The First Verses of Creation
1. Rabbi Nehuniah ben HaKana said: One verse (Job 37:21) states, “And now they do not see light, it is brilliant (Bahir) in the skies…[round about God in terrible majesty].” Another verse, however, (Psalm 18:12), states, “He made darkness His hiding place.” It is also written (Psalm 97:2), “Cloud and gloom surround Him.” This is an apparent contradiction. A third verse comes and reconciles the two. It is written (Psalm 139:12), “Even darkness is not dark to You. Night shines like day — light and darkness are the same.”
2. Rabbi Berachiah said: It is written (Genesis 1:2), “The earth was Chaos (Tohu) and Desolation (Bohu). What is the meaning of the word “was” in this verse? This indicates that the Chaos existed previously [and already was]. What is Chaos (Tohu)? Something that confounds (Taha) people. What is Desolation (Bohu)? It is something that has substance. This is the reason that it is called Bohu, that is, Bo Hu — “it is in it.”
3. Why does the Torah begin with the letter Bet? In order that it begin with a blessing (Berachah).
How do we know that the Torah is called a blessing? Because it is written (Deuteronomy 33:23), “The filling is God’s blessing possessing the Sea and the South.”
The Sea is nothing other than the Torah, as it is written ( Job 11:9), “It is wider than the sea.” What is the meaning of the verse, “The filling is God’s blessing?” This means that wherever we find the letter Bet it indicates a blessing. It is thus written (Genesis 1:1), “In the beginning (BeReshit) [God created the heaven and the earth.” BeReshit is Bet Reshit.]
The word “beginning” (Reshit) is nothing other than Wisdom. It is thus written (Psalm 111:10), “The beginning is wisdom, the fear of God.” Wisdom is a blessing. It is thus written, “And God blessed Solomon.” It is furthermore written (I Kings 5:26), “And God gave Wisdom to Solomon.”
This resembles a king who marries his daughter to his son. He gives her to him at the wedding and says to him, “Do with her as you desire.”
4. How do we know that the word Berachah [usually translated as blessing] comes from the word Baruch [meaning blessed]? Perhaps it comes from the word Berech [meaning knee]. It is written (Isaiah 44:23), “For to Me shall every knee bend.” [Berachah can therefore mean] the Place to which every knee bends.
What example does this resemble? People want to see the king, but do not know where to find his house (Bayit). First they ask “Where is the king’s house?” Only then can they ask “Where is the king?”
It is thus written, “For to Me shall every knee bend” — even the highest — “every tongue shall swear.”
5. Rabbi Rahumai sat and expounded: What is the meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 33:23), “The filling is God’s blessing, possessing the Sea and the South”? This means that wherever we find the letter Bet it is blessed. This is the Filling referred to in the verse, “The filling is God’s blessing.” From there it nourishes those who need it. It was from this Filling that God sought advice. What example does this resemble? A king wanted to build his palace among great cliffs. He mined into the bedrock and uncovered a great spring of living water. The king then said, “Since I have flowing water, I will plant a garden. Then I will delight in it, and so will all the world.” It is therefore written (Proverbs 8:30), “I was with Him as a craftsman, I was His delight for a day, a day, frolicking before him at every time.” The Torah is saying, “For two thousand years I was in the bosom of the Blessed Holy One as His delight.” The verse therefore says, “a day, a day.” Each day of the Blessed Holy One is a thousand years, as it is written (Psalm 90:4), “A thousand years in Your eyes is as but yesterday when it is passed.” From then on, it is at times, as the verse states, “[frolicking before Him] at every time.” The rest is for the world. It is thus written (Isaiah 48:9), “I will [breathe out] My praise through My nose for you.” What is the meaning of “My praise”? As it is written (Psalm 145:2), “A praise of David, I will raise You high [my God, O King, and I will bless Your name for the world and forever].” Why is this a praise? Because I will “raise You high.” And what is this elevation? Because “I will bless Your name for the world and forever.”
8. What is a blessing?
It can be explained with an example. A king planted trees in his garden. It may rain and water them, and the ground may be wet and provide them with moisture, but still, he must water them from the spring.
It is thus written (Psalm 111:10), “The beginning is Wisdom, the fear of God, good intelligence to all who do them [His praise endures forever].”
You may think that it lacks something. It is therefore written, “His praise endures forever.”
7. Rabbi Amorai sat and expounded: What is the meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 33:23), “The filling is God’s blessing, possessing the Sea and the South?” Moses was saying, “If you follow my decrees, you will inherit both this world and the next.” The World to Come is likened to the sea, as it is written (Job 11:9), “It is wider than the sea.” The present world is referred to as the South. It is thus written (Joshua 15:19), [Give me a blessing] for you have set me in the land of the south, [therefore give me springs of water].” The Targum translates this, “behold the earth is the south.”
8. Why did God add the letter Heh to Abraham’s name, rather than any other letter? This was so that all parts of man’s body should be worthy of life in the World to Come, which is likened to the sea. To the extent that we can express it, the Structure was completed in Abraham. [Regarding this Structure] it is written (Genesis 9:6), “For in the form of God, He made the man.” The numerical value of Abraham is 248, the number of parts in man’s body.
9. What is the meaning of (Deuteronomy 33:23), “[The filling is God’s blessing, the Sea and the South] he shall inherit it (YiRaShaH)?” It would have been sufficient if the verse said, “inherit (RaSh) [the Sea and the South].”
But this comes to teach us that God must also be included. The word YiRaShaH thus contains the letters RaSh YH [meaning, “inherit God”].
What does this resemble? A king had two treasuries, and he hid one away. After many days he said to his son, “Take what is in these two treasuries.” The son replied, “Perhaps you are not giving me all that you have hidden away.” The king said, “Take everything.” It is thus written, “the Sea and the South, he shall inherit it.” Inherit God ( YH RaSh) — everything will be given to you if you only keep My ways.
10. Rabbi Bun said: What is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 8:23), “I was set up from eternity (Me-Olam), from a head, before the earth?” What is the meaning of “from eternity (Me-Olam)?” This means that it must be concealed (He-elam) from the world. It is thus written (Ecclesiastes 3:11), “He has also placed the world (Ha-Olam) in their hearts [that they should not find out the work that God has done from the beginning to the end].” Do not read Ha-Olam (the world), but He-elam (concealment). The Torah said, “I was first, so that I might be the head of the world.” It is thus written, “I was set up from eternity, from a head.” You may think that the earth was before it. It is therefore written, “before the earth.” It is thus written (Genesis 1:1), “In the beginning created God the heaven and the earth.” What is the meaning of “created”? He created everything that was needed for all things. And then God. Only after that is it written “the heaven and the earth.”
11. What is the meaning of the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:14), “Also one opposite the other was made by God.” He created Desolation (Bohu) and placed it in Peace, and He created Chaos (Tohu) and placed it in Evil.
Desolation is in Peace, as it is written (Job 25:2), “He makes peace in His high places.” This teaches us that Michael, the prince to God’s right, is water and hail, while Gabriel, the prince to God’s left, is fire. The two are reconciled by the Prince of Peace. This is the meaning of the verse, “He makes peace in His high places.”
12. How do we know that Chaos is in Evil? It is written (Isaiah 45:7), “He makes peace and creates evil.” How does this come out? Evil is from Chaos, while Peace is from Desolation. He thus created Chaos and placed it in Evil, [as it is written “He makes peace and creates evil.” He created Desolation and placed it in Peace, as it is written, “He makes peace in His high places.”]
13. Rabbi Bun also sat and expounded:
What is the meaning of the verse (Isaiah 45:7), “He forms light and creates darkness?” Light has substance. Therefore, the term “formation” is used with regard to it. Darkness has no substance, and therefore, with regard to it, the term “creation” is used. It is similarly written (Amos 4:12), He forms mountains and creates the wind.” Another explanation is this: Light was actually brought into existence, as it is written (Genesis 1:3), “And God said, let there be light.” Something cannot be brought into existence unless it is made. The term “formation” is therefore used. In the case of darkness, however, there was no making, only separation and setting aside. It is for this reason that the term “created” (Bara) is used. It has the same sense as in the expression, “That person became well (hi-Bria).”
14. Why is the letter Bet closed on all sides and open in the front? This teaches us that it is the House (Bayit) of the world. God is the place of the world, and the world is not His place. Do not read Bet, but Bayit (house). It is thus written (Proverbs 24:3), “With wisdom the house is built, with understanding it is established, [and with knowledge are its chambers filled].”
15. What does the Bet resemble? It is like a man, formed by God with wisdom. He is closed on all sides, but open in front. The Aleph, however, is open from behind. This teaches us that the tail of the Bet is open from behind. If not for this, man could not exist.
Likewise, if not for the Bet on the tail of the Aleph, the world could not exist.
16. Rabbi Rahumai said: Illumination preceeded the world, since it is written (Psalm 97:2), “Cloud and gloom surround Him.” It is thus written (Genesis 1:3), “And God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light.” They said to Him, “Before the creation of Israel your son, will you then make him a crown?” He replied yes. What does this resemble? A king yearned for a son. One day he found a beautiful, precious crown, and he said, “This is fitting for my son’s head.” They said to him, “Are you then certain that your son will be worthy of this crown?” He replied, “Be still. This is what arises in thought.” It is thus written (2 Samuel 14:14), He thinks thoughts [that none should be cast away].