Rabbi David Fohrman published a book called “Genesis: A Parsha Companion.” In his book, he points out obscure and questionable matters in each of the twelve portions in Genesis and offers his view of what the lesson is that underlies the verse or event. The interpretations are usually based on his own ideas or ancient Midrashim and classical Bible commentaries such as Rashi and Nachmanides which he accepts as capturing the true intent of the Torah. Whether a reader agrees with his interpretation or not, the identification of obscure items and his interpretations and discussions about them make us think.
The following are some examples of difficult words and actions that Rabbi Forman highlights and upon which he offers his interpretations.
- Genesis 1:26 uses the plural when God made man, “let us make man in our image, after our ” Who is God referring to when God says “our”? Is this simply a majestic plural which kings frequently use? Rabbi Fohrman quotes Nachmanides who suggests that God is referring to the earth from which the Bible states Adam was created. God was speaking to the earth, “You contribute the body and I will contribute the soul. Together, we will create him.” Do you agree with Nachmanides?
- Why does Deuteronomy 24:11 state, “When a man takes a woman and has sex with her”? Does a man acquire a woman as he does a table, a chair, and a book? Is this how the union of Adam and Eve happened; that he just took her? Is this how we should view marriage?
- Why does Genesis 2:18 have God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate”? Did the all-knowing God not know about the possibility of Adam being lonely when Adam was created?
- Why in the very next verse, 2:19, God brought all the animals to Adam saying whatever name he gives the animals would be their name? Did God intend that the animal Adam chose would be his helpmate?
- What is the significance of Adam naming the animals?
- In Genesis 2:22, God creates Eve from part of Adam’s body and Adam names her Ishah, woman. Is this naming what God referred to in 2:18? What is the significance of Adam giving her a name?
- What does Adam see in Eve that attracts him to her?
- In Genesis 2:24, the Torah states, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” What does “This is why” refer to? Why does a man leave his parents? How does man and woman become “one”?
- In Genesis 5:29, Noah’s father names him Noah, which means “comfort,” because Noah “will comfort us from our work and from the sadness of our hands, which comes from the ground which the Lord cursed.” Is Noah’s father prophesying? What does he think Noah will do to bring comfort? The commentator Rashi, based on a Midrash, states that Noah invented plowshares to make it easier to work the land. Does this make sense? Is it even hinted in the Torah? Did God curse the ground? Wasn’t it humans that God punished, not cursed? Didn’t the lifetime of Noah not bring comfort but the destruction of the world in a flood? What does Noah’s father think will happen?
- Why was it God who shut the ark in Genesis 7:16 and Noah who opened it in Genesis 8:13 at the end of the flood?
- Soon after emerging from the ark which saved him and his family from the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and gets drunk. Why did he plant a vineyard and why so quickly? And why did he get drunk? And why is the Torah telling us this episode?
- Why didn’t Rebecca talk to Isaac when she saw that he proposed to bless the wrong son, Esau instead of Jacob? Isn’t it possible that a family discussion or at least a talk between the spouses would have avoided Esau’s anger and the need for Jacob to be expelled from home for twenty years?
- In Genesis 25, Jacob’s mother Rebecca urges her son to run to her brother’s country and his home to save himself from Esau’s anger caused by Jacob stealing their father’s blessing meant for him. She assures Jacob that when Esau’s anger subsides, she will inform him that it is safe to return home. But she never sends him a message during the twenty years he is gone. Why? This is especially strange because when Esau meets Jacob when Jacob returns without a message from his mother, Esau is very friendly to him. Didn’t Rebecca see a softening of Esau’s anger during the twenty years of Jacob’s absence?
- There are several instances where biblical people cry. Is there a connection? For example: Esau cried in Genesis 27:38 when he heard that Jacob stole his father’s blessing meant for him. Jacob cried for an inexplicable reason when he first saw Rachel in Genesis 29:11. Both brothers cried on each other’s shoulder when they met in Genesis 33:4.
- Is Rashi’s grandson Rashbam correct when he interprets the events in Genesis 37 where some of Joseph’s brothers planned to sell him as a slave that the brothers never did so? Rashbam points out that when Joseph was in the pit where his brothers placed him, a caravan came, drew him from the pit, kidnaped him, and they were the ones who sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery.
- Joseph’s oldest brother Reuben opposed selling Joseph according to Genesis 37:27 but was gone when Joseph was taken. When he returned and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes in Genesis 37:29-30 in mourning. Where was he? Why didn’t he stay to protect Joseph?
In short, Rabbi Fohrman’s book makes us sensitive to the Torah’s words and those who read his book will see his answers to the apparent difficulties he notes – some mentioned above – and be prompted to decide whether they agree with his interesting views or not.
I think Rabbi Fohrman’s book is very informative. It is interesting to see how he interprets, uses commentary such as Nachminides and Rashi, and delves into nuance such as Torah words to unlock some of the most obscure statements of the Torah.