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Bereshit (in the beginning)

Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 6:8, Isaiah 42:5 to 43:10


Hebrew words with joint conceptual meanings: ruach (spirit, wind, breath), shamayim (sky, heaven), yom (day, era), eretz (land, earth), nefesh (soul, breather), asa (make, do), shamar (keep, guard), eesha (woman, wife), p'nei (face, presence).

The Hebrew word aroom is used in 2:25 to mean "naked", and 3:1, 7 to mean "crafty". What kind of transparency/vulnerability is like craftiness?

In First John 2:16 we read about three types of temptation—desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and boastful pride of life—that come not from God but from the world's corruption. Eve was tempted in all three ways: the fruit was good for nourishment, pleasing of appearance, and desirable for becoming wise.

Verse 4:7 has great consolation for Cayin. God is saying, "Your sacrifice was not received sha-ah (with favor). Do not worry about this, and see how you yourself can be s'eht (accepted)."

Verse 4:7 correctly reads, "But if you do not do right, sin crouches at the door and for you is its desire; but you must master it." The sin desired mastery of Cayin, not harming Avel. Sin as a spiritual force has no innate tendency to harm saints; it does have innate tendency to enslave potential sinners. (Satan, of course, enjoys harming saints.)

During the six days of creation, first places were created and then these places were filled:




Day 1 - energy created

Day 4 - sun, moon, and stars created

Water and Sky

Day 2 - waters defined, sky created

Day 5 - water and sky filled with animals


Day 3 - earth and plants created

Day 6 - earth filled with animals

The current scientific creations theories do not match this scriptural creation story, in which seed-bearing plans predated both insects and the sun.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Tradition tells that when the Torah's first word was written, beginning with the letter bet, the letter aleph protested that as the first letter it should have the honor of starting the Torah. God replied that the aleph would start the ten commandments. But the Torah would begin with bet because berachah (blessing) begins with bet whereas arur (cursed) begins with aleph.

Three acts of devotion are called breishit. The Torah called reishit darko (the beginning of His path) in Proverbs 8:22. Tithes are called reishit bikkoray admatcha (the first of the firstfruits of your soil) in Exodus 23:19. The sacrifices are called reishit since tradition teaches that the heavenly Temple was created before the world itself.

Notice that nothing on the second day is called "good". The creation of the waters is not "good" until the waters are positioned properly during the third day. The third day has two things called "good". Tradition claims that because the second day's account lacks "and it was good" that Gehinnom (hell) was created on the second day. In the Gemara (Bava Basra) there is a story about Rabbah the son of Bar Chanah being shown the crack in the desert where Korach and his followers are still tortured by fire while they call our, "Moshe is true, and his Torah is the truth, and we are all liars!". In Midrash Rabbah there is a story told by R' Simon in which God explains Gehinnom is a place that cleanses souls of their sins, so the soul may be restored to its original abode beneath God's holy throne. Tradition interprets Psalm 116:15 ("the death of his pious ones is precious in God's eyes") as speaking of God's eagerness to have his pious followers with him at his throne—and death alone purges a pious person of sin and allows him or her to reap a full reward.

Legends speak of the low waters quarreling with the high waters. Some Jews avoid starting projects on Mondays because that day lacks "and it was good" because strife began on that day.

In verse 1:20 the fish are unique among living things in being blessed with sheretz (swarming-abundance), but in verse 8:17, after the flood, all creatures get this blessing. R' Bechaye says this extra blessing upon the fish allowed them to survive the flood.

Tradition claims man was created on the same day as the animals to teach him that by choosing or ignoring virtue man can be either higher or lower than a beast. Only man has both good and evil inclinations, and after eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil then mankind can analytically weigh options and thoughtfully choose good or evil. Because man has two yetzer (inclinations) the word vayitzer (he formed) has an extra yud in verse 2:7 about forming man, compared to in verse 2:19 about forming animals.

In verse 2:15 the Hebrew words l'av'dah oo-l'sham'rah mean "to server her and to keep her". Adam was put into Eden to serve and keep Eden, not to be master over the place. Adam's mastery was over animals, not the place itself. Over Eden only God was master.

In one story, Adam was originally going to die in one day (verse 2:17) but God had pity and extended his lifespan to one era of 1,000 years—what a day seems like to God. Then Adam saw in a prophecy that King David was destined to be stillborn, and petitioned that God give King David 70 of his years. Thus Adam lived 930 years and King David lived 70 years. (Other rabbis have said the single day in 2:17 was negated when Adam repented, just as Nineveh was spared after repentance. Still other rabbis say that Adam died on the same day of the week that he ate the fruit—Friday.)

Tradition compares the six days of creation to six millennia. These millennia cannot be actual 1,000 year periods since it has been more than 2,000 years since the destruction of the first Temple (in 421 BC).

Theme of Day of Creation

Corresponding Theme of Millenia



Adam living recognizing God



Noach living through the flood



Avraham beginning chosen lineage


Two Lights

Two Temples


Fish and Birds

Swarming abundance (the current time)


Perfect Man

Messiah's reign

The Medrash Rabah notes how the testing of Adam and Eve was like this week of millennia: it claimed that God planned to lift the prohibition on eating from the Tree of Life on Shabbat but did not tell this Adam and Eve because it would have made the test too easy; having failed to merit Eternal Life within a week of days, humanity must merit Eternal Life after a week of ages.

One ancient rabbi said that women have sweet voices and men do not because chimes made of bones tinkle and echo, but chimes made of rocks make no melody. Another rabbi said that singleness is easier for women than men because men feel they are missing a part, but women are complete. Another rabbi said that women, like bones in water, are stubborn and strong but men, like a lump of dirt in water, is weak and fails.

In one story, after Chavah added an imagined prohibition against touching the fruit, the snake had her touch it, and thus convinced her it was safe to eat.

In verse 4:10 the world "blood" is needlessly plural. Tradition offers two explanations: either a large quantity of blood was spilled, or blood is of both Cain and his potential descendants.

The name "Tuval Cain" means "He improved Cain's work". Cain was the first murderer, and Tuval Cain is accredited with being the first professional weapon maker.

Until the flood, genealogies include the word vayamat (and he died) to make explicit that the person did not die in the flood. After the flood this notation is not necessary.

The Tz'enah Ur'enah is contradictory about angels. Regarding verse 1:31 it comments that "The angels, however, are beings of pure intellect and goodness, and thus there is never the possibility of an angel straying form the proper path." Regarding verse 6:4 it says, "God had cast the angels from the heavens down to the earth because they had been evil, and women on earth had borne children from them."

In one story, a gentile asked R' Yehoshua ben Karcha, "If God knows all, why did He create men, knowing He would be angry with them?" R' Yehoshua answered, "You had a son and rejoiced when he was born, even though you knew that one day he must die. Why did you rejoice?" The gentile answered, "When it is time to be joyous one should rejoice, and when the time comes to grieve, one should grieve." R' Yehoshua said to him, "God too did this. He knew that the righteous would come from Adam and for their sake created the wicked too."

The G'ro explains that the change of tense in Genesis 1:3 from y'hee or ("let it be, light", future tense) to va-y'hee or ("and it was, light", past tense) means that God created "a source of light for the whole world" that first day of creation but then "immediately retracted by putting it away for the Tzadikim in the World to Come". [Can the grammatical construction bayn ha-or oo-bayn ha-choshech be translated that God separated "among the light, and among the darkness"?]

The rabbis noticed that shalom was not listed among the things created. Gemara 64a states that when someone takes leave from a live person, he says Lech le'Shalom (Go to peace), whereas when he takes leave from the deceased, he says Lech be'Shalom (Go in peace) because living people can only approach heavenly peace, but the deceased are in the same realm as shalom. HaRav Eliezer Chrysler comments, "Presumably, what the Medrash means is that man cannot attain Shalom on his own initiative. To attain it, he requires a lot of Siya'ata di'Shemaya (Divine Inspiration), which in turn comes through prayer because Shalom is in the hands of G-d. And this idea comes across strongly in the final B'rachah of the Amidah, and in the last Pasuk there 'Oseh Shalom bi'Meromav ... ', where we acknowledge that Shalom comes from above."

For a timeline of lives before the flood, see here.

Tradditionally, the word b'raysheet (in the - beginning) has also been alternatively interpreted as beis reishit (two creations) or boro sh'tei (he created - two), when discussing the creation of Heaven and Earth or Good and Evil. The Tikunei Zohar proposes the main theme of this parasha is two ways to fear God: fearing the harm God does (avoiding punishments), and fearing how we can cause God harm (avoiding dishonoring him).

The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the letters of bereishit form yerei Shabbat (thus he taught it was only on the merit of Shabbat that the world was created) and aleph be'Tishri (thus he concluded the world was created on the first of Tishrei), and Beit Rosh (thus creation hints at the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, tabernacle).

Rabeinu Bachye notes that this parasha contains what he claims are all the major themes of scripture: divine creation, supervision, prophecy, mercy, and judgment. These five are repeated with Adam and Eve, with Cayin, and (next parasha) with Noach. Notice how these five things are all aspects of parenting (giving birth, nurturing, warning, forgiving, and training).

Isaiah 43:3 lists three nations: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seva. These three nations appear again in verse 45:14. The Talmud (Yoma 10 A) identifies Seva as Saristan or Sagiatan, a district in Drangonia in the Persian Empire, occupied by the Scythians.