Weekly Parashah

Parashah Bereshit

29 Tishrei 5781 \ October 17th, 2020

By Bob Barrett


This Week’s Readings

Torah: Genesis: 1:1-6:8

Haftarah: 1Samuel 20:18-42

Brit Chadashah: Acts 7:51-60


In the synagogue I attended as a child—in New York City—we had a Junior Congregation every Saturday morning, in which those under bar mitzvah age would gather for a Shabbat service, very similar to the liturgy we have here. During the service the Rabbi and Cantor would join us for some teaching. I was about 10 years old, at the time, when the Cantor asked us, “Who killed 25% of the world’s population?” In unison we all answered, “Hitler.” “No,” he said. Then some of us answered, “Pharaoh.” And again, he shook his head, “No.” When we gave up, he said, “Cain,” explaining that when he killed Able there were only four people in the world, so Cain killed 1/4 of the world’s population. It is interesting to note that within the fourth chapter of Scripture we have a murder. Continuing in the Parashah readings, we have the wickedness of the entire world, and the need for the Flood.


Chicago is a very violent town, with murders occurring almost every day. Not surprising for a city whose favorite son is Al Capone.  Every souvenir shop in Chicago has his face on T-shirts, mugs and more. We seem to relish our violent pass, with murder tours in which you can ride a bus that will take you to some of the city’s famous crime scenes, such as where Dillinger was shot and where the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred. Violence can bring profits.


In the Torah Portion, we read about the first murder, Cain killing Abel. Both men brought offerings to G-d, but G-d looked favorable upon Abel’s offering but not so on Cain’s. This angered Cain and he slew his brother. Violence and death brought on by jealousy and anger. Not unlike today. Further in the portion we read of humankind's inclination towards wickedness and evil. Although violence toward each other is not directly mentioned, it can be implied as part of the evil that was dominating the earth. G-d regretted He had created mankind and planned to wipe them out, except for Noah. G-d is grieved by our evil actions, an important reason not to commit them.


Violence and attempted murder are seen in the Haftarah Portion.  Here Saul is brought to rage against his son Jonathan when Jonathan sides with David over his own inheritance. Saul, who wants to kill David, actually hurls a spear at his own son Jonathan, wanting to kill him too. Later on, in this book, we can see G-d’s handy work in preserving David over Saul. Jonathan’s love with David is also credited to G-d, when—a few versus before this Haftarah portion begins—Jonathan asks David to demonstrate the loyal love of ADONAI by sparing his life, once David becomes king. G-d’s love for David is a constant through this story, showing us how He shapes our lives. Although violence is all around David, and Jonathan too, G-d’s will prevails.


In the Brit Chadashah, G-d’s will is again demonstrated in the midst of great violence. Stephen is about to be stoned, a painful death at the hands of the religious leaders. G-d opens the heavens to reveal His glory and Yeshua standing at His right hand, a sign of Yeshua’s power and authority. Stephen is able to bear his stoning and death because of his certainty of G-d’s glory and Yeshua’s part in it. He asks first for his spirit to be received by Yeshua, then for the leaders’ sins not to be held against them. Stephen is able to see the Glory of G-d in heaven and to ask for the forgiveness of his tormentors’ sins because he is filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh. It would be wonderful if we could be filled with the Spirit in this way.


There is evil and violence all around us. Are we able to see the Father and Son through this pain?