Parashat B’reishit - Genesis 1:1-6:8
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Questions for Young Children

  • Why do you think God created in the order listed in chapter one?  What would happen if the order were switched?
  • How do you know from the way chapter one is written that people are the most special part of creation?
  • In the story of the Garden of Eden, what rules do Adam and Eve have to follow?  Why don’t Adam and Eve follow the rule?

Questions for Older Children

  • Is this story scientific and is it supposed to be science?
  • If you were creating, would you have added anything to what God created?
  • Why do you think God created a single man and a single woman during creation rather than lots of people as in the Greek myth of creation?

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • The theme of creation is briefly dispatched in three chapters.  What is the central theme of the Torah and what is God’s central role?
  • Another puzzle in this parasha is the list of ages of Adam’s line.  How do you explain the long lives of these forefathers?
  • Read Genesis 6:5-6.  It didn’t take God long to feel bad about his Creation.  Does that mean God was also imperfect?
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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods to the parasha.

For example… 

  • Eve tasted the p’ri (fruit) of the forbidden tree according to the Hebrew text. 

Ask each guest at your Shabbat table to bring the fruit he or she believes was hanging from the Tree of Knowledge.

Create a fruit centerpiece or fruit bowl incorporating some of the suggested fruits. (For more information, see this Chabad.org webpage.) 

Discuss the likelihood of each fruit being the forbidden fruit.  You can incorporate symbolic, linguistic, historical, or agricultural arguments.

Why has the apple traditionally gotten a “bad rap” especially in European paintings?

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This parasha is perhaps the most well known of all.  It includes the two stories of creation and the story of Cain and Abel. It concludes with a genealogy featuring remarkable ages and God limiting man’s years on earth to 120.  It is a rich parasha with many questions addressed and many questions raised.  You may want to focus your discussion on just one topic.

For this Shabbat, I’ve chosen a vegetarian main dish—if you consider a soup with protein a main dish. If not, you can serve the soup (which is dairy) along with fish for the main course. If you read the first chapter of B’reishit carefully, you’ll see that God did not offer the first humans a menu that included meat or chicken.  Vegetarianism was the ideal so let’s begin with the ideal.  God allowed meat eating (without the “life blood”) as a concession to people after the flood (next week’s parasha).

Find the food connection…

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בֹּ֥ו פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה׃

God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit, they shall be yours for food.”

--Genesis 1:29

The Side Dish

The Genesis of Tasting Torah:  Locally sourced with global flavors

This recipe/discussion collection grew out of a series of rhetorical questions that circled through my mind every week as I planned Shabbat dinner.  How could I create a menu each week that would be easy to assemble while I was working full time?  Could there be an organizing principle for menus that would make my Sunday morning planning easier?  Could I persuade my children and guests to put down their cellphones during dinner?  Could we upgrade the level of talk at the Shabbat table while preserving the fun and the back and forth conversation we treasure in our family.

My answer evolved into a series of menus based on the weekly portion of the Torah with some very obvious connections between the recipes and the parasha and some tenuous links.  Once we began, family members quickly moved into game mode to try and guess the Shabbat dish’s connection to a verse from the Torah. (I provided copies of the parasha).  This led organically to discussions that included everyone from the youngest grandchild with speaking ability to our most senior adult guests in their 90s. 

Thanks to Rabbi Alexander Davis and Cantor Audrey Abrams, my family experiment became a handout for Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN each Shabbat. The positive feedback demonstrated to me that there are many people willing to enhance their Friday night dinner. May Tasting Torah provide a little push and help in that direction. 

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A Dash of Bibliography

For Hebrew readers, there is a volume you can read as we progress through the book of Genesis to scan the approaches of various Israeli women to the issues of the parshiyot.  The book is called: Qorot Mib’reishit:  Nashim yisraeliot kotvot al n’shot sefer b’reishit. It was edited by Ruti Ravitzky and was published by Y’diot Ahronot in 1999.

A Dash of Comparative Literature

Wait…this is Torah! Why do we care about the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish? I’m not in search for an alternative belief system, but there are times when comparing Torah text to other texts written in the same era illuminates our own text and clarifies meaning.  Due to the modern wonder of the internet, you don’t need a copy of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET) or a cuneiform tablet to access the myth. Click to this website and you’ll find the story in English, not the original Akkadian.  For me, the most striking difference between Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Enuma Elish is the lack of conflict in the Genesis chapters of creation.  You’ll notice in Enuma Elish that creation is an outgrowth of conflict and revenge. If you know other creation myths, you might want to contrast them with the accounts of B’reishit.

A Dash of Halakha

A question posed by my grandchildren: why does Shabbat start on Friday and end on Saturday? Seven times chapter one includes the phrase:  “There was evening and there was morning a ___day.” We usher in the new day as evening falls and bid farewell to the day as the next evening falls. The Torah spends a lot of time discussing how to mark time—when the new months fall, when holidays occur, the Sabbatical year, the Jubilee.  Try encouraging discussion about marking time.  For young children the most important time marker is their birthday but it’s a good starting point to think about the birthday of the world in Genesis chapter one. By the way, in ancient Egyptian practice, a day began with the dawn but in Mesopotamia (the birthplace of Abram), day was reckoned from evening.

A Dash of Linguistics

What’s the origin of the English word, paradise? It comes from the Akkadian word, pardesu, which meant a walled garden.  If you think you recognize a Hebrew word in the Akkadian, you are not mistaken.  The Hebrew word, pardes, means an orchard and it’s used to refer to citrus groves.  Apple orchards have another word associated with them.  The word pardes doesn’t occur in our parasha but many equate the Garden of Eden with Paradise. The Septuagint does translate the word garden as paradeisos so you can easily see how the word crept into the other European languages from the Greek. You will never forget why an orange grove is called pardes if you walk through one with the blooms in full fragrance.

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01 bereishit bereishit chickpea soup

Shorba al Hummus (Chickpea Soup)

Dairy—serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ c. diced onions
  • ½ c. diced carrots
  • ½ c. diced celery
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2 c. vegetarian chicken broth
  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained
  • 32 oz. vegetable broth
  • 1 c. cored, diced tomatoes or ½ c. sun dried tomatoes in thin strips
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ground pepper
  • ½ c. raw rice
  • 11/2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
  • lemon wedges
  • Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a Dutch oven and add garlic, onions, celery and carrots.  Cook until the onions are wilted.  Sprinkle with cumin and flour, stirring to coat the ingredients evenly.
  2. Add 32 oz. vegetable broth stirring rapidly with a wire whisk.
  3. Add chickpeas, 2 c. broth, tomatoes, bay leaf, pepper and salt if desired.  Stir until liquid comes to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat 2 hrs.
  4. Add rice, cover and simmer 20 min. longer or until rice is cooked.
  5. Ladle about 1 c. of the soup (with as little broth as possible) into a food processor or blender and liquefy.  Return to soup pot and stir.  Add parsley.
  6. Remove the bay leaf and serve with lemon wedges and Parmesan.

The recipe creates a soup with a hint of piquancy.  To amp up the flavor, increase the onion, garlic, cumin, and pepper.  For those who prefer spicy, add cayenne pepper before serving.

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