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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
First Day of Creation
Rabbi Yonason Goldson
Rosh HaShonah. The first day of year. A new beginning. An echo of the real Big Bang, when the Almighty proclaimed, Let there be light!
Indeed, in our recitation of the Rosh HaShonah we identify the day as "the anniversary of the beginning of Your handiwork," seeming to affirm what we understand implicitly, that G-d began His creation of the universe on that very day, the first day of the month of Tishrei, the very first Rosh HaShonah.
Yet the sages say otherwise. From the teachings of the Talmud we learn that G-d began His handiwork six days earlier, on the 25th day of the month of Elul. Why then does Rosh HaShonah enjoy its status as the beginning of creation? Why do we commemorate on that day an event that we know had not yet come to pass?
The first day of creation presents even more questions. If the sun and stars were not created until the fourth day, how do we understand the creation of light on Day One? And if the heavens were separated from the terrestrial waters on the second day, how do we understand, as text seems to imply, that on the first day "G-d created the heavens and the earth"?
Nachmanides, in his classic commentary, explains that the divine creation of the cosmos and everything within them so vastly supersedes mankind's experience and comprehension that the Torah could only outline the process of creation ex nihilo in the most abstract terms, applying terms like "higher waters" to represent the celestial spheres and "light" to describe the primordial spiritual radiance that is the source of all physical existence. The light of photons produced by the release of energy from the stellar fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium did indeed begin on the fourth day with the creation of our sun, but this was not the light of creation, merely a physical manifestation and a shallow reflection of the eternal light that makes both physical and spiritual illumination possible.
From this light, brought into being by divine decree, came all creation: the physical matter of the earth and the solar power of the stars, the water and the land, the herbs and the trees of the forests, the fish and birds, the insects and the mammals. And finally, when the earth in all its myriad detail and complexity stood completed, there came the creation of man.
Yes, creation began on this day, the 25th of Elul. But until the creation of man, all that had come before him had no purpose. The work of all creation acquired meaning only when mankind became its spiritual focal point. Only on Rosh HaShonah, the sixth day of creation, the day on which man took center stage in the miracle play of G-d's magnum opus, only then did all G-d's previous work become significant.
B that moment, all G-d's work had been preparation. Now the real work of creation could begin, not the physical formation of the universe, but the striving for human spiritual perfection for which the Almighty conceived His master plan and brought everything that could make it possible into being.
And so we acknowledge the birthday of the world, the day when G-d began His work preparing all the physical resources for human spiritual achievement. But the creation of the world and everything in it might as well have been for nothing if mankind does not rise to challenge of using all his earthly resources in the pursuit of elevating himself from the mundane existence of the physical world in which he lives to the limitless spheres of godliness in which G-d intended for him to reside.
This coming week, more than any other, offers an opportunity for reflection as we enter the final countdown to the High Holidays. Why are we here? What have we accomplished? What must we change to accomplish all we can? These are the questions the anniversary of creation should cause us to stop and ask ourselves. The answers can be found by looking honestly into ourselves, and by looking into G-d's revealed word, the Torah, the blueprint for the world.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis. Comment by clicking here.
Reprise at Sinai
Tu B'Av: Repentance and the foundations of love
Sin of the Golden Calf: Understanding the how and why and resulting Divine punishment
The day the sun stood still
Nemirov massacres and the Chmielnicki uprising
Independent Judea under Shimon HaMaccabee
The Great Revolt begins
Dedication of new walls of Jerusalem
© 2006, Rabbi Yonason Goldson