Monday, July 25, 2022

Judaism on One Leg: What is Man/Woman/ Human Part 1


Judaism on One Leg: What is Man/Woman/ Human Part 1

For the video discussion follow the link:

Lesson Four- What is Man/ Woman/ Human Part 1

 Betselem Elohim July 23 2022

Essentially- we believe in the human being!


Question from last week- on creation, six days, Adam on the 6th.What do we make of it?

Midrash Rabbah on sense of time in creation:

Rabbi Judah bar Simon said: it does not say, ‘Let there be evening,’ but ‘And it was evening.’ Hence we derive that there was a time-system prior to this. Rabbi Abbahu said: This teaches us that God created worlds and destroyed them, saying, ‘This one pleases me; those did not please me.’Bereshit Rabbah 3:7


In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Bahya ben Asher (11th century, Spain) concludes that there were many time systems occurring in the universe long before the spans of history that man is familiar with. Based on the Kabbalah he calculates that the Earth is billions of years old.


Maimonides Guide to the Perplexed: Bk II :19



Charles Darwin was excited to report:


 "even an essay in Hebrew has appeared on it, showing that the theory is contained in the Old Testament!".

(1876, Naphtali Lew

y sent Darwin a copy of his book, Toldot Adam, and a covering letter, both in Hebrew. As Darwin could not read Hebrew, he asked Henry Bradshaw, librarian at Cambridge University, to have the letter translated)




Before we can understand what is man/mankind/humanity in Bible—


What was it among our neighbors:



Enuma Elish- Babylonian creation story- after battle of the gods against the monster, Tiamat( Hebrew=Tehom), Marduk sets about new project:

Tablet VI

1 When Marduk heard the gods' speech…4 He counsels that which he had pondered in his heart,
5 "I will bring together blood to form bone, 6 I will bring into being Lullû, whose name shall be 'man'. 7 I will create Lullû—man 8 On whom the toil of the gods will be laid that they may rest.

Out of the vanquished monsters:

13 "Let one brother of theirs be given up.14 Let him perish that people may be fashioned.
15 Let the great gods assemble 16 And let the guilty one be given up that they may be confirmed."

29 "Qingu is the one who instigated warfare, 30 Who made Tia-mat rebel and set battle in motion."
31 They bound him, holding him before Ea, 32 They inflicted the penalty on him and severed his blood-vessels. 33 From his blood he (Ea) created mankind,
34 On whom he imposed the service of the gods, and set the gods free.
129 On the peoples that he created, the living beings,
130 He imposed the service of the gods and they took rest.

Contrast with last act of creation: Shavat vayinafash—but not demon blood, no man as slave to the gods


The Greek version:

The Creation of Humans in Greek Mythology

Prometheus created man out of earth (mud), and the goddess Athena breathed life into his creation. [similar here to Gen 2]


Epimetheus[ to supply qualities] had already given all the good skills and qualities to other creatures, and nothing was left for man. Consequently, Prometheus made man stand upright—as only the gods had done[divine image]—and gave him fire.[ These two human traits are against the gods orders, therefore, he is chained to a rock and liver torn out by eagle every day]


What about Woman?

The punishment that Zeus inflicted on man was to create Pandora (with the help of the god Hephaestus), the first woman. He gave Pandora a jar as a gift and told her that she was not allowed to open it. The jar was full of misfortune, disease, and plagues, but at the bottom there was also hope.(interpreted by Greek commentators as a crude joke, that hope, too, is a demon)


[The ancient Greeks were master cynics!]



Now, you can put the Biblical account of creation of human in totally new  perspective:

Gen 1;26

Not out of chaos, not out of the body of a vanquished demon

 כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ

 כז וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם

 כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל-חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ


And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God— creating them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them: Bear fruit and be many and fill the earth and subdue it!
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, and all living things that crawl about on the earth!.

Or version 2: Ch 2:A personal act, different from the creation of all other living creatures

 ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה

And YHWH God formed the human, of dust from the ground; He blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.[not delegated to a lesser god,as in the Greek, and not out of demons blood, as in the Babylonian]

Man must be partnered: The woman is a blessing to the man, not a punishment:

 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה-לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ.  

YHWH God said:
It is not good for the human to be alone;
I will make him a helper corresponding to him.

Fire-unlike the Prometheus myth- in the Midrash- a gift from God to man to make ( Gen Rabbah 11:1):Man is afraid of the dark after he has sinned. God strikes two stones together to show how to make fire and overcome his fear.

The human as “ tselem”-an image, a reflection, a silhouette, of God:

Let us make humankind, in our image, according to our likeness!( Les majeste-the royal we)

בצלמנו. בִּדְפוּס שֶׁלָּנוּ      : כדמותנו . לְהָבִין וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל:

In our pattern, with the ability to understand and reason.( Rashi)

AND G-D SAID: ‘LET US MAKE MAN.’ There was a special command dedicated to the making of man because of his great superiority since his nature is unlike that of beasts and cattle which were created with the preceding command.   … Thus man is similar both to the lower and higher beings in appearance and honor. In real likeness his body thus compares to the earth while his soul is similar to the higher beings. (Nachmanides)


The unique value of each human being

"And you shall love your neighbor as yourself": R. Akiva says: This is an all-embracing principle in the Torah. Ben Azzai says: (Bereshith 5:1) "This is the book of the generations of Adam" [This is the record of the begettings of Adam/Humankind. At the timeof God’s creating humankind, in the likeness of God did he [then] make it,] — This is an even greater principle.:Bereshit Rabbah 24:7 Lest one say that because I was accursed, let my friend be accursed with me. Rabbi Tanhuma said: If you do so, know whom you are cursing: He created him in the divine image.


  בֶּן עֲזַאי אוֹמֵר זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם, זֶה כְּלַל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה (ויקרא יט, יח):  , רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, זֶה כְּלַל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁלֹא תֹאמַר הוֹאִיל וְנִתְבַּזֵּיתִי יִתְבַּזֶה חֲבֵרִי עִמִּי, הוֹאִיל וְנִתְקַלַּלְתִּי יִתְקַלֵּל חֲבֵרִי עִמִּי. אָמַר רַבִּי תַּנְחוּמָא אִם עָשִׂיתָ כֵּן דַּע לְמִי אַתָּה מְבַזֶּה

: בִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אוֹתוֹ.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Judaism on One Leg:A God who asks questions: Where are you?


Lesson Three- What do we believe?

July 16 

Link to video discussion

Only after we have started with the People and the Torah can we then get to what we believe.

A God who asks questions: Where are you?


Basic beliefs and doctrines


Religion, in Jewish thought, did not begin with Moses, nor even with Eve, Cain, Noah.

Chanoch, Enoch, is seen as one “ who walks with God” in the generations before Noah.


There are academies of Torah study, in rabbinic tradition, headed by Shem ( Semite) and Ever( Hebrew), the ancestors of Abraham. Even prophecy, the Rabbis declared was not limited to Jews/Israelites, but Balaam was proof that God spoke to all people. Job was an example of a righteous person, though clearly not an Israelite.


What we have as unique is the sense that we have encountered God as a people, rather than as individuals. That is our uniqueness, and all else derives from it.




In the Torah, we have a sense of who  God is not. We are not commanded to believe in God, since that is a given of human experience.



In the beginning, Bereshit, --makes the presumption that we know there is a God- now, we are told “ Whatabout it”.

We have the introduction of a God who creates, in an orderly fashion, establishes the universe and what exists in a systematic, non-chaotic order.That’s chapter one. Then we have chapter two-three- four—that introduces us to a sense of God who “ walks in the Garden” as the One who is in deep pain because of our choices.


Absent from the Jewish God is the endowment of physical human characteristics—they may have been there in earlier levels, but gradually removed—and the absence of sexuality from God- Again, there may have been, in ancient Israel, a tradition of a consort, but that is removed.



So God no longer has human endowments- but  in reverse,  the very flawed and failing human, is now endowed with divine attributes, of wisdom, creativity, and the power to choose between good and evil. Hence , the Garden of Eden is closed- precisely because we have eaten of the ability to discern good from evil, and as a consequence, have the power to choose evil.


Beautiful midrash—there us a parade of Roman soldiers and they are leading a sacred object- and shout” make way for the image of the gods of Rome.

Response: Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: ‘A procession of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, “Make way for the image of God!”’ (Deut. Rab., 4:4)


Introduce God as source of Justice ,God knows that Abraham will teach his descendants to carry out God’s path, of Tzedek u mishpat—so Abraham rides up to the challenge at Sodom- Hashofet Kol Haaretz”( Gen 18)

God as the player in human history- Joseph accepts his brothers because he knows it was God’s plan to save many lives.(Gen 50). This theme universalized by Amos 9

הֲל֣וֹא כִבְנֵי֩ כֻשִׁיִּ֨ים אַתֶּ֥ם לִ֛י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה הֲל֣וֹא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל הֶעֱלֵ֙יתִי֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וּפְלִשְׁתִּיִּ֥ים מִכַּפְתּ֖וֹר וַאֲרָ֥ם מִקִּֽיר׃

You are the like Ethiopians to me. Behold, I brought out Israel form Egypt, just as I brought out the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from KIr


Our knowledge of God is taken away from the physical: Moses wants to see God. No one can see God, but only discern the consequence, in reference to human behavior-Moses at the Golden Calf- Adonai Adonai= God as merciful and forgiving.


We have the concept of the unity of God—as expressed in the Shma-

It can be translated: Adonay is our God, Adonay is alone- not to be identified with any other god,

Adonay- is the sole one, not to be worshipped together with any other god.

Adonay- is unique- that which is completely other, different than any entity, object, power, force.

Adonay- is the only God  that exists- all others are false, mythology, vanity, the fabrication of their human makers.

Adonay- now, in our translation- One- a unity.

These are essential to separate ourselves from the pagan concept, of multiple forces, multiple values, in the universe.

Then, we need to separate ourselves from the newly emergent philosophy of Zoroastrianism, the religion of the very people who save us from exile, the Persians: the universe as a conflict between good and evil, light and dark, with the belief that good will prevail. That duality will affect Jewish thinking in centuries later, but Isaiah will not have of it:

 Isaiah would make that concept central-( Ch 45)

יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃ (ס)

Who fashions light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil. I ,Adonay, do all of this!

We would now have the concept of a God who is above and behind all the contradictions of existence, the underlying unity of all existence, transcendent, yet, in Jewish thought, at once, immanent-directly felt and present.

That statement is adapted by the Rabbis as one of the opening concepts of the morning worship: The stark harshness is modified:

. “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things.” ( u vorey et hakol)


This is the God who not only created, past tense, but, again, in the morning prayer, mehadesh bechol yom tamid maaseh bereshit—who renews the creation daily. ( Causa in esse, Causa in fieri, the cause of existence, the cause of continuation), in medieval philosophy


This idea of a transcendant God, beyond  all that exists, yet, immanent, one whose presence is directly felt, is imbedded in the structure of our worship, the core of the prayers: Barukh atah- it is an intentional contradiction:


Blessed are You- personal- then shifts to 3rd person, after addressing God personally—Adonay, Hamotzi—the bringer of bread, Asher kidshanu- who sanctified us.


( like modern English, Biblical Hebrew does not have the formal “ You” of other European languages-“Tu-Usted” “Tu-Vous” Du-Sie.) Later, Martin Buber would play on this, and speak of “ Ich-Du” I -Thou( old English-you, close and caring).Heschel would expand the term to “We-Thou”.


Do we have a systematic theology?


We have had two distinct ways of thinking—when it came to action, we had methods of analysis and of ordering our formal collective behavior. However, when it came to belief, we relied more on metaphors, literary phrases, poetic terms. 


How do we come to belief, for example:

The Illuminated Palace:About Abraham:

“ a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a castle aglow. He said, "Is it possible that this castle lacks a person to look after it?" The owner of the building looked at him and said to him, 'I am the master of the castle.'" What happened with Abraham our father was similar. He said, “Is it possible that this universe lacks a person to look after it?," the Holy Blessed One looked at him and said to him, 'I am the Master of the Universe.'"( Bereshit Raba 39:1)

For our sages, it came out of experience- personal and collective

As for definitions- best by verbal, not physical. Images:

“k’b’yachol”—as if we could describe-this is what we would say:

Song of Songs Rabbah 1:9 On the comparison of the hero to a horse and Rabbi Akiba’s interpretation on the Song of the Sea:

‘Pharaoh mounted a stallion, and the Holy One blessed be He, as it were, revealed Himself on a stallion.

God as “ Shekhina” – the presence, begalut- that is in exile.


Makom- The world is not God’s place, but God is the world’s place.Ber Rabbah 68

  שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְאֵין עוֹלָמוֹ מְקוֹמוֹ,


And he came upon (vayifga') the place (Genesis 28:11) - Rav Huna says, in the name of Rabbi Ami: why do we substitute the name of the Holy Blessed One and use Place? Because God is the Place of the world, and the world is not the place of God. From what is written "Here there is a place with Me" (Exodus 33:21) the Holy Blessed One is the place of the world and the world is not the place of the Holy Blessed One.





The Greeks did  much better job  of organized reason, and while some of it may have influence Jewish thinking in our first encounters, by the time of our 2nd encounter, Greek thought through Islam, we were open to this kind of systematization.


The prime example- Philo of Alexandria, in our first encounter, who applies the Greek method of turning all ancient texts into metaphors for philosophical concepts. (Actually influences early Christianity more than Jewish thought)


Rav Saadia Gaon, R”Sa.g, who applies neo-Platonic concepts of the realm of ideas to Jewish thought.( Emunot v Deot)


Most famous- and most controversial- Rabbi Moses ben Maimon- Rambam

,turns Aristotle into a Jewish thinker ( almost).  Asides from his very cryptic Guide for the Perplexed, intended for only a choice few students), he created a philosophical foundation for the common man in his Mishneh Torah= the only work of Jewish law that starts with the issue of belief.


In Rambam, there is only the negative attribute: We can only know what God is Not- if we say a word about God, such as, good- it can only mean Good in a sense that no human can comprehend: Maimonides writes in Chapter 50 of the Guide, “Those who believe that God is One and that He has many attributes declare the Unity with their lips and assume the plurality in their thoughts.”


For the philosopher, there is need of proofs:


The first mover- on the premise that you can not have an infinite chain of causes( which Rambam himself claims he could solve), there must be the first, unmoved mover, to start all motion.


There is a very neat medieval proof of God, St Anselm:  God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought”- since to exist is greater than not to exist, therefore God exists. It’s very neat, compact, completely self-fulfilling. Does it beat the intuition of the existence of God that permeates all of Torah? As the medieval stated it, Philosophy is the handmaiden of theology.” It’s nice company, but it can’t beat the real thing.


Finally, there is a Kabbalistic attempt at understanding God, as an unfolding from the Ein Sof-Infinite- or “ Ein- No Thing- through the aspects of Chochma-Binah-Daat=wisdom, understanding and knowledge, through the Sefirot- ( Number-also sphere) through the Yesod-foundation-into Malkhut- the feminine- on to creation:

God as a flow chart

PS- the Kabbalistic word for the emanation of God through the Sefirot and down to the created world is "Shefa", a flow.

Or as the form of Adam Kadmon-the primordial human