Monday, July 11, 2011

A familiar verse, a different way to interpret it

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." -- Genesis 1:28
Reading the Talmud and overhearing the ancient sages interpret Scripture is fascinating to me. It is completely common to see a single verse discussed at length from one angle after another. What would happen if we interpreted this familiar Scripture above in that way?

I could picture a conversation on this verse much like the following. I hope I can be forgiven my poor attempts at dialog and imitating the general flavor of the conversations in the Talmud. Here is how I would picture a conversation on this verse, in the general style of the conversations in the Talmud:
First Student: "Did God bless them, or did God command them?"
Older student: "It is a command. He said two things, for it is written, 'God blessed them and said to them, etc".
Other student: "It is a blessing, for it is written, 'God blessed them.'"
First Teacher: "If you say the blessing and the command are two different things, if you say 'Be fruitful' is the command, then what is the blessing?"
Second Teacher: "The ancients have taught that this is a command for us. If you say 'be fruitful' is the blessing, then what is the command?"
First Teacher: "The blessing is fulfilled in living the command."

Third Teacher: "The ancients taught, 'God's Word here is part of the Words of Creation.' As God said 'Let there be light' and 'Let the earth produce life,' so the Holy One also said, 'Be fruitful.'"
Student: "But -- 'be fruitful' -- is it not the first command of the Torah?"
Third Teacher: "The first command of the Torah is part of the Words of Creation."
Second Teacher: "Are all the commands of the Torah part of the Words of Creation?"

First teacher: "He spoke from paradise. What blessing was needed in paradise?"
Third teacher: "The whole world was not paradise, as it says, 'And God planted a garden in the East.' Therefore the Holy One says, 'Fill the earth.'"

And so ends my flawed attempts to give you all an idea of the way a verse might look when it is discussed in the Talmud.

I mostly wanted to give you all an idea how "context" comes up in ways we might not expect. When a blessing and command are mentioned in the same verse, it raises the question whether there is a difference between a blessing and a command. When a saying of God occurs in the context of creation, it may be part of creation. And if the very first command of the Bible could be viewed as a blessing and as part of creation, it raises the same questions of all later commands.


Martin LaBar said...

So that's the sort of thing Tevye wanted to do in Fiddler on the Roof? Interesting.

Weekend Fisher said...

Maybe that's where he got the idea that he should have a stairway going up, and another one going down, and another going nowhere just for show.

On the bright side, I no longer have "Stairway to Heaven" running through my head.

Yada dada dada da ...

I really shouldn't post things involving lyrics late at night.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF