Parshat Breishit

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

How many stories of Creation are there in Parshat Breishit, one or two? Although this question is more often discussed by Bible critics than yeshiva students, its contains a significant spiritual message.

In this week's shiur, we discuss the structure of Parshat Breishit, in an attempt to better understand the meaning of the Torah's presentation of the story of Creation. Our analysis will also 'set the stage' for our discussion of the overall theme of Sefer Breishit in the shiurim to follow.

From a literary perspective, it is quite easy to differentiate between two distinct sections in the Torah's account of the story of Creation:

Section I - The Creation in Seven Days (see 1:1-2:3)
Section II- Man in Gan Eden (see 2:4-3:24)

In our shiur, we will first explain what makes each section unique. Afterward we will discuss how they complement one another.

Perek Aleph
Section I, better known as Perek Aleph, is easily discerned because of its rigid structure, i.e. every day of creation follows a very standard pattern. Each day:

Begins with the phrase: "Va'yomer Elokim...", heralding a new stage of creation (see 1:3,6,9,14,20,24) [see board #1];
Continues with "Va'yar Elokim ki tov" (see 1:4,10,12,18,21,25) [see board #2];
Concludes with "Vayhi erev vayhi boker, yom..." (see 1:5,8,13,19,23,31) [see board #3].

Furthermore, within this section, God's Name is exclusively "shem Elokim" (in contrast to the use of "shem Havaya" in the next section). Finally, the use of the verb "bara" (to create ex nihilo - something from nothing) is also unique to this section.

In addition to its the special structure, the content of Perek Aleph also indicates that it is a self-contained unit. It presents a complete story of creation. For example, note how the introductory sentence is 'matched' by the finale:

The section opens with:

"Breishit (in the beginning), bara Elokim - God created shamayim and aretz..." (1:1-2).

And conlcudes with:

"Vaychulu [then came the completion of] ha'shamayim v'ha'aretz... "asher bara Elokim" - that God created." (2:1-3)

[See board #4]

While this 'match' provides us with a 'technical' reason to treat 1:1 through 2:3 as a distinct unit, their content provides with a thematic reason as well. Let's explain:

Note how the opening two psukim first describe the pre-creation state of tohu va'vahu - total chaos (see 1:1-2). In contrast to this original chaos, at the conclusion of the six days of creation we find a structured universe in a state of perfect order. This is emphasized by the closing statement in 2:1-3 where God blesses the seventh day... for on it He ceased from all of His work.

Perek Bet
The next unit is 2:4-3:24, better known as Perek Bet. As you review these two chapters, note how they appear to present a conflicting account of the story of Creation. For example, note that:
1) Nothing can grow before God creates man (see 2:5), therefore:
2) God creates man first (2:15);
3) God commands man re: what he can/cannot eat (2:16-17);
4) God creates animals for the sake of man (2:18-20)
5) God creates a wife for man, from his own rib (2:21-25).

Clearly, the order of creation is very different. In Perek Bet we find that man is created first, and everything afterward (i.e. the plants and the animals) are created for him. In contrast, even though Perek Aleph places man the pinnacle of God's Creation, it does not depict man as its primary purpose (see board #5).

In addition, there are several other obvious differences between these two sections:
Throughout this section, God's Name is no longer simply Elokim, rather Hashem Elokim ("shem Havaya") [see board #6].
In contrast to the consistent use of verb "bara" in Perek Aleph, Perek Bet uses the verb "ya'tzar" (creation 'something from something') (see 2:7,19) [see board #7].

Although it is possible to reconcile these apparent contradictions (as many of the commentators do), the question remains - Why does the Torah present these two accounts in a manner that at least appears to be conflicting?

We obviously cannot accept the claim of the Bible critics that these two sections reflect two conflicting ancient traditions. As we believe that the entire Torah was given by God at Har Sinai (and hence stems from one source), we must conclude that this special manner of presentation is intentional and should carry a prophetic message. Since this is a very fundamental point, let's take a minute to explain why.

What is "Nevuah"
Before opening a book of any sort, the reader will usually have some idea of what to expect, based on the type of book that he has chosen. For example, when you read a history book, you expect to find history; in a science book you expect to find scientific facts; and when you read a novel you expect to find drama and/or entertainment. In a similar manner, when one reads (or studies) Chumash, he should expect to find "nevuah"; but what does that mean?

The popular translation of "nevuah" - prophecy - may be misleading, for it implies the ability to see (or predict) the future. In Tanach, that is not the primary mission of a prophet. Technically speaking, a "navi" is a 'spokesman' [usually for God]. Even though this may at times include the prediction of certain events, his primary job is to deliver God's message to man. [Similarly, a "navi Baal" - is a spokesman for the Baal god. A "navi sheker" is one who claims to be speaking in the name of God, but instead is making it up himself. In other words, anyone speaking for any type of a god can be called a "navi".]

[Note that the Hebrew word "niv" - a 'saying' - stems from the same root - see also Yeshayahu 57:19 - "borey niv sfatayim"]

To clarify this point, let's take an example from God's appointment of Moshe Rabeinu to be His "navi".

Recall how God first commanded Moshe: "… Speak to Pharoah, king of Egypt, everything that I tell you" (6:29); i.e. to become His "navi" = spokesman. Moshe first declines, explaining: "… see I am of impeded speech [aral s'fataim], how then would Pharoah listen to me?" (see 6:30).

To solve this problem, God offers a compromise of sorts. Moshe will remain God's spokesman, but now due to his 'speech problems', Moshe himself needs a spokesman - towards that purpose Aharon is appointed to become Moshe's navi. Note how the Torah explains this:

"And God responded to Moshe, see - I have appointed you as [a spokesman of] God to Pharoh, but Aharon your brother will be your navi - i.e. your spokesman. You will say [to Aharon] everything that I command you, and Aharon your brother will speak unto Pharoah…" (see 7:1-2)
Hence, a sefer of "nevuah" must be a book that delivers a message from God to man, delivered by His spokesman - the "navi". Therefore, when we study a book of "nevuah", we should expect it to contain a message from God to man. Therefore, as we study Sefer Breishit, we must assume that purpose of the Torah's presentation of the story of Creation must relate to the nature of his relationship with God.

Two renowned Torah scholars of this century have discussed this issue of the two creations stories at length. The analytical aspect, the approach of "shtei bechinot" (two perspectives), has been exhausted by Rabbi Mordechei Breuer in his book Pirkei Breishit. The philosophical implications have been discussed by Rav Soloveichik ZT"L in his article 'The Lonely Man of Faith' (re: Adam I & Adam II).

It is beyond the scope of this shiur to summarize these two approaches (it is recommended that you read them). Instead, we will simply conduct a basic analysis of Perek Aleph & Perek Bet and offer some thoughts with regard to its significance. This will provide a background for those who wish to pursue this topic in greater depth.

With this in mind, we begin our analysis in an attempt to find the primary message of each of these two sections. We begin with Perek Aleph.

Perek Aleph - The Creation of Nature
As we mentioned above, each day of creation in Perek Aleph begins with the phrase "va'yomer Elokim" followed a description of what God creates on that day (see board #1). As your review this chapter, note that there is one primary creation that is introduced by each "va'yomer". [Note also that days three and six have two "va'yomer" stages!] The following list summarizes what was created on each day, based on each introductory "va'yomer…":

Day God Created...
I "Or" = Light
II "Rakiya" - separating:
A. the mayim above [=shamayim], and
B. the mayim below [=yamim].
IIIa "Yabasha", called the aretz (the land) -
IIIb Vegetation (on that aretz)
A. seed-bearing plants: "esev mazria zera"
B. fruit-bearing trees: "etz pri oseh pri"
IV Lights in the shamayim (sun, moon, stars etc.)
V Living creatures:
A. birds in the sky [=rakiya shamayim]
B. fish in the sea [=mayim]
VIa Living creatures who live on the aretz (land)
animals - all forms
VI Man b'tzelem Elokim blessed by God to dominate all other living creatures

Then, God assigns the appropriate food for these living creatures:
1. Man - can eat vegetables and fruit (see 1:29)
2. animals - can eat only vegetables (see 1:30)

VII Shabbat
God rested, His Creation was complete.

Now, let's turn our list into a table. If we line up the first three days against the last three days, an amazing parallel emerges:

Days 1 - 3 Days 4 - 6
I.Light IV.Lights in the heavens
II. Rakiya (above) V. Living things
Shamayim (above) Birds in the Shamayim
Mayim (below the sea) Fish in Mayim
III. Aretz (land) VI. Animals & Man on the Aretz
Seed bearing plants Plants to be eaten by the Animals
Fruit bearing trees Fruit of trees to be eaten by Man

This suggests that the potential of God's creation in the first three days is actualized in the last three days, but the deeper meaning of this parallel is beyond the scope of the shiur. For our purposes, this shows once again how Perek Aleph must be considered a distinct unit that describes the creation of a very structured universe. This established, we must now ask ourselves what precisely was created in these six days, and what can we learn from this style of its presentation.

Divine Evolution
We mentioned earlier that Perek Aleph contains a complete story of the process of Creation. In contrast to a primal state of total chaos, after six days we find a beautifully structured universe containing all of the various forms of life that we are familiar with; including plants, animals, and man.

Note that the Torah emphasizes that each form of life is created in a manner which guarantees its survival, i.e. its ability to reproduce:
a.plants: "esev mazria zera" - seed-bearing vegetation
"etz pri oseh pri" - fruit-bearing trees (1:11-12) & fowl: "pru u'rvu"- be fruitful & multiply (1:22)
c.Man:"pru u'rvu..." - be fruitful & multiply (1:28)

One could summarize and simply state that the end result of this creation process is what we call nature - in other words - the exact opposite of tohu va'vahu. What Perek Aleph describes then, is God's creation of nature, the entire material universe and its phenomena. It informs us that nature itself, with all its complexities and wonders, was a willful act of God. By keeping Shabbat, resting on the seventh day, as God did, we assert our belief that God is the power behind nature.

This analysis helps us understand why the Torah uses God's name -Elokim - throughout this entire chapter. As Ramban explains (toward the end of his commentary on 1:1), the Hebrew word "el" implies someone with power (or strength) and in control. Therefore, "shem Elokim" implies the master of all of the many forces of nature. [This explains why God's Name is in the plural form- for He is all of the powers / see also Rav Yehuda ha'Levi, in Sefer Kuzari, beginning of Book Four.] This end result of this creation process is what we call nature -- the exact opposite of tohu va'vohu. What Perek Aleph describes then, is God's creation of nature, the entire material universe and its phenomena. It informs us that nature was not always there, rather its creation was a willful act of God. By keeping Shabbat, resting on the seventh day, as God did, we assert our belief that God is the power behind nature.

This understanding can help us appreciate the Torah's use of the verb "bara" in Perek Aleph. Recall that "bara" implies creation ex-nihilo, something from nothing. Now, note the three times active uses of "bara" in Perek Aleph. They are precisely where we find the creation of each of the basic forms of life (i.e. plants, animals, and man), reflecting the three fundamental steps in the evolutionary development of nature:

Step I - All matter and plants
"Breishit bara Elokim et ha'shamayim v'et ha'aretz" (1:1)
This includes everything in the shamayim and on the aretz, i.e. the creation of all "domem" (inanimate objects) and "tzomeyach" (plants). Note that this takes place during the first four days of Creation.
Step II - The animal kingdom
"va'yivra Elokim - and God created the taninim and all living creatures... by their species"(1:21)
This includes the birds, fish, animals, and beasts etc. which are created on the fifth and sixth days.
Step III - Man
"va'yivra Elokim et ha'adam..." (1:27)
The creation of man b'tzelem Elokim, in God's image.

The Torah's First Story
Now we must ponder what may be the Torah's message in telling man that the creation of nature was a willful act of God?

In his daily life, man encounters a constant relationship with nature, i.e. with his surroundings and environment. Man does not need the Torah to inform him that nature exists; it stares him in the face every day. Nor, can man avoid nature, rather he must constantly contemplate it, and struggle with it.

Without the Torah's message, one could easily conclude that nature is the manifestation of many gods - a rain god, a sun god, a fertility god, war gods, etc. - as ancient man believed. Nature was attributed to a pantheon of gods, often warring with one another.

In contrast, modern man usually arrives at quite the opposite conclusion -- that nature just exists, and doesn't relate to any form of god at all.

One could suggest that Chumash begins with story of Creation, for man's relationship with God is based on his recognition that nature is indeed the act of one God. He created the universe for a purpose, and continues to oversee it.

Now we must explain how this relates to man himself.

Man - In Perek Aleph
Note that this is God's blessing to man, and not a commandment! One could consider this 'blessing' almost as a definition of man's very nature. Just as it is 'natural' for vegetation to grow ["esev mazria zera"], and for all living things to reproduce ["pru u'rvu"], it is also 'natural' for man to dominate his environment; it becomes his natural instinct.

The Torah's use of the verb "bara" at each major stage of creation, and then to describe the creation of man may shed light on this topic. When contemplating nature and his relationship with the animal kingdom, man might easily conclude that he is simply just another part of the animal kingdom. He may be more advanced or developed than the 'average monkey', but biologically he is no different. The Torah's use of the verb "bara" to describe God's creation of man informs us that man is a completely new category of creation. He is created "b'tzelem Elokim", in the image of God, i.e. he possesses a spiritual potential, unlike any other form of nature. [See the Rambam in the very beginning of Moreh N'vuchim (I.1), where he defines "tzelem Elokim" as the characteristic of man that differentiates him from animal.]

Perek Aleph teaches man to recognize that his nature to dominate all other living things is also an act of God's creation. However, he must ask himself, "Towards what purpose?" Did God simply create man, or does He continue to have a relationship with His creation? Is the fate of man out of His control, or does a connection exist between man's deeds and God's "hashgacha" (providence) over him?

The answer to this question lies in Perek Bet!

Perek Bet - Man in Gan Eden
Perek Bet presents the story of creation from a totally different perspective. Although it opens with a pasuk which connects these two stories (2:4), it continues by describing man in an environment which is totally different than that of Perek Aleph. In Perek Bet, man is the focal point of the entire creation process. Almost every act taken by God is for the sake of man:

No vegetation can grow before man is created (2:5)
God plants a special garden for man to live in (2:8)
God 'employs' man to 'work in his garden' (2:15)
God creates the animals in an attempt to find him a companion (2:19; compare with 2:7!)
God creates a wife for man (2:21-23)

In contrast to Perek Aleph, where man's job is to dominate God's creation, in Perek Bet man must be obedient and work for God, taking care of the Garden:

"And God took man and placed him in Gan Eden - l'ovdah u'l'shomrah - to work in it and guard it." (2:15) [see board #8]

Most significantly, in Perek Bet man enters into a relationship with God which contains reward and punishment, i.e. he is now responsible for his actions. For the first time in Chumash, we find that God commands man:

"And Hashem Elokim commanded man saying: From all the trees of the Garden you may eat, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad you may not eat, for on the day you eat from it you will surely die" (2:16-17)

This special relationship between man and God in Gan Eden, is paradigmatic of other relationships between man and God found later on in Chumash (e.g. in the Mishkan).

God's Name in Perek Bet - Hashem Elokim (better known as "shem havaya") - reflects this very concept. The shem havaya comes from the shoresh (root) - "l'hiyot" (to be, i.e. to be present). This Name stresses that Gan Eden is an environment in which man can recognize God's presence, thus enabling the possibility of a relationship.

Should man obey God, he can remain in the Garden, enjoying a close relationship with God. However, should he disobey, he is to die. In the next chapter, this 'death sentence' is translated into man's banishment from Gan Eden. In biblical terms, becoming distanced from God is tantamount to death. [See Dvarim 30:15-20.]

In the Gan Eden environment, man is confronted with a conflict between his "taava" (desire) and his obligation to obey God. The "nachash" (serpent), recognizing this weakness, challenges man to question the very existence of this Divine relationship (3:1-4). When man succumbs to his desires and disobeys God, he is banished from the Garden.

Whether or not man can return to this ideal environment will later emerge as an important biblical theme.

A Dual Existence
From Perek Aleph, we learn that God is indeed the Creator of nature, yet that recognition does not necessarily imply that man can develop a personal relationship with Him. The environment created in Perek Bet, although described in physical terms, is of a more spiritual nature, for in it, God has created everything specifically for man. However, he must obey God in order to enjoy this special relationship. In this environment, the fate of man is a direct function of his deeds.

So which story of Creation is correct, Perek Aleph or Perek Bet? As you probably have guessed - both, for in daily life man finds himself involved in both a physical and spiritual environment.

Man definitely exists in a physical world in which he must confront nature and find his purpose within its framework (Perek Aleph). There, he must struggle with nature in order to survive, yet he must realize that God Himself is the master over all of these Creations. However, at the same time, man also exists in a spiritual environment that allows him to develop a relationship with his Creator (Perek Bet). In it, he can find spiritual life by following God's commandments while striving towards perfection. Should he not recognize the existence of this potential, he defaults to spiritual death, man's greatest punishment.

Why does the Torah begin with this 'double' story of Creation? We need only to quote the Ramban (in response to this question, which is raised by the first Rashi of Chumash):

"There is a great need to begin the Torah with the story of Creation, for it is the "shoresh ha'emunah", the very root of our belief in God."

Understanding man's potential to develop a relationship with God on the spiritual level, while recognizing the purpose of his placement in a physical world as well, should be the first topic of Sefer Breishit, for it will emerge as a primary theme of the entire Torah.

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