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  • Andrew Roland

Shabbat Bereshit 5776

This week we start again the Torah from Bereshit, from the beginning. Sadly, one of the first incidents told in the Torah is that a man killed his brother; and men have gone one killing their brothers ever since, down to this day. The pages of history are full of blood stains and future pages will be as well until mankind has learnt the great lesson which the Torah teaches us in this Parashah.

Most of us will go through chapter 5 quickly and would not think that here was any use spending time on it. It consists entirely of a list of names of people and the number of years they lived. Looks of little importance, yet the Rabbis thought otherwise. They attached the biggest importance to it and derived from it ideas of the highest value, ideas that go to the root of the ills which are now troubling the World and especially the Land of Israel.

The chapter opens with these simple words: Ze sefer toldot Adam, “this is the book of the generations of Adam”. There hardly seems to be anything remarkable or profound about this sentence and yet one of the Sages, Ben Azzai, said this is the most important principle of the Torah, even more central than “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

The complete verse is “Ze sefer toldot Adam beyom bara Elokim Adam Bedmut Elokim asa oto”, “This is the book of generations of Adam. In the day that G-d created man, in the likeness of G-d made He him”. This means that the entire human race is one vast brotherhood, because the Torah teaches that every being is descended from the one common father, Adam. And here history is not important, as this doctrine’s value is not depending on science. To accept this idea is so important.

Mankind is divided into numerous groups different from each other in language, character, ideas and interests. A native of India is a very different person from a native of Norway and not only because of the colour of their skin, but much deeper embracing the whole mental and moral outlook on the World. For all that, the Torah insists that they are brothers, children of the one father. Is not a sublime conception? Humanity as a universal brotherhood, and sisterhood, is the greatest ideal we can place before us, especially in these times. Too much stress has been laid on the distinctive characteristics of the various nationalities. The dividing lines between peoples have been too sharp and not enough emphasis has been laid on the bonds which connect the various nations: the bonds of blood and a common humanity.

All divisions between men and women are more or less artificial. The differences of nationality, religion, colour, wealth and social status should not divide us off into self contained classes; and the accentuation of these differences, instead of stressing those features which link us all together, is the cause of national rivalries, religious persecutions and class struggles. When people are in certain situations, like being shipwrecked upon an empty island, they feel they are brothers, fellow human beings in distress. Their nationality no longer counts for much, nor do all the various social distinctions which were formerly regarded with so much importance. But why only then? Why not always?

This is the book of the generations of Adam. Whoever we are, whatever we are, rich or poor, noble or common, educated or illiterate, Jew or Gentile, we are all brothers and sisters, related through our common ancestry. The Rabbis beautifully symbolized this idea by asserting that when G-d created Adam from the dust of the earth, He collected particles of dust and brought them together from every part of the earth. They implied that however scattered the human race be , it is nevertheless a unity. It insists  that our differences are only skin-deep, that the same blood runs through the veins of human beings everywhere. Happy the day when we shall all awaken to this truth and act upon it.

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