Beginnings (2): Genesis 1
By Julia Blum January 8, 20202 comments
As we advance with the days of this year, we are also advancing with the days of Bereishit and continuing to watch in awe God’s work of creation. Today, first of all let us consider different verbs that describe His work during these days.
VaYomer – and He said
And God said: “Let there be light.” And there was light.
Nine times, during six days of creation, we read: “And God said” – וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים. For me personally, these verses are the most wonderful evidence of that glorious beginning—that glorious order of things, when everything was so different from now. In our fallen world we live by faith, by the evidence of the things not seen, and seldom in our lives do we experience this amazing turn of events: “God said” – and that is how it was, without any pause or delay in between. There are many things that we know God said – and we also know that these things will eventually come to be; but this glorious immediate embodiment of God’s word, this immediate visible fulfillment of what He said, is called and perceived as a miracle in our fallen world. Mostly, we see these things by faith, not by sight. But it was not a miracle then—it was the normal course of events in a world not distorted by evil.
Moreover, from this verb VaYomer – and He said – we see absolutely clearly that not only is God the only one who has life-giving power, but the source of this life-giving power is His word—that He gives life by the authority of His Word only. According to the New Testament, Jesus is the Word of God, and therefore, we are not surprised to find almost the same description of the beginning of the creation in the New Testament—in the Gospel of John. The language of John clearly and purposely echoes the language of Genesis 1:1: both in the Genesis account and in John’s Gospel, it is the Word of God that brings forth life. This is one of the foundations of New Testament faith: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.”
For instance, we see a huge difference between how people restore life in the Tanach, and how Jesus restored life. Read, for example, the description of how the prophet Elisha raises a child from the dead. He prays, he stretches himself out on the child’s body to warm him, he prays again—then the Lord answers Elisha and the child is restored to life. Jesus, on the other hand, restores life in exactly the same way God creates it, by the authority of His Word only: In every gospel story where Jesus raises the dead, He simply speaks: “Talitha, kumi!” “Lazarus, come forth!” “Young man I say to you, arise!” This means that the gospel writers clearly saw His spoken word having the same life-giving, creative power as in Genesis: for the New Testament writers, the same Word creates life in Genesis, and restores life in the gospels.
VeYavdel –and He separated
And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
We have to understand that during the first days of creation, God’s main action is lehavdil, “to separate”. We find this verb “separate” used several times in these verses. It occurs in Gen. 1:2, 6,7,14,18. On the first three days of creation, God separates 1) light from darkness, 2) the waters above from the waters below, 3) dry ground from the waters. The very first fruits of the land come only on the third day, after the work of havdala, separation, is complete. Like everything else in the Tanach, it definitely has profound spiritual meaning: God always wants to separate darkness from light, and in order to do the work of God, we must choose light and separate ourselves from darkness. One can bring forth fruits in one’s life only if the work of separation comes first—only if one separates oneself from the darkness.
VaYikra –and He called (gave names)
As we have already seen, God’s word is the main part of the whole creative process – and this verb, VaYikra, also reflects this.
God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.
And God called the firmament Heaven.
And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas.
God gives names to elements of His creation, and this becomes an essential part of their existence. In this light, it is extremely significant that the very first thing we see Adam doing is giving names – VaYikra – to all the animals (Gen. 2:19, 20). We will address this subject at length in my next posts, when we will talk about Adam.
The Creation of Man
The First, Second and Third days of creation prepare us for days Four through Six. On these days, He creates by 4) by providing lights in the firmament; 5) filling the sky and sea with winged life and sea creatures; and 6) finally creating animals and man to fill the dry land. Undoubtedly, there is a deep structure to this chapter: a careful reader gets a clear sense that there is a plan, and we are going somewhere with this. The first chapter of the Torah presents the ascent of the cosmic drama culminating in the creation of man. As we read the description of each day of creation, we feel the story building up, then in Genesis 1:26-27 we come to the crescendo: “So God created man in His own image…“ Everything that has been created so far, has to be seen now in the light of this verse—according to Jewish understanding, it is only when a man was created that the whole of creation became meaningful.
That is why, by the way, the day Jewish people celebrate as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) – the first of Tishrei – is not perceived as the anniversary of Creation, it is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation, when Adam and Eve were created. The anniversary of the first day of Creation would be five days before, on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. Why? – Because once again, in rabbinic tradition it is the birth of humanity that made the whole creation meaningful by adding to the universe the possibility for God to be proclaimed King. Next time, will speak more about this fascinating Sixth Day, and discuss in detail the creation of a man, and his relationship with his Creator.