As we conclude the first book of the Torah together it is fitting to look back, reflect, and offer some observations on our experience. It is obvious that the Torah is not a history book. The chronology is funny at times, many seemingly important details are glossed over or omitted.
It is not a science book, we have to find out for ourselves the processes that were utilized in the divine creation.
It has a unique style, incorporating many sophisticated literary devices and techniques. It seems to economize at times, and other times will repeat sections verbatim, with verbiage that seems redundant. It definitely begs for interpretation and explanation. The Torah is not shy at telling us that we need to immerse ourselves within, to meditate, study, and discuss. Luckily for us we have a legacy of commentary offering us a myriad of approaches to getting inside, from a simple surface reading to esoteric exegesis.
The creation story in the first chapter of the book of Genesis is one of the most profound narratives in the entire Torah.
The narrative begins with G-d “speaking” (to whom?…) and we have the classic creation utterances, ” Let there be light”, “Let there be a canopy”. G-d takes a break in the creation, so to speak, and on day 5 offers a blessing to his creations as well:
“El-him blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the waters of the seas….” (Gen. 1:22)
The first commandment, the first mitzvah in the torah is to the fish!
An identical blessing and commandment is made to the first man and woman:
“El-him blessed them, and El-him said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and dominate the fish of the sea….” (Gen. 1:28)
This sub theme of “Be fruitful and multiply” runs through the entire book of Genesis, commanded to Noah and his sons, to Jacob (Yaakov), and appears in the beginning of this week’s parasha:
“Yaakov said to Yosef, “Almighty Sh-ddai appeared to me in Luz, in the land of Canaan, and He blessed me. He said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you into an assembly of nations…” (Gen. 48:3-4)
Let’s dig a bit deeper…. if we examine the prophecy that Yaakov spoke of (Gen 35:11) we see that G-d actually told him ” P’rai u’rvai”, the singular form of the original command to Adam and Eve. Yet, he retells the exchange to his son Yosef, quoting G-d as saying “I will make you fruitful….” (Gen. 48:4).
Why the subtle change? As you know, the foreparents were all initially barren! They could try as best they could, but they did not have the power to fulfill that mitzvah of procreation without divine intervention. The fish, going back to the creation story, had no such challenges, lacking any spiritual obstacles, any negative energy to keep them from fulfilling G-d’s commandments. But the forefathers and mothers all had to pray for the gift of life, to engage in a relationship with the creator, to overcome their negative inclination.
Going a bit deeper, we can learn from this that Yaakov was acknowledging the the hand of G-d was present in all his accomplishments, that he himself could take no personal credit for his material successes. It is no surprise that Yosef felt the same, telling first Pharoah, and then his brothers that all that was taking place was indeed the divine plan playing out.
Yaakov had a very hard, but very satisfying life, and like any parent, he wanted the best for his progeny. He gives a special blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, who are the first of the family to be born and raised in Egypt, and challenged with keeping the strong connection to G-d and family in the midst of oceans of idolatry and materialism.
His blessing to them? “V’yigdu larov”, that they should be fruitful and multiply like the fish! They should not have to suffer, or be tested like their ancestors, rather their inclination should be towards achieving their potential as effortlessly as the the first recipients of G-d’s commandments.