrash develops this very elaborately; only the interpretation relevant to yetser tov and yetser ha-ra is cited here. BANAL 188-9

GENESIS — 4:7 opening

Antoninus asked Rabbi [i.e., Judah HaNasi, 2nd century C.E. redactor of the Mishnah - AJL], “When does the yetser ha’ra gain control of a person—at the time of its creation or at the time it exits [the womb]?” He replied, “At the time of its creation [in the womb].” Antoninus said, “If that is so, it would disdain its mother’s womb and come out [right away]. Rather, [the answer is] from the time it exits [the womb].” Rabbi replied, “I learned this from Antoninus and there is a verse which supports him as it says, ‘sin lies at the opening’” [this verse].  [Talmud, Sanhedrin 91a.]  COMMENT: The question, here, is whether sin, in rabbinic thought, is an existential condition or only a potentiality of real human existence. Rabbi [Judah, the Prince] first argues that it is existential while Antoninus, the pagan emperor, argues that it is only a potentiality of real human existence.  In the end, Rabbi Judah accepts the view of the pagan emperor that the yetser ha-ra is not “genetic” or existential but only that it is a real part of human existence. He concludes, therefore, that yetser ha-ra asserts its influence only at birth. This may be a midrash intended to counter the doctrine of original sin as it was emerging in Christian midrash and theology. BANAL 189-90

GENESIS — 4:7 uplift

The Holy One, blessed by He, said to Israel: “My children, I have created the yetser ha-ra and I have created the Torah as a cure [for it].  If you occupy yourselves with Torah, you will not be delivered into its hands as it says ‘Surely if you do good, there is uplift’ [this verse]. But if you do not occupy yourselves with Torah, you will be delivered into its hands as it says, ‘But if you do not do good, sin crouches at the opening’ [this verse]. Not only that, but all its dealings will be against you as it says, ‘its desire shall be for you’ [this verse]. But if you will it, you will rule over it as it says, ‘and you shall rule over it’ [this verse]. The rabbis taught: “The yetser ha-ra’ is so tough that even its Creator called it “evil” as it says, ‘for the yetser of the heart of humanity is evil (ra’) from its youth’” Genesis 8:21. Talmud, Kiddushin 30b   COMMENT: This is a phrase-by-phrase interpretation of G-d’s words to Cain just before he kills Abel; that is; this midrash represents G-d’s warning to humanity just before evil takes over … To this is appended an interpretation of G-d's rumination on the innate sinfulness of humanity right after the flood (Gen. 8:21). The point is that, on the one hand, G-d is optimistic and teaches that humankind is sinful but can master sinfulness while, on the other hand, G-d is pessimistic and notes that sinfulness is naturally, if not existentially, innate to humanness. Interestingly, G-d’s optimism is expressed before the first murder while G-d’s pessimism is expressed after G-d’s failed attempt to “correct” the human evil which prompted the flood. BANAL 189

GENESIS — 6:6 saddened

Theology is the art of seeing the world from G-d’s point of view.  We humans, however, see the world from our point of view, especially since the Enlightenment. … Theology [] works with traditions and experiences which see G-d as the determining actor in nature and history, or at least as an active partner in these realms.  Human awareness of G-d through personal experience becomes central in the theological perspective.  We sense G-d in nature, in our personal lives, and in the our life as a society and we acknowledge G-d’s influencing presence.  Human awareness of G-d through the voices of others embodied in traditional texts is also central to the theological perspective.  We read these texts and they echo in our heart.  We listen to these other voices and they resonate in our minds and souls.  This point of view is theocentric.  Theologians try to give expression and coherence to it.  In this view, humans are formed in the image of G-d.  [citations].  How does the human record of doing evil and good look from G-d’s point of view? In the beginning, there was only G-d.  And G-d was personhood personified—capable of joy, anger, love, appreciation of beauty, humor, frustration, contentedness, relief, and many other affections.  But there was no being outside G-d’s self with whom G-d could relate.  So G-d created the universe, first the forces of nature and afterwards humanity, for the forces of nature do not have personhood while humanity has been given that special divine gift.  Initially, G-d set humanity fully within nature, unaware and incapable of good and evil but, in this state, humanity was not fully person.  So G-d offered humanity knowledge of good and evil, which made them wholly person.  When human kind turned to evil, “G-d regretted that He had made humanity in the universe and He was deeply sad in His heart. G-d said ‘I will obliterate humanity with which I made from upon the face of the universe, humanity together with the animals the creeping things, and the birds of the sky, for I regret that I made them.’” When humanity was restored, G-d established a general covenant with them but chose one man to be a loyal servant.  When that man’s family grew large, G-d gave them a Torah with laws, instructions, warning, and promises, intending that these should guide them toward good and away from evil.  Again and again, G-d’s people sinned and G-d punished them but still humanity did not avoid evil and do good.  And G-d was deeply pained and knew grief. … [Jeremiah 31:10 and midrashic citations; Zohar 3:74b]  From G-d’s point of view, then, G-d gave humanity commandments but we ignored them, or denied them, or reduced even the ethical commandments to ritual, making instruction into magic and guidance into superstition.  From G-d’s point of view, G-d gave us reason and the power to legislate for ourselves but we distorted that reason and abused that power, “fattening our hearts, stopping our ears, and averting our eyes lest we really see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and understand in our hearts.” Isaiah 6:10 From G-d’s point of view, G-d gave us freedom and responsibility, especially after the Enlightenment, but we betrayed that responsibility and turned against that freedom replacing liberty with tyranny and tolerance with bigotry.  From G-d’s point of view, G-d gave us all the technology we could possibly want but, even though we used it to create good, we also used it to do evil, rating concentration camps as well as antibiotics, and nuclear bombs as well as computers.  To put it simply, from G-d’s point of view, humanity has been repeatedly sinful.  Even though G-d has been gracious and forgiven us, we have turned again and again to sin.  This is G-d’s distress, G-d’s anguish. This is G-d’s sorrow, G-d’s grief. One might say, this is G-d’s despair. Isaiah 1:2-3.  BANAL 106-8

GENESIS — 9:6 blood

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: Whoever does not attempt to be fruitful and multiply, it is as if he had spilled blood and annihilated the likeness, as it says: “He who spills the blood of a person by a person shall his blood be shed for He made humanity in the image of G-d. Be fruitful and multiply … (this verse and Genesis 9:7). [Tosefta, Yevamot 8:5, with variant of Ben Azzai for R. Elazar.]  COMMENT: This midrash follows the principle-prooftext form and uses the same verse cited above [See “image” BANAL 150]. Here, Rabbi Elazar draws the conclusion that whoever refuses to reproduce has in effect “killed” the unborn. He does this by reading Genesis 9:6 in the context of the next verse which deals with the divine command to reproduce.  It is the juxtaposition of the injunction against killing, with its reference to image, to the command to reproduce that leads him to his conclusion.  BANAL 151

GENESIS — 9:6 image

Rabbi Akiva says: Whoever spoils blood [that is, kills someone], it is as if he or she had annihilated the likeness (Heb., demut) as it says: “He who spills the blood of a person, by a person shall his blood be shed, for He made humanity in the image of G-d [this verse]” Tosefta, Yevamot 8:5. COMMENT: This midrash starts with a moral and legal norm and then cites a verse as a prooftext. [The idea behind “prooftexting” is that the source is, in some way, divine and expresses G-d's truth and will. Hence, one can appeal to such a text as “proof” that something is true or morally desirable.]  This literary form is also one of the major literary forms for midrash: the “principle-prooftext” form. Here, Rabbi Akiva establishes that killing (purposeful, as well as accidental) is not only a crime punishable by the law but a violation of the moral order of the universe.  He formulates this by saying that whoever kills another human being diminishes the likeness and image of G-d in the universe, alluding to Gen. 1:26-27, “Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness.” As a prooftext, however, he cites the biblical text which links the killing of humans to the image [this verse]. [By a slight, but permissible, change in the grammar of Genesis 9:6, another reading is possible: “He who spills the blood of a person in a person, his blood shall be shed.” Catholic tradition uses this reading to forbid abortion. BANAL 150

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