Commentary for Bereishit

20 Oct

The story of creation is a very detailed one. Not necessarily in the way that we think of details today, with a step-by-step recap telling us exactly how God inserted tab A into slot B and thus caused grass to spring up from the ground, but it is detailed nonetheless. It gives us the details we need to be able to learn from it.

The Torah tells us that God created “every kind of living creature” whether it lives in the sea (Gen. 1:21) or on the land (Gen 1:24). No matter whether it is a microscopic amoeba or a gigantic blue whale; a predatory lion or the herbivorous gazelle that it eats. It can be a camel that lives in the sweltering desert or an emperor penguin that lives in the bone-chilling tundra of Antarctica; a Kangaroo, which is exclusive to Australia or a Blue Jay, which only lives in North America. The diurnal Gorilla and the nocturnal raccoon; intelligent humans or unintelligent lemmings. The hawk that soars high in the sky and the fangtooth fish that lives deep beneath the ocean’s surface. God created them all. Even giant sea monsters (Gen 1:21).

A midrash found on Baba Batra 74b-75a identifies these “giant sea monsters” as the leviathan mentioned in Isaiah (27:1), Psalms (104:26), and most notably in chapters 40 and 41 of Job. The midrash say that God created two leviathans, but not wanting the massive creatures to reproduce and create a race that would consume all others, God slew one of them, pickled its meat, and will serve it to the righteous in a giant feast beneath a sukkah made out of the leviathan’s skin at the end of days.

While many translations translate the strong wind that separated the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21) as an “eastern wind,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (18th century Poland) instead translates it as an “ancient wind,” put in place during the creation of the world specifically for that purpose because “God does not change or suspend the laws of nature,” but rather works through natural forces. So, too, in the case of the leviathan, did God work through natural forces.   The Gemara in Tractate Shabbat tells us about a very, very small creature called the “kilbit” which kills large aquatic creatures by burrowing into their ear (or gills, depending on your translation). Every creature, from the largest to the smallest, has its role to play in God’s world.

It is for this reason that God brings all of the animals before Adam when Adam is searching for a mate. He evaluates all them completely, evaluating all of their qualities before giving them each a name. So, too, do we all, from the tallest to the smallest, each have unique names and a unique role to play in God’s world.

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