Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lesson one recap:

Thank you for joining us for our first lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. We’ve covered a lot of big ideas in this class. Here’s a quick review of the major points.

A. Why Study the Stories of the Torah?

Torah comes from the word hora’ah, which means “instruction.” At first glance, one might expect such a book to contain only laws and instructions. However, the real purpose of the Torah is not merely to convey law. Rather, it is to transform us from within. Torah seeks to mold our character through its teachings. Thus these stories are not simply records of our early history. The stories of the Torah provide eternal insight.

As the “People of the Book,” it is the Torah that has maintained our cohesiveness as a people. Indeed, when we became a people, we did not have language, land, government, or common parentage to unite us (as many other people joined the children of Israel when they left Egypt). We became a nation at Sinai by virtue of receiving the Torah. Our national identity as Jews is intertwined with our spiritual legacy.

B. The Original “Human Genome Project”

We next discuss the dual nature of humans. Adam was made from the most elevated components, more exalted than anything else in creation. The Torah tells us that G-d “breathed a soul into his nostrils,” as opposed to all the other creatures that G-d “spoke” into existence. Breath comes from deep within, and the human soul originates from a uniquely deep “aspect” of G-d’s “inner” being.

Yet Adam also consisted of the lowliest elements of creation. His body was molded from the very earth itself.

Because of this dual nature, humans are empowered to elevate even the lowest elements of creation into a very distinct potential. Yet this dual nature also creates a potential pitfall. Humans are prone to develop a sense of their own self-importance, independent of their purpose for being.

C. Setting the Stage: The Garden of Eden

The conclusion of our lesson examined the Garden of Eden, its physical and spiritual components, and its nature before the sin. The garden included two special trees: the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. The word “knowledge,” in a Biblical sense, implies intimacy with the object of knowledge. At the human level, knowledge implies the existence of something distinct from the knower is internalized and has profound impact on the knower. Thus, knowledge can make humans vulnerable, and that is why the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was forbidden.

The Tree of Life was comprised of pure divinity, the essence of life. Eating from this tree would result in immortality. Before the sin, eating from this tree was permitted. However, after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil humans would find that evil was internalized into their very being. Thus, death became necessary in order to purge the evil from the body so that the soul could reconnect with its source of life.

Our first lesson examined creation, man and woman, and their backdrop of the Garden of Eden. Next week we will explore the nature of evil and sin and discuss its effects upon the human experience.

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