Parshat Bereshit: Goodness as the ruling principle

The Torah is the divine instruction for humankind, given to the Jewish people to define their identity in order to be its bearers, and be the light for the nations. The Jewish sages remark that before this instruction was given there was a “way for the Earth” as the ruling principle that the Torah would reiterate through specific ways known as its commandments. This previous way established for humankind advocates for goodness as the origin and purpose in God’s creation, and we find it “In the beginning”.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Since then, God’s instruction for humankind defines, separates, differentiates, and ultimately divide all that we perceive, see, and assimilate in the world we are as reflections and connotations of the ethical expression of this ruling principle. Hence “heaven” and “earth” can be understood as points from which we interact and relate to this principle, as we do with “above” and “below”. Also, as what falls comes from above, and that we descend or ascend as moral references. This dynamics works as we discern and understand that ethical principle.

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” (1:2)

Our discernment and understanding put “order” as we find differences, traits, and qualities in what we see in our surroundings as “unformed”, “void” and “darkness”, which we must approach based on the same ethical principle which we read here as “the Spirit of God” on the “waters” that sustain life. Thus we understand that goodness is the Spirit with which God “orders” or “ordains” His creation, no matter how unformed, void or dark it may be.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there is light. And God saw the light that it is good, and God divided the light from the darkness.” (1:3-4)

These two verses culminate and set forever God’s will, for light as the abstract form of goodness is what matters the most in His creation. Light is what puts everything in its place by defining its purpose, and in this context it separates or divides accordingly. From here all that comes to be created by God requires or implies the ethical principle shaped by goodness.

“And God saw everything that He had made. And, behold, it was very good (…)” (1:31)

This verse seals what we have pointed out, that goodness is the origin, reason and purpose of God’s creation; and under this ruling principle that has existed even before His creation, humankind is instructed to approach itself and all that exists, as well as the interaction among them; until we decide not to choose to approach His creation but with what we imagine different, even not knowing what is about.

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” (3:6)

The question arises about what the woman “saw” in the tree that was “good to eat”, and “a delight to the eyes”, “to be desired to make one wise”, and what kind of wisdom are we talking about that made her “eat”. Applying the ethical principle with which the Torah instructs us to approach life and the world, the conclusion is that the “fruit” offered something different, very different from goodness, no matter how much “wise” it pretended to be.

Since then we live in the duality to which we are bound to live in order to choose goodness as the origin, reason and purpose of life. This is the ruling principle that we as Jews are commanded to adopt in order to justify it, and exercise it as our identity in order to share it with humankind and enlighten the world to be as “very good” as God created it.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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