Rashi explains that the letter beis in the word “Bereishis” means that the world was created for the Torah. The Torah, which preceded the creation of the world, is referred to in Mishlei as “reishis,” as it says, “G-d created the Torah at the beginning of His way, before his works of long ago.”
One can take Rashi’s idea further and say the world was not only created for the Torah, but it was created with the Torah. The Torah is the blueprint of the world. G-d consulted the Torah as he created the world (Bereishis Rabbah 1:1). He created the human being with five fingers to enable the kohen to perform kemitzah, in which he uses his fingers to separate the flour mixture which is to be burned on the altar, from the shirayim, which is to be eaten by the kohen. G-d created us with an ear, a thumb, and a toe because the blood which purified the metzorah needed to be placed on those limbs. G-d created a lion because it was needed for Daniel in the lion’s den.
On the first day, G-d created “es hashamayim v’es ha’aretz.” The word “es” comes to include something more than just the plain heavens and earth. It includes all things that were later placed in the heavens, like the sun, the moon, the stars, and all things that were later placed on earth like vegetation, fish, birds, animals and human beings. The heavens and earth were created with the components, chemical and otherwise, needed to produce these things. The only creation which was “yesh mei’ayin” was the creation of heaven and earth. All these other things evolved from this creation, yesh mei’yesh.
The earth as created on the first day, and consisted of five elements: tohu, bohu, choshech, ruach, mayim. The tohu was responsible for the darkness, in so far as it was some sort of a dark curtain or ribbon, kav tohu, that surrounded the globe, and the bohu was responsible for the water which emanated from the rocks, avnei vohu (Yishayahu 34:11, Chagigah 12a) and inundated the earth. These two destructive elements, darkness and water, rendered the world uninhabitable and made it impossible for G-d to realize his purpose, which was the creation of the human being. Accordingly, G-d had to rid the earth of perpetual darkness and reduce the quantity of water covering earth.
So on the first day, G-d created light to shine on the earth during the day while maintaining the original darkness at night. G-d then named the light yom, “day,” and the darkness layla, “night.”
Why is the Torah telling us this? What difference does it make what name G-d gave them? After all, the Torah is not a vocabulary book? But in a way it is, it is a Torah vocabulary book. Given that the purpose of creation is to fulfill the mitzvos, and that certain mitzvos, like bris milah or the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, can be performed only during the day and others, like the counting of the Omer and eating the Korban Pesach, can only be performed at night, we need to know how to distinguish between day and night for the purpose of fulfilling these mitzvos. So right here the Torah defines night by telling us that it is night when it is dark, not at 6 o’clock in the evening when it is still light; and that it is day when it is light, not at 6 o’clock in the morning when it is still dark.
“It was evening and it was morning, one day.” This sentence informs us that for the purposes of the Torah, night precedes day, because it follows the order of creation.
G-d reduced the quantity of water on earth in two stages. On the second day he separated the waters of the heaven from the waters of the earth, which up to this point were mixed together, by interposing the rekia, the sky between them. But that alone was not enough to allow human beings to exist, because the earth was still under water. So, in order to expose the yabasha, dry land, on which humans could breathe, on the third day G-d ordered the waters to gather into one place, yikavu hamayim. We can only conjecture how this was done. Perhaps prior to the second day, water was perpetually flowing upwards and covering the mountains five miles above ground, but now G-d created gravity so that the waters reversed course and flowed downwards, five miles underground. Or as suggested in Tehillim – “He spread out the earth upon the water” – perhaps G-d created a hole in the surface crust of the earth into which the waters drained, and thereby enabled the earth to float on the water immediately beneath it.
Having done that, G-d called the earth, which hitherto had been totally submerged in water, yabasha, and He called the oceans abutting the dry land, yamim. Although it is difficult to find any halachic consequence to these different names, because the same mitzvos apply on sea as on land, there is an existential significance to these names. The sea is the nemesis of the land. It threatens to revert the earth back to its original state of bohu. If humans misbehave and sin, instead of performing mitzvos, the waters will flood and reclaim land, and the flooded areas will return to the state of tohu va’vohu.
On the fourth day, G-d placed lights, me’oros, in the firmament to light up the earth. Into these me’oros, he incorporated the original or, the light that he created on the first day. G-d tasked these lights with four functions. The first of these functions is to act as osos, astrological signs, foreshadowing both bad things and good tidings that are destined to happen in the world, like certain eclipses which can harbinger evil (Succah 29a). Although we say ein mazal l’Yisrael – that the Jewish people is not ruled by the signs of astrology, but rather by the Torah – that does not mean that astrology is irrelevant to the Jews. It is relevant in so far as it warns them that something negative is about to occur unless they strengthen their commitment and adherence to the Torah.
The second of these functions is to inform the Jewish people of the dates of the Jewish festivals, which are fixed by the re-appearance of the new moon. Here again, we see that the purpose of creation is to fulfill the commandments of the Torah. The third function is to take over the job of the light and darkness which were created on the first day, which informed us of the definition of night and day for performing certain mitzvos. The fourth function is to mark when a year begins and when it ends, for the purpose of counting the Shemittah and the Yovel, and for the purpose of celebrating the festivals in their Torah designated seasons.
On the fifth and sixth days, living creatures, including fish, birds and human beings, were formed out of the ingredients and components that G-d had already placed on earth on the first day of creation. This is where the word evolution, so often inappropriately used, can be appropriately used, because evolution itself was a creation of G-d. Birds were created out of the mixture of earth and water, rekak, and the human being himself was created out of the soil of the earth, as it says, “G-d formed man of dust from the ground…”
The sixth day is referred to as Yom HaShishi. It is the only day of creation which is preceded by the definite article “hei,” because it is the renowned day on which man was created. The hei placed before the word Shishi also heralds the sixth day of Sivan on which the five books of the Torah would be given, the adherence to which was and will always be a precondition to the continued existence of man and the only assurance that the world will not regress into its original state of tohu va’vohu.
Rashi explains that all acts of creation that took place on the first five days were suspended in a state of limbo until that sixth day of Sivan, when the Torah was given, and only thereafter, did they come alive. This concept is echoed by the phrase we use on Rosh Hashanah, Hayom haras olam, today the world is pregnant. Why is Rosh Hashanah celebrated on the day which is equivalent to the sixth day of creation when man was born? Why is it not celebrated five days earlier on the 25th of Elul, when the world was created? Why is Rosh Hashanah referred to as “This day is the beginning of your work”? What happened to the other five days of creation? And finally, why is Rosh Hashanah referred to as the day the world became pregnant rather than the day the world was born?
The answer is that the preceding five days of creation were only a preparation for the creation of man. And the world itself was pregnant with man until the 6th of Sivan, 2,448 years later, when the Torah was given. Only then did man emerge from a precarious state of preexistence to celebrate his birthday with the giving of the Torah, which if adhered to, would keep him alive.
And finally, the juxtaposition of the pesukim “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” and “The heaven and the earth were completed…” and in particular the passive phrasing of the word “Vayechulu – were completed” tells us that once Shabbat comes in, no more work can be done, and even if it is not finished, it must be considered completed.
The next phase however, tells us “Vayechal Elokim bayom ha’shevii melachto asher asa – G-d completed on the 7th day His work which He had done.” Does this mean that G-d worked on Shabbat? No, what G-d created on Shabbat was the concept of no work, the concept of rest. Man is naturally created to be active and gets bored and restless when idle. The concept of rest, as every workaholic knows, is something that must be worked on. And that is what G-d created on Shabbat, the neshamah yeserah that allows even the most active of people to rest.
Alternatively, the seeming contradiction between va’yechal and vayechulu can be explained in a different way. The word va’yechal can also mean to refrain, or to withhold, as understood by the words “Vayikolei ha’am mei’havi” – the people refrained from bringing more materials for the building of the tabernacle. Or as understood by the words of the children of Ches who said to Avraham, “None of us will withhold (yichleh) his burial place from you.”
So, the word va’yechal means to withhold or refrain. G-d too refrained from work on Shabbat.
These highlights from the Parsha Shiur of Haga’on Harav Dovid Feinstein, zt”l, are brought to you by Raphael Grunfeld, a partner in the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP ,who received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav, Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, zt”l. and who attended his weekly parsha shiur for twenty years.