A Brief History of the World: From Adam to Abraham | Aleph Beta

From Adam To Abraham in Genesis

A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham


Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Over the course of this 11-part audio lecture, Rabbi Fohrman looks at the stories in the Torah from Adam to Abraham to see how they intertwine and what overarching message emerges when we put these stories side by side.

A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham is the first of four sets of lecture series that span the entire book of Genesis! Be sure to listen to it all! The remaining sets of lecture series are: Abraham's Journey 1, Abraham's Journey 2, and Jacob: Man of Truth?

For a more recent and condensed version of A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham, we recommend listening to Genesis Unveiled.

PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 1
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 2
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 3
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 4A
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 4B
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 4C
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 5
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 6
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 7A
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 7B
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 8
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 9
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 10
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 10B
(Premium only!)
PowerPoint Presentation
Brief History Powerpoint 11
(Premium only!)


Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, and we're back with a new series conceived of as a six or seven-part series, we'll see how long it actually takes us. We'll be doing one class a week and the title is: "A Brief History of the World from Adam to Abraham."

Usually when I do series with you in the past we've taken a relatively short section of text and kind of jumped around and looked at some other sections of text, but essentially we were studying something rather small – at least in terms of the amount of verses we were looking at. For example, in our last series the Phantom Akeidah, we explored the expulsion of Ishmael, a very short story, and its relationship to the Akeidah, another very short story. We had looked over 12 parts at the story of the aftermath of the Golden Calf and the shattered Tablets, and the calf of gold. They are three chapters or so.

Here I have something a little bit more ambitious in mind and we'll see how it works. The idea is to look at a great, rather larger swath of text really, and that's where the title "A Brief History of the World" comes from, because we're actually going to be doing two paradoxical things at once. We'll be looking in depth if we can, but we're also going to be looking briefly at a very large section of the Torah.

Essentially what we've carved out for ourselves is at least a dozen chapters, maybe more. We'll be looking at the story of creation all the way from the very first verse in Genesis from the, in the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth, all the way through the Abraham stories. We'll see how far we get in this series.

My goal is to get at least up to Abraham and possibly through the Abraham stories, bringing us up until the story of the Phantom Akeidah, the expulsion of Ishmael and the Akeidah. So the idea in a certain way is what we'll be looking at, even though this will be a self-contained series and will be understandable, I think, on its own, it is really conceived of as a prequel to the series which we just finished, which is the Phantom Akeidah.

Let me just give you a bit of background on what I mean by a prequel to that series. For those of you who were here for that series, this will be a bit of a review. For those of you who are listening for the first time, you can hold on to your hats, it's a very short summary of what it is that we were looking at before. But in that series we looked essentially at two very difficult to understand events in the life of Abraham. That is the very painful story of the expulsion of Ishmael - ultimately Ishmael is 13 years old, he's mocking Isaac, Sarah demands really that Abraham send away Hagar. Abraham complies, he doesn't like the idea. He asks G-d and we have a whole story of the expulsion of Ishmael. Ishmael leaves, he falls sick, there's very little food, there's very little water, his mother places him under a bush. An angel appears and before you know it Hagar and Ishmael are off on their own and a new nation is born, the Ishmaelites, who we will come to see later on in Genesis and later on in the Torah. That is one story.

The other story of course is the story of the Akeidah and perhaps the most famous and most difficult story to understand in the life of Abraham, where G-d appears out of the blue, says take your child to the top of the mountain and kill him. Only to say that He was just kidding, as it were, or I don't really mean kill him, take him down, it's a test. A very tough, very difficult story to understand.

What we talked about last time is the relationship - the apparent relationship - between these stories, how the story of the phantom Akeidah - and the reason why I call it a phantom Akeidah is because it's patterned after the story of the Akeidah. That the story of the [binding/banishing 3:49] of Ishmael bears all of these textual hallmarks that take us back to the story of the Akeidah. We talked about the relationship between these two stories. I won't go deeply now into the theory we proposed there, the theory came together really in the last of that eight-lecture series, I refer you back to it, it's in the archives if you want to listen - the Phantom Akeidah archives, the very end, the last lecture. For those of you who would like to hear that background, you might want to just listen to that last lecture if you don't have time to go through the whole series.

But in any case, whatever theory we ultimately develop in understanding this, it's very clear that the Torah is linking these two events. It's very clear that there is some meaningful connection between these two very difficult stories, and that they do shed light on each other and help us understand what's going on. We did develop a theory there and what I'd like to do here is to talk about the background to that and to try to bring back our zoom lens and ask ourselves some basic fundamental questions. Why was - in the grand scheme of things why was the Akeidah necessary? Why was the Akeidah meaningful? I think to really answer that question it's not just enough to look - as we did in the last series - at the expulsion of Ishmael, I think that's part of the picture but I think that there's a much larger picture. It's almost as if you look at a map and you see something and you pull back and you see a little bit more of the context, and you pull back and you see a little bit more of the context.

That's really want I'd like to do with you here to really pull back in a very large, almost seeing the earth from space, looking at it with the largest possible lens. What does the Akeidah mean within the corpus of Jewish history? By extension really I'm asking a larger question, which is what does Abraham mean in the corpus of Jewish history? What exactly happened here? Why was this guy chosen? What was he meant to do? What's the plan? It's really a question about the Jewish people, what are we meant to do as a people? What was Abraham's mission? How is it that we understand that? Also, how do the Abraham stories really contribute to that mission or explain that mission to us?

I have to tell you that whenever I understood - whenever I read the Abraham stories, I always had a very difficult time with them, because I could never understand how they hung together. There are so many questions about them. I mean here we - just to start off, here we meet this fellow, basically we meet him out of nowhere, G-d says; Lech lecha mei'artzecha umi'moladetecha umi'beit avicha - leave your father's house and start off on a new land. It's like, who is this fellow? What's the introduction? It's like when we teach kids this story we teach them from the beginning of Parshat Lech Lecha, in the beginning where G-d appears out of the clouds and says, Abraham I want you go to go and leave - who was this fellow?

If you look a little bit further back we do get a little bit of an introduction to Abraham but it's a very strange introduction. We get eight verses back in Parshat Noach as it were, the very tail end of the story of the flood that introduces us to Abraham, but tells us nothing that we would really want to know about him. I mean we would want to know - I would think - why this man was picked? What it's all about? Was he so saintly? What did he do?

I remember Nechama Leibowitz used to tell this story how she would go to an army base - she went to an army base of Tzahal and asked the soldiers - the Jewish soldiers - to open up to the point in Tanach where the Torah records the story of Abraham smashing the idols of his father's household. They were all looking through their Tanach and they couldn't find it until she said, it's not in Tanach, it's a Medrash. But people don't distinguish between the Tanach - the Bible stories and the Rabbinic comments upon them. The Rabbinic comments fill out what we might like to know about Abraham, here is a young kid, he was smashing the idols of his father's house, that's why he was chosen. But how come the Torah doesn't mention this? It's that sort of material that we would want to know in an introduction if we had eight verses to tell us who was Abraham. But that's not the material we hear about.

So question number 1, how come Abraham appears out of the blue in Lech Lecha? We know very little about him. Question number 2, why of the eight verses at the end of Parshat Noach where we talk about Abraham, why are those relevant? We'll discuss, over the course of these lectures, those eight verses, very strange, they mention genealogy that appears to be entirely irrelevant. Abraham's brothers, Abraham's cousins, his father, where they went, where they were going, who married who, we never hear from it again. So what exactly is happening in those first eight verses?

Then if you continue in the Abraham stories, why do we need to hear the things we hear? Yes, there are some things that we hear that we understand; the story of Abraham and the angels is a very famous story in the beginning of Vayeira where the three angels are coming to visit Abraham and Abraham opens the tent and gives them a place to stay and gives them food. So that establishes Abraham as the Ba'al Chesed - as the person who was great in the area of kindness and extends himself on behalf of other human beings even when he's feeling sick. Very inspiring, very wonderful stuff.

But there's a lot of stuff we hear about Abraham that's not so inspiring, it doesn't sound so amazing and it just seems like the sort of travelogue, does not seem to really contribute to our great picture of Abraham. After he leaves from Lech Lecha we've got a couple of verses where he went, exactly where he went in Israel. First he was going to Shechem place and then - the place where Shechem would ultimately be built - and then he was off and he made an altar and he went off to Ai and he stretched his tend here and he stretched his tent there. I mean, do I really need to know this? Why is it the Torah - I need the travelogue of exactly where he went? What - why is that stuff so important?

Then we continue, we hear stories about him and Lot, we know that they got into a fight over land, and Lot went this way and Abraham went that way, why is that so important? Does it - again, does it contribute to my understanding of Abraham as an ethical human being? Was it the fact that he told Lot you can pick wherever you want, you pick this way, you pick that way, I'll let you pick, was that it? That Abraham says - like my daughter always say, I'll cut the cake and you can pick which section - so was that it, that that's what he told Lot, I'll cut and you pick, and Lot picked the better section and Abraham was generous? It is just meant to teach us some sort of vague ethical teaching that way? What was that meant to be about?

Then you continue other stories with Abraham. The war between four kings and there's five kings, and then there's Kedorlaomer and there's this one and there's that one and they fight. There's the king of Sodom in there and Abraham rouses his men and he goes and Lot gets captured and he gets him back. Why do I need to read about this story? Abraham is a warrior, that's his legacy? I don't know. In all the classes I've ever heard about Abraham, that all everything they teach kids, they do not teach that Abraham was a big warrior, that's not what we hear about him.

We get the part where he goes down to Egypt, meets the King Pharaoh, tries to defend his wife, they take his wife, the - Sarah goes back to him. Just in the large picture of things, how exactly - why are each one of these stories meaningful? How do they contribute to my vision of Abraham? The Akeidah - I understand that, great test of faith in G-d, the Binding of Isaac, G-d says kill your child and you listen. Amazing story. Even the expulsion of Ishmael, an important story within the life of Abraham. But these other stories, the war of the four kings and the five kings, Lot, splitting up with Lot, his genealogy, where he came from, where his family were going, which places he went in Israel, exactly why do I need to know all of this?

And not only why do I need to know each individual story, but why do I need to - do they all fit together to actually tell us a story? In other words, is there a unified trajectory in these stories? Is it getting somewhere? Is there a story building? You know when I read a novel I like to hear how a story builds. There's a bunch of different separate episodes and the separate episodes are all part of a story. Are the Abraham episodes part of a story? Or are they just sort of the meanderings of what Abraham happened to do? We learn a little story here, we learn a little story there, they're disconnected from each other. Or is there really a story building? And if there is a story building, what is that story?

So I do think there's a story building, I think the Akeidah is the culmination of that story and we've begun to see a piece of that in last session, in the Phantom Akeidah lectures. What I'd like to do now is to pull back and see the larger story. The larger story I think does not even begin with Abraham, it doesn't even begin from the eight verses before Abraham. It begins actually from Chapter 1, verse 1 in Genesis. It's all one story. It goes back there. What I'd like to do with you today is to try and figure out what that story is. A Brief History of the World from Adam to Abraham gives us the context, I think, for understanding what Abraham was about, what his story is about, what his trajectory is about. Understanding how it relates to everything that preceded it and how the Torah is really telling us one story and trying to give us an insight into what Abraham's mission is, and by extension, I think, what our mission is. So that really in a nutshell is the goal, what I'm trying to accomplish in this series of courses.

I'm just taking a second to just give you a background for those of you who don't know - I just want to take two minutes to give you a background to how these classes work and then we'll jump right in. Okay I just want to spend a couple of minutes sort of re-introducing the general format here, we'll try and do this just quickly, but some housekeeping I want to get under way. Basically this is a lecture series, but it's a lecture series that's augmented by support material. So these lectures originally being produced for these online classes which we're running now here on the internet, ultimately they may be made into CDs as well. But for the time being we're producing this as an online series. The Foundation is actually trying something new, they're making these lectures available free of charge to really anybody who wants to listen. The background material and downloading the lectures is something which you would need to subscribe to the classes for, in other words, to actually own the material and be able to copy it and stuff like that. But to listen to the material on the internet is available for free if you'd like to do that through the home page of this website, there's a little box there and you can just click on it and listen. So tell your friends and spread the word. We're happy to have as wide of an audience as we possibly can, who'd be interested to participate.

In terms of the background material that's available to you, there are a number of different things. Number one is lecture outline. So if you don't want to take your own notes, you can certainly use these handy-dandy sheets for your own review, if you're the note-taking kind. In the first place some of you may just be listening to this in the car and using it that way. But if it's something which you want to review over time, look at, get a kind of visual sense of the structure of things, the lecture outlines can sometimes be helpful. So those are available for you.

Those lecture outlines are cross-referenced with the other materials. So in other words, you'll find on the lecture outline references to where you can find text. So generally speaking when I mention text I will reproduce them for you in English, in Hebrew - in English and Hebrew source notes, and I'll mention in the outline, "right now we're talking about such and such" and you'll be able to find it over here in the source notes. So you'll have those cross-referenced.

Finally I'll try and include a PowerPoint presentation more or less with each lecture. I'll try and pick out in my mind what I think are the aspects of the talk which are - which could best be portrayed using the graphical, visual format, the illustrations that PowerPoint allows for, or the animations that PowerPoint allows for, and I'll post those as well. I'll post those actually in a couple of different formats, you'll get it as a regular PowerPoint presentation which you can watch if you have PowerPoint. If you don't have PowerPoint you can just download a PowerPoint viewer, just Google search for PowerPoint viewer and you can download it for free from Microsoft. Maybe I'll post a link to it on the website as well. You'll be able to view those. The advantage of viewing it that way either through the PowerPoint viewer or through PowerPoint itself is that you'll be able to see the animations. I try to make use of the animations so as to kind of make things easier on the eye, not everything shows up on the screen at once, only what you need to know right then. Sometimes with revealing sort of layers within a text the animations can really be very helpful.

If you don't want to see it that way, or you want to print these out, so I've also - we'll include PDF files which are printouts of the PowerPoint. But the printouts obviously don't come with any ability to animate what's going on.

So those are kind of the basic materials; there's the lecture itself which is the backbone of what's going on. There are these background and support materials, the sort of study companion, which includes the lecture outlines, the source notes and the PowerPoints.

As I was producing these by the way I didn't really have a sense of how big - how much material there actually was, but I finally got around, by the way, after the end of these lectures to printing out the study companions, all this material, for the Phantom Akeidah series, and the Golden Calf series, I was actually shocked at how big it was. There are these very thick bound books, maybe 400 pages from the Golden Calf and 200, 250 pages for the Phantom Akeidah. It's really - it's a lot of stuff. But online it's really - each lecture is very manageable, and a little piece of it, and maybe you don't need all of it, so it's there if you can use it.

In addition to all of that we have discussion boards, I encourage you to join. The discussions boards are being ably managed or moderated by [Barry 18:08] out at Walnut Creek and he's been a wonderful moderator for us, I want to thank him for that. Also [Ruthie] will occasionally drop in and moderate as well, I want to thank her for her doing that as well. Ruthie and Barry are two advanced students and you can feel free to join the discussion boards as you like, post your thoughts, respond, I'll check in on them. Every once in a while I'll drop in and say something on the discussion boards, other times I'll mention kind of stuff that's appeared on the discussion boards and sometimes comment on it in the course of a lecture. But I do enjoy reading it. I have to tell you the old Talmudic adage - I'm not sure how you pronounce that word - about learning a lot from your students, learning more from your students in certain way than from anyone else, really is true. I have found my own understanding of the material immeasurably enriched by a lot of the comments that come in on the discussion boards.

So those of you regulars who have been doing that please keep it up. Those of you who would like to take a stab at it please don't feel intimidated if you look at the discussion boards and say, gee, that guy, he's really coming up with really profound stuff, or look at hers, I can never match her, she knows Hebrew, I don't even know Hebrew, you do not have to worry. If you want to post your thoughts anonymously you can post them anonymously, you do not have to write your name, Social Security number and everything else. I'm always glad to hear from you and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say. If you want, you can also send me emails; davidfohrman@gmail.com, you need to put the 'h' in otherwise it will never get to me. D-A-V-I-D-F-O-H-R-M-A-N@gmail.com, and I can look at your stuff that way too. But if you want to share it with all of us, the discussion boards are a great way of doing that.

Okay, so those are just kind of some housekeeping in terms of the way this lecture series will unfold and I - having talked about what I hope to accomplish theme wise in this series and this - the housekeeping issues which I've just described, I want to just launch into one last area of introduction, which just touches on methodology. What I'm going to be doing in terms of methodology is actually continuing something that I've started - sort of developed with you over the past number of series. It actually began with the Golden Calf and developed further with the Phantom Akeidah, maybe it will even develop a little further now. But basically I'm going to be making use of a similar kind of methodology as we go forward. When I say making use of a similar kind of methodology, I don't really mean in a mechanical way, I don't think there's any sort of mechanical trick that you can apply to learning the Torah. While you apply your trick and all of a sudden everything makes sense, the Torah is much too sophisticated and [subtle/supple 20:55] a document to be able to be amenable to those sort of magician's games.

So really when I say methodology really there's obviously a lot of pieces of methodology. There's listening to what the text has to say, there's paying attention to the nuances, paying attention to the transitions, how A leads to B, how B leads to C. Listening to what the commentators have to say; Rashi, the Ramban, others. Listening to what the Sages of the Medrash had to say, trying to figure out what they're trying to add to the discussion. There's a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes methodology.

But there's two little pieces which I'll also be using which are kind of specialized and distinctive and I want to sort of re-introduce them for just a second. One of them is what I call; Where Have We Heard These Words Before? We've used this extensively in the Phantom Akeidah, and basically this is when the Torah will quote itself. Again the idea behind this - or the theory behind this - is that the Torah is essentially a minimalist document, it's a very concise document, it's a document that does not go out of its way to spend a long time telling you things. So if you look at the great and grand narratives of the Bible they are very concise; nine verses for the Tower of Babel, 15 verses for the story of Adam and Eve in Eden. These things would have taken up columns and columns of text if they were published in the Encyclopedia Britannica. They're very concise stories and yet we understand, we sense, that there's great meaning layered into these stories, there must be some method of layering in this meaning.

So I think one of the methods is that the Torah will occasionally quote itself - in other words, it will deliberately set up a series of phrases which appeared in an earlier narrative and then re-use them in another narrative. To the reader who is a little bit more advanced and who remembers and is familiar enough with the text to remember that oh yeah, that rings a bell, I've heard these words before. If you do that, the Torah is giving you a key there to be able to understand the meaning of one narrative in light of the other one. So what it's really saying is that if you really want to understand what's going on in Story A you have to understand how relates to those similar ideas which come up in Story B. I think the Torah is tipping us off to say that really these two stories shed light on each other and you need to see how that's so.

I'm not going to go into a lot of examples of this now, we'll see some examples in this lecture perhaps, in the next lecture, so you'll get a better - but this methodology we'll just call; Where Have We Heard These Words Before? Repeating words and phrases and ideas within stories, and sometimes it's just not one phrase - that one distinctive phrase repeats itself only twice in Tanach, here and in another story, but it happens over and over again, within Story A there's a dozen indications to Story B. That's what we saw, for example, in the last series in the Phantom Akeidah when we talked about the story of the expulsion of Ishmael and the abundant and copious textual parallels to the story of the Akeidah; the story of the Shunammite Woman, the story of the Sale of Yosef. All of these things really form a package of interwoven stories, and the way the Torah is indicating how they interweave is by using these textual quotations from one story to another, and it's up to us to kind of notice that and try to meditate a little bit about its meaning. So that is one piece we'll be talking about; Where Have We Heard These Words Before?

Another piece is this idea of chiasms. Please don't get scared off by the academic-sounding name, we talked about this in a number of our series previously. Basically - for those of you who are listening to this for the first time, a chiasm is a series of inverted textual parallels and - it's not as fancy as it sounds. In Kabbalah it's known as an ATB"SH system; Aleph is the first letter of the Alphabet, Taf is the last letter of the Alphabet, Beit is the second letter of the Alphabet, Shin the second to last letter of the Alphabet. The notion is, is that Aleph in some sense mirrors Taf, Beit in some sense mirrors Shin. That you can sometimes have a story which is constructed chiastically, in other words, the first element of the story is patterned after the last element of the story. If you look carefully you find that the second element of the story is patterned after the second to last element of the story. Continuing, third to first patterned after third to last.

There's all these parallels and what these are doing, as we've talked about before, is focusing you on really two things, number 1 is how the beginning of the story parallels or plays off the end of the story, how each one of these pairs - the A part of each pair mirrors itself in part b, so we can understand something about A by seeing its mirror on the other side. That's true. But also what's really interesting is that the Torah is identifying, as it were, the center of the narrative, what it does with a chiasm is a chiasm sort of inexorably points like an arrow towards the center of something. The center of the Alphabet would be Mem, the middle letter, the chiasm - if the Alphabet is built chiastically it's pointing you towards the Mem, pointing you towards the center, and the Torah through a chiasm is identifying for you the center of a story.

When I say center, not necessarily the geographical center, in other words, it's not like you say, oh well the story is built chiastically, it's got 30 verses in it, the center is verse number 15. It's not necessarily true, the literary center of the chiasm may well be in verse 27. You just have to look and see where the parallels lead you and what the center - the center by the way will have no parallel - well that's not necessarily true, but it doesn't seem to have a parallel. Sometimes the parallels to the centers, as we've seen before, are in the outer edges of the chiasm, but let's not get confused with that for a second. Let's just for the time being, let's call it the singularity in the center. The center of a chiasm has no parallel, it's a single point that is in the center, and that, in a certain way, we would expect to find - expect to see there something which is central, something which everything revolves around. Almost like a center of gravity. Some sort of idea that is central, that the entire story revolves around.

That, by the way, is a fantastic thing because if you can figure out the center of a story it's really the Torah's way of commenting on the meaning of its stories. It's saying, if you want to understand what this story is about, understand that this is what it all revolves around. So the chiasm can be very enlightening and sometimes pointing to a verse which seems to not really be so central and say, no, this is the center. When we were talking about the Golden Calf two series ago, we talked about how there was this huge chiasm in the entire second half of the Book of Exodus and it all boils down to one verse, this very trivial verse, apparently, which everybody seems to overlook, which seems to be the center of gravity for the whole second half of Exodus. It's this verse about the Jews mourning when they take off their Jewelry in mourning after the Golden Calf. Then it's up to us to try to figure out why that idea is so central. More often than not, that's not so hard to decipher once you notice what the Torah is pointing out as the central idea.

So this is the idea of chiasms. Again, if you want some other examples of it I refer you back to the lectures we've done in the archives. If you feel like you haven't quite figured out what it is that I'm talking about, if it all sounds too abstract, I'll try and put a PowerPoint in. I've had some PowerPoints on this in previous times, but I'll give you another introductory PowerPoint to chiasms, you can look at if you like. But this is the idea.

So two basic methodologies here. On the one hand, Where Have We Heard These Words Before, on the other hand, chiasms. Using these methodologies in concert with just plain reading the text, not getting lost, not trying to use these as magical tricks, but reading the text, being attentive to just Pashut - simple, what these words are saying, what the story is about, what the nuances of the story are. But also paying attention to these overlays of meaning. Paying attention to Where Have We Heard These Words Before, these quotations to other stories, paying attention to a chiasm in the text. So these are important things.

What I've begun to do in previous sessions with you over our last couple of series, is begin to look at the interplay between these two methodologies, and that's been something of great personal interest to me, I hope you haven't found it too boring yourself. But basically what I'm suggesting is the following. Each one of these tools is very powerful on its own, to understand how a narrative in the Torah mirrors another narrative is a very powerful tool. The Torah is commenting, it's telling you if you want to understand Narrative A, understand how it relates to a Narrative B. Chiasms, also very powerful. The Torah is telling you what the center of a narrative is, what it all revolves around. But what happens when you take the two together? What happens when these two things converge? What happens when a chiasm converges with Where Have We Heard These Words Before? What does that look like? What it looks like is the following.

Let's say you have Story A and Story B, and Story A mirrors Story B in a dozen textual references. So Story A seems to be patterned after Story B. Then let's say that I happen to notice that Story B is structured chiastically, that Story B has these inverted series of literary parallels, leading you right towards the center of the story and identify a verse or a series of verses which that entire story revolves around. The next question is, that if I see that Story A parallels Story B and Story B has a center, has a chiastic center, the very interesting question is, how does Story A relate to Story B's center? In other words, if there's a number of parallels in Story A to Story B, do one of those parallels - does one of those parallels reflect the center of Story B? Is there something in Story A which reflects the center of Story B? If there is, then perhaps I understand fundamentally how these stories relate to each other, I understand how Story A relates to the center of Story B. Or more precisely perhaps how the centers of these two stories relate to each other. That maybe really what the Torah is getting at when it's trying to say this is how these two stories come together.

Recently I came up with this notion - actually just chatting with Barry, I happened to be Santa Cruz for a lecture - Shabbaton actually - a couple of weeks back and Barry was kind enough to drive from Walnut Creek to meet me there. I was chatting with him outside in the rain actually by the ocean and we were talking about this and the analogy of a wormhole came to mind. I just want to elaborate on that, because it really may be I think a very precise analogy to what I'm talking about here. It could be that there are wormholes as it were in the Torah. What is a - and the wormhole is this sort of dual center between Story A and Story B that happens when you have a chiasm in a reflective center of a chiasm. If all of that may sound very strange and weird let me just backtrack and give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

What is a wormhole? The idea comes from science actually - used to come from science fiction but now seems to be, at least theoretically, a scientifically valid concept. The possibility of wormholes in space. What exactly is a wormhole in space? So just to give you a very brief background, it has to do with Einstein's theory of relativity, his theory- I believe - of gravity within the theory of relativity. Basically it works like this. Basically what Einstein suggested is that gravity is not really a force as we know it, it's not just some mysterious force, but it is a function of dense objects within space warping, as it were, the fabric of space. The analogy he gives to this is he says imagine you have this big plastic sheeting and you had a bowling ball that you put in the plastic sheet. The bowling ball would warp the fabric of the sheet such that - if for example, if you took a little tennis ball and you rolled it onto the sheet, the tennis ball would no longer go straight as it would across a simple flat surface like a table. But if there was a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet so it would curve in towards the bowing ball, the tennis ball would.

That's really what gravity is according to Einstein. If you imagine the sun - so you imagine space, so space is the sheet - according to Einstein space is supple, it is something, it's not nothing. It's not like there's this thing called nothingness called space. No there's this thing called space, you can almost imagine it as some sort of three-dimensional fabric. But this thing gets effected by stuff in it. So if there is stuff in it, very dense things, everything can warp the fabric of space. Space curves in order to accommodate the things which are placed within it. So if you've got the sun, this very big thing, there's this really large warping of space around the sun, and that's why planets orbit the sun. What's happening is that the planet is in motion, normal motion, will just continue going straight. But the same way the tennis ball sort of arches and curves around the path of the - if you roll it, it will curve around the path of the bowling ball, so if you roll it like real slow, it will just hit the bowling ball. If you roll it real fast it will zoom past the bowling ball. If you roll it just right though, it will just keep on going around and around that center, and those are the orbits.

If you notice like tennis balls that are going in right close to the perimeter of where the bowling ball is, they'll be spinning real fast, and the ones on the outside will be spinning much slower. If you look at the circuits of planets you'll find the same thing, the planets that are real close, Mercury, they'll go round the sun really fast, and the planets which are further out we'll be going around - Neptune, Pluto, these guys - they're going much, much slower.

But that's the idea, it's not just that there's some mysterious force out there, but simply the planet is simply trying to find the simplest path in space. And the path in space is if it's a curved path so it's just following the curved path in space, the curve that is made through the bowling ball, through the sun, which is there.

So this is Einstein's theory of gravity. It's a very interesting theory and it was just a theory for a while until it was actually proven to be true. How would you prove Einstein's theory to be true? Well once upon a time back in the early twentieth century there was an eclipse that was scheduled. The eclipse offered - the full eclipse of the sun offered the possibility of proving Einstein's theory. Why? Well here's the idea. If in fact space was a thing which gets warped and anything that travels through it will follow the curve of that warp, so that means that gravity is going to affect everything. It's not going to just affect things, it's going to affect everything that travels through it, even actually light, which means that light is going to get bent by gravity too. What that should mean theoretically is that if you know where a star is supposed to be in the sky but the light from that star going from that star to your eye is going to pass say right near the trajectory of the sun - so there's a sun there and just like one or two degrees off from there there's a light coming from the star right past the sun to your eye. That light should bend as it passes the sun.

What that means is, is that where you see the star will not actually be where the star is. That you know where that Star X is going to be but as the sun passes and it comes close to that star, that that star is going to appear to bend - the light from that star is going to bend. Therefore the position of the star is going to look different once the sun is sort of between you and the star, or very close to where you and - very close to the trajectory through which the light passes on its way to your eye.

The problem is you can never actually see this because the sun is too bright. In other words, once the sun is in daylight and there are stars next to the sun you'd never in a million years see the star next to the sun, it's right there, you'd never see it. But in a full eclipse you could. Theoretically in a full eclipse of the sun you would be able to see the stars near the sun and if you know where the star was supposed to be, Einstein's theory would be proven if the star wasn't there, if the star looked like it was off - right next to it, because it would show that the light is being bent as it passes the sun.

So there was in the early twentieth century indeed a complete eclipse of the sun, folks got on an ocean liner, went down to the middle of the ocean where this eclipse was, knew exactly where Star X was supposed to be, looked up and it wasn't there, it was actually off by a couple degrees. In fact, Einstein's theory was proven, that was how Einstein's theory of gravity was verified. So no longer a theory, it's actually true, space does seem to be a fabric, it does seem to actually bend in response to objects that are places within it. The heavier, the more dense the object, the greater the bending in space.

Okay, so now you're thinking well very nice Fohrman, that's all a very nice science lesson, but what does this have to do with Torah? Okay relax, we're not quite done with the science lesson yet, there's one little piece of it that we need to know and then we can apply it back to what this has to do with our world, the world of text and the world of Torah. What happens if an object in space is extremely dense? Now we get to the concept of a black hole, what exactly is a black hole? A black hole is - essentially it's a collapsed star and a collapsed star is a very dense thing, much denser than your sort of average star. Well if you have a star which is big enough to begin with and then it collapses, the gravitational force of that star is so huge that it literally pulls in everything around it, and nothing can really escape. We call this a black hole.

If you would imagine this as something you would imagine this as an extremely heavy bowling ball - no not really a bowling ball but say something which is smaller than a bowling ball, imagine something that's tennis ball size but having the mass or having the density so that let's say an entire house-worth of - this thing weighs three tons, you have a three-ton tennis ball weighing down the middle of the sheet. Well it would have to be a pretty strong plastic sheet. So imagine there's this three-ton tennis ball and it's just sinking all the way down there, once something starts getting in that hole, it's not getting out so fast. This is a black hole.

The question is, what might happen theoretically if you had two such things that came into contact with each other? For example, let's say you had two of these really huge tennis balls and it just so happened that they were both weighing down there in space and just kind of knocking around and then they touched one another and fused - that's a wormhole. At least theoretically that is a wormhole. What a wormhole would allow for theoretically is passage through the fabric of space and time - and this again is a theoretical basis perhaps for time travel. I really don't want to get into that now, let's just keep it simple. Moving from one space to another very quickly, right through space, so in other words, I'm not travelling through space like I normally would, but I'm taking a shortcut through a wormhole created by two ultra massive objects which happened to touch each other and create sort of a tunnel through space.

If there are wormholes - and the theoretical basis for them seems to exist - what would be the implication of these things? Well very briefly, what wormholes might do is solve two fundamental problems in physics. They (a) might allow for information to pass between vastly separated regions of space. Communication, as it were, between vastly separated regions of space. You could theoretically have Region A which is millions of light years away from Region B but being affected by Region B by virtue of a wormhole that connects these two things. If you stuck with the speed of light if would take you hundreds of millions of years to get from point a to point b, but if you travel through the wormhole it could take you a day and a half. So you can actually have communication between these two realms of space. One realm of space could reflect on the other realm of space, even though they're separated by incredible bounds.

Similarly, by the way, it also is a vehicle for creating unity - unity in the laws of nature, unity in the laws of physics throughout all of space. Scientists do believe that there is unity between all the laws of nature; no matter where you are in the universe the laws of nature and the laws of physics are the same. But theoretically there's a problem with that which is that these things are separated by such vast distances that how do you know that the laws which apply to one place apply to the other place? Maybe these are just discreet, separate regions? But if these regions are linked somehow, it provides for a sort of a theoretical framework for there being fundamental unity between these very far-flung areas.

Now, coming back to the Torah side of this, what I'd like to suggest is that maybe if these things exist - that I'm describing - these two methodologies, if they're really out there in the Torah, they may be sort of the Torah equivalent of what a wormhole in space might be. Just to give you an idea of what it is that I'm talking about, you could conceive of - if you imagine you have these two vastly separate regions of the Torah, separated by different Books, seeing to have nothing to do with each other. I remember by the way once speaking to a certain Bible scholar - I'll leave his name out of the discussion - but wrote a very famous, popular book about the Bible and its supposed authorship, and certainly was not religious by any means and subscribed to the sort of many authors theory, cobbled-over-time, view of how the Torah came to be.

I showed him some of my work which pointed really to a deep unity within the Torah, and many different sections of Torah shedding light on each other and seeming to have this sense of unity. He said, how could that be possible? He says, you can't talk to anybody in this conference about this, they won't give you the time of the day. I mean this is - if this was written at this time, and this was written at that time, how could - I said, but just look at the evidence. I mean, how can you explain these dozen specific language parallels between these various things? It seems to be one, unified piece. They really seem to be - [unclear 43:22] - it just makes sense. He says, but how could you explain how that could occur? I said, I don't know, I can't explain how it could occur, it's not a matter of explaining, it's a matter of this is what the evidence suggests.

I believe - I can't really tell you exactly how this is, but maybe being a religious person this is how I see it - but that the Torah is unified, that even - even religious people don't believe that the author of Genesis is the author of say, the Book of Samuel. A human being wrote the Book of Samuel, even if G-d was the author, as it were, of Genesis via Moses' pen. But nevertheless in the cosmic scheme of things somehow there is a unity, and it's a deep kind of unity between these things. It just seems to be the way providence put together the Bible that it's a whole work and as a whole work it - the way G-d somehow made it all work out is that it is a unified whole and different pieces of it shed light on other pieces. I can't really explain it but I think it's there and I think that it's real. If there are wormholes in space, maybe there's wormholes in the Torah. If you think about what a wormhole is, a wormhole is a connection between two different vastly separated regions that allows for uniformity.

If you think by the way even visually, the notion of a chiasm is very similar to this wormhole, it's this thing sort of leading towards a center and leading you through deeper and deeper in the center. Maybe as you go through that center you come out on the other side, you come out to a connected part of the Torah, which is its reflection in another world, in another part of the universe. It's how these same ideas from Part A gets reflected in Part B and there's a deep connection between these two apparently vastly dissimilar realms of Torah, but they're connected. They're connected through this little tunnel, through that center of a chiasm that brings Story A to Story B. These two parallel stories, brings them in relation to one another and defines the nature of what it is that they're meant to tell us and the nature of their fundamental relationship.

So these are some ideas. They have just occurred to me, it could be wild speculation, I don't know, but I think the notions of chiasms are not wild speculation, and the notions of Where Have We Heard These Words Before are not wild speculation. They really are there, and sometimes they happen together - that I think, is beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's up to us to try to make sense of it when it happens. Again, I don't want to get too caught up just on the technicalities of these methodologies, we will use them, but again, we have to simply read the stories as well. But these are parts of the methodologies that I'll be trying to go with you.

What I'm going to suggest to you is that the Book of Genesis is one very large, unified document. It's telling you a unified story. Along the way chiasms and Where Have We Heard These Words Before, those methodologies will be very interesting and very helpful, I think, in weaving together how fundamentally the Book of Genesis is unified, how it really is all about one, long, developing story. Literally from the very first verses in the Book of Genesis in Bereishit from the creation of the world to the very last verses of Joseph and his brothers and Joseph on his deathbed. I think it gives us a launching point really perhaps for viewing the entire Torah.

Part of that story I think is what we talked about in our last series in the Phantom Akeidah, the expulsion of Ishmael and the Akeidah, that I think is the middle of the story, but there's a beginning of that story and there's an end of that story. The beginning of the story is what we're talking about now from Adam to Abraham, the end of that story we'll talk about later, it's the Joseph stories, we'll talk about that too, that's sort of the sequel.

But for now let's jump in, let's look at the beginning of the story from Adam to Abraham, what story does the Torah begin to tell us? Not just discreet events. Again, we're not just looking at verses sort of in isolation and analyzing what all the different commentators have to say about the verse and then going onto the next verse. We're not even looking at individual stories in isolation. We're trying to discern a story as it unfolds, that is the task that I'm setting before us, right here in the Book of Genesis.

Now, I'm just about out of time here for this sort of introduction to this series, but I do think this is a good way perhaps of introducing what I'm trying to get across here. But let me give you some homework - if I can - to think about for next week in where we're going. I'd like to set up - if I can - the first little bit of framework for trying to understand the Book of Genesis, and maybe we'll do it this way. Let's talk about the creation narrative. When we talk about the creation narrative one of the things that has often puzzled people is that there's not one, there's actually more than one, there's two creation narratives. This has been kind of difficult to understand. Why do we need to hear about creation twice?

If you go through Genesis Chapter 1 into the very first verses in Chapter 2, we seem to have a very nice, discreet story, the story of creation. It starts with in the beginning G-d created the Adam - excuse me not the Adam and the Eve but the heavens and the earth. The earth was; Tohu Va'vohu - it's formless and void, but then G-d said let there be light. And then what do you know, we have six days of creation and every day something new gets created. Finally on the very last day of creation, on the sixth day, G-d creates people, G-d creates first animals, G-d creates people, and before you know it you have a universe. Then at the very beginning of Chapter 2, in the seventh day G-d rests, and it sounds like that's the end of creation; Vayechulu hashomayim veha'aretz v'kol tzeva'am - and the heavens and the earth and all of their hosts were finished, and you think ah, they're finished.

But the problem is they're not finished. Because if you read Chapter two, if you keep on reading in Chapter 2 we seem to again hear about the entire story of creation one more time. The question is why do we have to hear it again? We hear about the creation from an entirely different standpoint. Let's see if I can read you a little bit to give you a sense of what it is that I'm talking about. Chapter 2. Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz behibaram - these are the generations of the heaven and earth as they were being created when G-d made them. Then before everything was - before there was rain and before G-d had caused rain to come down on the land and before there was man to make the things grow out of the ground, so this is what happened. Vayitzhar Hashem Elokim et ha'Adam aphar min ha'adamah vayipach b'apav nishmat chayim - G-d created man out of the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life and man was a living creature.

Then G-d created the Garden of Eden and then G-d made all these things in the Garden of Eden and He made the Eitz Hachaim - the Tree of Life, and He made the tree of knowledge of good and evil and then He said it's not good for man to be alone. Then we have a geography lesson, we hear about all these different rivers coming out of Eden, and then we hear about how there - there was no Eve yet by the way, there was no woman, there was just man. Then G-d brings all the animals to see what man will call them and man names them all and man decides none of them are a good mate. Then he meets Eve and says Eve is terrific, she's a good mate for me, and then there's a whole story of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden.

This seems to be another creation story. It seems to repeat elements - not all of the elements, but some of the elements of creation story number 1. We hear about the creation of man in story number 1, but then we hear about the creation of man in story number 2. So this seems like a problem. Now this is a problem that has not escaped obviously the notice of commentators over the ages, but if you talk to your average secular biblical critic, they will find with great glee evidence in this that there is in fact more than one author here, and there's two discreet ways of looking at this. There's two completely separate texts which were made up at different points in history and then cobbled together by some editor, but the sloppy editor didn't realize that he didn't manage to make these texts consistent with one another so they contradict each other. Was man created before, was he created after, was Adam and Eve created together, was it created one first and one afterwards? They notice that the word for G-d appears differently in story 1 and story 2, they argue that this author was the Elokim author and this author was the J author - the Yud Keih Vav Keih author, and they didn't manage to sort of coordinate things as well.

That of course is one way of looking at it, but it comes with the preconceived notion that - I think - that the Bible in inherently a disjointed, un-unified document.

There is another way of looking at it of course, and that is that the Torah is in fact a unified document. Nevertheless there are apparent problems and contradictions within the unified document that are in fact windows to a deeper meaning in the text. It's the Torah's designated way of getting you to look at two different aspects of a thing and be able to examine sometimes an internal tension within a text. For those of you who have been with us in lectures and I think you have a sense of what it is that I'm talking about in previous lectures.

But to quote from someone else, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Blessed Memory has a very famous essay where he talks about this. He talks about Adam 1 and Adam 2, he argues that there's a fundamental tension - I think I may have mentioned this essay in previous classes, either last series or the series before, so I'm sorry if I'm boring you and repeating myself. But he argues that there is an essential tension within mankind and the reason why there is a tension in the creation stories is because it reflects an actual real tension in human nature, a tension between the kind of Adam that is discussed in the first creation story and the kind of Adam that is discussed in the second creation story. I'll refer you - you can certainly read his essay on this, I believe that it is Lonely Man of Faith, if not I'm mistaken. Where that appears, you probably can find it on the web, if I can find it for you maybe I'll give you a link to it, otherwise you can buy it in book form as well.

But again, two very different theories, a theory based upon the notion that the Torah is disjointed and cobbled together, a theory based upon the notion that the Torah is fundamentally unified and apparent disunities are sometimes two aspects of a different thing. Well who is right? Is Rabbi Soloveitchik right? Is the sort of traditional view of things right? Or is the critical approach right in terms of this being fundamentally disjointed? Well obviously my sympathies are with the traditional approach, but what I'd like to argue to you is that in case at least we can prove the traditional approach is correct. I think we can prove it. We can prove it via the methods which I've described before, there very clearly is, believe it or not, I think, a fundamental unity between the two creation stories. And you can prove that they work together and form a seamless whole. I think there's a literary proof that this is in fact true and that's what I want to get to next week.

And let me again just steer you in the direction of my thinking. The nature of the proof which will evolve I think - and I'm interested not just because I want to prove this point but I'm really interested from a perspective of meaning, because I think it sheds light upon the whole meaning of the creation story. But here's what we're going to do next week, what I'm going to argue to you is that there is a hidden creation story - by the way the theory here is not my own, the theory comes from a fellow by the name of Yitzchak Etshalom, you can find his theory on the web if you do a Google search. I think next week I'll give you a reference to it. But see if you can do it without looking up his essay - if you want to cheat and look up his essay you can, but he's certainly where I first got the idea from, and I think I've taken it just a little bit further.

But the idea is that there is a hidden creation story within the Bible, it's not just creation 1 and creation 2, which is so obvious in the first two chapters of Genesis, the first story of the creation of the world in the six days, followed by a recapitulation of part of that story with the creation of Adam and then the creation of the animals and the creation of Eve. Those are not the only two creation stories, there in fact is another hidden creation story much later on in the Book of Genesis, and where does it appear? It appears by the way in the story of Noah, it appears in the aftermath of the flood. Here's your homework, see if you can find it. Examine the aftermath of the flood, look at the aftermath of the flood, it's a story not of the creation of the world, but of the re-creation of the world. The world is being created again.

I'll talk more about the - I think the significance of that and why it might be so. We can make all sorts of theories about that, we're not up to the theory stage. Let's just gather the facts. The facts seem to be that if you look about how the world was rehabilitated after the flood you seem to find one after another, in order, going right through, a parallel after parallel, linking you back to the creation story. Ultimately I think this has a very significant impact upon what we were talking about with the Bible critics and Rav Soloveitchik, we'll get to that next week - I don't want to get that quite now.

But here's your homework, see if you can find these parallels. Go through the story of the aftermath of the flood, you'll find it in Parshat Noach, you'll find it, I believe in Chapter 8 or so - yeah you can start from - let's see, yes Chapter 8 in the Book of Genesis. Open up to Chapter 8, find another Bible, open up to Chapter 1 and just start comparing. Where does this list lead you? What do you come up with? How far does it go? How far do these parallels go? What do they possibly mean? These are all questions we are going to come back to next week, I hope you'll join me, look forward to seeing you then, bye-bye.

Subscribe today to join the conversation.
Already a subscriber? Log in here!