Friday, October 1, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B'resheet


Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’resheet 

Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 

The Hebrew language is characterized by remarkable conciseness, which allows information to be conveyed in very succinct forms.  Along with that, it is also a very picturesque language, and thus often content and form (in the Tanach, especially) are congruous. This first Parasha, being as it is, a narrative of the origins, is replete with information, eternal patterns and principles, yet all are communicated very briefly, with matching terms which deserve specific attention.  Although this time we will not cover the full gamut of terms included in Parashat (“Parasha of”) B’resheet, in the weeks to come some of them will show up in other Parashot (Parasha in plural form), and it is then that we will try to do them justice. 


God’s name appears here as the composite “Elohim,” of the root “el” meaning “strong, mighty, powerful.” Elohim is in the plural form, a fact which lends the word much greater dimensions. But in addition to that, Elohim not only includes “El,” but also “Eloha,” yet one more word, of the same root, for the Almighty, both forming the plural “Elohim”.


B’resheet is both the name of the first Parasha, and the name of the book of Genesis. “B’resheet bara Elohim…” At the first, beginning –b’resheet - created - bara – Elohim - God. The meaning of r’sheet is “first, beginning, start and prominence” and it stems from the root (resh, alef, shin) - “head”. (Notice the river in 2:10 that comes out of Eden and divides into four streams. The latter - i.e. the “streams” - are also called here “heads”). The usage of this phraseology, therefore, establishes a foundation that the prime and first cause is Elohim, who is the initiator of everything.  In Colossians 1:16, 18 it says of Messiah Yeshua: “For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth… He is also the head of the Body… and He is the beginning… so that He might come to have first place in everything” (italics added).  This passage indeed exhausts “r’sheet” to its fullest.  Interestingly, the very first 3 letters which constitute the Bible’s opening word, “b’re(sheet)”, are also the same as the ones that make up the next word, “bara”, which is “created” (the letters being bet, resh, alef). Thus, “created” appears twice in a row in the very beginning of the Holy Writ, as if to add an extra emphasis to the fact that Elohim is truly the Creator. Note that the verb “bara” - to “create” - refers exclusively to the Creator, and never to man. The adjective for “healthy” or “fat” – “bari” (such as in Gen. 41:2; Jud. 3:17) also stems from the same root, as do verbs such as, to “clear up” an area (e.g. Josh. 17:15, 18), and “eat” (2nd Sam. 12:17); the latter two being almost contrary to each other. This, as well as other connected verbs, point to the act of creation as being multi-facetted. In fact, the primary meaning of “bara” is to “release the varying elements or materials so as to enable them to exist, materialize, express themselves, or grow”.  


The initial and foundational act of creation culminates with, “And Elohim called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (v. 5).  This “one day”, rather than “first day”, is “yom echad” unlike the rest of the days, which are termed, “second, third…” etc. Since “echad” -  unity of plurality – is such a significant term, and is attached to Elohim’s nature (“hear Oh Yisrael, YHVH our Elohim is ‘one’) its usage here underscores the Presence of Elohim in the creation process, emphasizing the fact that the “one day” will continue to accompany the creation of each of the subsequent days.  A “latter day” passage in Zechariah 14:6-9, which appears to take us full circle, states the following: “It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to YHVH -- neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.  And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem… And YHVH shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be that YHVH will be one and His name one” (literal translation, italics added. Also notice the creation ‘elements’ of water and light).   


The act of creation involved processes of separation.  Elohim separated light from darkness (Gen. 1:4); water from water (vv. 6, 7).  He created the lights in the heaven to separate the night from the day (v. 14-16, 18), and the seasons one from the other.  He also distinguished between the different types of flora and fauna (vv 11, 12), between man and woman, and finally between the weekdays and the Shabbat.  The verb used for separating is “havdel” (of the root b.d.l, bet, dalet, lamed), to “divide or separate,” but also to “distinguish”. One word about the light and darkness: The word for darkness is choshech ( - chet, shin, kaf). The verb for deprive or withhold (as it appears in Genesis 39:9, for example) shares a very similar root - (chet, sin, kaf). Thus the small vowel change, of the letter "shin" into a "sin", reveals that "darkness" is simply a condition in which light is being withheld and is therefore only a "default state".


But when He separated the water from the land (or brought forth the land from the water), Elohim said: “Let the water under the heavens be gathered - yikavu - to one place” (1:9).  A “mikveh” is therefore a place of the gathering of water and stems from the root k.v.h.(kof, vav, hey), which is also the word for hope". Each time the English Bible says “wait for YHVH” the verb in Hebrew is “kaveh”. Thus, our hope is found while we are being gathered to Him who is our Mikveh: “Oh YHVH, the hope ("mikveh" here, rather than the standard "tikva") of Israel… “is the cry of the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) in 17:13.  According to Romans 6:3-5 we have been immersed into Him, which makes Him the mikveh (place of immersion), “for in hope we have been saved” (Rom. 8:24 italics added). Our hope, then, lies in the fact that we are in Him, and He is in us, and therefore we walk now in new life (see Rom. 6:4) as a new creation.  Thus the "mikveh" stands for a place of being gathered to and for 'immersion in hope,' seen both in the act of creation and in the act of the spiritual re-birth.


The progressive process of creation renders each day's accomplishment a preparation for the one that will follow.  And whereas above we touched on the 'separation' aspect of creation, here we see its integrative aspect.  Separation and integration, though seemingly mutually exclusive, actually work hand in hand and are typical of the Hebraic mind and character, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the first and second chapters of the Bible.


Although each day's creative work was different from the next, the days were separated one from the other in an identical manner, by an evening and a morning.  This ‘feature’ set the pattern for the days that were to come, which unlike the days of creation, would be identical or similar one to the other.  The day began in the evening - erev - and it is interesting to note that among its many meanings, “erev” also means a “pledge” or a “guarantee”.  Thus, the promise of the day to come is found in the twilight of its predecessor.  Boker” - "morning" - is another word rich in diverse meanings, one of which is to “inquire, frequent or visit”, connoting concern and care (see Ezk. 34:11,12). Once again, there is an assurance for things hoped for from the One who is in charge of Time and who operates within it (e.g. Jer. 33:25, Lam. 3:22-23). One example of YHVH regarding Time is made apparent in 2:2, where He is seen “resting” (after having completed His work), while the word in Hebrew is “sha’vat” of the root sh.b/v.t* meaning to "cease, and is similar to the root - to "sit”. It is this root which also forms the word “Shabbat.”


As for the pinnacle of creation, man and woman, they were created "in the image and likeness" of their Creator (1:26).  Image” is "tzelem" - from the root “tzel” which is a “shadow”. At best a human being may reflect the Almighty in the same way a two dimensional shadow 'represents' (as a shadow) a three-dimensional object. “Likeness” is “d'moot”, which contains the word “dam”  – "blood" (from which are derived words such as “adama” for “earth”, “adom” for “red” and “adam” - “man”).  Here we see a clear connection to the Messiah, who incarnated in a flesh and blood body as the “Last Adam”.  Man and woman were created different and at different times, yet “in the image (tzelem) of Elohim created He him, male and female created He them” (v. 27). Once again we see differentiation and oneness together.  He - man - was created both male and female, and likewise the male and the female together reflect the "tzelem" of the one Elohim. In 2:24 we read that they were to become “one flesh”, and yet that could only take place after woman was taken out (separated) from man’s own body (ref. 2:21). The woman’s formation was totally different than that of the man’s. Not only was she formed from the rib taken out of Adam’s side, but that act of formation is called “building” – va’yiven – literally, “and He [Elohim] built the rib which He took from the man, into a woman…” (2:22).


One more point concerning this union: In 2: 18, 20 the woman, the "help suitable" (as translated in most versions) for man, is described literally as a help “contrary or opposite” to him – “ezer ke’negdo” (“neged” being “in front of” or “opposite to”).  Originally, Chava* (Eve) was to be Adam’s counterpart, compatible to him. The two were to complement one another as two opposite forces do, attracting and polarizing at the same time.  


In the last verse of chapter 2 we read: ”And they were both naked ("aroomim"/plural), the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (v. 25).  In 3:7 a major change takes place: “And the eyes of the two of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed for themselves girdles of fig leaves”. The man and his wife made for themselves coverings from the leaves of a fig tree. The latter alludes to their attitude, as the word for “fig” - t'ena – is closely related to “to'ana” which is a “pretext” or “looking for excuses”. In Shoftim (Judges) 14:4 Shimshon (Samson) is seen looking for such a pretext or “an occasion against the Philistines.” In 3:21 we are told that Elohim “clothed them - va’yalbishem,” the root being, which is the verb for to “dress” and also forms the word for “clothes, garment ” – l’vush or malbush. We just noted that, “the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed”, (plural) “lo yit’boshashu” of the root (bet, vav, shin). Thus, although of no etymological connection, because of the similarity of consonants some rabbinical interpretations connect “l’vush” - garment - to “bosh” - “shame” (remember the b and v sounds are interchangeable), as indeed the garment’s purpose was to meet the need awakened by the shame of being naked.


In the last episode depicting our protagonists, we see them being sent ("expelled" in Hebrew) out of the Garden of Eden (Gan, of g.n.n which means protection, and Eden, which is delight), but not without a hint of a hope.  East of Eden, Elohim placed the Cherubim and the two-edged ("revolving") sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life (ref. 3:24).  This image conjures up another - one in which Cherubim were also placed above a "sword", that is the sword of the Word (see Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), in the form of the tablets written by Moshe. These tablets were placed in the ark, above which an image of two Cherubim was installed.  Is this a subtle picture, inserted into the somber scene of the expulsion, of a future Holy of Holies where atonement (covering) was to be made? Once the Holy of Holies (through the ultimate atonement) became accessible to all, so did the way to the Tree of Life, through Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.


The post-Edenic life was very different from that which Adam and Chava had experienced prior to their act of disobedience – this is evidenced by the life of their progeny. The story of Kayin and Hevel demonstrates the immediate results that followed the great transformation which took place in man’s disposition. In fact, the description of the events in chapter 4 is replete with linguistic connections to the previous chapter, a fact which illustrates the direct link that the parents’ actions and attitudes had on their posterity. Let us follow a little chart of such comparisons, in literal Hebrew translation. But just prior to that, let’s pause to ponder Chava’s reason for naming her firstborn as she did. “I have acquired a man from YHVH” (4:1), were her words. “Acquired” – “kaniti” (k.n.h – kof, noon, hey) – to buy or purchase. Was she under the impression that her suffering at child birth was the price she was paying for having a son? Purchasing is also a function of a redeemer (who buys back his next of kin who has been taken captive, for example). Was Chava mistakenly seeing herself as a “redeemer” of her firstborn? If so, did the birth of the next son bring with it disillusion, and thus he was named “Hevel” – “futility” (literally the “mist that comes forth from one’s breath”)?



Chapter 4


v. 2 Cain was a tiller of the ground




v. 7 If you do well you will be

carried [i.e. be accepted] but if you do not do well sin crouches at the opening and to you is its desire but you will rule it



v. 9 Am I my brother’s keeper?


v. 10 The voice of your brother’s

blood is crying to Me from the ground

v. 11 So now you are cursed from the ground

v. 12 When you work [till] the ground it shall no longer yield its strength to you



v. 14 You have driven me out today from the face of the ground/earth and I shall be hidden from Your face

NOTE: “hidden” is “esa’ter”




v. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of YHVh and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden


Chapter 3


v. 19 By the sweat of the your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground from which you were taken


v. 13 And the woman said, the serpent has caused me to be ‘carried’ [in sin] and I ate

v. 16 and to him [your husband] is your desire and he will rule you *


ch. 2:15 And YHVH Elohim took man and put him in the garden to till and keep it

Back to chapter 3

v. 10 I heard your voice in the garden and was afraid

v. 17 Cursed is the ground for your sake, in sorrow you shall eat of it



v. 23-24: YHVH Elohim drove him out… of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken

v. 8 And the man and his wife hid from YHVH Elohim

V. 10 And I was afraid, because I was naked and hid myself

NOTE: “hid” is ‘et’chabeh’


v. 24 And He drove out the man and He placed the cherubim east of the garden of Eden





Finally, let us follow the genealogy of the forefathers as listed in chapter 5. The names form the following: Man (Adam) is appointed (Shet) mortal (Enosh) sorrow (Keinan).  One who praises EL (M’halal'el) will come down (Yared), teaching (Chanoch) that His death will send (Metushelach), the hidden king (Lemech, whose name contains the three letters for king, but not in the right order), and rest (No’ach). 


* B and V sound are denoted by the same letter – bet

* The “ch” consonant sound is the same as the “ch” in the Scottish “Loch.”


* 4:7 “… if you do not do well sin crouches at the opening and to you is its desire but you will rule it”. 3:13 “...and to him [your husband] is your desire and he will rule you”. The usage of the same terminology in these 2 verses seems to create a parallel between “sin” and “woman/wife”, on one hand, and “Cain” (had he resorted to right action, which he refused to do) and “Adam/man”, on the other. Such a parallel has the potential of conjecturing a very distorted idea about man-woman (husband-wife) relationship, specifically projecting a negative image of woman. Let us bear in mind that the consequences of sin in 3:16-19 constitute a sad description of what was about to transpire, and are (obviously) not injunctions on the part of YHVH – that is, they are not instructions. Above and beyond that, with the atonement that YHVH has provided through His Son, Yeshua these conditions are no longer applicable to those who have been redeemed (e.g. 2nd Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20, 3:13; Eph. 1:3-8, 2:1-10, etc.). Thus we read in the Song of Songs/Solomon 7:11: “I am my beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (emphasis added). In the restored state (tikkun) our Beloved bridegroom desires us! What solace, comfort and hope…!


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


The opening word of the Tanach and of our Parasha, b’resheet, is of course “in the/a beginning”. “B’resheet” stems from “rosh” – “head”. In verse 16 (of chapter 1) we encounter “govern”, which although translated as a verb, is actually here in a noun form - “memshala” – government. The “head” of the “government” is the “prime minister”. Above we observed that “bara” – created – also yields the adjective “bari” – healthy, a useful word and a desired condition. In 2:15 we read:  “Then YHVH Elohim took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” – “le’ovda ule’shomrah”. The Modern Hebrew rendering would be: “La’avod ve’lishmor”. “Oved” – tend, work – is also related to Kayin, who was a “tiller of the ground” – “oved adama”, which reminds us of the “avoda” (toil, work) that was also assigned to his father, Adam, regarding the Garden.  But unlike his father, he was not willing to be a “keeper” – “shomer”, when he asked Elohim, “am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this in-depth study of the root words which form pictures for helping us understand the Torah. "Rom 11:33 Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past tracing out!"