Headcoverings Main Menu | Me'am Lo'ez on Parashat Bereishit
The Third Day of Creation; Dry Lands, Plants. The Seven Earths
Bereishit 1:9 G-d said, "Let the waters beneath the heaven be gathered into one area, and let the dry land appear." And it was so.
On the third day, G-d accomplished three things. First, He completed the earth. Until this time, all the waters remaining under the heavens was mixed with the earth, and all that existed was mud. G-d now commanded that this water be separated from the mud and collect in one place. He therefore said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered to one place." When the waters did not know where to go, G-d indicated that they should form the great ocean. Contemplating this, one can begin to imagine G-d's greatness. The world was originally covered with water. By the power of His command, all the waters gathered in one place, comprising two thirds of the world.
Bereishit 1:10 G-d called to the dry land: "Earth," and to the gathering of waters He called: "Seas." And G-d saw that it was good.
Although there was a single "gathering of waters," G-d called it "Seas" in the plural, because the fish in every port have a different taste. (Rashi) There is sand on the seashore because after the waters were gathered, they still had the power to return and cover the earth. (Zohar Chadash 13a) G-d commanded that they should not move from their place; and He set the sand as the boundary of the seas, that they should go no further. Thus we see that when there is a storm the great waves rage, and it seems as if they are about to destroy the world. But when they reach the sand, they back down humbly in obedience to G-d's command. Our Sages teach that there are seven seas. (Zohar, VaYikra 9b; Zohar Chadash, Rut) G-d made a condition with them that they would part when He wanted to bring His children across the Reed Sea. The earth dried up so that it would be able to produce fruit. It could not produce anything as long as it was covered with water. (Bachya) All this took place while the earth was still covered with water. (Zohar Chadash 13b; [Rabbi Berachaya Berach ben Yitzchak Isaac] Zera Yitzchak [Cracow, 1646], part 1) Even before the waters gathered, the land was as dry as it is today. As soon as the land emerged, it was perfectly dry. This is the meaning of the verse, "Let the waters be gathered to one place, and let the dry land become visible." From the wording, it is apparent that the earth was already dry, even before the waters were gathered. It had anticipated G-d's command even before it was given. The dry land was called "Earth." In Hebrew this is Eretz, from the root rutz meaning "to run," because the earth ran to do G-d's will. This teaches that when one has the opportunity to do something good he should not delay, but should do it immediately. One does not know how long he will live; so he cannot say, "If I do not do it today, I can do it tomorrow." If he delays, he may depart from this world without ever having completed the good deed.
The Seven Earths
Seven earths were created, one above the other. Under each there are subterranean waters. As a ship floats on the sea, so each earth floats on the water beneath it. (Bereishit Rabbah)
The seven earths are : Eretz, Adamah, Gey, Nashiya, Tziya, Arka, and Tevel. We dwell on Tevel, the largest of all.
Parallel to these are seven firmaments, one above the other, each containing angels, one greater than the next. [According to the Zohar, these seven earths] are seven [mystical] habitations. (Zohar, Bereishit 39b) The first habitation is very dark, with no light whatsoever. it is a place of winds and storms. The winds blow in our world, but no one sees them. the angel in charge [is Tahariel, and he] has seventy subordinate angels who follow his instructions. He glows brightly like a flame, and can be seen by night, but not by day. When daylight comes, he descends to the abyss. The second habitation has some light. Here are the angels who cause people to do wrong, and advise them to walk in an evil path. A great angel [Kadumiel] is in charge of these. When an Yisraelite keeps G-d's mitzvot, these angels ascend to heaven and report it to G-d, but when a person does the slightest wrong, they are ready to asscend to heaven and report the sin. Everything is written in a book, so that each individual is recompensed for the good and bad that he does. The third habitation contains light and flames, which are channeled into purgatory to punish the wicked. Here are found angels of destruction, under the direction of Samael. He strives to cause people to sin, each in a different way, but when a person repents, these angels leave him alone and have no authority even to come near him. When one takes Judaism lightly, they surround him little by little, until they cause him to commit great sins. The fourth habitation is a bright place. There live many perfect, merciful angels, under the direction of the great angel [Padael], who has the keys of mercy. When he sees a person repent or pray with feeling, he opens the gates of righteousness so that the prayer will be accepted and the request fulfilled. The fifth habitation is the brightest of all, containing angels of fire and water. Some of these sing praise to G-d in the middle of the night; others do so near daybreak. A great angel [Kadashiel] is in charge of them all. When the first dawn breaks they all assemble and sing to G-d, and all the stars and other angels join in with them. When they finish, they arouse others. From this we learn that one should say his prayers early in the morning, because it is a propitious time, when all beings are praising G-d. The sixth habitation contains angels which G-d sends on special missions according to His will. The angel Uriel is in charge of them, as well as all the other habitations. The seventh habitation is our world, the most important of all. We have already discussed the existence of souls in the seventh firmament (Aravot). Paralleling them in this habitation are the bodies, which serve G-d by keeping His mitzvot. [According to another opinion,] all seven earths are inhabited by humans, and the Holy Land is higher than them all. (Zohar, VaYikra) Highest of all is Yerushalayim. The first land to be created was the Holy Land, and only then were the other lands made. (Zohar Chadash 11c; Yoma) [Others say that] these earths are all separated from one another by a firmament. (Zohar, loc. cit) They are inhabited by bizarre creatures; some of which have two faces, some four, and some only a single side. They live for approximately ten years. Since the world is round, some areas are above and some are below. When one side is light, the other is dark. There are places where day or night only lasts for one hour. In the earth called Gei, there is the fire of purgatory (Gei hinnom). The people of that earth plant trees, but they do not grow any kind of grain. (Zohar Chadash 11b. Cf. Zohar 1:254a) The earth called Nashiya contains very small people, like pygmies. They appear disfigured, having two holes in their heads instead of nostrils. They also have very poor memories. This is implied in the word Neshiya, which means "forgetfulness." Nashiya also has trees but no grain. The earth called Tziya is very barren, containing nothing good. The people there are very rich and handsome, but they have no success, since they plant trees and cannot enjoy them. They leave their world and come to our earth, since they want to eat people. The only world that has bread is the one upon which we dwell. Some claim that there are more than 365 kinds of humanoid creatures in this world. They may have heads like lions and human bodies, or vice versa. Some have heads like a serpent and human bodies, while others have the opposite. Some have two heads and four hands, a tail and two feet. When they sit, they appear to be a single individual, but when they eat, they are like two. Whenever they eat, the two heads argue, each complaining that the other is eating more. (Yalkut Reuveni) Our world has four names, Eretz, Tevel, Adamah, and Arkah, and each name denotes a different season. (Bereyshit Rabbah 13;13) Eretz denotes spring, the time when fruits begin to ripen. Because of the motion (Rutz) of the earth, they ripen quickly. Tevel denotes summer, when the fruits acquire flavor. It is then that they have a "seaoning" (Taval-an). Adamah denotes autumn, because the land dries up and forms clumps of earth (adamah). Arkah denotes winter. The earth is then empty (rek), and no fruit remains. Another name for our earth is Chalad. It is called this because all land creates have parallels in the sea except for the Chuldah, the mole. (Yerushalmi, Shabbat) There is another opinion that there was originally only one earth, which was later divided into seven. (Ibn Ezra) This is very important to know, as it gives us some idea of G-d's greatness. Ordinarily, something heavy cannot float on water. But even though the earth is very heavy, G-d commanded it to float on water and it was able to do so. (Zohar Chadash 13a) Our Sages calculated that the circumference of the earth is 24,000 miles. (Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 3:8) The inhabited portion of the earth extends over 2323 miles, and is divided into seven parts. (Sheviley Emunah 2) It was a great kindness of G-d to place water under the earth. Without this water, plants would not grow. The subterranean waters moisten the earth, allowing wheat and other grain to grow. These crops are nourished by this moisture. [The Zohar also describes the mystical structure of creation, teaching that] the abyss originally stood on four stones. (Zohar Chadash 13a) It was later lowered so that all of it is on one rock. The world stands on this rock, and from it water flows. There is another opinion that the world stands on three pillars. Once every three hundred years they move slightly [causing subsequent earthquakes]. Others say that the world stands on seven pillars, which stand on the water. This water is on top of the mountains which rest on wind and storm. Still another opinion states that the world stands on twelve pillars. (Chagigah 12b) There is no place in the world where there is no water. (Zohar Chadash 10d, 12a) All the world is over water; wherever one digs, one will find water. Some also say that Gan Eden was created on this third day. (Yalkut 34)
Bereishit 1:11 G-d Said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation: herbage yielding seed, fruit trees yielding fruit each after its kind, containing its own seed on the earth." And it was so.
G-d commanded the earth to grow all the different kinds of plants that exist. He ordered that each plant propagate its own kind, and that it contain seeds for planting. He further commanded that earth to grow trees which produce fruit, the wood having the same taste as the fruit. This fruit must have seeds with which new trees could be planted. Each kind of tree grows alone, away from other types; a pear tree does not grow near an apply tree. Every plant and tree has a guardian angel which tells it to grow and ripen (Zohar Chadash 10b), except the Four Species taken on Sukkot: the citron (etrog), date palm, myrtle and willow. G-d Himself oversees these; this is one reason why the blessing is recited over them on Sukkot. All plants were made in the manner prescribed by G-d. Even trees that are now fruitless originally had fruit so as to fulfill G-d's command. (Ramban; Yalkut) Another opinion is that there is no difference between the original trees and the way they are now. (Abarbanel) They still have the same fruits that they had. Some fruits can be eaten, while others cannot; but even the latter can occasionally be used for medicines and chemicals.
Bereishit 1:12 And the earth brought forth vegetation: herbage yielding seed after its kind, and trees yielding fruit, each containing its seed after its kind. And G-d saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
There were two differences between the command and its result. First, even though the earth was not commanded to separate different species of plants, it saw that G-d had commanded that the trees abide "to its kind," and that separation of species was something that G-d desired. The earth kept the smaller plants separate, even though it had no obligation to do so. (Chulin 3) [In wording G-d's command regarding the plants, the Torah does not use the expression, "of its kind," but when they later grow, this expression is used.] Second, in one instance the earth went against G-d's will. G-d had commanded that it produce "fruit trees," meaning that the wood must have the same taste as the fruit. But the earth sinned, so it is impossible to eat any wood. It was for this reason that the earth was cursed when Adam later sinned. The verse says, "it was so," even though G-d's command was not obeyed completely. When the trees were first created they remained in the ground, and at this time their wood did have the same taste as their fruit. It was only after they emerged from the ground that the wood lost its favor. (Alshikh) Some say the Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden had wood which had the same taste as its fruit. The Torah therefore properly states, "it was so." (Rabbi Avraham ben Moshe Heilperin] Ahavat Tzion [Lublin, 1639]) From here we learn that one should not say, "Even though I may have committed many sins, still I have provided for myself; since I have given charity and done good deeds far beyond what is required of me. The bad should be discounted because of the good." Actually, things do not work this way. G-d certainly rewards good deeds, but at the same time, there is a separate punishment for each sin. The two cannot be exchanged. This is the meaning of the verse which states that G-d "does not recognize persons nor take bribes" (Devarim 10:17). How can we understand this? Since the whole world belongs to G-d, how would it be possible to bribe Him? The answer is that G-d does not even take good deeds as a bribe to subtract from one's sins. He rewards good and punishes evil, each independently. The only way of negating sin is by true repentance: confessing the sin before G-d, truly regretting it, and resolving never to repeat it. This repentance is readily accepted by G-d. The verse concludes, "G-d saw that it was good." This is somewhat difficult to understand, since it implies that G-d only saw that it was good after He had made it. It is impossible to say this, since G-d knows the future and can see things even before they are done. But the Scripture teaches us that when one reads this portion, it is forbidden to ask, "Why was this created on this day and not on another? Why is one thing different from another?" Whowever delves into such questions only confuses himself. Better to study Torah and know what he is obligated to observe. For this reason the Torah states, "G-d saw that it was good." The intent is that this was the way G-d willed it should be. (Zohar Chadash 12a. Cf. Ramban) Beyond this, we may not probe at all. .
Orach Chayim | Me'am Lo'ez on Parashat Bereishit | 13 Attributes | 613 Mitzvot | Aggadah & Mashalim | All About Challah | Beliefs-Customs-Rituals | Book Shelf | Brachot LeShabbat | Brachot VeTefillot | Hebrew Bible Names | Heberw English Torah | Hebrew Phrases | Holyday Summaries | Jewish Graphics | Jewish Links | Jewish Music | Men of Torah | Women of Torah | Parashat HaShavua | Sefer Tehillim | Shevatim | The Thirteen Principles | Traditional Prayers