MeAm Lo'ez on Bereishit
The Fourth Day of Creation; Astronomical Bodies
1:14 G-d said, "Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven to separate between the day and the night; and they shall serve as signs, and for festivals, and for days and years; 15 and they shall serve as luminaries in the firmament of the heaven to shine upon the earth." And it was so. 16 And G-d made the two great luminaries, the greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night; and the stars. 17 And G-d set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 to dominate by day and by night, and to separate between the light and the darkness. And G-d saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
During the first six days of creation, light and darkness functioned together day and night. (Bereishit Rabbah; Rashi)
According to another opinion, the original light functioned for the first three days; on the fourth day, a portion of this light was separated, and used to create the sun and the moon. (Ramban; Zohar Chadash, Yitro; Bachya) This is alluded to by the wording of the Scripture, "Yehi Meorot" [where Yehi is singular and Meorot is plural]. This literally means, "let it be lights." The "it" in this verse alludes to the light that was created on the first day.
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman: 1194-1270) writes that the light created on the first day is the light of the primeval elements. On the second day the firmament was created, separating this light from the world; so, when the dry land was formed on the third day, the world was in absolute darkness. Then, on the fourth day, G-d commanded a portion of the original light to form the sun and moon, illuminating the world. this is alluded to in the verse, "Let them be lights in the firmament of the heaven to illuminate the earth." This indicates that light was created on the first day, but it could not shine on the earth until the fourth day.
The sun and the moon were hung in a single window during the first three hours of the day. (Levush, Orach Chayim 428)
Some say that the eve of the 23rd of Adar was the first night of creation [so that man, who was made on the sixth day, was created on the first of Nissan]. If so, the sun and the moon were created on the 26th of Adar. (Abudraham. Cf. rashi, Eruvin 56a)
The sun and the moon were created equal, both in size and in brightness, as the Scripture states, "And G-d made the two great lights." This was their form for somewhat less than twenty-one years. (Bereishit Rabbah; Rashi; Zohar Chadash, Shir HaShirim 71a) Another opinion is that they remained equal for twenty-one hours. (Targum Yonatan; [Rabbi Shmuel Feivel ben Yitzchak Katz.] Leket Shmuel, Venice 1694).
Then there was a dispute between the sun and the moon. The moon complained, "Two kings cannot rule with the same crown." G-d became angry and made the moon smaller. The sun was enlarged because it did not enter into the dispute. (Chulin 3; Bereishit Rabbah; Zohar Chadash 14c) The moon was not visible at all until Adam prayed that it should be restored to some extent. (Levush, loc. cit; Bachya)
Each month, the moon continues to wane until nothing at all can be seen. Then comes the molad (rebirth), when the moon once again becomes visible. The moon remains invisible for seven or eight hours. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer)
The moon is an opaque, dark body, having no light of its own. We thus say in the Shabbat prayer before the Shema' "[G-d] saw and rectified the form of the moon." The wording indicates that it is a "form" without light. (Levush, loc. cit; Bachya)
Even an opaque piece of metal can reflect the light of a flame. The moon similarly reflects the light of the sun.
The moon is closest to the sun on the last day of the lunar month and on the first day of the next. It appears dark because the sun is directly above it, and we are directly below. The moon is then invisible. But when it is further from the sun, it is illuminated from the side, making part of it visible. On the fifteenth of the lunar month, the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, so the moon is full. When the sun and moon are on the same side of the earth, the moon blocks the sun's light, and is invisible.
Even though the earth is between the sun and moon on the fifteenth of the lunar month, the moon is visible. The light of the sun is not blocked by the earth, since the earth is not directily between the sun and moon.
The moon does not reflect the sun's light completely. If it did, night would be as bright as day.
Besided providing light, the sun provides energy and causes plants to grow. At night, the moon gives rise to the tides, causing springs to flow. It also gives strength to all things that are cold and damp. (Bachya)
G-d created the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day to demonstrate that all the universe was created through His world. (Bachya) If they had been created before everything else, it could then have been said that the world is without beginning, and the earth produces plants through the influence of these astronomical bodies; but plants were created before the sun and moon as a strong indication that G-d directs the world, and nothing can be done without His will.
Five kinds of illumination were created: daylight, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. (Ibid. Cf. Tikunei Zohar, pp. 19, 38) The only one of these which illuminates the earth is the sun. The other luminaries only provide light in their immediate surroundings, and do not significantly affect the earth.
One might ask why it is necessary to know about these astronomical bodies. There are two important benefits that can be derived from such knowledge.
First, since we cannot know anything about G-d Himself, we can only recognize Him through His works and wonders. From a study of astronomy, we perceive His might. (Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 4:12)
The second thing that we learn is how careful one must be to have pity and give charity. The rich are called the "great light," while the poor are the "small light." Just as the moon, which has no light of its own, receives light from the sun, so must the rich allow the poor to benefit from them. We must emulate the stars and angels who always help one another, as we say each day in the Targum [to Yeshayahu 6:3] in the prayer U'Bha LeTziyon, "And they receive from one another." This can lead to true reverence. (Tikunei Zohar)
G-d told Moshe to declare to the B'ney Yisra'el: "Contemplate the heaven which I created for your sake. Does anything in heaven ever go against My command? Does the sun ever rise in the west, instead of in the east, as I commanded? It is happy to do My will, as it is written, '[The sun] leaves its canopy like a bridegroom, it rejoices like a warrior, running to his destiny' (Tehillim 19:6).
"Does the earth, which I created for your sake, ever fail in its mission? Does a person ever plant wheat, and have the earth yield barley? Does the ox ever refuse the plow, or the donkey, its burden? Contemplate the sea. Since the day that I commanded that it remain in its place, has it ever exceeded its boundaries to destroy the world?
"All of these things receive neither reward nor punishment. they have no fear of retribution if they do wrong. Still, they never violate My command. How much more so should this be true of you. If you obey My will, you can look forward to ample reward. If you do not, you will have to look forward to harsh punishment. You must do good deeds for the sake of your children and children's children, that they should not die for your sins." (Sifri, HaZinu. Cf. reshit Chachmah, Shaar HaYirah 3)
The account concludes with the words, "G-d saw that it was good." This indicates that nothing created on this day could have been created more perfectly. (Abarbanel, p. 17) If the sun would have been larger or closer to the earth, its heat would burn the entire world. If the inclination of the sun's orbit would be greater, it would burn plants in the summer, while the winters would be very severe. Similarly, all the planets are in their proper places.
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