Posted on October 23, 2022 by Carole Daman
Today is the 16th Yahrzeit of my wonderful husband, Dr. Harlan Daman, Tsvi Hirsh ben Dovid Aryeh.
He died during the week after Simchat Torah so the last Torah portion he heard was the first account of Creation. He did not get to hear the rest of Parshat Bereshit. R. Nachman Cohen has observed that the section of Parshat Bereshit that we read on Simchat Torah describes the marvelous creation of the world. In contrast, he notes, the rest of the parsha describes multiple failures by mankind. While the reading on Simchat Torah ends with the Kedusha of the Sabbath, the end of the Parshat Bereshit focuses on Hashem’s anguish and regret over His creation of humanity.
Harlan passed away after a glorious weekend celebrating Simchat Torah (and Parents’ Weekend) with our son Avi who was then a freshman at the University of Maryland. In many ways, he left this world on a high note. Indeed his perspective on humanity was much closer to that of the Torah reading on Simchat Torah, though he recognized the complexity of life and human interactions reflected in the rest of the parsha.
One of Harlan’s key characteristics was that he always saw the good in people and focused on helping them build on their strengths, paying minimal attention to their flaws. As a doctor (he was an allergist), he was interested in his patients as unique individuals and offered them not just medical treatment but conversation and sometimes counseling.
In Harlan’s zchut and in appreciation of the support and encouragement he always gave me, I would like to share some reflections on the part of the parsha he did not get to hear that year. These observations are in accord with Rabbi Cohen’s negative view of the remainder of the parsha.
After the section we read on Simchat Torah, the second account of Creation begins with the words Eleh Toldot. This phrase is used later in Sefer Bereshit to introduce the descendants of a particular individual but here it refers to the products of the generativity of Hashamayim V’Haaretz, the heavens and the earth. First HaAdam is formed from the dust of the earth and has the Nishmat Chaim, the soul of life, blown into him by God. Then Hashem plants a garden in Eden and puts HaAdam there. This movement of HaAdam into Gan Eden is mentioned a second time a few verses later after we are told about God planting trees and the rivers that go forth from Eden. The verse reads
“And Hashem God took HaAdam and placed him in Gan Eden to work it and to guard it.” (Gen. 2:15)
The word used here translated as “placed him” is “Vayanichayhu”. I believe it is the first appearance in the Torah of the root Nun Vav Chet, which is the simple Kal form of the verb meaning “to rest” – either in the sense of settling down and remaining somewhere or in the sense of being quiet and in repose. That second meaning is applied to what Hashem did on the 7th day, Shabbat, according to the Ten Commandments. Of course the root is also familiar as the name of Noach who is introduced at the end of Parshat Bereshit.
The very last verse of the parsha tells us that Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem, but that is the only ray of light at the end of a series of human failures. First Adam and Chava eat from the Tree of Knowledge and are expelled from Gan Eden. Then Kayin kills his brother Hevel. Kayin’s descendants, listed in a genealogy, contribute to the development of civilization but seem to lack a moral compass. Indeed as Ramban notes, all of Kayin’s descendants are killed in the Flood.
Immediately after the Torah enumerates the descendants of Kayin, it tells us that Adam and Chava had a third son, Shet or Seth. Noach is a descendant of Shet. The genealogy of Shet’s descendants, who live at the same time as those of Kayin and have similar names, is introduced in a way that suggests a new beginning using phrases reminiscent of the first two accounts of Creation. It reads:
This is the Book of the descendants of Adam on the day of God creating Adam in the likeness of God He made him. Male and female He created him and He blessed them and called their name Adam on the day they were created. (Gen. 5:1)
This is a promising beginning and suggests a reset for mankind. There also seems to be a positive contrast between the descendants of Shet and the descendants of Kayin with similar names. This is seen most notably in the case of Lemech. Kayin’s descendant Lemech kills Kayin, his ancestor, and then, according to some interpretations, seems to brag about it. Shet’s descendant Lemech is Noach’s father and has high hopes for the future. But still the story does not end well.
Lemech names his son Noach saying Yinachamaynu, he will bring ease or respite from the Itzvon, the suffering caused by God’s cursing the ground after the sin of Adam and Chava. But, as a result of humanity’s increasing wickedness, that Itzvon earlier thrust upon Adam (and also upon Chava in bearing children) is then echoed in the description of the pain Hashem feels in his heart with a verb having the same root as Itzvon- “Vayitatzayv el Libo”. What ensues is not to a respite from man’s suffering but rather God’s decision to wipe out humanity because Vayinachaym Hashem, God has reconsidered and regretted his creation of humanity.
As the parsha ends, the only glimmer of hope is that the grace, the Chen- Chet Nun- that Noach– Nun Chet- has found in the eyes of God will turn things around and mitigate a dire situation.
As I mentioned earlier, Harlan was able to see the Chen, the grace or beauty, in each person he encountered.
May we all be blessed to act in ways that are pleasing to Hashem and to see the Chen in other people.