1:1 Day One “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and earth” This verse has been debated for thousands of years. Was this all a part of day 1 or is it simply a statement of fact? In summary – some write:
Ramban: the work of creation is a deep secret which cannot be comprehended from the verses, nor can it be definitively known except through the tradition going back to Moses our teacher who heard it from the mouth of the Almighty.
Rashi: the verses do not deal with the sequence of Creation. The intent of the verses is to declare that God, alone, as Master of the World is the Source of all Creation, and gave the land to whom He pleased, and according to His will later took the land from the Canaanites and gave it to Israel.
Rambam: The Account of the Beginning belongs to those matters which are mysteries of the Torah, …not to be divulged and which may not be explained except orally to one man having certain stated qualities(Moses) – therefore the knowledge of this matter ceased to exist in the entire religious community. This was inevitable, because this knowledge was transmitted only from one principal to another and was never committed to writing.
“In the Beginning…” The final letters of the first three words in Hebrew of the Torah spell “truth”. It is customary for a liturgical poet to fit the initials of his name into the stanzas of his work; God did the same. The Sages say the seal of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is Truth. Therefore He placed His seal upon the first words of the Torah.
“..of God’s creating..’ God – God is undefinable because He is beyond the perception of our physical senses. Rambam explains that Moses, when he asked God ‘Show me, please, Your Glory,’ (Exodus 33:18), requested that the ‘existence’ of God should be distinguished in his mind from other beings so, that he would become aware of the true existence of God, as it is. God replied that it is beyond the mental capacity of a living man, composed of body and soul, to attain a clear understanding of this truth. But the Holy One imparted to him an awareness of what no man knew before him, and no man will know after him. (Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 1:10)
1:2 “with darkness upon the surface of the waters ,” ‘Darkness” – was darkness created? The mention of darkness in this verse introduces the need for the creation of light in the following verse. Had there not been darkness, He would not have commanded that there be light. (Mizrachi)
The Talmud comments that ‘darkness’ is one of the things created on the first day. Ten things were created the first day: heaven and earth, tohu (isolation) and bohu (void – desolate of all habitation), light and darkness, wind and water, the measure of day, and the measure of night. (Chagigah 12a) Therefore the commentators point out, darkness is not merely the absence of light, but it is a specific object of God’s creation. That this is so is clearly stated in Isaiah 45:7 where God describes Himself as “He who forms the light and creates darkness.’
“..the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters” The water mentioned in this verse is not the water that is in the ‘seas’ (verse 10). It is clear that there was a certain common matter which was called ‘water’. Afterwards, it was divided into three forms; a part of it became ‘seas’, another part of it became ‘firmament’; and a third part became that which is above the ‘firmament’ – entirely beyond the earth. (Moreh Nevuchim 2:30)
1:3 “God said, ‘Let there be light,” The Talmud (Chagigah 12a) states that the light created on the first day is identical with the luminaries (verse 14), for the luminaries were created on the first day but were not suspended (in the firmament) until the fourth day.
The Sages state that the luminaries were ‘suspended’ on the fourth day. Note that they did not use the verb ‘created’ but ‘suspended’. ‘Light’ in our verse designates the sun, moon, and the stars which were created on the first day along with the heaven, earth, light, darkness, air, and water. God thus prepared the potential for everything on the first day….Note that from the first until the fifth day you will not find either the words ‘created’ or ‘formed’.
Note: Radak explains: ‘Although the luminaries were not suspended in the firmament until the fourth day, they were created with the spheres on the first day. Everything was created simultaneously but each of their individual potentials was not manifested until the respectively designated day. Even light did not dispense its rays causing the earth to sprout forth its vegetation until God commanded that there be luminaries in the firmament to give light upon the earth (verse 15) and to perform their function in the terrestrial world.
It is one of the mysteries of creation beyond human comprehension that although everything was created simultaneously – at one instant with one Word – on the first day, there was nevertheless a ‘sequence’, with the creation of darkness preceding the creation of light and so on.
‘The light that was created that day was so exceedingly intense that no human being could gaze upon it; God stored it away for the righteous in the Hereafter’ (Sefer HaBahir)
Also, the verse does not read and it was so, as it does on the other days, because this light did not always remain in that unchanged state as did the other creations. (Ramban)
1:4 “God saw that the light was good,” Rashi’s interpretation follows the Talmud Chagigah 12a: ‘The light the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day, one could see thereby from one end of the world to the other, but as soon as He saw the corrupt actions of the wicked, He arose and hid it from them and reserved it for the righteous in the time to come.’
The Chidushei HaRim once remarked: “We are indeed fortunate that God hid away this first light. He knew that the wicked are capable of blemishing even that!’
The light-day refers to the deeds of the righteous, and the darkness-night refers to the deeds of the wicked (Midrash)
1:5 “And God called to the light: ‘Day’..” The Talmud renders not “He called”, but rather “He summoned” and interprets: ‘God summoned the light and appointed it for duty by day, and He summoned the darkness and appointed it for duty by night’ (Pesachim 2a)
It must be noted that here again, the Torah – given to man – speaks in human terms and views everything from his perspective. In reality, the terms light and darkness, designating day and night, are valid only in human terms. When we perceive a certain period to be ‘day’ this is true only in terms of our geographical location: others experience ‘night’ at this very same time. In divine terms, therefore, as we imagine Him peering down from His heavenly abode, there is no one ‘time’ that is truly night nor one time that is truly day. The Torah speaks from the viewpoint of man.’
“and to the darkness He called: ‘Night’..” The Midrash comments that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not link His name with evil but only with good. Therefore, it is not written here ‘and God called to the light day and to the darkness “God’ called night, but ‘and to the darkness He called night.’
“and there was evening and there was morning’ Thus the Sabbaths and festivals begin in the evening – ‘from evening unto evening’ (Leviticus 23:32)
1:6 Second Day “..in the midst of the waters,” i.e. in the exact center, the separation between the upper waters and the firmament being equal to the separation between the firmament and the waters on the earth. Thus we learn that the upper waters remain suspended by divine edict (Rashi)
1:7 “…the waters which were above the firmament” Me’am Loez states that though the water above the firmament is of a spiritual nature, we are nevertheless obliged to believe that there is, indeed, water there, as King David said: ‘Praise Him, heavens of heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens.’ (Psalms 148:4)
“…and it was so.” If the verse had already said “And God made’, why must it repeat ‘and it was so’? The phrase implies absolute eternity in an unchanging state from the day of its creation. Nevertheless, it must be understood that God renews the Creation daily – otherwise it could not continue to exist. Hence, there is no self-sustaining permanence in Creation. When we speak of the permanence of the universe, we mean that it is His will that creation be renewed constantly.
Rashi notes that the Torah does not conclude this verse with the phrase ‘that it was good’ as it does on the other days of Creation because the task of creating the waters, although begun on the second day, was not completed until the following day when they were gathered and became seas. Incomplete work is still imperfect because having not yet attained its intended state, it could not be described as ‘good’. However, on the third day, when the work of the waters was completed, the expression ‘that it was good’ is said twice – once for the completion of the second day’s creation, and once for the new creation of the third day (plant life).
1:8 “God called to the firmament: Heaven.” Heaven is a compound of two words ‘carry water; the waters God divided above and below. This is not the heavens mentioned in the first verse for those heavens encompass all extraterrestrial, spiritual aspects of creation. This ‘heaven’ is so important because through it comes everything the earth receives from the heights of heaven. Even light does not come direct and pure to earth, but only through this ‘heaven’ where it is refracted and filtered to be prepared and made ready for its work on earth.
1:9 Third Day “..waters beneath the heavens be gathered in one area..” God laid down a line to contain the waters and define their boundaries – as expressed in Job 38:8, 11 ‘(God)..who enclosed the sea … and said: “Until here shall you come, but no further”.
Zohar Chadash states that while the earth was still submerged beneath the water, it dried up in anticipation of God’s directive. The mention in our verse that the ‘dry land’ should appear implies that dry land already existed but could not appear until the water receded. This is one of the reasons the earth is named from the root word ‘rush’ because it rushed to do the will of the Creator in anticipation of His word.
1:10 “God called the dry land: Earth,” According to Ramban, God gave them names when they assumed the forms described, for initially both the waters and the dry land were referred to collectively as ‘the deep’.
‘Earth’ referred to that which was below the firmament – the area which He reserved for human habitation. When the ultimate Purpose drew yet closer, and He gathered the waters of the earth into the seas, then the connotation of ‘earth’ became even more specific: only the dry land – the dwelling place of man – is referred to as ‘earth’. (Malbim)
1:11 ‘Let the earth sprout..” The earth was granted the power to sprout forth new vegetation forever, but man must first sow – only then will the ground yield up its produce. The exception to this rule was the original vegetation which sprouted solely at God’s command.
“..fruit trees yielding fruit..’ God commanded that it be a fruit tree: that the taste of the tree be the same as its fruit. The earth, however, disobeyed and brought forth ‘tree yielding fruit’. Therefore, when Adam was cursed for his sin, the earth, too, was remembered and punished (3:17) (Rashi, Midrash)
Ramban notes that the creation of barren trees is not mentioned here. He suggests that originally all trees bore fruit, but barren trees came into existence when the earth was cursed due to the sin of Adam.
Abarbanel stated the tree cannot reproduce unless its seed is placed upon the land through planting, then the fruit will produce another fruit similar to it.
Thus, from this potential seed bearing force in the earth, all vegetation emanated…from this force the grass and trees in the Garden of Eden and in the world originated. For as the Sages have said: ‘On the third day He created three things: trees, grass, and the Garden of Eden. (Ramban)
1:12 “..and God saw that it was good.” Akeidas Yitzchak comments that the earth progressed toward its purpose and perfection with these two utterances of the day; therefore, ‘that it was good’ was pronounced for each of them. With the appearance of dry land the earth emerged from its state of ‘tohu’ (desolation); and with the appearance of vegetation it emerged from its state of ‘bohu’ (void). Thus its latent potential reached its mature state of being on the third day.
1:14 Fourth Day “..God said, ‘Let there be luminaries..” They had already been created on the first day but were not suspended in the firmament until the fourth day. Indeed all the potentials of heaven and earth were created on the first day when it was so commanded. Again, this is why you did not see the words ‘it was good” for days one and two for what was created on those days had not yet achieved its sole purpose.
..”to separate between the day and the night’ Rashi explains that this division happened only after the original light was hidden for the future benefit of the righteous in the World to Come, because during the seven days of Creation, the original light and darkness functioned together, in a mixture, both by day and by night.
Ramban, however, comments that the first creation of light functioned for three days and on the fourth day the two luminaries were formed – sun and moon. Up until that time, there was light during the day and darkness at night. Now He decreed that there be a luminary for each of them: the greater luminary to serve during the day, and the smaller one at night. This, then, is meant by ‘to separate’. (Radak)
The two luminaries were also a guide to determining festivals that will be laid out in Leviticus and for determining time – together the cycle of the sun and moon constitute one day.
1:15 “And it was so.” – It remained so – established forever. Their orbits and cycles will never deviate as evidenced by two-thousand year old astronomical charts from ancient Egypt and China which were discovered showing that none of the stars changed its basic orbit throughout all this time by even a hair’s-breadth. (Malbim)
1:16 “..and God made the two great luminaries..” They were originally created of equal size, but the moon was diminished because it complained and said, ‘It is impossible for two kings to make use of the same crown.’ It thus demanded more power than the sun, and was punished by being made smaller. (Chullin 60b; Rashi)
‘Great’ does not refer to their size for the stars are larger than the moon as has been ascertained by astronomers. The intent, rather, is ‘great’ in the visible intensity of their illumination, the moon’s light begin stronger than that of the other starts, except the sun, because it is closer to the earth. (Radak; Malbim)
“..and the stars.” The Midrash comments that the stars were created as ‘attendants’ of the moon, to mollify it for being diminished in size (Rashi).
Rav Acha said: Imagine a king who had two governors, one ruling in the city and the other in a province. The king said: Since the former has humbled himself to pull in the city only, I hereby decree that whenever he goes out, the city council and the people shall go out with him, and whenever he enters, they shall enter with him.’ Thus did the Holy One, blessed be He say: ‘Since the moon humbled itself to rule by night, I hereby decree that when she comes forth, the stars shall come forth with her, and when she goes in, they shall go in with her’. (Midrash)
1:17-18 The functions of the luminaries are described in these two verses as: to shine upon the earth; to rule during the day and the night; and to distinguish between the light and between the darkness. Ramban notes that the functions of the two luminaries are now defined. Their dominion is not equal, but consists of causing a distinction between the darkness and the light. The greater will dominate by day and its light will be everywhere – even in places where the direct rays of the sun do not reach. The smaller will dominate by night – although it will do no more than relieve the darkness.
Meam Loez notes that the sun was created after earth to dispel any notion that the creation of earth was a natural result of the sun’s heat vaporizing the waters. Similarly, lest anyone contend that plant life is a natural outgrowth of the earth aided by the sun, God created the earth and all its properties on the third day, and only afterwards, on the fourth day, did He create the sun, to demonstrate unequivocally that everything materialized from God’s direct will.
1:20 Fifth Day Hirsch brilliantly prefaces the events of the fifth day with the observation that the creations of the first three days are paralleled by those of the subsequent three days: The light of the first day was provided with bearers on the fourth day; the water and the atmosphere of the second day were filled life on the fifth day; and the dry land with its mantle of vegetation on the third day was provided with inhabitants on the sixth day.
“..and fowl that fly over the earth..” Ramban, who connects the creation of bird life to the sea, because the creation of the fifth day emanated from the waters; had bird life been created from earth, its creation would have been mentioned on the sixth day. Ramban maintains that the birds were created from the waters. However the subject was disputed by the Sages, in the Talmud, Chullin 27b, some agreeing with this view, while others citing Genesis 2:19, maintain that ‘bird life was created out of the alluvial mud’, which Ramban concludes, is at the bottom of the ocean.
The birds were indeed created from a compound of two elements, earth and water. For had they been created from only water they would be no more able than fish to exist out of it; and if from earth alone, which is a heavy element, they would not have been able to fly. But, produced from a mixture of earth and softened by water, they were capable of functioning in all elements. (Alshich)
1:21 Arbarbanel notes that this is the first time since the first day the word ‘created’ is used. It denotes that something fundamentally new came into being – in this case it stresses the unprecedented magnitude of the fishes’ size … “Created’ also applies to ‘the living souls’ – also unprecedented until that moment.
“And God saw that it was good.” ..that they attained their level of perfection and function. They were perfect in essence and in the good as food which is derived from them. (Abarbanel)
1:22 “God blesses them..” Rashi notes that they needed a special blessing because so many are reduced, hunted down, and eaten. The other animals, too, needed such a blessing, but they did not receive it so as not to include the serpent which was destined to be cursed.
1:24 Sixth Day “Let the earth bring forth..” ‘bring forth’ implies a concealed, dormant, presence being transformed into existence. The potential for everything was created on the first day; it was subsequently only necessary to bring them forth. (Rashi)
“And it was so.” The earth complied with God’s decree and it became eternally established. (Radak, Rashbam)
1:25 “And God made..” He endowed each species with whatever senses and faculties it required and endowed each with its own peculiar nature and instincts.
Malbim observes that the term created is not used here because already on the fifth day, physical creatures were endowed with breath and soul, giving a higher form of life to the universe…But because this act of ‘completion’ was beyond the innate powers of the earth to accomplish, the act is attributed specifically to God.
“And God saw it was good.” Before proceeding to the ‘making’ of man, God puts the seal of His approval on the developments that have taken place, thus far, on the Sixth Day. Only man has not yet attained ‘completion’ at this state. (Munk)
Now on to man….