Bereshit | פרשת בראשית

Sefer Bereshit | ספר בראשית

Bereshit 1:1-6:8 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] בראשית א א – ו ח

Haftarah: Yeshayahu 42:5-42:21 (Sefaradi) | Yeshayahu 42:5-43:10 (Ashkenazi) | Yeshayahu 42:1-16 (Teimani)

[על-התורה] הפטרה: ישעיהו מב ה-כא (ספרדים) | -מג י (אשכנזים) | מב א-טז (תימנים)

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This is it, the big bang of all openings, the majestic, mysterious, stirring story of how our world came to be, told from (at least) two different angles. So rich is the creation sequence that the commentary on these opening verses is itself epic, and that’s just the exoteric explanation. The first parasha of our annual Torah reading cycle moves fast; while we’re still standing there awestruck, we’re ushered into the Garden of Eden, where the first named man and woman are lovingly planted amidst the mysterious Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע), which they’re instructed not to eat from. Things do not end well. Like, expulsion bad, with revolving swords and kruvim (cherubim) guarding the entry to the storied garden. Moving right along, Adam and Chava get down to the business of starting a family, which also doesn’t end well. As in, one kid literally kills the other. Nevertheless, we’re given the lineage of Kayin, the surviving brother, as well as that of Adam’s further children, down to Noach. At the close of our parasha, things are not looking too bright, with G-d despairing at His creation.

The Six Days of Creation & the First Shabbat

[Bereshit 1:1]

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ: וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹקים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם׃

These are the opening verses of Sefer Bereshit, so central to world culture that their various translations are themselves iconic, though unfailingly inadequate, and so, left off here. They’ve got it all: physical, metaphysical, and mystical secrets; thorny questions of grammar; grandeur and awe; theological and cosmogenic meanings; phrases that are forever embedded in our language.

Epochs of creation follow, each termed “day” (יום – yom) and understood in different ways, quantitatively and cosmologically, within the Jewish tradition. In its more limited sense, yom designates either “24-hour period” (for example, the third of Tishrei) or “daylight period” (the part of the third of Tishrei between the rise and setting of the sun). There’s a related and important halakhic question of how to demarcate the period of twilight (שקיעה to צאת הכוכבים) and dawn (from עלות השחר to הנץ החמה), and there are many midrashic passages that reference the ten things created during twilight of the first erev Shabbat, i.e., twilight between the sixth day and seventh days of creation.

Apart from the question of what yom means in the opening of Bereshit, the timeline of creation—when in the calendar year it occurred—is likewise subject to multiple perspectives. The Mikra knows Nisan as “the first month” and refers to Tishrei, on the first of which we celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah (“the beginning of the year”), as “the seventh month.” There is a disagreement among Chazal (see Rosh Hashanah 10b) about whether the world was created in Nisan or Tishrei, in the year 1 of our current count (לבריאת העולם‎; 5783 as of this writing; there is no year zero). Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 23:1 (among other midrashim) suggests that the first of Tishrei is actually the sixth day, on which humans were created, making 25 Elul the first day of creation (in the hypothetical year zero). However, we mark the position of the sun at creation in Nisan with birkat ha-chamah, a special blessing that occurs every 28 years. Some readings suggest ways of harmonizing the Nisan and Elul/Tishrei dates. Our parasha is the source for many such readings, though itself does not state them directly.

The first day: By what is expressed as an act of speech (וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים יְהִי אוֹר), Hashem brings light into being (וַיְהִי אוֹר) and distinguishes it from darkness. He designates light as day and darkness as night. Hashem relates to the light as good (וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי-טוֹב).1 There is evening, there is morning, and “day one” has elapsed (וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד). The order in the text (first evening is mentioned, then morning) determines the beginning and end of a halakhic day, which starts at sunset and ends at the following sunset.2 Notably, the first day is referred to by a cardinal number (“day one”) while the following days are referred to using ordinal numbers (“the second day”).

The second day: Again by the act of saying (וַיֹּאמֶר), Hashem brings into being the rakiya (רָקִיעַ), often translated into English as “firmament.” The rakiya is used to separate water above and water below. This bringing forth and separating is then repeated in the text, this time using the verb “G-d made” (וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹקים). Hashem then designates the rakiya as the shamayim, “sky” (וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֱלֹקים לָֽרָקִ֖יעַ שָׁמָ֑יִם). There is evening, there is morning, and “the second day” has passed. On this day there is no proclamation of goodness.

The third day: Dry ground (יַּבָּשָׁה) becomes visible as Hashem commands (again, וַיֹּאמֶר) the water below the sky to be gathered (יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם) to one area. The dry ground is termed “land” (אֶרֶץ) and the gathering of water, “seas” (יַמִּים). This is termed good. Vegetation is brought forth by the land (תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא), including seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing plants with seed inside, of many species (לְמִינֵהוּ). This is also deemed good, for a second such statement on a single day. The third day is complete.

The fourth day: Hashem calls into being two light sources or luminaries (meorot – מְאוֹרֹת) in the rakiya to distinguish between day and night, as well as to serve as signs of time (וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים). Note that light itself had been created on day one. The greater light designates day and the lesser one, night, along with the stars, which also come into being. Up until now, and including the two meorot, the act of coming to being has been expressed by “G-d said let there be…and there was,” וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים יְהִי…וַיְהִי (except in the more general opening phrase, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקים, “In the beginning G-d created,” where the verb “create,” בָּרָא, is used; there are other possible translations of this phrase). But here on the fourth day, the verb “made” (וַיַּעַשׂ) is used to express a second time the creation and designation of the two meorot (וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹקים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים). (Hashem also “places” them, וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹקים בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם). This is declared to be good. The fourth day is complete.

The fifth day: Hashem says for living beings (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה) to swarm out of the water (יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם). Winged animals (עוֹף) are made to fly over the land and the rakiya of the sky. In addition, here with the verb “created” (וַיִּבְרָא), Hashem makes large taninim (הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים), the meaning of which is uncertain (and not necessarily illuminated by other usages of it in Tanakh); many varieties of creeping creatures that swarm from the water are mentioned (כׇּל נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם), as well as varieties of winged creatures (כׇּל עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ). This is seen to be good, and Hashem blesses these creatures to be fruitful and multiply, filling the seas and earth (וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹקים לֵאמֹ֑ר פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֙יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָע֖וֹף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ). The fifth day is complete.

The sixth day: Hashem says for the land to bring forth living beings of all types (תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ), including domestic animals (הַבְּהֵמָה), creeping things of the land (רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה), and wild animals (חַיְתוֹ אֶרֶץ). This is then repeated used the verb “to make” (וַיַּעַשׂ), and declared as good. Hashem decides to “make” (נַעֲשֶׂה) humans “in Our image, after Our likeness” (בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ) and set them to rule over (וְיִרְדּוּ) all the other previously-created creatures. In one of the most radical and important of all possible ideas, He creates (וַיִּבְרָא) them be-tzalmo, in His image, be-tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d, male and female (וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃). As He did with the animals, Hashem blesses humans and bids them to be fruitful and multiply, filling the world (וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹקים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹקים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ).3 He gives humans the seed-bearing plants and fruit to eat, and then also gives plants to eat for the animals. Looking at all He has created, Hashem sees it as very good (וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹקים֙ אֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד). The sixth day has elapsed.

Shabbat: Creation is now complete. Hashem blesses and sanctifies the seventh day (וַיְבָ֤רֶךְ אֱלֹקים֙ אֶת־י֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֹת֑וֹ), ceasing (שָׁבַת֙) from creation. This cessation is described using the specific terms melachah (“labor”), bara (“create”), and la’asot (“do”): מִכׇּל־מְלַאכְתּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹקים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת and have much halakhic significance. The words of verses 2:1-3 (plus the יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי from the preceding verse) form the beginning of our kiddush for Shabbat night.

A second view of creation

[Starts at Bereshit 2:4]

Immediately, we are given another narrative of the creation sequence (אֵ֣לֶּה תוֹלְד֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם עֲשׂ֛וֹת ה’ אֱלֹקים אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם׃). It begins back before the creation of vegetation, rain, or people, and centers on the creation of the human (ha-adam – הָאָדָם – the same word that is used on the sixth day, but which becomes a proper name for this human, Adam). Prior to the coming of humans, a mist (אֵד) waters the earth. This time, the creation of the human is described with different details: the human is “formed by Hashem Elokim” (וַיִּיצֶר ה’ אֱלֹקים) from the “dust of the earth” (עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה) and Hashem breathes into his nostrils the breath (or soul) of life, such that he becomes a living being (וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה).

The Garden of Eden (גן עדן)

[Bereshit 2:8]

For this human which Hashem has made from the dust of the earth, He plants (וַיִּטַּע) a garden in Eden, in the east (גַּן בְּעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם). Beautiful trees with pleasant fruit are made to grow there, as well as two mysterious trees: the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע). A river waters the garden, from which it splits off into four riverheads (אַרְבָּעָה רָאשִׁים):

  1. Pishon (פִּישׁוֹן), which encircles the Land of Chavilah (אֶרֶץ הַחֲוִילָה), rich with gold, bedolach (today this means crystal; the meaning is uncertain – בְּדֹלַח), and shoham (onyx? – שֹּׁהַם);
  2. Gichon (גִּיחוֹן), which encircles the Land of Kush, usually identified with Ethiopia and/or Sudan;
  3. Chidekel (חִדֶּקֶל), which flows east of Assyria (אַשּׁוּר), and is therefore associated with the Tigris River;
  4. Perat (פְרָת), about which no details are given, but which, based on cognates, is associated with the Euphrates.

Hashem then tells the man that he is not allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and that if he does so, on the day he eats of it he will die, or be subject to death (וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכׇלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת).

At this point, Hashem decides that it is “not good” for the human to be “by himself” (לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ), and determines to make him an ezer ke-negdo (עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ), a tricky-to-translate and fraught phrase: ezer meaning “aid” or “helper,” ke-negdo meaning “opposite him.” The project begins with the creation of all kinds of animals, which are brought before the human for him to name. However, none are found that can be an ezer ke-negdo. Hashem causes the human to go into a deep sleep and takes a rib from him; he “builds” or “fashions” (-וַיִּבֶן…לְ) the rib into a woman (אִשָּׁה). When she is presented to the man, he says: “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, this one I will call woman (ishah) because she is taken from man (ish)”: עֶ֚צֶם מֵֽעֲצָמַ֔י וּבָשָׂ֖ר מִבְּשָׂרִ֑י לְזֹאת֙ יִקָּרֵ֣א אִשָּׁ֔ה כִּ֥י מֵאִ֖ישׁ לֻֽקְחָה־זֹּֽאת. The Mikra then says that for this reason a man leaves his father and mother and “cleaves to his wife” (וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ) so that they “become one flesh” (וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד).

The man and woman are naked (עֲרוּמִּים) at this point, but are not ashamed.

The Forbidden Fruit

[Bereshit 3:1]

The serpent (נָּחָשׁ) is now introduced, called the most arum (עָרוּם) of the animals – a homophone/ homograph of “naked,” here meaning “shrewd,” “clever.” He engages the woman in a conversation, asking her about forbidden fruits. She responds that it is only the fruit of a specific tree in (or in the center of) the garden that it is forbidden to eat or touch, the touching part being an addition to what the Mikra says earlier when the tree is introduced. If they do so, she tells the serpent, they will die. But the serpent claims that they will not die; rather, “G-d knows that on the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings, knowing good and evil” (כִּ֚י יֹדֵ֣עַ אֱלֹקים כִּ֗י בְּיוֹם֙ אֲכׇלְכֶ֣ם מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְנִפְקְח֖וּ עֵֽינֵיכֶ֑ם וִהְיִיתֶם֙ כֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים יֹדְעֵ֖י ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע).

The woman then notices three things about the Tree of Knowledge: (1) it’s good for eating from (טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֨ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל); (2) it’s a delight for the eyes (תַֽאֲוָה־ה֣וּא לָעֵינַ֗יִם); and (3) it is desirable as a source of knowledge (נֶחְמָ֤ד הָעֵץ֙ לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל). She takes the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and eats it, then gives some to the man. Their eyes, indeed, are opened; they perceive their nakedness and, apparently feeling shame that was previously absent, sew themselves belts out of fig leaves.

Sensing Hashem (וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־ק֨וֹל ה’ אֱלֹקים מִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ בַּגָּ֖ן לְר֣וּחַ הַיּ֑וֹם), the man and woman hide among the trees of the Garden of Eden. Called to answer, the man explains that he hid because “I was afraid on account of my being naked” (וָאִירָ֛א כִּֽי־עֵירֹ֥ם אָנֹ֖כִי). Hashem asks him how he knows this, and whether he ate from the forbidden tree. The man replies that the woman “who You put with me” gave him the fruit to eat. The woman, in turn, says that she was misled by the serpent.

In response, Hashem curses the serpent with crawling on its belly and living in constant enmity with humans. The woman is given pain in childbirth (בְּעֶ֖צֶב תֵּֽלְדִ֣י בָנִ֑ים), while nevertheless desiring her husband and being ruled by him (וְה֖וּא יִמְשׇׁל־בָּֽךְ). As for Adam – here named for the first time explicitly (לְאָדָם) – he is consigned to toiling for his nurturance, the ground accursed on his account (אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכְלֶ֔נָּה). It is reiterated that this is a lifelong process, to be engaged in until he dies, “for you are [but] dust and to dust you shall return” (כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב), a source for Jewish burial customs. The entire section of curses in response to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is lyrical, iconic, and profoundly influential.

The man names the woman Chava (Eve – חַוָּה); Hashem clothes the humans garments of skins.

Concerned that man (הָאָדָם) has become “like one of Us, knowing good and evil” (כְּאַחַ֣ד מִמֶּ֔נּוּ לָדַ֖עַת ט֣וֹב וָרָ֑ע), and that he could next eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, thereby “living forever” (וָחַ֥י לְעֹלָֽם), Hashem banishes Adam and Chava from the Garden of Eden. No less, He stations at the entrance to the Garden keruvim (cherubim – כְּרֻבִ֗ים) and a fiery revolving sword (לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת).

Kayin & Hevel (קין והבל)

[Bereshit 4:1]

We are now told that the man “knew” (יָדַע) his wife, Chava, who becomes pregnant and gives birth to Kayin (Cain – קַיִן). She continues to give birth to his brother, Hevel (Abel – הֶבֶל). Hevel becomes a shepherd and Kayin works the soil.

Kayin then brings an offering (minḥah – מִנְחָה) to Hashem from the fruits of the earth, while Hevel brings an offering of the best firstborns of his flock. Hashem accepts Hevel’s offering (וַיִּ֣שַׁע ה’ אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֽוֹ), but not Kayin’s. Kayin is devastated and “his face fell” (וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ פָּנָֽיו). Hashem questions Kayin’s response, telling him that if he does what is right, all will be well, but if he does not do right, “sin crouches at the door” (לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ); even so, while sin may compel him, “you can rule over it” (וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשׇׁל־בּֽוֹ).

Kayin turns to his brother, saying something to him that is left unspoken; in the field, Kayin kills Hevel (וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ). Hashem asks Kayin where his brother Hevel is. “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” is Kayin’s answer (לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי). But Hashem tells Kayin that his brother’s blood cries out at Him from the ground. He curses Kayin, so that the earth will yield him nothing of value, and consigns him to ceaseless wandering (נָ֥ע וָנָ֖ד תִּֽהְיֶ֥ה בָאָֽרֶץ).

Kayin considers this “greater punishment than I can bear” (גָּד֥וֹל עֲוֺנִ֖י מִנְּשֹֽׂא). He tells Hashem that anyone might kill him. In response, Hashem places a mark (אוֹת) on Kayin (the “mark of Cain”), protecting him from vengeance on pain of sevenfold punishment.

The Lineage of Kayin

[Bereshit 4:16]

Kayin leaves Hashem’s presence and settles in the Land of Nod (בְּאֶֽרֶץ־נ֖וֹד), east of Eden. He “knew” his wife; she becomes pregnant and gives birth to Chanoch (Enoch – חֲנוֹךְ). Kayin builds a city and names it for his son.

Chanoch has a son, Irad (עִירָד). Irad has a son, Mechuyael/Mechiyael (מְחִיָּיאֵל/מְחוּיָאֵל), who has a son, Metushael (מְת֣וּשָׁאֵ֔ל), who also has a son, Lemech (לֶ֖מֶךְ), i.e. Kayin’s great-great-great-grandson.

Lemech takes two wives, Adah (עָדָה) and Tzillah (צִלָּה). Adah gives birth to Yaval (יָבָל), the forefather of those who dwell in tents and herd animals, as well as the similarly named Yuval (וּבָל), the forefather of those who play the kinor (כִּנּוֹר – a stringed instrument) and ugav (עוּגָב – a wind instrument). Tzillah gives birth to Tuval-Kayin (תּוּבַל קַיִן), a forger of copper (נְחֹשֶׁת) and iron (בַרְזֶל) instruments, and his sister, Naamah (נַעֲמָה).

Next, Lemech informs his wives that he has committed manslaughter twice over in self-defense. He then declarers that as Kayin, his ancestor, was protected by the threat of sevenfold punishment, he, Lemech, is protected seventy-seven times over.

The Lineage of Adam down to Noach

[Bereshit 4:25]

We return now to Adam and Chava and are told the details of the ten generations between Adam and Noach (there will then be another ten generations between Noach and Avraham). After the death of Hevel, Chava gives birth to Shet (Seth – שֵׁת), whom she considers a kind of a compensation for her lost son. To Shet is born a son, Enosh (אֱנוֹשׁ). At the time of Enosh, we are told, “then the Name of Hashem began to be invoked” (אָ֣ז הוּחַ֔ל לִקְרֹ֖א בְּשֵׁ֥ם ה’). The commentators have different understandings of what this means, with most regarding it as a negative development.4

And then, another view of creation centered on Adam’s lineage: “This is the record of the origin of Adam (אָדָם) on the day that G-d created the human (אָדָם), making him in the image of G-d; He created them male and female and blessed them and called them by their name, human (אָדָם), on the day He created them.”5

זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹקים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹקים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת־שְׁמָם֙ אָדָ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִבָּֽרְאָֽם׃

Here we’re told that Adam was 130 years old when he had Shet. Then, over the course of 800 years, Adam had more sons and daughters. He died at age 930. This pattern of relating the details of the generations is maintained throughout this section.

The 10 generations from Adam to Noach are as follows:

  1. Adam – אָדָם – lives to 930
  2. Shet (Seth) – שֵׁת – lives to 912
  3. Enosh – אֱנוֹשׁ – lives to 905
  4. Keinan – קֵינָן – lives to 910
  5. Mehalalel – מַהֲלַלְאֵל – lives to 895
  6. Yered (Jared) – יֶרֶד – lives to 962
  7. Chanoch (Enoch) – חֲנוֹךְ – lives to 365 – note that this a different Chanoch than Kayin’s son of the same name; also, we are told that after his son Metushelach was born, “Chanoch walked with G-d” for 300 years (וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֨ךְ חֲנ֜וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹקים אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־מְתוּשֶׁ֔לַח שְׁלֹ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה) and that afterwards Hashem “takes him” (וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ חֲנ֖וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹקים וְאֵינֶ֕נּוּ כִּֽי־לָקַ֥ח אֹת֖וֹ אֱלֹקים).
  8. Metushelach (Methuselah) – מְתוּשֶׁלַח – lives to 969 – this makes him the longest-lived person in Tanakh.
  9. Lemech – לֶמֶךְ – lives to 777 – note that this is a different Lemech than Kayin’s great-great-great-grandson of the same name.
  10. Noach – נֹחַ – we’ll be told in Parashat Noach (Bereshit 9:29) that Noach lived to 950 – the narrative picks up here, noting the birth of Noach’s three sons, Shem (שֵׁם), Cham (Ham – חָם), and Yefet (Japhet – יֶפֶת).

Giants, wickedness & regret

[Bereshit 6:1]

The next section of the narrative is, in an already mysterious section of the Torah, highly enigmatic. Figures described as בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהים (bnei ha-elohim, a phrase of uncertain meaning) admire the beauty of the בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם (bnot ha-adam, literally “daughters of men”). There are various interpretations of what bnei elohim means; Rashi and the short (standard) Ibn Ezra suggest that it means judges (both give other possibilities as well).6 At this point, Hashem confines the human lifespan to 120 years.7 Beings called Nefilim (נְּפִלִים) appear at this time, meaning “fallen ones,” from נפל, the root “to fall”; their exact relationship to the bnei elohim is uncertain and discussed by various midrashim and the commentators. The Nefilim are generally regarded, following Rashi and others, as giants, i.e. having large stature and/or extraordinary strength, and are further described here as heroes or strongmen (גִּבֹּרִים) and as “men of renown” (אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם). Nefilim are mentioned again in Parashat Shelach during the episode of the meraglim, the 12 spies sent to reconnoiter the Land of Israel, where they’re referred to as בְּנֵי עֲנָק (bnei anak – the “sons of giants” – see Bemidbar 13:33).

Next, Hashem observes the constant bad behavior of human beings, noting that “the human’s wickedness is great in the land” (כִּ֥י רַבָּ֛ה רָעַ֥ת הָאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ) and “all the inclinations of the thoughts of his heart are only evil all the time” (וְכׇל־יֵ֙צֶר֙ מַחְשְׁבֹ֣ת לִבּ֔וֹ רַ֥ק רַ֖ע כׇּל־הַיּֽוֹם). Hashem regrets (וַיִּנָּחֶם) that He made human beings and is greatly saddened (וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ), vowing to obliterate (אֶמְחֶה) all life. With one exception—Noach “finds favor in the eyes of Hashem” (וְנֹ֕חַ מָ֥צָא חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֵ֥י ה’).

Haftarah summary: כה אמר הקל ה’

Yeshayahu 42:5-42:21 (Sefaradi) Yeshayahu 42:5-43:10 (Ashkenazi); Yeshayahu 42:1-16 (Teimani) [על-התורה]

The opening pasuk of the haftarah poetically recounts the entirety of creation, a clear link to Parashat Bereshit. Interestingly, the account here concludes, addressed to Am Yisrael, “I placed you in a covenant as a people be a light unto the nations (le-or goyim)” (אֲנִ֧י יְהֹוָ֛ה קְרָאתִ֥יךָֽ בְצֶ֖דֶק וְאַחְזֵ֣ק בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וְאֶצׇּרְךָ֗ וְאֶתֶּנְךָ֛ לִבְרִ֥ית עָ֖ם לְא֥וֹר גּוֹיִֽם). In other words, it presents at the culmination of creation the peoplehood of Jews and the task of illuminating the wider world. The phrase or-goyim occurs in two other places in Yeshayahu (which is non-chronological; these are the only places it occurs in Tanakh). The haftarah alludes to the spread of humans worldwide and to a time when all will sing “a new song to Hashem” (shiru le-Hashem shir chadash – שִׁירוּ לַה’ שִׁיר חָדָשׁ תְּהִלָּתוֹ מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ יוֹרְדֵי הַיָּם וּמְלֹאוֹ אִיִּים וְיֹשְׁבֵיהֶם), a commonly-heard refrain in Tehillim. However, Hashem says through Yeshayahu that in the future, He will punish transgressors and idolaters, screaming like a woman in labor (כַּיּוֹלֵדָ֣ה אֶפְעֶ֔ה אֶשֹּׁ֥ם וְאֶשְׁאַ֖ף יָֽחַד). Then, he will cause the blind and deaf (so to speak) to see and hear, leading them on new paths they had not previously known and, trying into the creation motifs in the haftarah, from darkness into light (וְהוֹלַכְתִּ֣י עִוְרִ֗ים בְּדֶ֙רֶךְ֙ לֹ֣א יָדָ֔עוּ בִּנְתִיב֥וֹת לֹא־יָדְע֖וּ אַדְרִיכֵ֑ם אָשִׂים֩ מַחְשָׁ֨ךְ לִפְנֵיהֶ֜ם לָא֗וֹר וּמַֽעֲקַשִּׁים֙ לְמִישׁ֔וֹר).

Image: “Outer space….or?” by Stefan Söderström is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


  1. Compare Yeshayahu 45:7, “I form light and create darkness, make peace and create evil, I, Hashem, make all these things,” יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע אֲנִי ה’ עֹשֶׂה כָל אֵלֶּה, and the euphemistic version of this pasuk that we say as the bracha Yotzer Or.
  2. But see Rashbam on Bereshit 1:3, a famously controversial comment that has occasionally been censored.
  3. According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, this is mitzvah 1 as well as the first mitzvat aseh (positive commandment) in the Torah. In Rambam, it’s Aseh 212 (codified in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Ishut 15), although he hangs it not on this pasuk (1:28) but on the command given to Noach after the flood in Bereshit 9:7, in the next parashah. (Noach is also commanded to “be fruitful and multipy” a few lines up, in Bereshit 9:1; and the command of “be fruitful and multiply” is given to animals in Bereshit 1:22 and again after the flood in Bereshit 8:17, for a total of three times for humans and twice for humans.) The commandment to be fruitful and multiply is explored in Yevamot beginning on 61b and is the subject of first siman in Even ha-Ezer (Tur and Shulchan Aruch). In his famous opening comment to the Torah, Rashi suggests that the first commandment should be accounted as the one given to Bnei Yisrael as a people in Shemot 12:2, the commandment to calculate the months: אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק לֹֹֹֹֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ לְהַתְחִיל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה אֶלָּא מֵהַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, שֶׁהִיא מִצְוָה רִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁנִּצְטַוּוּ בָּהּ יִשׂרָאֵל, וּמַה טַּעַם פָּתַח בִּבְרֵאשִׁית? The Chinuch calls Rashi’s first mitzvah mitzvah 4; see Parashat Bo.
  4. Compare this to Bereshit 12:8 in Parashat Lech Lecha (in reference to Avram): וַיִּבֶן שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ לַה’ וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם ה’.
  5. Compare the more generalized parallel passage in Divrei Hayamim I 1:1-4.
  6. And see Bereshit Rabbah 26:5, רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי מְקַלֵּל לְכָל מַאן דְּקָרֵא לְהוֹן בְּנֵי אֱלָהַיָּא.
  7. The pasuk reads: יֹּאמֶר ה’ לֹא יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם בְּשַׁגַּם הוּא בָשָׂר וְהָיוּ יָמָיו מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה (“Hashem said, ‘My breath shall not abide in humankind forever, since it too (be-she-gam) is flesh; let the days allowed them be one hundred and twenty years’”). Chazal saw in the word בשגם a hint within Sefer Bereshit to Moshe, since the gematria of this unusual word form adds up to that of Moshe’s name, and Moshe famously lived for 120 years according to Devarim 34:7; see Chullin 139b.

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