This week’s Torah portion, B’reisheet (Gen. 1:1-6:8) tells the story of creation. In fact, it tells it twice. The first Creation narrative, Gen. 1:1-2:3, tells of a well-organized creation of the heavens and the earth, beginning from chaos. In six neatly ordered “days”, God creates light and darkness, heaven and earth, seas and dry land, sun, moon and stars, creatures of the air and sea, and finally ending with land creatures, and last of all, human beings, male and female. On the seventh day, God ceases from work and rests. And then, instead of moving on, comes yet another recounting of creation.
The second Creation narrative, Gen. 2:4-25, begins with a formed planet, but with nothing yet growing on it. God first creates the male human out of the dust of the earth, and blows the breath of life into him. God follows with a garden in the east, called Eden, and then considers that it is not good for him to be alone. God creates all manner of animals and birds, and brings them to the man but none is an appropriate companion. Then God puts the man into a deep sleep, removes one of his ribs, and fashions a woman from it and brings her to the man, and the man names her, too, calling her “woman”.
The two stories may be explained, as Dr. Tamara Eskenazi does in her introduction to her work, The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, as follows: “A wide-angle lens that encompasses the whole world in Genesis 1 is augmented in Genesis 2-3 with a zoom lens that discloses an ‘up close and personal’ relationship with God. This split-screen view characterizes the Torah as a whole and introduces a biblical perspective on important events.”
One difference between the two stories that is seldom commented upon is the way God is depicted in the two versions of Creation. In the first, God, working alone, builds an ordered universe from utter chaos. There is no question but that God is in charge, and knows exactly what is to be done. In the second, God creates the man, allows him to name the animals, and then casts about for a suitable helpmeet for him, apparently not even knowing what that might be. Perhaps when the human factor enters the story, and God must interact with us, there can be no such thing as order and organization.