Parashat Breisheet–the very first Torah portion–is always a joy to read. The stories of the Creation of the World, the Garden of Eden, and the first generations on the planet are among the most well-known in the world.Despite their popularity, there is a fair amount of discussion/controversy around these early accounts of life in our universe.
“True believers” take the story literally and accept that the world came into being exactly as described in the Torah. More progressive readers of the text see Breisheet as a myth created by the ancients to help explain how everything came to exist; those who read it this way find ways to both appreciate the stories and honor their understanding of scientific explanations of the origins of life.
The name Israel (Yisrael in Hebrew) means to struggle with God; we will get to that story in several weeks. A hallmark of Judaism is that we do strive to understand the nature of God and our universe. Not everyone agrees on how everything came about; in fact, it is hard to find a topic on which everyone agrees at all! This is a tradition that we can fine (literally) “in the beginning.”
Nevertheless, we can all value the accounts in Breisheet. They are the legends that have been told over and over by generations upon generations in the Jewish and human family. We may understand that they are not to be taken literally, and at the same time comprehend just how powerful and beautiful the stories are.