Bereshit: Two Rivers Notes

Two Creations

As I read the Chumash the first creation story is the story of Darwinian creation. Everything acts in a predictable manner, as Darwin would imagine it.

The second creation story introduces another reality. The second creation story introduces the purpose of creation.


Homo Divinus

And so, in this story, we are introduced to a creation I call Homo Divinus.

The first Homo Divinus, Adam HaRishon, is the first human filled with the spirit of Hashem. He has Nishmat Chaim.

He is the first human blessed with an awareness of G-d.


Water as Life

Adam HaRishon is not created in a vacuum. He is not placed randomly on this earth. Instead, all of his needs are met. He is surrounded by trees of every sort. He need not work for food.

And, of course, he is blessed with water.

If you’ve looked at a photo of Syria and Iraq you can understand the power of water.

The rivers there are are tiny green threads surrounded by the emptiness of the desert.

The rivers represent a great truth: Water is life.

But while a tree or a field might only need physical water, we need something more.


Nishmant Chaim: Spiritual Water

We don’t just need to live and reproduce – like the organisms described on the six days of creation.

We do not just live in the physical world, we live in the spiritual world.

We have a Nishmat Chaim.

And so, we need spiritual rivers.


Physical Waters

The Tigris and Euphrates are described in the parsha.

The headwaters of physical life are in Gan Eden.

But the waters of a physical river need only flow past us.

Their waters bring physical life to us.

We don’t need to know their routes and so the Torah does not describe them.


Spiritual Waters

But spiritual rivers are different.

They don’t flow past us.

Instead, we travel upon them.

Even though Adam Harishon may never have needed to leave the physical reality of Gan Eden he still had to travel a spiritual path.


Two Rivers

And because Hashem doesn’t want us to be spiritual automatons – Darwinian, deterministic, creations – He placed two spiritual rivers in the garden.

Adam HaRishon has a choice about which path he will take.



The first of these rivers is called Pishon, which means ‘spread out’. This implies the river has influence on the world around it.

We know it is a spiritual river because it flows all the way around the land of Hachvilah. This is a land of change, based on the root chol.

It is also a land of gold, which is later used to represent the divine in the Mishkan.

This gold is ‘good.’ In this parsha, acts of creation are called ‘good.’

This land has b’dolach. This is most likely from the root hevdel, describing the distinction between chol and kodesh.

And finally, it has the shoham stone. In Chumash, stones are timeless. And it is through this stone that the Kohen bears the relationship between Hashem and Israel.


Taken together, this river describes a spiritual path of G-dly creation, of distinction and of connection to Hashem.


And it flows in a circle, building virtue upon virtue.



The other river is, well, different. It is called gichon, which means ‘belly’ or ‘stomach’ or even ‘move slowly’ or ‘slither’.

It surrounds a land called Kush, which can mean ‘darkness’ or ‘inferiority. Darkness isn’t good or productive. Hashem creates during the day.

This is a spiritually low and lazy path; without productivity, without goodness and without connection to the divine.

It also flows in a circle, but is more like a drain.



In the Chagim just passed, the spirit of Hashem was once again blown into us.

We may not live in Gan Eden, but these spiritual rivers still flow through us.

Like Adam Harishon, we must choose our path.



I believe all of Torah is about these rivers.

I believe it is all about learning to navigate the Pishon while resisting the pull of the Gichon.

And it is all about teaching mankind to do the same.


Wrap Up

In the end, Adam chose poorly.

He never circumnavigated the land of Havilah.


But Hashem has never given up on us.




So, this year, Parsha by parsha, week by week, personal challenge by personal challenge, let us make every effort to travel the waters of Pishon. Let us create, let us define the Holy and let us connect to Hashem.

If we do so, I believe we will establish a reality Better than Eden.


Shabbat Shalom

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