Human beings have an incredible appetite for being entertained. The television season for the summer of 2013 has just finished, and the fall schedule is slowly being introduced. I mention television because we have just finished celebrating Simchat Torah, the holiday on which we begin reading the Torah once again, and a few of this summer’s reality competitions came to my mind when I began to think about starting Genesis (Bereishit) once again.
Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls, which aired on NBC, took ten teams of two to the raw nature of New Zealand. Following the advice of the show’s host, expert survivalist Bear Grylls, these teams were sent on overnight expeditions through marvelous, and treacherous, terrain. They marched through swamps, scaled mountains, pulled themselves by rope over vast gullies and rode down white water in self-made rafts. Beyond those challenges, the teams also had to find shelter in difficult circumstances, start fires and find food (including “indulging” in the insects Bear Grylls handed to them as power protein snacks). These teams, one of whom was sent home each week, learned how to look at nature and see that everything they needed to survive could be found if they were willing.
The Torah begins with the words Bereishit bara Elokim, “In the beginning of God’s creating”…and the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis are a detailed description of God’s actions in creating the world. At the end of creating the world, God formed Adam, put him in the garden, gave him life and told him that everything was for him except for one tree.
A man like Bear Grylls still lives by the understanding that even in the harshest terrain, God still created the means for human survival. Just look at the fact that where most people see an insect and think “yuck,” Bear Grylls sees protein. Now insects may not be kosher, but Jewish law has always been very clear that saving a life (including one’s own) takes precedence over kashrut.
Certainly God did not intend for human beings to be extreme survivalists, but God did create a complete world in which humankind, His final creation, could find the necessities of survival.
The second reality show that made me think of the opening chapters of the Torah was Whodunnit?, which aired on ABC. This real life Clue-game provided its participants and viewers with one gruesome murder per week. The victim of choice was the show-participant deemed least capable of understanding the clues from the previous murder. (Don’t worry, the actual murders were staged.)
Since Cain and Abel, humankind has been fascinated with murder. Indeed, murder is the plot driver to thousands of books and movies. Neither the Torah nor the Midrashim try to cover Abel’s murder up as a case of manslaughter, an accidental death, which Cain then tried to hide and deny.
Up until the moment Cain slew Abel, it was obvious that human beings could create life and bring forth food from the ground – all of which are part of the natural order God set in motion in the world. When Cain took Abel’s life, it was discovered that humankind also had the ability to destroy.
Some might wonder what is to be gained by studying the Torah over and over, year in and year out. Today’s “hit reality series” demonstrate the words of King Solomon, who said “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Whether it is surviving in nature or tracking a murder, or, for that matter, rebellions, rebellious sons, or family feuds (not to mention a few stories of love, friendship and dedication), the Torah has it all.