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MASTER/RULE OR TILL/TEND

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast HERE.

There are two stories of creation of the world. Each has its own method with which to sustain the newly created world.

In the first story, the world is unformed and void. There is no order, just chaos. Out of the darkness and wind, God brought forth light. With each succeeding day, there is separation and distinction. Light and Darkness. Water above and water below. Earth and Sky. Land and Sea.  Sun, Moon. Stars. Creatures that swarm or fly or creep. Animals and Humans.

And then God distinguished between human beings and all the rest of creation:

God blessed [the human beings] and said to them, Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” (Genesis 1:20)

וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Order reigned at last. God placed power and control into the hands of humans with commands like fill [the space], master, and rule. This story of creation contains hierarchy even as it transforms the world from chaos into order.

But there is another story and therefore, another way. The human being came to life from the dust of the earth with water welling up. And then immediately, God planted a garden. Notice that it was God who provided the collection of the garden all together, not segregated or separated. What grows from the garden is “the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.”  (Genesis 2: 9). The garden becomes the center of the universe with a clear focus on these two trees. A river watered the garden.

And then came the directive:

The Eternal God took the human and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.

(2:15)

וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃

The language has no instruction but rather a specific purpose for the human in the garden: to till and tend it. The Hebrew offers the impression of serving and guarding the land. There is no hierarchy. Instead, there is an attitude. Humans must take care of it and all that it contains.  The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and bad serve as a reminder.

The snake and the forbidden fruit that lead to expulsion are certainly part of the story but we miss a fundamental act of creation if we only focus on the foibles described later.

Our destiny is tied to the earth and we are placed on it as its guardian.  Imagine the possibilities when we seek to till and tend rather than master and rule.

There are two stories of creation. Which one will take us into eternity?

Shabbat Shalom!

  • Join us at 6:00 p.m. for our Shabbat of Environmental Justice featuring Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder & CEO of Dayenu, a new organization mobilizing the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis. We can pray together HERE on the Temple Israel website, or HERE on Zoom, or even HERE on TI’s Facebook page. Or, just find it all on the website www.tisrael.org/TogetherWithTI.
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