GesherGreen and the Two Origin Stories

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ

And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and every animal that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28 (translation by Richard Eliot Friedman)

וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ

And YHWH God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to watch over it.

Genesis 2:15 (translation by Richard Eliot Friedman)

So which is it? Are we supposed to “subdue and dominate” or to “work and watch over it?” These verses are taken from two distinct stories of the creation of human beings, the first found on day 6 of 7 during chapter 1 of Genesis, and the second taken from a less list-like account found at the beginning of chapter 2. What do these stories with their different imperative verbs say about the Torah’s perspective on how humans should relate to the rest of the natural world?

It seems clear that in both cases, humans are intended to be separate from G-d’s other creations. This is not uncommon in origin stories, particularly in cultures that practice agriculture. Among foragers, however, origin stories are less likely to involve monotheism, and less likely to accord humans special status when compared to other animals or natural features.

At Gesher, we are in the process of rebooting our GesherGreen initiative, which integrates three important aspects of our educational program: Judaic Studies, Science, and Outdoor Education. Working closely with faculty in each grade level, Rabbi Tonti (JS/Music/and Tefillah) and Ms. Rosenwald (Science curriculum coordinator, Science faculty grades 3-8) are linking outdoor educational experiences to the study of environmental science and Judaism. Evidence has been clear since the late 90’s that using environmental education as a lens for the study of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies improves academic outcomes by roughly 70%-80% across all areas. We also know that outdoor experiences tend to be more memorable, making it more likely for learning to “stick.”

As part of the initiative, we are committed to reconnecting our students with the sources of the food we eat, increasing their knowledge about our impact on the world, and inculcating the sense that they are both responsible and empowered to care for the planet, in order to care for our species.

While the language in the verses above does indicate a special role for humans, whether it is caretaker or ruler, it also sets up the idea that we are inextricably linked to the rest of creation–if G-d’s relationship is with all of creation, and we are created in the divine image, then our relationship must also link us spiritually to the entire world. When we expose our students to meaningful learning in outdoor settings, we help them connect deeply to their own understanding of their place in the world.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and looking forward to our first (!) full week of school next week!

Kol tuv (all the best),