By Rochelle Miller
“Creation: The Story of Beginnings” by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Grossman, associate professor in the Department of Bible at Bar-Ilan University, is an erudite work that will have deep resonance for any curious reader interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the Chumash.
The first perakim of Sefer Bereishis differ greatly in style and design from the rest of the Chumash. Rabbi Grossman looks at how Bereishis fits into the history of the Near East and then at the nature of Hashem and humanity. In the first 11 chapters of the Chumash, we see that Hashem is very active with His creation and the beginning of time. This was a complex process and through these chapters we see it come into being.
When we consider that these early chapters contain the creation of physical reality, of humanity, and man’s encounter with the Almighty, the first social interactions, and the beginning of civilization, we realize that there is a great deal more than we thought. The very idea of a perfect Utopian world is broken and we are taken into deep shame and disappointment with the beginning of sin. What is so refreshing is that at the same time, we gain insight of what will follow.
Both the classical tradition of pshat interpretation and modern critical theory inform “Creation: The Story of Beginnings.” This rich and highly learned volume also incorporates Midrashic material, modern Bible scholarship, and contemporary Jewish thought. The author draws new meaning from the great Torah luminaries and commentators such as Ibn Ezra and the Ramban. In the opening chapters of Sefer Bereishis, as Professor Grossman observes, we witness “a world where primal boundaries have not yet been stabilized, where giants walk and terrorize all around.” He offers a 21st-century account, using the tools made available by contemporary scholarship and rich mesorah.
According to Professor Grossman, the opening narration of Bereishis depicts humanity gradually achieving independence from Hashem and shows how human initiative goes hand-in-hand with both sin and progress. This volume is part of the Maggid Tanakh Companion Series and is published in conjunction with Yeshiva University Press.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.