The first two sedras of the Torah seem like a comedy of errors. Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, Cain murders his brother in cold blood and humanity becomes so depraved that they are wiped out in a flood.
To add insult to injury, humanity 2.0 attempts a rebellion against the Almighty with the Tower of Babel, resulting in linguistic and geographical conflict. This is a world that appears to be spiralling to self-destruction with the three major flaws mentioned in Pirkei Avot 4:21: Jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honour.
Lech Lecha sees the focus shift to one man and his family. Abram is singled out for a mission, to rectify a heathen world devoid of morals by bringing humanity back to an awareness of God.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin explains that Bereishit is referred to as sefer hayashar, “the book of the just”, referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their families.
The word yashar actually means “straight”, meaning one could draw a figurative straight line from their values to actions.
Abraham is a philosopher, who discovers the world has an Infinite Creator, decades before that Creator ever appears to him. He rectifies the sin of jealousy through pursuing loving kindness, as evidenced from his open home and his desire to save Sodom.
Isaac is a man of inner strength and moral fortitude, as seen during the episode of the Akeida and rectifies the sin of lust.
Jacob, the man of truth, fights for his values against those who sought to deceive him and rectifies the sin of (false) honour.
The stories of Bereishit are full of layers of meaning, teaching us how to draw a straight line from values to action.
- Rabbi Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust