Listen to this chapter in Hebrew:
1When Hashem began to create heaven and earth—
b'-ray-SHEET ba-RA e-lo-HEEM AYT ha-sha-MA-yim v'-AYT ha-A-retz
אבְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ׃
1:1 When Hashem began to create heaven and earth
If the Bible is essentially a book of law, why does it begin with stories of Genesis? Would it not make more sense to skip the stories and start with the legal sections of the Torah? Rashi, the famed medieval commentator, answers this question with an essential lesson that should inform our reading of the entire Tanakh. According to Rashi, one day the nations of the world would accuse the Jewish People of stealing Eretz Yisrael. In response, the Jews will point to the Torah which begins by telling us that God created the heaven and the earth. Since Hashem is the Creator of the world, He may give the land to whomever He wishes, and it is the divine will that the Land of Israel will belong to the People of Israel.
1:1 When Hashem began
The first word in the Torah is Bereishit (בראשית), which begins with the letter bet (ב), while the last word in the Torah is Yisrael (ישראל), ‘Israel,’ which ends with the letter lamed (ל). Together, these two letters spell the word lev (לב), which means ‘heart’ in Hebrew. The first lesson hinted at in the very first letter of the Tanakh is that Torah is the heart of the People of Israel, and the ultimate expression of Hashem’s love for us. By studying the Torah, from the first letter through the last, we can access the ‘heart’ of Hashem.
2the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from Hashem sweeping over the water—
בוְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם׃
3Hashem said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
גוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃
4Hashem saw that the light was good, and Hashem separated the light from the darkness.
דוַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ׃
5Hashem called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.
הוַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד׃
6Hashem said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.”
ווַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם׃
7Hashem made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so.
זוַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
1:7 And it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse
In Jewish tradition, the Bible is often compared to water. Just as water promotes physical growth in the agricultural world, so too does studying the Bible promote spiritual growth and development. The Land of Israel serves as the perfect backdrop for demonstrating the significance and necessity of water. Rain, especially in desert lands such as Israel, has the ability to transform desolate deserts into flourishing, lush land. Similarly, studying the Bible can fill voids in the hearts and souls of anyone who allows themselves to be inspired by the word of God.
8Hashem called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
חוַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם שֵׁנִי׃
9Hashem said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.” And it was so.
טוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל־מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
10Hashem called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas. And Hashem saw that this was good.
יוַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב׃
11And Hashem said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.
יאוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
12The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And Hashem saw that this was good.
יבוַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה־פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב׃
1:12 The earth brought forth vegetation
While God created and put in place the potential for vegetation on the third day of creation, it was not until later, Genesis 2:5, that rain fell enabling the vegetation of the world to blossom and bloom. During creation, the land was poised to allow its seeds to sprout, but God did not bring forth rain to allow them to grow until there was a person able to recognize the necessity and pray for rain. During its short rainy season, the Land of Israel is dependent on adequate rainfall to produce its yearly crops. It is God’s design that the Jews living in Israel are to strengthen their relationship with Him through daily prayer requesting adequate rainfall and a successful agricultural season. Since Hashem desires a deep relationship with man, He incorporated the need for prayer, the ultimate form of dialogue between man and God, within the natural order.
13And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
יגוַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם שְׁלִישִׁי׃
14Hashem said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years;
ידוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים׃
15and they serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.” And it was so.
טווְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
16Hashem made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.
טזוַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים אֶת־הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים׃
1:16 The greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night
On the fourth day of creation, God created the great luminaries of the sky. The sun and moon not only serve essential roles in the sustainability of the universe, but they can also teach important life lessons. The sun is a constant source of light and energy. Everyday without fail, the same fiery ball appears in the sky above. The moon on the other hand, is characteristically very different. The moon is constantly changing and appears slightly different each time it rises throughout the month. At some points in the month, the moon is full, round, and luminous. At other points in the month, the moon appears as a tiny, silver crescent. Even when the moon seems to have completely disappeared, it renews and regrows itself once again. Unlike the gregorian calendar, the Jewish calendar is based on the moon. The Jewish month and festivals are based on the patterns of the moon. The moon is a symbol of the Jewish people. Even in times of trial and tribulation when the Jewish people are facing dire situations, they maintain their faith in God and are always renewed.
17And Hashem set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth,
יזוַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃
18to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And Hashem saw that this was good.
יחוְלִמְשֹׁל בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב׃
19And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
יטוַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם רְבִיעִי׃
20Hashem said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”
כוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה וְעוֹף יְעוֹפֵף עַל־הָאָרֶץ עַל־פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם׃
21Hashem created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind. And Hashem saw that this was good.
כאוַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים וְאֵת כָּל־נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם וְאֵת כָּל־עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב׃
1:21 The great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms
Fish are highly symbolic creatures in Judaism. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it is customary to eat the head of the fish in the hopes that the Jewish people should be as a head and not as a tail. Additionally, fish lack eyelids and so their eyes are never closed. This fascinating phenomenon serves as a reminder that metaphorically God’s eyes never close and that his gaze is never averted from His children. Fish also serve as symbol of fertility and continuity of the children of Israel. In Genesis 48:16 Jacob blesses his grandson Efraim in the name of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. Jacob’s blessing to Efraim is that his descendents should “grow into teeming multitudes upon the earth.” The Hebrew word in that verse which is translated as ‘grow’ is v’yidgu (וידגו) which is derived from the root word dag (דג) which means fish. Just as fish have the capability to birth many young at once, so too does Jacob bless his grandson with fertility and perpetuity.
22Hashem blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase, fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
כבוַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים לֵאמֹר פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הַמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים וְהָעוֹף יִרֶב בָּאָרֶץ׃
23And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
כגוַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם חֲמִישִׁי׃
24Hashem said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” And it was so.
כדוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ־אֶרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
25Hashem made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And Hashem saw that this was good.
כהוַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כָּל־רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב׃
26And Hashem said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”
כווַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל־הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃
27And Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him; male and female He created them.
כזוַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם׃
1:27 And Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him; male and female He created them.
The creation of Adam and Even on day six of creation is often regarded as the pinnacle of creation. Since the beginning of time, the relationships between humans and Hashem (God) has been complex and dynamic. Genesis 3 tells of the sin of Adam and Eve, which results in the couple being banished from Gan Eden (Garden of Eden). Following this sin, the land’s prosperity becomes a means of measuring man’s adherence to Hashem; for the Jewish nation, this means following God’s rules and keeping His Torah (Bible). When the Jewish nations adheres to the word of Hashem, Hashem demonstrates his approval through the flourishing of the Land of Israel. Scholars and historians alike have noted that in periods of Jewish exile from the Land of Israel, the land lay fallow and uninhabitable. In the past 70 years, since the Jews returned to Israel from the four corners of the world and have been following the commandments outlined in the Torah, the Land of Israel has been prophetically transformed from a wasteland into a blooming and prosperous country.
28Hashem blessed them and Hashem said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”
כחוַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃
29Hashem said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.
כטוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת־כָּל־עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ פְרִי־עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה׃
30And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” And it was so.
לוּלְכָל־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת־כָּל־יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי־כֵן׃
31And Hashem saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
לאוַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה־טוֹב מְאֹד וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי׃