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“In The Beginning….”


בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.


This is not only the first verse in the Torah, but also one of the most intriguing ones, jumping right into the existence of everything, by stating that “in the beginning G-D created the Heavens and the Earth!” One is tempted to ask, “in the beginning of what?”


The Hebrew term, which also is the opening for the Torah, בראשית (bereshit), consists of the suffix “b” (in) and the word “reshit”, beginning, which is not signifying the start, but the beginning of something. The root of the word is ראש, head, which signifies that we are talking about the “head” of the subject at hand, the top of what is being talked about. Here we begin discussing what will come after, but not what went before, since that is – apparently – not of interest. What is of interest here is that this is the head, the beginning of all things we see today, all that we can relate to through empiric inquiry, this is what is at hand here. This verse is not attempting to state that this is the beginning of everything, in which case it would have explained that ראשון, firstly, did G-D create the Heavens and the Earth, not ראשית, being the first source for what is coming afterwards. Onkelos furthermore stresses this in his Aramaic translation, using the word בקדמין, “in the before”, pointing at the meaning, that this is what went before what will follow, instead of using the form קדמאה, first.


From this it would seem that what is at stake, is the order of creation, first the Heavens and the Earth, then the creation of the six days. To this Rashi and Ibn Ezra disagree, rendering the translation “In the beginning of G-D’s creating,” that is, in the beginning when G-D created the universe, which then is followed by the following verses. The pshat, the simple reading of the text, will tell us that we are talking about the Heavens and the Earth being the first things created. Rashi and Ibn Ezra understands this differently, not seeing any particular order being given in this verse, but merely describing the scene during the creation. Keeping with the pshat, though, we still get a good understanding of what is going. The word for “creating,” ברא, is signifying something created ex nihilo, out of nothing. This runs contrary to the newer theories of an exploding/imploding universe, which recreates itself in eternity. The universe where created as it was, without anything existing before G-D’s actions. Whatever, if anything went before this, then it wasn’t anymore at that time[1], only G-D, and anything was created from nothing at that point.

So we can deduce the following understanding from the verse: In the beginning of the existence of our universe, which G-D formed and created out of nothing, time was starting and the cornerstones, the Heavens and the Earth, were created for our world. This world is not only this planet we are living on, but it is still our starting point, why “earth” is mentioned in the singular, whereas “heavens”, the world we are to explore, is mentioned in the plural.


Reading the verse as a D’rash, we are also told something about our roles as humans. Originally the text was written without spaces, as one long text, and without vowels. Reading “the Heavens and the Earth” in Hebrew, את השמים ואת הארץ, we can deduce a different meaning, a message to man and woman respectively. To the man the verse is saying אתה שמים ואתה ארץ, you, man, are heaven and earth. Be aware that just as you have a soul, you also have a body, and as the divine is written in the plural, so should your spiritual side, your connection to G-D, be more than your lower instincts. To the women it says את השמים ואת הארץ, you are the heavens and you are the earth. In you the child is formed, being formed by a soul and a body, and as the being that will be closest to the child, make sure that it gets more from Heaven than from earth. This shows an awareness that the woman is on a higher spiritual level than man, but also that she has that bigger responsibility in forming the children, to be G-D-fearing human beings, who can control their lower instincts. This is not to say that the woman is worth more than the man (or the opposite), but that we simply have different roles and we have to take the consequences of our roles and our responsibilities serious. The child, which is rather established by experts on the field, is closer connected to its mother than any other human being. This also gives the mother that extra responsibility in bringing up the child, especially the first years of its life. The woman is the source of the Heaven and the earth in the family. She has the power to influence the whole family either in a good or a negative direction. This is seen from the Midrash on the role of the woman, which states: “It is related of a pious man who was married to a pious woman that, being childless, they divorced one another. He went and married a wicked woman and she made him wicked. She went and married a wicked man and made him righteous. It follows that all depends upon the woman (Bereshit Rabbah, 17:7).” The husband’s role in the family is as the provider and supporter of his woman, and her role is as the center of the home, spreading her influence and “sending her children to learn Torah in the Synagogue and their husbands to study in the Schools of Rabbis (B’rachot 17a).”


[1] In a rabbinic drash we can read that G-D created a huge number of worlds, which – each – didn’t succeed in their missions, and thus had to be destroyed.

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