In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The Torah says: “I was the tool of G‑d’s artistry.” An architect who builds a palace does not do so on his own; he has scrolls and notebooks which he consults regarding how to place the rooms, where to set the doors. So it was with G‑d: He looked into the Torah and created the world.

(Midrash Rabbah)

G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world. Man looks into Torah and sustains the world.

(Zohar)

The Torah’s first word, bereishit, is an acronym for beit reishit—“two firsts” (the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beit, stands for the number two). This is to say that the world was created for the sake of two things called “first” (reishit)—the Torah (Proverbs 8:22) and the people of Israel (Jeremiah 2:3).

(Rashi; Midrash Rabbah)


In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth (1:1)

Said Rabbi Yitzchak: The Torah ought to have started with “This month shall be to you . . .” (Exodus 12:2), which is the first mitzvah commanded to the people of Israel. Why, then, does it begin with “In the beginning [G‑d created the heavens and the earth]”? . . . So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are thieves, for having conquered the lands of the seven nations,” they can reply to them: “The entire world is G‑d’s; He created it, and He grants it to whoever He desires. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us.”

(Rashi, Genesis 1:1)

The above dialogue between the “nations of the world” and the “people of Israel” also takes place in the “miniature universe” within the heart of man.

The Jew serves G‑d in two ways: 1) by fulfilling the divine commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah, and 2) by living his or her ordinary life—eating, sleeping, doing business, etc.—as an exercise in experiencing the divine and serving G‑d’s purpose in creation (as expressed by the ideals “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven” [Ethics of the Fathers 2:12] and “Know Him in all your ways” [Proverbs 3:6]).

It is regarding the second area that the Jew’s internal “nations of the world”—his worldly outlook—argues: You are thieves, for having conquered the lands of the seven nations! What business have you commandeering the “secular” areas of life? Must you turn everything into a religious issue? Serve G‑d in the ways He has explicitly told us to serve Him, and leave the rest to their rightful, worldly owners!

To answer this argument, the Torah begins not with its first mitzvah, but with the statement “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” The entire world is G‑d’s; He created it, the Torah is saying—not just the matzah eaten on Passover or the percentage of one’s income given to charity.

With its opening statement, the Torah is establishing that it is not merely a rulebook, a list of things to do or not to do. It is G‑d’s blueprint for creation, our guide for realizing the purpose for which everything in heaven and earth was made. Every creature, object and element; every force, phenomenon and potential; every moment of time was created by G‑d toward a purpose. Our mission in life is to conquer the lands of the seven nations and transform them into a Holy Land—a world permeated with the goodness and perfection of its Creator.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


In the beginning (1:1)

“In the beginning” refers to the beginning of time—the first, indivisible moment, before which time did not exist.

(Sforno)

Therein lies the answer to the question, posed by certain philosophers, as to why did G‑d create the world only when He did. Why not one year, a hundred years or a million years earlier, since whatever reasons He had for creation were certainly just as valid then? But time is itself part of G‑d’s creation. We cannot ask why the world was not created earlier, since there is no stretch of time that can be termed before creation.

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

Time was the first creation; thus the first mitzvah is kiddush hachodesh—the sanctification of time by setting the months and seasons of the Jewish calendar.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


In the beginning G‑d created (1:1)

The Hebrew verb bara (“created”) employed by this verse specifically means the creation of something from nothing.

(Ibn Ezra; Nachmanides)


The heavens and the earth (1:1)

The School of Shammai says: First the heavens were created, and then the earth, as it is written, “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” The School of Hillel says: First the earth was created, and then the heavens, as it is written, “In the day that G‑d made the earth and the heavens” (Genesis 2:4).

Said the School of Hillel to the School of Shammai: According to your interpretation, would one build a loft before one builds the house? For it is written (Amos 9:6), “Who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded His stairway upon the earth.” Said the School of Shammai to the School of Hillel: According to your interpretation, would one make the footstool and then make the chair? For it is written (Isaiah 66:1), “So said G‑d: Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.”

The sages say: Both were created together, as it is written (Isaiah 48:13), “My hand also founded the earth, and My right hand spanned the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together.”

(Talmud, Chagigah 12a)

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In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth (1:1)

Why does the Torah begin with a beit (i.e., the number two)? Because G‑d said: I built two palaces—one above and one below. I formed the laws of nature, and I established the life of the world to come.

(Otiyot d’Rabbi Akiva)

He lifted the revolver which lay on the table and pointed it at me, saying: “This toy does away with ‘principles.’ Fear of it has opened many a mouth—even the dumb have become talkative before it.”

“You are mistaken,” I replied. “That toy impresses those who have one world and many gods. But as for us, who have but a single G‑d and believe in two worlds, the toy which you are brandishing makes no impression whatsoever.”

(From the memoirs of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)


The earth was formless and void . . . (1:2)

Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: Ten things were created on the first day: heaven and earth, formlessness and void, light and darkness, wind and water, the measure of day and the measure of night.

(Talmud, Chagigah 12a)


The earth was formless and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep (1:2)

First comes darkness, then light.

(Talmud, Shabbat 77b)

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And the spirit of G‑d hovered above the surface of the waters (1:2)

“The spirit of G‑d hovered”—this is the spirit of Moshiach.

(Midrash Rabbah)

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G‑d said, “Let there be light!” and there was light . . . G‑d said, “Let there be a firmament” . . . G‑d said, “Let the earth sprout grass” . . . (1:3, etc.)

The world was created with ten utterances.

(Ethics of the Fathers 5:1)

It is written: “Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands firm in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89). Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, explained the verse thus: Your word which You uttered, “Let there be a firmament”—these very words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven, and are forever clothed within the heavens to give them life and existence. . . . For if these letters were to depart even for an instant, G‑d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become naught and absolute nothingness, and it would be as if they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance “Let there be a firmament.”

And so it is with all created things, down to the most corporeal and inanimate of substances. If the letters of the “ten utterances” by which the earth was created during the six days of creation were to depart from it for but an instant, G‑d forbid, it would revert to absolute nothingness.

This same thought was expressed by the Ari (master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria) of blessed memory, when he said that even in completely inanimate matter, such as earth and stones and water, there is a soul and spiritual life-force—that is, the letters of divine “speech” clothed within it which continually grant it life and existence.

(Tanya)


The world was created with ten utterances. What does this come to teach us? Certainly, it could have been created with a single utterance. However, this is in order to make the wicked accountable for destroying a world that was created with ten utterances, and to reward the righteous for sustaining a world that was created with ten utterances.

(Ethics of the Fathers 5:1)

When Ethics says that the world “could have been created with a single utterance,” it is not just speaking of a theoretical possibility, but of an aspect of our present reality—an aspect deriving from the primordial potential (the “could”) of G‑d’s creative power.

In other words, there are two dimensions to our existence:

1) Its essential being. G‑d brought all things into existence out of a prior state of absolute nothingness, so that together they should form the world He desired. This is the essence of their “somethingness”—a feature that they all share equally, their individual traits fading to insignificance before this fact. This most basic dimension of creation derives from the divine “could.”

2) The individual qualities and features of the different creations. These are the product of the “ten utterances” (corresponding to the ten sefirot which constitute the spiritual “building blocks” of creation).

Of course, G‑d could have created our world, in all its infinite detail, with a singular expression of his desire for a world. But had He done so, the only truly meaningful aspect of our existence would have been the common denominator of all reality—the fact that it exists to serve the ultimate realization of G‑d’s purpose in creation. The particulars of each existence would not possess any significance of their own. That G‑d “bothered” to create the world with ten different utterances means that the particular traits of each being are significant—not just as a means to the ultimate end, but as things of value in their own right.

(The Chassidic Masters)


G‑d said, “Let there be light!” and there was light (1:3)

The Midrash compares G‑d’s creation of the universe to the work of a human architect. When a person wishes to build something, first he fixes his purpose in his mind. Then he starts his labor.

“Let there be light” was the first statement in Creation, because “light” is the true purpose of existence: through the study of Torah and the fullfilment of mitzvot, divine radiance is revealed.

“Light” is the purpose of existence as a whole. Further, each individual is a microcosm of the world. “Light” is therefore the purpose of each Jew: that he or she transforms his or her situation and environment from darkness and negativity to light and goodness.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


Click here for a Kabbalistic interpretation of the first four verses of Bereishit


And let it divide water from water (1:6)

Why doesn’t it say “it was good” on the second day? Because on that day divisiveness was created.

(Midrash Rabbah)


G‑d . . . divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament (1:7)

The lower waters weep: We wish to be in the presence of the King.

(Tikkunei Zohar)

A covenant was made, in the days of creation, with the “lower waters,” that they will be offered up on the altar, in the salt brought with each offering, and in the water poured upon the altar on the festival of Sukkot.

(Rashi, Leviticus 2:13)


G‑d made the two great luminaries: the great luminary to rule the day, and the small luminary to rule the night (1:16)

It says, “G‑d made the two great luminaries,” but then it says, “the great luminary and the small luminary”?

Indeed, at first they were both great, but then the moon said to G‑d: Master of the Universe! Can two kings wear the same crown?

Said G‑d to her: Go diminish yourself.

Said she to Him: Master of the Universe! Because I have said a proper thing, I must diminish myself?

Said He to her: You may rule both during the day and at night.

Said she to Him: What advantage is there in that? What does a lamp accomplish at high noon?

Said He to her: The people of Israel shall calculate their dates and years by you.

Said she to Him: But the sun, too, shall have a part in that, for they shall calculate the seasons by him.

Said G‑d: The righteous shall be called by your name—Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small.

Still G‑d saw that the moon was not appeased. So G‑d said: Offer an atonement for My sake, for My having diminished the moon. This is the significance of what Reish Lakish said: Why does the he-goat offered on Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) differ from the others in that it is specified as “for G‑d”? G‑d is saying: This he-goat shall atone for My diminishing of the moon.

(Talmud, Chullin 60b)

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Male and female He created them (1:27)

G‑d created the first man as a two-sided creature—one face male, and one face female. He then hewed him in two and made a back for each half.

(Midrash Rabbah)

If G‑d desired mankind to be comprised of both male and female, why did He not create them that way in the first place—as He did with the other animals?

Because if they were to be originally and intrinsically two, each would be trapped in the exclusivity of his or her identity. Their encounter would be a relationship at best, a war at worst. Neither would have it in them to transcend the individuality into which they were born. The two would remain two, however integrated.

But neither did G‑d desire man to be a singular being. As a single individual, man was without match, without challenge, and thus without potential for growth and creation. “It is not good that man be alone,” said the Creator; he requires a “helpmeet” and an “opposite.”

So G‑d created them one, and then split them into two. Thus man searches for woman, and woman yearns for man. Thus each has it within their power to reach within their splintered self and uncover their primordial oneness. Thus man and woman cleave to each other and become one.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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G‑d looked upon all that He made, and behold it was very good (1:31)

“Behold it was very good”—this is the good inclination; “and behold it was very good”—this is the inclination for evil.

“Behold it was very good”—this is good fortune; “and behold it was very good”—this is suffering.

“Behold it was very good”—this is paradise; “and behold it was very good”—this is hell.

“Behold it was very good”—this is the angel of life; “and behold it was very good”—this is the angel of death.

(Midrash Rabbah)


And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (1:31)

The six days of creation embody the whole of history, for the world shall exist six thousand years (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 31a), which is why it is said that “G‑d’s day is a thousand years” (Midrash Rabbah).

The first day of creation, which saw the creation of light, corresponds to the first millennium of history—the millennium of Adam, the light of the world, when the world was still saturated with knowledge of its Creator and was sustained by the indiscriminate benevolence of G‑d. The second day, on which the Creator distinguished between the spiritual and the physical elements of His creation, yielded a second millennium of judgment and discrimination—as reflected in the flood which wiped out a corrupt humanity and spared only the righteous Noah and his family. The third day, on which the land emerged from the sea and sprouted forth greenery and fruit-bearing trees, encapsulates the third millennium, in which Abraham began teaching the truth of the One G‑d, and the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. The fourth day, on which G‑d created the sun and the moon, the two great luminaries, the greater luminary and the lesser luminary, corresponds to the fourth millennium, during which the First Temple and the Second Temple in Jerusalem served as the divine abode from which light emanated to the entire world. The fifth day, the day of fish, birds and reptiles, represents the lawless and predatory Dark Ages of the fifth millennium. The sixth day, whose early hours saw the creation of the beasts of the land, followed by the creation of man, is our millennium—a millennium marked by strong, forceful empires, whose beastly rule will be followed by the emergence of Moshiach, the perfect man who brings to realization the divine purpose in creation and ushers in the seventh millennium—the world to come—a time of perfect peace and tranquility.

(Nachmanides)

Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat at twilight. These are: the mouth of the earth (where it swallowed Korach); the mouth of the well (of Miriam, that provided water for the Israelites in the desert); the mouth of (Balaam’s) ass; the rainbow; the manna; (Moses’) staff; the shamir (that cut the stones of the altar in the Holy Temple); and the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments].

(Ethics of the Fathers 5:6)

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G‑d completed on the seventh day His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done (2:2)

What was the world lacking? Rest. When Shabbat came, rest came.

[This is to explain the apparent contradiction between the first and second parts of this verse: Did G‑d conclude His work on or before the seventh day? Were there six or seven days of creation? The answer is that rest, too, is a creation.]

(Rashi)


G‑d took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it (2:15)

“To work it”—these are the positive commandments; “and to keep it”—these are the prohibitions.

(Zohar)

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A helpmeet opposite him (2:18)

If he is worthy, she is a help to him; if he is not, she opposes him.

Rabbi Yosei encountered Elijah the prophet, and asked him: “It is written, ‘I will make him a helpmeet’; in what does a woman help a man?” Said he to him: “A man brings home wheat—does he chew wheat? He brings home flax—does he wear flax? Does she not then light up his eyes and set him on his feet?”

(Talmud, Yevamot 63a)


G‑d formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (2:19)

When G‑d came to create man, He consulted with the angels. He said to them: “Let us make a man.” Said they to Him: “This man, what is his worth?” Said He to them: “His wisdom is greater than yours.”

G‑d brought before them the beasts, the wild animals and the birds and asked them, “This, what is its name?” and they did not know. He then brought them before the man and asked him, “This, what is its name?” and the man said, “This is a shor (ox), this is a chamor (donkey), this is a sus (horse) and this is a gamal (camel).”

Said G‑d to him: “And you, what is your name?”

Said he: “Me it is proper to call Adam, since I was created from the earth (adamah).”

“And I, what is My name?”

“You it is proper to call A‑do‑nai (‘Lord’), for You are Master of all Your creations.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

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G‑d caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and He took one of his sides, and closed up the flesh in its place (2:21)

An unbeliever said to Rabban Gamliel: “Your G‑d is a thief, as it is written, ‘G‑d caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and He took one of his sides.’”

Said the man’s daughter, “Allow me to reply.” Said she to him: “Summon me a guardsman.”

“Why do you require one?” asked her father.

“Thieves came upon us in the night, took a silver flask, and left us a golden flask.”

“If only they would come every night.”

“And was it not beneficial for Adam that a side was taken from him, and a handmaid to serve him was given him in its place?”

“What I mean to ask,” said the man, “is: why could it not have been taken in his presence?”

Said she: “Bring me a piece of raw meat.”

It was brought her; she charred it in the ashes of the hearth, handed it to him and said: “Eat of this!”

Said he to her: “It is repulsive to me.”

Said she to him: “Adam, too, if the woman had been formed in his sight, she would be repulsive to him.”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a)


And she took of its fruit and ate (3:6)

What was the tree from which Adam and Eve ate? Rabbi Meir says it was wheat . . . Rabbi Judah ben Ilai says it was grapes . . . Rabbi Abba of Acco says it was an ethrog (citron) . . . Rabbi Yosei says they were figs.

Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Shimon said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: G‑d forbid that we should conjecture which tree it was! G‑d did not, and will not, reveal its name . . .

(Midrash Rabbah)


The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise; and she took of its fruit and ate (3:6)

The fearsome things You bring upon us, You bring about by contrivance. Look: when G‑d created the world, He created the angel of death on the very first day . . . as it is written, “And darkness was upon the face of the abyss” (Genesis 1:2). Man was created only on the sixth day, and it is a plot that was contrived against him that he is the one who brought death upon the world [by eating from the Tree of Knowledge], as it is written, “For on the day that you eat from it, you shall die” (ibid. 2:17).

What is this comparable to? To one who wishes to divorce his wife. On the way home, he has a bill of divorce written up. He comes home with the bill of divorce in his hand, plotting a way to give it to her. He says to her: “Pour me a cup, that I may drink.” She pours out a cup for him. As soon as he takes the cup from her hand, he says to her: “Here is your divorce.” Says she to him: “What is my crime?” Says he to her: “Leave my house, for you have poured me a lukewarm cup.” Says she to him: “You knew in advance that I would pour you a lukewarm cup—you have already written the bill of divorce and brought it with you in your hand!”

By the same token, Adam said to G‑d: “Master of the World! For two thousand years before You created Your world, the Torah was safeguarded with You . . . and in it is written, ‘This is the law: If a man should die in a tent . . .’ (Numbers 19:14). Had You not prepared death for Your creatures, would You have so written? And then You come and attach the blame to me.” Hence (Psalms 66:5): “His fearsome plot upon the children of man.”

(Midrash Tanchuma)

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G‑d called out to the man and said to him: “Where are you?” (3:9)

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on charges that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For 53 days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.

Among the rebbe’s interrogators was a government minister who possessed broad knowledge of the Bible and of Jewish studies. On one occasion he asked the rebbe to explain the verse, “G‑d called out to the man and said to him: ‘Where are you?’” Did G‑d not know where Adam was?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman presented the classic explanation offered by the commentaries: the question “Where are you?” was merely a “conversation opener” on the part of G‑d, who did not wish to unnerve Adam by immediately confronting him with his wrongdoing.

“What Rashi says, I already know,” said the minister. “I wish to hear how the rebbe understands the verse.”

“Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?” asked the rebbe. “That its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?”

“Yes,” replied the minister.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was extremely gratified to hear this. The czar’s minister had affirmed a principle which lies at the basis of the teachings of Chassidism, founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov—the very teachings for which he, Rabbi Schneur Zaman, was standing trial.

“‘Where are you,’” explained the rebbe, “is G‑d’s perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days”—here Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister—“where are you? What have you attained?”

(Told by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)


Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you (3:18)

Kotz (“thorns”) is artichokes, while dardar (“thistles”) is cardoon.

(Midrash Rabbah)


And G‑d said: Behold, the man is become like one of us, knowing good and evil (3:22)

Freedom of choice has been granted to every man: if he desires to turn to the way of good and be righteous—he has that ability; and if he desires to turn to the way of evil and be wicked—he has that ability. This is what it says in the Torah, “Behold, the man is become unique, of himself knowing good and evil,” meaning: this species, man, has become unique in the world, and there is no other species similar to him in this matter—that he, on his own, from his own mind and thought, knows good and evil and does whichever he desires, and there is none that prevents him from doing either good or evil . . .

[Maimonides follows Onkelos’ rendition of the Hebrew words k’achad mimenu—commonly translated “like one of us”—to mean “unique, of himself.”]

This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments. As it is written (Deuteronomy 30:15): “See, I have set before you life and good, and death and evil” . . . For were G‑d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, or if there were to exist something in the essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed . . . how could G‑d command us through the prophets, “Do this” and “do not do this,” “improve your ways” and “do not follow your wickedness” . . . ? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G‑d punish the wicked and reward the righteous . . . ?

(Maimonides)

Evil, and freedom of choice, existed before Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. But then evil was something external from the person, and the two domains were completely separate. Man’s mission in life was to “work and keep the Garden”—to cultivate the good and keep out the bad. By eating from the Tree, man gained intimate knowledge (daat) of evil, ingesting it into himself and—man being a microcosm of creation—into his world. From that point on the two realms were confused, there being no evil without good and no good without evil. The task of man became the “work of refinement” (avodat habirurim)—to distinguish and separate good from evil and evil from good.

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)


G‑d made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them (3:21)

In Rabbi Meir’s Torah it was found written, “garments of light.”

[In Hebrew, the word or spelled with an ayin means “skin,” while or spelled with an aleph means “light.”]

This refers to Adam’s garments, which were like a torch [shedding radiance], broad at the bottom and narrow at the top.

Isaac the Elder said: They were as smooth as a fingernail and as beautiful as a jewel.

Rabbi Yochanan said: They were like the fine linen garments which come from Bet Shean, “garments of skin” meaning those that are nearest to the skin.

Rabbi Elazar said: They were of goats’ skin.

Rabbi Joshua said: Of hares’ skin.

Rabbi Yosei bar Rabbi Chanina said: It was a garment made of skin with its wool.

Resh Lakish said: It was of Circassian wool, and these were used [later] by the firstborn.

Rabbi Samuel ben Nachman said: They were made from the wool of camels and the wool of hares, “garments of skin” meaning those which are produced from the skin.

Rabbi Levi said: The Torah teaches you here a rule of worldly wisdom: Spend according to your means on food, less than you can afford on clothing, but more than you can afford on a dwelling. Spend according to your means on food, as it is written, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” (Genesis 2:16). Less than you can afford on clothing, as it is written, “G‑d made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (i.e., simple clothes). More than you can afford on a dwelling, for they were but two, yet they dwelled in the whole world . . .

(Midrash Rabbah)


The man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bore Cain, saying, “I have acquired a man from G‑d” (4:1)

Adam was created from the ground, and Eve from Adam; but henceforth it shall be “in Our image, after Our likeness”—neither man without woman nor woman without man, nor both of them without the Shechinah (divine presence).

(Midrash Rabbah)


And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof; and G‑d paid heed to Abel and to his offering (4:4)

By the same token, everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. When one clothes the naked, he should clothe him with the finest of his clothes. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), “All the fat is to G‑d.”

(Maimonides)


And G‑d paid heed to Abel (4:4)

“G‑d seeks out the victim” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). Whether a righteous person persecutes a righteous person, a wicked person persecutes a wicked person, a wicked person persecutes a righteous person, or even if a righteous person persecutes a wicked person—G‑d will always heed the victim. See: Abel was persecuted by Cain, and G‑d paid heed to Abel.

(Midrash Tanchuma)


Cain had words with Abel his brother (4:8)

About what did they quarrel? “Come,” said they, “let us divide the world.” Cain took the land, and Abel took the movables (the cattle). Said Cain: “The land you stand on is mine”; retorted Abel, “The clothes you are wearing are mine.” One said: “Strip!”; the other said “Fly!” Out of this quarrel, Cain rose up against his brother Abel.

Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in Rabbi Levi’s name: Both took land and both took movables, but about what did they quarrel? One said: “The Holy Temple must be built in my area,” while the other claimed, “It must be built in mine.”

Judah ben Ami said: Their quarrel was over the first Eve. Said Rabbi Aibu: The first Eve had returned to dust. Then about what was their quarrel? Said Rabbi Huna: An additional twin was born with Abel, and each claimed her. (According to the Midrash, twin sisters were born together with Cain and Abel for them to marry—one with Cain and two with Abel.) The one claimed: “I will have her, because I am the firstborn”; while the other maintained: “She is mine, because she was born with me.”

(Midrash Rabbah)


The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground (4:10)

His blood, and the blood of all his descendants. Another explanation: Cain made many wounds in him, not knowing how he might be killed.

[In the Hebrew original, the words for “blood” and “cries” are written in the plural form, so that a literal translation would read, “The voice of your brother’s bloods cry out to Me.”]

(Rashi)


The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground (4:10)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: It is difficult to say this thing, and the mouth cannot utter it plainly. Think of two athletes wrestling before the king; had the king wished, he could have separated them. But he did not so desire, and one overcame the other and killed him, and the victim cries out: “Who will plead my case against the king?

[The verse can also be read, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries against Me.”]

(Midrash Rabbah)


This is the book of the chronicles of man (5:1)

Said Reish Lakish: This comes to teach us that G‑d showed Adam each and every generation of history and its leaders.

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b)


G‑d regretted that He had made man on the earth (6:6)

To say that G‑d regrets something is obviously at odds with our understanding of His omniscience and omnipotence. Regret implies that one now knows something that one did not know before; that one’s earlier decision or deed was flawed or ill-informed; that one has now matured to the point that he can look back and reject a deficient past. None of this, of course, can be related to G‑d. In the words of the verse, “G‑d is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of Adam that He should regret” (Numbers 23:19).

Attributing regret to G‑d represents a further problem: if G‑d regrets the creation of something, how could that thing continue to exist for even a single instant? As the chassidic masters explain, creation is a perpetual act on the part of G‑d. When the Torah tells us that “G‑d said: ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light,” it isn’t describing a one-time event which took place on the first day of creation; it is telling us that what we experience as light is the embodiment of G‑d’s continued articulation of His desire that there be light. In every fraction of every moment of time, G‑d says, “Let there be light!” and it is this divine utterance that constitutes the essence of physical light. For no being or phenomenon can possibly exist independently of G‑d’s constant involvement in its creation.

In discussing G‑d, we inevitably use terms whose meaning is colored by the dynamics of our experience—an experience bounded by time, space and our human limitations. Our only other option would be not to speak of G‑d at all (which is not an option, since G‑d has commanded us to not only believe in His existence, but also to know and comprehend it to the extent to which we are capable). So in using these terms, we must always take care to strip them of their mortal trappings and apply only their pure, noncorporeal essence to our understanding of G‑d’s relationship to our existence.

Thus, when the Torah tells us that G‑d regrets something, it expects us to strip the term “regret” down to its bare conceptual bones, to divest it of all connotations of failing and past ignorance—indeed, of time itself—before applying it to G‑d.

Regret, to us, means that something is both desired and not desired—desired in the past, but not desired in the present. Applied to a time-transcendent G‑d, regret implies both these states simultaneously: something that is both desired and not desired, with the desire belonging to the more distant dimension of the thing (its past), and the non-desire belonging to its more apparent and immediate dimension (its present) . . .

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)