There’s a thrill in writing about parashat Bereishit. We may have read it dozens of times before, but the epic words with which our tradition tells of the world’s origin always inspire awe and wonder for me. The parasha is filled with so much - not just one but two versions of the creation story; the fruit and the serpent - our understanding of how humans negotiate obedience and temptation; an explanation story about why our lot in the world is hard work and suffering; the tragic story of the first brothers, one of whom murders the other; the development - and disintegration - of human society. This one parasha covers 1556 years - successive stories of hope and disappointment and renewed hope.
This embarrassment of riches is too hard to narrow down, so I’d like to share something set chronologically in our parasha, but found in the rabbinic tradition:
”Wasn’t it taught in a baraita: Ten phenomena were created in heaven on [the first] Shabbat eve during twilight, and were revealed in the world only later? They were: Miriam’s well, and the manna that fell in the desert, and the rainbow, writing [ketav], and the writing instrument [mikhtav], and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the grave of Moses, and the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood, the opening of the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, and the opening of the earth’s mouth to swallow the wicked in the incident involving Korah.” Talmud Pesachim 54a
I love the playful wonder of this Talmudic text. Ten things created at the very end of six days of creation, on the eve of the first ever Shabbat. Like the fun impulse buys we might throw in the trolley under pressure to pay and leave a shop, God too created ten wondrous things before resting. What unites these ten phenomena? Most of them have some kind of metaphysical or magical quality ( it’s fascinating that writing and writing instruments is included in this list and reflective of the high esteem in which our rabbis held literature and literacy).
The list of ten things gives us a magical mini tour of some of the best stories in the Torah, Tanakh and Midrash, as if at the dawn of creation, God looked ahead with a twinkle in the eye to the awesome things to come. There’s a rhythmic poetry which sounds so much better in Hebrew to the words
“בְּאֵר, וְהַמָּן, וְקֶשֶׁת, כְּתָב, וּמַכְתֵּב” (“the well, the manna, the rainbow, writing, writing instruments”) And there’s a dark humour to the two “openings” listed at the end - the mouth of Balaam’s donkey and the mouth of the earth.
We’re now in the first erev Shabbat of our own Shabbat Bereishit. In the hours that follow before Shabbat comes in, what twinkle can we have in our own eyes as we prepare for Shabbat, the week to come, and the Jewish year ahead? What astonishing things can we create to set in motion new realities for ourselves, our families, our community and our world?
This Shabbat Bereishit, may we all emulate God’s creativity, imagination and belief in astonishing things to come.