There is a rather stark contrast between parashat Bereishit and its accompanying haftarah.
The G”d of parashat B’reishit is grand yet not particularly personal (or personable?)
Yes, the G”d of parashat B’reishit is most directly and intimately involved with the creation of human beings, and this G”d has a relationship with those beings. G”d speaks to them. Nevertheless, about the most personal this G”d becomes in this narrative is the treatment of Cain – even though Cain murdered his brother, G”d was moved by Cain’s plea to protect him from certain death. (Whether this was a mercy on G”d’s part or actually intended to be a form of additional punishment is unclear.)
The G”d of Isaiah’s prophecies in the haftarah is grand as well, but keenly personal – a protector, a savior and a redeemer.
In the JPS Haftarah Commentary, Michael Fishbane points out how the parasha uses verbs in the completed tense – G”d did this and G”d blessed that whereas Isaiah uses many participle verb forms – indicative, says Fishbane of a continuous and continuing acts of G”d, of G”d acts of creation.
I’ve written before that for most of our history, the creation stories of parashat B’reishit have been mostly seen as metaphorical, and only the most fundamentalist of Jewish interpretations would consider either of the two creation narratives presented as intended to be an actual physical description of those events,
The prophecies in the haftarah from Isaiah are also metaphorical in nature. Yet very different metaphors are used. Isaiah’s G”d is a loving (yet stern) parent.
It’s obvious, why the difference, isn’t it? In the creation narratives of parashat B’reishit, we have a G”d that is creating an entire universe, an entire planet and people on it. In Isaiah we are reading of the specific relationship of G”d to the people Yisrael. So naturally one is going to feel more personal than the other, especially to we descendants (physically or spiritually) Yisrael. Right?
Doesn’t that trouble you? It troubles me. Is it only once G”d has established a covenant with the Israelites that G”d establishes a more personal relationship? As G”d’s creation from the get go, are not all people equally entitled to a G”d that is a stern yet loving parent? A G”d that will protect and redeem them?
There are obviously flaws in the model-as demonstrated by the Flood and Midgal Bavel (the Tower of Babel.) For that matter we have the whole serpent thing, and Cain’s murder of Abel. I know I’m getting ahead of the story, but did it really take until G”d finally got to Abraham for G”d to realize that a more direct and personal approach was needed if G”d’s creations were to even come close to the expectations G”d had (has?) for them? Slow learner, this G”d. But we already know that.
If the creation stories of B’reishit are metaphoric, why not choose a storyline that has a G”d personally connected to all of humanity with a covenant? (Well, duh, if that were the case we wouldn’t be here discussing this now, would we? Ah, but I hear you say – humanity does get a covenant next week – a rainbow covenant! It’s a pretty one way covenant – G”d promise to never again destroy the earth – but with the escape clause of by flood.
If one brings a child into this world, one certainly has obligations and responsibilities for it. Why is G”d allowed to create a universe without having similar obligations and responsibilities?
Imagine Isaiah’s G”d in the B’reishit narrative. All of a sudden, there is a clearer intention in G”d’s acts of creation. Also, a clear acceptance by G”d of the responsibility to care for those creations.
Ah, but then I think how prideful and selfish this viewpoint is. Now all of creation is focused on humanity. G”d created all of this for us. (That is a likely viewpoint of our ancient ancestors – one of their answers to the question of why this universe is as it is.) At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if our ancestors were smart enough to know that a creation narrative with a personable G”d may have led us to greater hubris than we already come by naturally. That perhaps this is why the G”d of parashat B’reishit and the G”d of Isaiah are not the same.
Yet we still managed to muck it all up in any case. Pretty soon, not only was the universe created for humankind, it was created so that there might be Jews. All of a sudden Torah existed before Sinai. Even before creation. So did, according to Talmud, repentance, Gan Eden (as paradise,) hell, G”d’s throne, the Holy Temple, and Moshiach’s name. WTF?
While there are imperfections (gasp!) in both the G”d of parashat B’resiehit and the G”d of haftarah B’reishit, I think perhaps I’ll settle for leaving them as they are in those respective stories, without mixing their metaphors. For now.
©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
B’reishit 5772 – The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B’reishit 5771 – B’reishit Bara Anashim
B’reishit 5770 – One G”d, But Two Trees?
B’reishit 5769 – Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors
B’reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D’mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd’s Regrets
Bereshit 5762–The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763–Striving to be Human
Bereshit 5761–Chava’s Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand