Sefer B’reishit (the Book of Genesis) takes us into a frame of reference that is often inaccessible to us nowadays. It leads us into the deepest layers of human consciousness, before we were recognizably human. While paleontology can show us to ourselves only from the outside, B’reishit takes us inside our own seminal moments and shows us to ourselves from the position of what might have been.
It’s been suggested that the Torah sets out a direction for societal development, pointing the way toward desired reforms, and that in each generation, scholars and governments have worked to continue this line of evolution. One such “signpost” put up by the Torah to show us how our legal systems should evolve is the Eshet Yiffat Toar—the beautiful woman taken in war.
Imagine that the earth was going to be destroyed within five years, and that you were tasked with deciding what literary treasures to preserve? That is the background of the Tanakh that we have today. The Talmud records the bare bones of discussions where scholars fought for the inclusion of those writings that were dear to them, often against ferocious opposition from their colleagues. Amazingly, of all the possible things to include, the famous Rabbi Akiva chose a collection of bawdy wedding songs! What lay behind such an odd choice?