On Genesis 1:1

Genesis 1:1 informs us that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, which is the very first phrase of the Torah. As pointed out plenty of times before in my previous articles, God is comparable to the Dao. “Like the Dao, He is a force that can create anything with deliberation. Therefore, God is ‘wisdom’. An ancient Aramaic version wrote: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth with wisdom.’ (Targum Jerusalem)” [Timo Schmitz: [犹太教] 创始. In: 佛教与犹太教的智慧联合 (Buddhism And Judaism In A Unity). Trier & Vachendorf: Buddha TS Publishing, 2022; translation mine].  We can learn from Genesis 1:1 that space and God already existed in the beginning, but neither Heavens nor Earth. We have to be especially aware that Genesis 1:1 uses the plural term “heavens”, so God did not only create one heaven [ibid.]. In the same way, Buddhism reports us that mighty bodhisattvas created pure lands in which the followers of the bodhisattva will be rescued and find bliss. The most famous is probably Amitabha and his Pure Land which is called Sukhavati. “In Pure Land Buddhism, people believe that somewhere in an undisclosed location far away from us, there are pure lands to whom we can rescue ourselves after death to go there and practice enlightenment with many other enlightened beings. However, to get there, we have to practice Buddhism hard in this life, so that we qualify the conditions for being rescued” [Timo Schmitz: Summary and Interpretation of the Amitabha Sutra, Section 1-3 (17 March 2018). In: Timo Schmitz: Selected English Articles, 2018-2019. Berlin: epubli, 2021]. Nonetheless, if we carefully look in the Amitabha sutras, we will see that the place is not to be understood literally as such as it contains many allegories, but they are often taken literally by Amidist practitioners and established themselves as essential metaphysical elements of their beliefs, which is no surprise since the hope for security is a constant wish of humanity.

Going back to the issue of creation, it is noteworthy that “According to the old interpretation, time only begins with the beginning of creation, so that any event before that cannot be dated chronologically” [Schmitz, 2022]. So we receive two informations in the first phrase: God created two things: the heavens and the Earth. There is nothing more said about the Heavens, and Verse 2 is already dedicated to the Earth. So what are the Heavens? As the Forward explains “The idea that the heavens are multiple and stacked one above another was widespread among the ancient cultures of the world. Perhaps this came from a natural tendency to ask what lay above the dome of the sky and to imagine a hierarchy of additional skies in which the gods dwelled” [Philologos: In Seventh Heaven. Forward, 10 July 2007. https://forward.com/culture/11110/in-seventh-heaven-00109/, retrieved on 28 February 2023]. So here we find the very root why the early scribes used the plural. It was a common belief among the very Ancient people in the Middle East. But there is no number given in this very passage, though it is said that Jewish people believe in seven heavens, so where does the number seven come from? “Because in Jewish sources the idea of seven heavens is not found in the Bible and first occurs in the early centuries C.E. in the rabbinic literature of Palestine, a country then heavily under the influence of Greek culture, it stands to reason that the rabbis borrowed the idea from the Greeks” [ibid.].

Next, we have to understanding two linguistic features. The first is the fact that the Torah starts with the second letter of the alphabet, bet. And it is important to note that this is no coincidence. The term bereshit actually literally means at the height of the beginning, the moment when time starts, the very moment when the nameless becomes nameable as no concept could be formed and therefore nothing could be named exactly before that. So at that point when God begins with the division, there are concepts which can be distinguished. As the word for blessing also starts with a bet, Jewish mystics say that the beginning is a blessing. Finally, we know from the Mishnah that the usage of the letter bet led to a dispute, as the alef was unhappy, as it the first letter and so the alef went to God and complained about why it is not put in the first place. However, God assured that when He reveals the Law to the Jewish nation, the alef would come first, and so it was done!

The second is the word for “create” which is bara in Hebrew. “In the Jewish understanding, there are two different understandings of creation. One is ‘creation’ which equals separation and setting aside, and the other one is making (cp. Schmitz’ summary on Section One of the Sefer Ha-Bahir). For example the darkness was already there, so God made light, but the heaven and earth was created through setting things aside […]” [Schmitz-Commentary on Genesis 1, 2018]. Creating always means setting something aside from something which already exists, while making is the appearance of something completely new. Therefore, the realm of Beriya is very important (note that there are different realms through which one goes before becoming manifest) as it is where creation as such takes place. “In Beriah, the initial concept of Atzilut has been broadened, both in length and depth. The letter Hey corresponds to the Sefirah of Binah, which is the predominant Sefirah in Beriah. Binah takes the initial concept of Chochmah and develops it in all its detail” [Nissan Dovid Dubov: The Four Worlds. Chabad.org. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/361902/jewish/The-Four-Worlds.htm, retrieved on 28 February 2023]. Chochma and Bina refer to matter and form and to understand this, we have to look at verse 2.

Finally, I want to add that Dubov rightly states that there are “different stages of the chain order of creation once Tzimtzum had created the vacuum within which finite creation could come about” [ibid.] Therefore, verse 1 refers to the space in which finite creation takes place in contrast to the infinite which existed already before.

Timo Schmitz, 14 March 2023


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