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What Is the Meaning of Life?
Video 2 of 7
Last week I suggested to you that the answers to those questions from the perspective of the Torah might well be found in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. The reason for that is because if you think about the question what meaning is there in my life, another way of rephrasing that question is what am I doing in this world? Or to put it in the largest possible terms, what is mankind supposed to be doing in the cosmos? So the answer to that question - at least from the Torah's point of view - it would seem logical that it would be found in the Torah's account of creation of the cosmos and the placing of man within that cosmos. In other words, if the Torah is telling us about the creation of this huge, big environment and man being created and placed in there, then it would make sense that the meaning of man's relationship to that large environment, the cosmos, would somehow come in that story. So it would be a good place to look for this thing that we call the meaning of life, in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis, but where would we find it?
So I mentioned to you last week that the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis actually comprised two different stories. Two different stories that seem to actually tell about the same events but they seem at face value to be contradictory. I suggested that the stories are not really contradictory and they're not really the product of two different authors, but they're actually two perspectives of the same story. The Torah is kind of triangulating things as it were, using a line of sight in this direction and a line of sight in that direction that sort of intersect to give you a view of who man is in the cosmos, in the sharpest possible way. It's a story that needs to be told in two stories, because there really are two legitimate perspectives on this thing. You can see things in this way and you can see things in that way and the truth is in the mysterious merger of these two stories.
So today I want to actually go through these two stories with you and maybe let me just begin by jogging our memories to what actually is in story 1 - what does story 1 look like and what does story 2 look like. Okay, so here's my really quick summary of these two stories. So Genesis story 1 is basically Genesis Chapter 1, and Genesis Chapter 1 pretty much goes through the famous Six Days of Creation. In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was formless and void and there was darkness on the face of the deep, and there was that spirit of G-d that was hovering over the waters. Then in the very first day G-d says, let there be light, and that's the beginning of this grand creative process that unfolds over these six days, culminating on the sixth day with the creation of animals and the creation of mankind. Mankind is created in G-d's image - B'tzelem Elokim. Zachar u'nekeiva barah otom - G-d creates them both male and female and then gives them a famous blessing, to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue the earth, they're going to be master of fish, of fowl, of animals and they're going to be able to eat of the grasses of the field.
That's pretty much creation story 1. Creation story 1 gets capped off with the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, man is not actually explicitly told to keep the Sabbath now, the commands to keep the Sabbath occur much later in the Book of Exodus, but [what have we here 3:57], we have this little window into G-d's own world. Actually, it's one of the only windows we have into what it's like to be G-d from almost an emotional standpoint. G-d gets very excited about this day; Vayevarech Elokim et yom hashevi'i vayekadesh oto - G-d blesses the day, G-d sanctifies the day because on this day G-d rested from all of the creative activity that He was involved in. That's basically story number 1. The six days of creation culminating in the seventh day of creation, man gets created at the end and that's pretty much the story.
Okay so, so much for story 1, we'll get into the actual verses and we'll look at it in more detail, let's go to story 2.
Story 2 is much more fragmented, seemingly. I'm going to actually sketch out the story to you, but it's not this nice, sort of orderly, day after day after day of more complex creation, it seems almost fragmented with all these digressions. Here's pretty much the way the story lays itself out. It begins with the phrase; Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz behibaram - these are the generations of heaven and earth as they were being created, and that itself already gets things off onto kind of an awkward foot. I mean, what does it even mean, these are the generations of heaven and earth? Later on we get that kind of phraseology when we talk about people; These are the generations of Noah, and then we get to hear about Noah's kids; These are the generations of Isaac, and all that sort of makes sense. But to talk about inanimate objects these ways; These are the generations of heavens and earth, seems strange, shall we say?
But anyway, we hear about this introductory sentence of; These are the generations of heaven and earth. Then we have a few more introductory sentences that there was no vegetation in the land and it hadn't quite rained yet and then there was this mist that rises up from the ground, and then there's some rain. Then G-d creates man, creates him out of the dust of the earth, or out of the clay, breathes into him breath of life and now you have man.
Next thing that happens is G-d decides He's going to plant Himself a garden, so He plants this Garden of Eden and then places man in this garden. Okay, next thing that happens we hear that G-d makes all these wonderful trees, these beautiful trees, trees that are good to eat, and we hear about these two special trees in the garden, which are going to be the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. We'll talk a little bit more about those later. Next thing that happens is these rivers. There's this river that comes out of Eden and diverges into four headwaters and we hear exactly where they go. The name of the river is Pishon and it goes around the land of Chavilah, and then we hear about the gold over there was really good and there were these nice stones and mineral deposits over there. Then there's another river that goes over here and then there's the Euphrates River that goes over here.
Then we hear again that G-d takes man, puts him in the garden; L'ovdah ul'shomrah - he has a job there, he's supposed to take care of the garden and he's supposed to watch over it. So basically at this point G-d says, look, there are these special trees over here, I need you to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because on the day that you eat from it you're going to die.
Now we shift to an entirely different topic in creation story number 2, now we get his female companion. G-d says it's not good for man to be alone, I'm going to create a helper along with him. G-d decides - He creates all these animals and asks man to sort of see if he's going to find a mate among the animals. So Adam tries them all out; the hippopotamus, the flamingo, nothing really works, man is very despondent, G-d puts man to sleep and then takes a rib from him, builds the rib into Eve, presents this woman to him, and suddenly man is very happy. He joyously proclaims; A bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh, I'm going to call her woman because she's taken from man. In Hebrew the word Isha for woman, literally means from a man. Then we hear that this explains the reason why men leave their parents ultimately; Al kein ya'azav ish et aviv v'et imo, and decide to get married; V'davak b'ishto vehayu l'basar echad - and become one flesh with woman.
Then we transition into the story of the temptation of the tree of knowledge. They're both naked, they're not embarrassed, the snake comes along and tempts them, they eat from this tree. G-d gets very angry with them, they realize they're naked, suddenly they're ashamed that they're naked and basically G-d dispenses a whole bunch of punishments. The woman is told that she's going to have pain in childbirth, the man is told that he's going to have a hard time harvesting produce from the land, everyone is going to die eventually, they're all kicked out of the garden.
Basically these are the two stories. The first story is basically this rollout of the six days of creation in a nice, neat order, culminating with the Sabbath. The second story is this little bit more weaving in and out, complicated story of creation of the heaven and earth, and there's this mist, and then there was man, and then there's vegetation and then there's animals, and there's this tree of knowledge of good and evil, garden, and that whole story. Okay, so those are the two stories, and that pretty much - the way I've described it to you now, is what happens when we read through the stories in a linear kind of way. In other words, you start from Genesis 1 and you read through the creation story 1, and then you get into this second version of creation that seems to be very different. The emphasis on everything is different, the order of everything is different, and most of the time that's how we read it, we just read one and then flowing into another.
What I want to do with you right now is a kind of grand experiment. Instead of reading it in a linear kind of way, I want to read these stories in a side-by-side kind of way, almost as if we're comparing them as they develop. At least I want to start out that way. So here's my challenge to you, get ready and you can open your Bible and try to do this with me. Let's take the beginnings of each story, and read them side by side.
And if we do I think we're actually going to find something really pretty remarkable, which is that these aren't two different stories like Cadillac's and apples that have nothing to do with each other, they're actually very related to each other. It's hard to escape the impression that the beginnings - actually the very first three verses of each story are almost like just mirror images of each other. It's almost like if you look at the first one and then you just turn around and look at it from the other side, it just turns into the second one. It's actually marvelous. And to me that's the greatest kind of proof that these stories are not just unrelated bits of text that happens to be one comes before the other, but they are very intimately related to one another, there's just no escaping of it.
Here is where you really begin to see, I think, the same story kind of unfolding with two entirely different perspectives. Let's go to the first three verses of each story and just try to compare them. What we're going to do is read the verse and try to sort of name them. I read verse one, what's the best title for that verse? Verse 2, what's the best title for that verse? Verse 3, what's the best title for that verse? We'll do this in both stories and we're going to find, by the way, that what's happening in each of these verses is very different, but the title for what's happening, that actually is the same.
Let's dive in with creation story number 1. First verse; Bereishis barah Elokim et hashomayim v'et ha'aretz - in the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. What do you learn about in this verse? Well you learn about who the creator is, right? The creator is G-d. And you learn what He created, He created heavens and earth. So basically the title of this verse is, Who is the Creator and What is the Created? In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth. Okay very good.
Next verse, what would you say the title of this verse is? Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu - and the world was completely formless and void, it was utter chaos. V'choshech al pnei tehom - and it was darkness upon the face of the deep. V'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei hamayim - and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the waters. So basically the way the Bible is portraying this is, is that nothing has really happened yet, this is sort of the pre-creation chaos, so let's call that our title for verse number 2, The Pre-creation Chaos; the way things were before any creator here got involved.
Now verse 3 is what? Vayomer Elokim yehi or - and G-d says, let there be light; Vayehi or - and in fact there was light. So this is the beginning of everything. If you think about it in a cosmological kind of way, that first burst of light and energy in modern scientific terms, maybe you'd call that the big bang, you know, it's the beginning of everything, we're all children of that, everything develops from that. So basically verse 3 is going to be, The First Glimmer of Everything.
So again, verse 1; Who is the Creator, Who is the Created? Verse 2; The Chaos That Was There Before Anything Got Started. Verse number 3 is; The First Glimmer of Creation from which Everything Eventually Flows.
What's fascinating is, leave world 1 behind now and now go to creation story 2 and you're going to find the same titles hold. The description of what's happening under each title, again, very different, but it's the same titles. Listen. Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz - these are the generations of heaven and earth; Behibaram - in as much as they themselves were created; B'yom asos Hashem Elokim eretz ve'shamayim - on the day that G-d made heavens and earth.
What happened in that verse? If you look at it carefully you actually learn some information about who the creator was and who the created was. You see the last time around the Torah portrays the creator as G-d; In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. Here you have the same heavens and earth - Eretz and Shamayim, that get mentioned, except this time how are they being portrayed? Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz - these are the generations of heaven and earth. Almost as if heaven and earth are themselves animate beings, almost as if they themselves are giving birth to something, like they're creators. Because think about, they're being portrayed almost as parents here. There's heaven and there's earth and there's generations that come from them. Everything that follows is like going to come from them.
So what happens is, if you look at story 1, heaven and earth is the object of creation. In the beginning G-d (the subject) created (verb) heaven and earth. Heaven and earth are the objects of creation. Story number 2, the object becomes the subject. Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz behibaram - these are the generations that emerge from heaven and earth. Now look what happens, we get the sort of parenthetical mention of G-d in story 2, as if we're being reminded, oh by the way; Behibaram - these are the generations of heaven and earth, as they were being created; B'yom asos Hashem Elokim eretz ve'shamayim - on the day that G-d happened to make these things. So it's like, oh yeah, don't worry, G-d created them too, but look who is in the spotlight now. The spotlight is heaven and earth themselves.
Just grammatically by the way, you get the first time round; Bereishis barah Elokim - Barah is a very direct verb, G-d created. Look how indirect it is in story 2. These are the generations of heaven and earth; Behibaram - in as much as they were created. Passive. They were created by G-d. But it's almost like G-d is lurking behind this curtain over here and - He's of course the creator of heaven and earth but it's almost like He's saying, hey guys, you take center stage right now, I'm telling your story now. In fact, it really is their story now, the story of heaven and earth.
I want to suggest to you that this is the fundamental difference between these two stories. Two perspectives on the same story. The greatest question you could ask of all possible questions is who is the creator? Story 1 has an unambiguous answer, it is G-d. Story 2 has a much more ambiguous answer, it's heaven and earth in as much as they were created on the day that G-d created them. It's very convoluted, but that's the answer. Almost as if heaven and earth are like proxies for the creator over here. It's like they're front and center, you could see the world developing from them. Of course G-d created them so of course G-d is the creator and G-d is involved and He gets involved in the creation of man we'll see. It's almost like G-d has this role, He's like sort of midwifing events, but He's sort of sticking His children heaven and earth up there on the stage and saying, this is the story about you guys. What's going to happen is that in the story the Torah is going to emphasize how everything really develops from heaven and earth.
Because think about it, if they are the great parents, how do they interact to create? You see G-d in story number 1 He's a unilateral creator, He creates all by Himself, but heaven and earth by definition are two, they create together, they interact in order to create. What is the great way that heaven interacts with earth? What is the medium of their interaction?
Of course the answer is, rain. You even hear the beginnings of it in terms of rain's absence in the very next verse. The next verse by the way is going to be - what's the title for verse 2? The chaos, the desolation, that was before the creator sort of enters the scene and starts doing stuff. So what is the picture of the desolation that was in world number 2? It's a picture that interestingly enough is a mirror image of the picture that we got of desolation in story 1. Let's just remind ourselves what did desolation look like in story 1, if you had to picture it in your mind what did desolation look like? Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu - back in story 1 - the world, it was formless and void, it was really chaotic. There was darkness - it was darkness everywhere. But darkness over the face of the deep - and that's a water word. So there's water around. Then; Ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei hamayim - the spirit of G-d is hovering over the face of these waters. So there's water everywhere and it's really dark, that's what desolation looks like in world number 1.
But look what desolation looks like in world number 2. If you would look at heaven and earth as creators, what would heaven and earth consider to be a desolate landscape? A landscape devoid of all fertility, devoid of all vegetation, because vegetation is really the children of heaven and earth, the most obvious children; grasses, plants, trees. If you don't have any grasses and trees it's just a parched earth. If you don't have any rain it's just parched. Listen actually to how the verse describes it. Verse 2, the picture of desolation in story 2. V'kol si'ach hasadeh - and this was before all the grasses of the field; Terem yiheye ba'aretz - before they were in the land. V'kol eisev hasadeh terem yitzmach - and before all the vegetation had a chance to grow. It was just parched earth. Why? Ki lo himtir Hashem Elokim al ha'aretz - because G-d had not yet caused it to rain. Plus, just as a kicker; V'Adam ayin la'avod et ha'adamah - man wasn't there yet to till the earth.
Because there's two things that allow ground to be fertile, there's rain and then there's the midwife, in this case there's man who would be the terrestrial midwife and he's going to help till the land and help encourage the fertility of land through his agricultural prowess. But there wasn't any man yet and there wasn't any rain yet, so what was there? Dry, parched earth, baking in the sun. That's desolation from the perspective of world 2 creators, heaven and earth. That's what they would think desolation is.
It's exactly the opposite of desolation in picture 1. Desolation in picture 1 is a dark water world, desolation in picture 2 is a parched earth baking in the sun. Light everywhere but no water.
That leads us to verse 3, the beginnings of life. Verse 3 back in the first story was about light, this great explosion of energy from which the rest of the universe somehow comes into being and gets created over these six days of creation. But that's not the beginnings of creation if you look at heaven and earth as the creators. A heaven interacting with earth, what's the beginning of their children? The beginning of their children, the very first glimmer of life, comes from the interaction between the two. Listen to the third verse; V'eid ya'aleh min ha'aretz - mist came up from the ground and the mist coalesced into clouds. The clouds darkened the rays of the sun, cast a life-giving shadow in the form of clouds over the earth and came down as rain; Vehishkah et kol pnei ha'adamah - and watered all the face of the ground, making it fertile grounds for the life that would come. That is the beginning of life coming into the world in creation world number 2.
So the titles here in both of these worlds, it's all the same. Who is the creator, who is the created, that's verse 1. What did chaos look like, pre-creation chaos, that's verse 2. What's the first glimmer of life, that's verse 3. But everything else is a mirror image. One story is a perspective where you look at G-d the direct creator in charge of it all, and you see it from that point of view. Then there's another point of view that you can see it as, a point of view in which somehow G-d trots out heaven and earth on the scene and says look at these guys as creating you, and then everything is going to develop from the interaction of heaven and earth. At least everything that happens on our lonely planet earth; man, animals, fish, fowl, vegetation, all the stuff that story 2 is going to be concerned with, is developing right over here out of the interaction of heaven and earth. That's the beginning of these two stories, the first three verses.
The first three verses set the tone for everything that follows. The first three verses of each story launch you on a journey, but the journey is much greater than just those three verses. Everything that happens next is an unfolding of the implications contained in those first verses.
Let me show you just a little bit what I mean by that, in, for example, story 2. If story 2 begins with this idea that heavens and earth are creators, and everything that flows follows from them, look at how that starts to play out in the rest of the story. G-d creates man in story number 2 but how? I don't hear about the Tzelem Elokim stuff - this image of G-d stuff, instead I hear that he is created from the ground; Aphar min ha'adamah - from this fertile ground. It had rained on the ground, now G-d takes this fertile ground and creates man and He blows into him the breath of life. So there's these almost like three partners in creation; there's heaven now, and there's earth now, and there's G-d, and somehow all of that is part of this complicated picture of how man emerges. But it's very clear that part of the story here is ground. He creates man from the ground. It's not the only thing that has to do with ground, everything that follows is going to have to do with the ground.
Next verse; Vayitah Hashem Elokim gan b'Eden, is it a coincidence that G-d decides to go planting in the ground a garden? He's making the summer home for Himself in the world, this garden, that He can be in. The very first agricultural tender of the earth, as it turns out, was not man, surprisingly, the very first tender of the earth turns out to be G-d. G-d takes care of the earth, He's the one who midwifes the earth's fertility and He plants this garden. It's almost as if He's teaching man how to do it. This is what you do with earth to help make it fertile. You see, it's all playing out here, you can't ignore the earth, it's all a function of the earth. Next verse; Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah - and G-d causes to grow out of the ground all of the trees. So the trees are coming from the ground. These beautiful trees.
Then we have this digression about the rivers, but it's not a digression if you look at it from the perspective of heaven and earth, because if their main interaction is rain, how does that rain get everywhere else in the earth? Well the rain coalesces into rivers, and it's through rivers that the beginnings of life that were localized one place then spread out to the rest of the earth. The rivers are vitally important from the perspective of heaven and earth. The rivers go and they go in these different directions and then we hear about the mineral deposits in the land, the gold over here and the minerals over there, and that's also vitally important from the perspective of earth. If you're earth then the mineral deposits matter. It's how these creators look at the story.
The of course, what's man's role? He's put in the garden; L'ovdah ul'shomrah - to guard it and to work it. Man's goal is to better the earth and to take care of it, but his goal is conceived in reference to the earth. Next thing that happens is out of the earth G-d is going to make all of the animals come. So you see how everything is flowing from the earth, it's a very heaven-and-earth-perspective thing, they really are the generators - these are the generations that are flowing from them. It's almost as if heaven and earth have a grandchild too, because the next thing that happens is that Eve gets created from Adam. So if Adam is a child of the earth, a grandchild of the earth is going to be Eve, because Eve is taken from Adam. So everything is really flowing - these truly are the generations of heaven and earth.
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