Explore Jewish heritage with an amateur Jew’s commentary on Parsha Bereshit, Genesis 1:1 – 6:8.
I can’t read Genesis and not hear the hypnotic, monotone cry of “SEGA” followed by the sound of rings, 16-bit music, and the visual of Sonic the Hedgehog popping onto the screen––wagging his finger as you prepare to journey through Emerald Island and, I think, free a bunch of animals from a sadistic mad scientist shaped like an egg with a long, frayed orange mustache slapped on his face. Oh, and get emeralds. If you don’t get the emeralds, it’s all for naught.
This was the only Genesis I was familiar with as a child. There’s a more famous incarnation, and it begins not entirely unlike when I’d fire on my Sega Genesis, the dark screen flashing to a blank canvas of light.
“Let there be light.”
And there was light. And it was good.
Bereshit, the first reading in the annual Torah cycle, blows through much of what I tangentially knew about the Torah pretty damn quickly. You’ve got two creation stories. The first one is God playing Sim City, creating the waters, dry land, sky, the sun––that sort of thing. In the second version, Adam and Eve show up in the Garden of Eden. They eat fruit from a tree and this royally pisses God off. Adam and Eve then realize they’re naked, having a couple of pages earlier not being able to perceive nudity or feel shame about their naked bodies, and God kicks them out like a couple of college graduates still living in the basement.
“Because you did this,
More cursed shall you be
Than all cattle
And all the wild beasts:
On your belly shall you crawl
And dirt shall you eat
All the days of our life.”
This appears to be God’s first recorded temper tantrum in the Torah.
For the woman:
“I will make most severe
Your pangs in childbearing;
In pain shall you bear children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
Down with the patriarchy, am I right? (Click here for a women’s commentary on the Torah.)
Banished to the rest of the world, the Torah says, “Now the man knew his wife Eve,” and “knew” in this context means “banged.” They banged and that banging begot Cain. Abel followed right behind. This is another pair of characters you might recognize at least by name. Yet despite their recognition thousands of years later, they come and go within a few verses. Abel is first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and Cain kills his brother in Genesis 4:8. Why? Because God favored Abel’s offering of “the firstlings of his flock” over Cain’s offering of “the fruit of the soil.”
I can hear Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons saying, “Worst. Motive. Ever.”
Of course, God finds out Cain did this and curses him. The curse, Cain says, is too great to bear and he wants to be killed. For this, God thinks up an even sicker punishment, vowing that he would curse anyone who kills Cain sevenfold. In other words:
“Lo, I want your life to be so miserable that I’m scaring anyone off who might bring you swift, sweet release by promising that same punishment to the seventh degree.”
So Cain lives and not another word is mentioned about how miserable his life became after God laid down the ultimate threat. In fact, just two lines after God spells out the threat, Cain gets busy with his nameless wife. (Sorry, he knew her.)
The story of Cain and Abel comes and goes faster than the stench of a lingering fart yet it’s one that’s been retold for thousands of years. Has any name lived on in human memory as long as Cain and Abel’s off of such little text? We all know Beyoncé. Imagine if we all knew her as well as we do and it was off of just a page of ancient text.
The Torah fast forwards a bit after Cain and Abel with a bunch of begotten sons, stretching from Cain’s Enoch to Methusael’s Lamech. That’s when women pop up again for the purpose of being Lamech’s two wives, one of whom gave birth to another male, Jabal. It’s noted for some reason that Jabal is “the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe.” I suppose that’s like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson being the ancestor to “those who are about to rock.”
You learn in Bereshit that people lived much longer back then. Adam had his third child (Seth, to replace the murdered Abel) at 130 years old. He lived another 800 years, still procreating from time to time, tapping out at 930 years. “Then he died.”
Seth lives to 912, his Enosh kicks the bucket at 905, and Enosh’s Kenan takes his dirt nap at 910. This goes on for several more verses; biblical figures living into their late 800s. One, Jared, lives to 962. It must’ve been a pretty unremarkable Millenium of living. Could you imagine living to nearly a thousand years and your biggest accomplishment is not dying?
Verses of dudes living for centuries keep coming and coming until the end of the chapter. None of the names appear to be all that significant. A Noah pops up and you might think, “Oh, it’s Noah and the ark! I know that Noah!” But it’s not that Noah. It’s another, earlier Noah who has three kids and dies at a tragically young 500.
Chapter six, our last of Bereshit, does bring us up to that Noah. It’s the era when the Nephilim appeared on the Earth––a group of people nobody can seem to agree on who they were. Were the giants? Were they people who had already fallen in the eyes of God or people who would make others fall? Or were they really “the heroes of old, the men of renown”? There’s not much time to ponder it because a flood is coming.
“The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.”
There was something earlier about God making humankind in his image, but okay. All of mankind is wicked now, only capable of evil. Got it.
This is about where God first starts coming off as some low-level criminal who can’t keep his story straight. Come to think of it, you could actually make some interesting television with Law & Order: Torah.
With God’s realization that his creation didn’t pan out, he determines that “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created––men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.” It reads like the kind of soliloquy a cartoon villain gives before enacting their plan. And he would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for Noah, who “found favor with the Lord.”
Onward with Parsha Noach.