Parashat Bereshit

What are you looking at?

The Torah scroll is wound back to the beginning again and the Beginning of it all is where we start, yet we are reminded in fact of this portion every seven days throughout the whole year. Every Shabbat we are forced to remember this event. Shabbat came at the end of the Creation week; our 7 day weekly structure followed globally is built upon this event! Creation is important to everything that follows, it sets the pattern that forms life and holds truths that shape human destinies. The first full day that Adam and Chava spent with each other (and they with HaShem) was a Shabbat; right at the outset the ‘present’ (as it was for them) pointed to a future reality of a complete restoration that mankind would forever dream of and anticipate. Rebellion would finally be conquered and sin overcome.

The Torah teaches that Creation is ex-nihilo, or created from nothing. There was no pre-creation essence or material, it came about because God willed it to be so and He as God, pre-existent and eternal, created it. This means He is also independent to and from the Creation He made, while at the same time being deeply involved with it. But He is separate from Creation nevertheless, Judaism does not teach pantheism or worship of the created order. Yet a hierarchy of order does exist, as that also reflects His creative power as Creator. He is The Lord God, and everything He has created is of a qualitatively different order to Himself.

Why did God create everything? Theologians and rabbis have debated this question for millennia, but the Torah’s own answer is clear: God created because He wanted to share Himself with us, bless us with His presence and life, and give us a perfect existence of total dependency on Him where we would lack nothing. In return for the worship we would offer to Him as His due as the God of the universe, we would live in perfection and health, a well formed temperate climate with more than adequate food growing naturally around us, wanting for nothing and lacking nothing. People may accuse us as Jews for being dreamers or people seeking escapism (as others see it), but actually it is a throwback to what we had, a dim memory locked up in our collectively shared DNA, a shared ancestry that haunts us like a dream unrealised, a memory we can’t quite bring into focus but we know was there.

Creation was an act of construction or building. Ask any builder and they will tell you that it’s important at the outset of any ‘building’ that the foundations are set right. Creation was no different and if we wish to see what the later construction looks like or could look like we have to dig deep to the base. So what do we find?

  • As unsettling as it may be for some, we discover that the earth and the temporal world as we know it is the main theatre of God’s actions and our responses. Some would prefer it to be in heaven, all spiritual and ethereal, but the reality is that it is in this ‘life’ of flesh and blood that the play is acted out. We have to confront the reality of lands with borders, and the ever present need to survive. Human needs and the sheer physicality of our existence impinge on the radars of our very daily and earthly existences. To survive, Israel should have and does need an army; the conflicts are real and not only ‘spiritual’. When we turn to the words of Mashiach Yeshua in His prayer (an early version/interpretation of the Amidah) we read He prayed that God’s will be done on earth as it already IS in heaven. In heaven God’s will is always done, the problem is here on earth. It is why the millennial reign of Mashiach will be HERE on earth, not in some spiritualised form, and the earth will be renewed, actually and in reality so.
  • We discover that the hierarchy of the created order puts humans at the top of the order, with 2 genders (only) which then leads us to the concept of marriage and procreation. This unit of humanity from the outset is the base of all society and cultures, it was established from the Garden onwards. It is therefore no surprise that both Creation and Family/marriage are constantly under attack by this ‘godless’ world.
  • Sin caused work! For some this may be a reason to hope that the restoration of the Garden paradise might come sooner rather than later. The old adage of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ which evolutionary scientists like to use and subsequently adapted by sociologists, is nothing other than a description of the reality of life after sin, the need to survive (including work) by whatever means fair or foul. It neither represents the ultimate and final reality nor the start of it all. We carry with us the daily burdens of work and are constantly reminded that in the Garden it was not so. And we’re reminded of that weekly of course, every Shabbat.
  • The last point is more serious. The physical reality around us reflects the deeper spiritual reality we cannot see. And the key word there is ‘see’. Adam and Chava had everything they needed, not wanted (they didn’t yet know what they wanted, because adverts hadn’t been invented yet to stimulate their desires and wants). Without fear and worry, they had only one thought in mind: to keep their eyes fixed on HaShem. Having an unbroken relationship with their Creator whom they therefore knew deeply, the most important aspect that self-defined them was keeping their eyes on Him. They knew they could trust Him for everything, so with adoring eyes like new born children, their gaze was ever unto Him. Trust is actually the default human condition; babies are hardwired to trust. We learn not to from bad experiences and being let down.

But it didn’t stay that way. The fruit ‘looked good’; the eyes were diverted away from God and onto something else. Frankly it didn’t matter what else, it could have been almost anything, the point is, Adam and Chava stopped looking at the Lord and to the Lord for provision and loving care. He seemed to be less the provider and source for blessing than what they now saw.

And this is where it gets interesting and also sad. What happens when we take our eyes of the Lord? Where else do we look at that point? To each other and then around us. That is why the first thing Adam and Chava noticed was their nakedness. They hadn’t ‘seen’ it before because they were looking to the Lord. But now their eyes were diverted to each other first and they ‘saw’ each other. What happened next? Temptations. They hadn’t ‘felt’ this before, their only feelings were for the Lord. We can only imagine the wave of emotions that swept over them, shame gripped them (by implication of verse 2:25 where we learn that they were not ashamed). Shame for what? We are not told. But shame seems to have brought fear of the One who they had known who loved them. They hid from Him.

Taking your eyes of off the Lord will lead you to fear Him and hide from Him eventually. You’ll make excuses why you can’t pray, or haven’t got the time. Your joy decreases, your giving dries up, worship becomes harder, and in all this deep down we fear because we know He knows, so we hide.

With our eyes off of Him, looking at each other, other things also start to happen: we envy what others have, we become jealous, angry, selfish, thieving, attacking each other, even physically if we can, if words aren’t enough. In fact we are given a description of humans with their eyes taken off the Lord. Read 1 Cor 6:9-10. The list (and others like it in the Messianic Writings) adequately describes those whose eyes are diverted to earthly physical things and other people. We could add gluttony (lust for food) as one further example of not trusting the Lord, seeing food as an idol or the need to consume as a way to survive. The KOG can, in this way, be seen paralleled in the Garden; such people according to the lists will be expelled from it and such cannot enter it again. To take your eyes off the Lord eventually drives you from His presence as sure as Adam and Chava had to leave the Garden.

The flipside however is equally strong. Torah makes it very clear that to keep Torah and live in accordance with His commandments is to have His blessings. Read through the ‘Stipulations’ in Devarim and parallel them with the blessings in the Garden and you will see that to walk in obedience is to effectively live a life of being a first fruit of the restored Garden. His provision comes in once more because our eyes are once again fixed on Him who is our Creator and source. We learn to trust again, and find Him, the God of Israel, to be trustworthy.

What then will we learn if this is the foundation, the base level of everything that follows? Above all else we learn the absolute importance of keeping our focus, our eyes on Him. We CAN trust Him. We must learn to trust Him again, and take our eyes off each other, situations around us, the need to get on and survive, and focus on what matters. So the question in the title is wrong. It’s not ‘what’ but ‘whom’ are you looking at. The answer will frame your life and the blessings you do or don’t receive.