A Sample from Genesis Revealed
By Avraham Apatow, Ph.D.
In the beginning…
Why does Genesis begin with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an introduction? Perhaps an explanation of who God is, why He creates the world, how we can know He exists?
Instead the Bible begins with this awesome and bold statement:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
This is because this verse is the foundation of our existence, our understanding of ourselves, and our relationship to God. This is the foundation of our lives, that indeed there is a Creator, that life is purposeful and that our existence has genuine meaning and value. As a foundation, there is nothing prior to this. Indeed, this is the beginning of all. As King David says in Psalm 111:
The beginning of wisdom is the awesome awareness of the Lord…
Some think that God created the world in one historical moment in the past. This is not the meaning of “In the beginning.” “In the beginning” is every moment, for every moment is a new beginning. Creation is an eternal and infinite process and the Creator is ever-present renewing the heavens and the earth. (Kedushat Levi, p. 1)
This renewal is the revelation of God’s goodness and providence. Rebbe Nachman teaches that in every situation there is always some point of goodness that can be found, and this good point has the power to turn the entire situation from bad to good, from darkness to light. It is our work to seek it out.
1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 1:2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. 1:3 And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light.
In each moment there is chaos and void, but there is always the spirit of God present in the background…until He reveals Himself and He says, “Let there be Light.”
In every moment this dynamic process is occurring. Torah study along with meditation and reflection on one’s life allows us to gain greater consciousness of the workings of creation. It is in these precious moments when we glimpse the light of God in our lives that we are able to strengthen our faith and relationship with the Creator.
The Seventh Day
When God completes His work He rests and then blesses the seventh day. Many Western readers of Genesis have interpreted this to mean that God creates the world and then sits back and observes His creation and allows it to continue on its own. But how can that be if creation is happening in every moment?
The message of the Torah is the very opposite of this. God created the world for the very purpose to have a place in which His presence can dwell. He tells Moses in the Book of Exodus:
25:8 Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them.
The meaning of the word “blessing” in Hebrew is to draw down God’s infinite power and presence into the finite world. The root of the word is “knee,” the very part of the body we use to bend or bring downwards.
God blesses the seventh day because it is on this day that His presence is brought downward to the earth and revealed.
During the six days of creation the workings of creation appear to function independently of God; in this way nature veils God’s presence. The seventh day represents the point in time when the world of nature is at rest from its work. The work of nature is the hiding of God’s presence.
The seventh day, however, represents the very purpose of creation – the revelation of God in the creation. This is perhaps the main theme of the entire drama of the Five Books of Moses.
Seven represents the completion of natural cycles in which God’s Will is revealed. This process occurs on many levels in the Torah, whether it is at the end of the week on the Sabbath, the seventh year when the land rests, or the jubilee year when land is restored to is tribal owners. Each of these laws reflects a way in which God asserts His Will to govern the world of nature.
This overturning of nature is symbolized by the number eight, as in the eight days of Hanukah and the circumcision on the eighth day. The eighth is that which is above nature. The seven represents that which receives Godliness and brings it into the world.
The ultimate seven in the Torah is the seventh-thousandth year of history, each thousand years corresponding to a day of the week, thus the seventh- thousandth year corresponding to Shabbat.
Rav Katina in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) teaches that this last millennium is the time of the world’s ultimate redemption and the complete revelation of God. The Prophets describes this awesome time with these famous words:
The knowledge of God will fill the world like water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)
The Revelation of God’s Presence
This is the secret of the creation. The Sages teach us that God created the world ex nihilo, that is, “something from nothing.” “Something from nothing” cannot be understood by the logical human mind.
Creation is a complete miracle beyond all human understanding, and in each moment the world is continually created through this ongoing miracle – this therefore is the genuine understanding of In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth – the awareness of God’s awesome presence that fills all creation and the miracle of existence.
But what is the purpose of creation? It is to reveal God’s goodness and providential care over all things. In the six days this is hidden to a greater degree, in the seventh it is revealed. History is like the six days, the redemption is the seventh.
How can we understand this? The Book of Genesis is the story of a family, the children of Jacob. The main part of the drama is the story of Joseph. Joseph’s life and his story with his brothers reveals to us an amazing example of how God’s providence can be hidden in great darkness, but in the end Joseph’s exile and enslavement are revealed to be the preparation for his ascent to great power in order to save his family and much of civilization from starvation.
Every moment of life and all things, every rock, plant, animal, and human being is guided and protected by God’s providence. This means that every moment of life and every part of creation has a role in the entirety of creation and the ultimate good that God wishes to bestow upon all creatures.
This is the main point of the Torah and the first principle of Judaism according to the Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides): that God exists and oversees all creation for its good.