Yes, this week we start the Torah over with the first verses of Genesis and it is one action-packed Torah portion. Never mind that G-d creates the world in six days and then, understandably, has to rest. Never mind that the first man and first woman can’t behave themselves and are cast out of the garden. Never mind that the first generation of children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are born and Cain kills his brother. Never mind that ten generations are listed down to Noah. And yes, at this point G-d is sorry about the whole mess and Noah has to save us, and everything!
Is that enough for one week of reading? I think it is enough for a year myself. This Torah portion talks about creation, something people still argue about but there are many scientists that have faith as well as science in their hearts and minds. There is “sin” and sex and punishment. And it only gets worse, there is massive familial conflict that ends in murder.
And then there is the flood.
One of the things that has stood out to me as I prepare and teach on some of these early stories in Genesis, and one of the things my class and I have discussed, is what is missing. There is all this drama and trauma but there are huge gaps. And the gaps are the lack of communication, the lack of dialogue. In most of these stories the details of interactions and discussions are omitted. Of course if they weren’t the Torah would be considerably longer, but it is interesting to think about what the conversations must have been between Adam and Eve for instance. It didn’t happen in the blink of an eye, you know there was more going on. And while we are given the smallest of details of what was ailing Cain and Abel there must have been much more discussion, conflict, insults, what have you. Cain didn’t just see a sheep over the line and decide to kill his brother.
One of the things that make Judaism interesting for me is that anyone can write midrash. Midrash are the stories that we tell to fill the gaps. Midrash are the ideas we have about what must have happened. Midrash is how we add in what we know, what we have experienced, to make the stories of the Torah make sense for us now, today. Because I believe the Torah lives and flexes as needed in the same I believe the Constitution does the same. The stories of Genesis mean very different things for different people, different generations, different Rabbis and different students. We all bring our colors to the stories if we are willing to dig in to them and really try to understand what they mean for us.
And so, do I really believe there was a global flood? Maybe, so much of the earth was covered by water at one time. Do I really believe all the animals got to go in one great boat two by two, not really. Do I believe that creation is angry for what we have done with our free will, I do. But that same free will allows us the opportunities for tikkun olam, repairing the world that we are destroying. And Midrash allows us to find meaning in the ancient stories.
And so, every year, we begin the cycle of reading again and the world is born anew. Shabbat Shalom