Begin­nings: Reflec­tions on the Bible’s Intrigu­ing Firsts”

Meir Shalev; Stu­art Schoff­man, trans.

  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Just when you think that noth­ing new can be writ­ten about the Torah, that the sto­ries have been told and exam­ined so many times, that all pos­si­ble mean­ings have been deter­mined, along comes this delight­ful new book by the Israeli writer Meir Shalev. The premise of the book is to exam­ine many firsts in the Bible: the first laugh, the first law, the first love.

Read­ers may be sur­prised that what they thought was the first,” turns out not to be true. When con­tem­plat­ing the first love, cou­ples come to mind such as Adam and Eve or Jacob and Rachel. But, as Shalev points out, the first men­tion of love in the Bible is that of a father for a son, Abra­ham and Isaac. Shalev dis­cuss­es the sig­nif­i­cance of the sto­ry of a first, and then ties the first to oth­er occur­rences of the same event. If asked to name the first ani­mal men­tioned in the Bible, most peo­ple would be hard pressed to answer or, reply the ser­pent in the Gar­den. But as Shalev points out, it occurs on the fifth day of cre­ation and they were known as tanin­im. It is not known what they are but they are giv­en a spe­cif­ic name rather than a gen­er­al des­ig­na­tion such as the birds of the sky or fish of the sea. The chap­ter on The First Ani­mal” then winds its way through the Torah and oth­er sto­ries on ani­mals and their rela­tion­ship to man and God, end­ing with a riff on Kohelet.

Each chap­ter brings new sur­pris­es as to a first, chal­leng­ing pre­con­ceived notions about what real­ly hap­pened first. There are only three women in the Bible who are described as lov­ing women, and you will be sur­prised by who they are. This is an engag­ing book with a fresh look at the old sto­ries we thought we knew, but can now view with a fresh perspective.
Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

Discussion Questions