B’reisheet: The God Who Created You

The Didache’s choice of “God” over “the Lord your God” is directly connected to the creation story.


DidacheOct 23, 2019

DidacheOct 23, 2019


Artistic expression of creation (Image: Adobe Stock)

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This week, we begin the Torah cycle all over again with Parashat B’reisheet. Many things happen in this Torah portion: the creation of the world, the first sin, the first murder, the birth of Noah, and the corruption of the earth.

Yet, the definite highlight is the creation of man. This takes place on the sixth day of creation:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

The formation of humankind is the pinnacle event in the whole creation story. It was for mankind that HaShem created the world in the first place. It is from this very act that not only the Jewish people are created but all the nations of the world.

It’s not surprising then that the Didache appeals to this act when commanding Gentile disciples of Yeshua to love HaShem. It states:

Now the Way of Life is this: First, you shall love God who made you (Didache 1.2)

This verse paraphrases the words of the Shma: “You shall love the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1). Although the commandment obviously derives from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Didache does not include the words, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Moreover, instead of stating that one is to love “the LORD your God,” it substitutes “God who made you.” This broader, universal language about God indicates that the words were tailored for more general application than within the narrow confines of Jewish covenantal language.

The First Commandment

The first commandment of the 613 is to believe in God and that it is he who created the world and everything in it. The Rambam writes:

The first commandment is that we are commanded to acquire knowledge of the nature of God’s existence, i.e., to understand that he is the Original cause and Source of existence who brings all creations into being. The source of this commandment is God’s statement (exalted be he), “I am the Lord your God” [Exodus 20:2]. (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot)

Notice that Rambam bases this mitzvah upon the first of the Ten Commandments: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). The Jewish people come to believe in God and love him through their recollection of the exodus from Egypt. This is implicit in the covenantal phrase “the LORD your God.”

However, Gentiles come to love God through the very fact that he created them. We find the Rambam’s quote above rephrased for Gentiles in the book The Divine Code, which was written to teach Torah principles to non-Jews:

When a person understands that God is the Creator of everything and keeps everything in existence at every moment, and that God created all people so they should honor and serve Him, and then he meditates on the greatness of God according to his ability and understanding, he will come to love God. [1]

Gentiles come to know God initially as “the God who created [them].” That is the basis for their belief in God and love for him.

Chasidic Musings

The Didache’s choice of “God” over “the LORD your God” is directly connected to the creation story. In Genesis chapter 1, only the name Elokim (“God”) is used. We do not find the Tetragrammaton until Genesis chapter 2. Therefore, the creation is linked to the name Elokim (“God”).

The Chasidic masters wonder why this is. They see the two names for the Divine: LORD and God, as two aspects or ways of HaShem. Here’s a quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“From G‑d are man’s steps established.” Every one of Israel has a spiritual mission in life—which is to occupy himself with the work of construction, to make a “dwelling-place” for G‑d. Everyone, regardless of his station or location, must, through an exhaustive search, seek out a spiritual livelihood with all the intensity of his strength, just as he seeks a material livelihood. This is so because (as the above verse concludes) “he desires His (G‑d’s) way.” As it is written of Avraham: “For I know and love him because, etc., and they will keep the way of [the LORD].” There are two “ways”: The way of nature and the way that transcends nature. G‑d created the universe in such a way that, in man’s eyes, it appears to follow a set pattern of nature; this is the “way” of Elokim [God]. Torah and Mitzvot are the “way” of [the LORD], drawing that which transcends nature into nature. By virtue of this (conduct of Israel) G‑d endows Israel from that which is beyond nature into the natural. (HaYom Yom, Cheshvan 14) [2]

On a side note, it is interesting that this concept is labeled as “the two ways,” not unlike the opening of the Didache: “There are two ways …” The Lubavitcher Rebbe is saying that because the name Elokim (“God”) is connected with creation and nature in Genesis chapter 1, it represents the concealed nature of God. Whereas the Tetragrammaton, the LORD, which is connected to the creation of man in Genesis chapter 2, represents revealed godliness. Because man is the vehicle through which God is revealed in the world, he is connected to the revealed nature of God. It is thus Israel’s job to make a dwelling place for this godliness in creation through the observance of Torah.

What if the Chasidic masters had a chance to read and interpret the Didache? Might they see a connection between this Chasidic two ways and the phrase “the God who made you”? While it’s certainly way beyond what the writers of the Didache had in mind, Chasidus often breathes new life into old texts even if it goes beyond the plain intended meaning. Let’s muse Chasidically a bit.

Although we pointed out that the Torah uses the Tetragrammaton in the story of the creation of man in Genesis chapter 2, there is also a narrative about the creation of man in Genesis chapter 1 that uses only Elokim. Man represents both the concealed nature of God, i.e., his body and the revealed nature of God, i.e., his soul. Man is given his physical body, which conceals the godly soul inside of him. Godliness is not his first reality, but HaShem has created a path where he can discover HaShem for himself and reveal godliness to the world.

I think the Chasid might muse that in the Didache, at the beginning of chapter 1, Elokim is used because these new Gentile believers are still trying to discover the godly soul inside of them, but in reality, it is still for the most part concealed. It is when they progress further on the Way of Life that God is revealed more and more to them, and godliness becomes visible. In a Chasidic sense they are moving from Elokim to the Tetragrammaton. This is then why Lord is used later in the Didache, further down the Way of Life. Gentiles were called while the godliness in them was hidden, but it was being revealed as they began to live out a life of Torah and discipleship.

For more on the Didache, see Vine of David’s Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles.

Footnotes:

[1] Rabbi Moshe Weiner, The Divine Code: The Guide to Observing the Noahide Code, Revealed from Mount Sinai in the Torah of Moses (Third Edition, Ask Noah International, 2018), 81.

[2] Translation from https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/5974/jewish/Hayom-Yom-Cheshvan-14.htm

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He is also the Theological Support Coordinator for the Torah Club program and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki