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B'resheet/Genesis 2:7 And the L-rd God formed the man [of] dust from the ground and He blew into his nose the breath of life
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The first word of our text, - the Qal vav-conversive 3ms prefix form of the root , to form, fashion or make (Davidson) - starts our exploration of the parasha this week. The word appears a few verses later in this second creation narrative - "And the L-RD G-d formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky" (B'resheet 2:19, NJPS) - spelled , without the second (yod). Why should this be different and what difference does it make?
TheBaal HaTurim reports a note in the Masoretic Text margin, that the word appears only twice in the Tanakh: here, in the full plene spelling with two yod characters, and twelve verses below, in the defectiva spelling with one yod. He then explains the rabbinic theory that "man was created with two inclinations, the good inclination and the evil inclination, but animals and beasts have only one inclination (evil)." The ancient rabbis thought this too, suggesting that the double yod meant "two inclinations, the good and the evil" (B'resheet Rabbah 14:4). There is some support for these ideas in the last word of the text, , normally translated 'life' although it is in fact a plural form, 'lives', which is only ever used of human beings and never of animals when it is always singular. Rashi takes this a step further, claiming that "the double indicates two formings, a forming for this world, and a forming for the Resurrection of the Dead, but regarding the animal, which does not stand for judgement, there was not written in its forming a double ." Chizkuni and the Radak join in, insisting that "Scripture is stating that humans were given a 'soul' that does not die."
The phrase "the dust of the earth" also attracts attention from the commentators. Rashi suggests that "G-d collected man's dust from all the earth, from the four directions - north, south, east and west - so that anywhere man may die, there the earth will take him in for burial." After the Fall, G-d will tell Adam, "By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground -- for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (B'resheet 3:19, NJPS). RabbiHirsch agrees, commenting, "Even after the formation of the body had been made, Man was still dust. It does not say G-d formed Man out of the dust of the earth, but He formed him, dust of the earth. Lifeless dust lay the body formed for the future Man, then HaShem breathed the breath of life into his countenance and thus Man became a living creature."
The next step in the process is the blowing.Nachmanides tells us that "the verse says that He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life in order to inform us that the soul did not come to man from the elements ... rather it was the spirit of the Great G-d: 'from His mouth come knowledge and understanding' (Proverbs 2:6, ESV). For he who breathers into the nostrils of another person gives into him something from his own soul: 'the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding' (Job 32:8, NKJV)." Hirsch uses the blowing to show the difference between man and the rest of creation: "In this sentence the whole secret of the nature of Man is laid down, and the whole higher dignity and the whole calling of Man rest of the facts recorded here. At the creation of plant and animal life the earth was active and from it came forth not only the body of the animal, but the whole life. The earth brought forth the actual living individual creature. Not so with Man. At the creation of Man, even at the creation of his body, the earth was passive. Human life, that which lives in Man, G-d did not take from the earth." We will see the same picture in Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. Although the bones come together and are re-covered with flesh, they are lifeless until Ezekiel is told to "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the breath: Thus said the L-rd G-D: Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again" (Ezekiel 37:9, NJPS). Only then do the figures stand on their feet, a might army of living men.
Isaiah too speaks of the way that G-d has given life and breath to humankind, "Thus said G-d the L-RD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what it brings forth, who gave breath to the people upon it and life to those who walk thereon" (Isaiah 42:5, NJPS), while Elihu sees G-d's breath not just as a creating force but needed as long as life endures: "The spirit of G-d formed me; the breath of Shaddai sustains me" (Job 33:4, NJPS). The Ba'al HaTurim explains another masoretic note, to say that the word , which we have translated 'life', is also used by the Proverbs writer with a different meaning: "The soul of man is the candle of HaShem" (Proverbs 20:27). It is G-d's light and fire that hold life together in mankind.
Nahum Sarna starts us on another line of enquiry, with the thought that 'dust' can be used synonymously with clay. Pointing to Job telling his three "comforters" how he would address G-d - "Consider that You fashioned me like clay; will You then turn me back into dust?" (Job 10:9, NJPS) - and Eliphaz's remarks about "those who dwell in houses of clay, whose origin is dust" (4:19, NJPS), Sarna reports that "The verb 'formed' is frequently used of the action of a potter ( so that man's creation is portrayed in terms of G-d moulding the clayey soil into shape and then animating it." Picking up on the theme of "the clay in the potter's hand" (Jeremiah 18:6) that Jeremiah will later use to such good effect, and Rav Sha'ul will echo in his reference to our human bodies as "jars of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7), Sarna explains that "Here in Genesis, the image simultaneously expresses both the glory and the insignificance of man. Man occupies a special place in the hierarchy of Creation and enjoys a unique relationship with G-d by virtue of his being the work of G-d's own hands and being directly animated by G-d's own breath. At the same time, he is but dust taken from the earth, mere clay in the hands of the divine Potter, who exercises absolute mastery over His Creation."
Important as it is to remember that we are creatures of dust or clay, shaped, fired and animated by the breath or soul of G-d within us, we must also hear the words of the Psalmist: "O L-RD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?" (Psalm 144:3, ESV). The Psalmist is amazed, but nonetheless, God does give us His attention; He does think about us; He is interested in our affairs and longs to be involved in our lives. He has created us with autonomy; we do not have to ask Him what to do every moment of the day - we can take our own decisions and exercise choice as sentient beings with independent thinking minds. This is a huge gift, an enormous privilege, that sets us apart from the rest of creation. G-d has also "put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what G-d has done from the beginning to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV); we can see part of the picture and have a drive and curiosity to find out more, but cannot reach the whole image without help, without connecting to God, the Master Architect and Designer.
To step beyond our finite limitations and become involved in the kingdom of G-d, we need to invite G-d to re-assume His place of authority in our lives that Adam surrendered to the enemy by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. This is more than repentance - saying the sinner's prayer - and means actively engaging with G-d about the decisions in our lives, both big and small. It means taking serious notice of the regulations and admonitions to be found in almost every book of the Bible and hearing the voice of the Spirit conforming us to the likeness of Yeshua. each day. Ultimately, it means - in Yeshua's words - "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24, ESV). We can argue about whether that now means a wooden cross or refers to persecution, whether it means being a martyr to the point of physical death or is talking about some lesser form of suffering, but the point is clear: we must be prepared to walk something of the path that Yeshua walked, because "whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (v. 25, ESV). That way leads to depth of relationship with Yeshua and seeing the glories of the kingdom revealed us; we will breath the air of heaven and experience the dust becoming flesh.
Further Study: Job 5:8-16; Psalm 8:3-9; 1 Corinthians 15:47-50
Application: How can you get more of God's life-giving breath in your life today? Open the window of your soul and invite the Holy Spirit to blow through and clear out the dust and cobwebs.
Comment - 3:19am 3Oct18 Diana Brown: Good teaching on dust, clay, dry bones coming to life by the very breath of the Creator. Many people really hope to see their beloved pets in the afterlife. I tell them animals are used by the L-rd to get the attention of men. The donkey conversed with Bilaam. Horses will be ridden by saints behind the Messiah when He returns to set up His Millennial Reign. Animals do not have to repent so heaven and hell are not destinations they must choose. Animals are part of creation and all creation will be restored. Animal cruelty is a crime and justice will be sought for that crime. In the judgment, the baby aborted or the dog or cat mutilated to death could be a witness to the evil inclination a soul gave over to. There is one bible verse about animals that could mean you will see your pets again ... Psalm 50:10. Certainly the L-rd will hold us accountable concerning our choices with animals, our fellow man and our belief and actions regarding G-d and His Word. Therefore since life matters to G-d, I seek guidance from the Holy Spirit as to how to live my life to please G-d. Worship G-d and all the rest of creation will benefit as it did when Adam walked with G-d in the garden, before the fall.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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