MeAm Lo'ez on Bereishit
The Second Day, The Firmament
Commentary 'excerpts' taken from Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez - Rabbi Yaakov Culi
Commentary 'excerpts' taken from Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez - Rabbi Yaakov Culi
1:6 G-d said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate between water and water."
On the second day, G-d commanded that there be a firmament in the heavens. The waters congealed out of terror of G-d's word, just like a person startled by the sound of lion. (Rashi ad loc)
At this time, all of creation consisted of water. G-d then commanded that a firmament be made, dividing this water. Part was on top, another part on the bottom, and the firmament was in the middle.
The distance between the earth and the firmament is the same as that between the firmament and the upper waters. (Tanchuma) This is the meaning of the verse, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters."
1:7 So G-d made the firmament, and separated between the waters which were beneath the firmament and the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.
This verse teaches that the upper waters are suspended in space through the power of G-d's word. (Ralbag. Cf. [R. Yitzchak] Abarbanel, Commentary on Torah [Venice, 1604], p. 13) Unlike the waters that rest on the ground, they float high above the firmament.
In ancient times, a gentile asked Rabbi Meir how this could be possible. (Yafeh Toar 29b; Bereishit Rabbah 4) R' Meir brought a jug which had many small holes on the bottom, and a somewhat larger opening on top, through which it could be filled. When the top was left open, the water immediately ran out, but when the top was sealed tightly, not a drop could escape.
Scientists explain that this is because nature abhors a vacuum. When the top is sealed, the water cannot escape, since this would leave a vacuum in the jug. But when the top is open, the jug can fill with air, so the water can then run out.
The gentile was not aware of this. He tried to close the top with plates of silver and gold, but no matter how hard he tried, it would not hold water. When Rabbi Meir placed his finger over the top, the water remained in the jug. He said, "We see that one finger can hold back the water and prevent it from running out, while nothing else can do this. The great and mighty King of the universe can certainly hold water in its place." This explanation satisfied the gentile.
The "water" above the firmament is not a physical liquid, but an ethereal fluid which we call "spiritual substance." (Alshich; Shevilei Emunah) Still, we must believe that in a sense this is actually water. King David thus sang, "Praise Him O you heaven and the heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens" (Tehillim 148:4) (Zohar Chadash 10d; [Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yosef Caro.] Toledot Yitzchak [Constantinople, 1518])
The waters of purgatory become salty from the heat of the heavens. King David noticed that when water is left on the fire, it becomes more and more salty.
One stream emerges from the abyss, another comes from purgatory, and both appear to be about to meet. At the last moment, the firmament comes between them, and the waters of purgatory return to their place, and do not poison the waters of the depths. But it is impossible that none of the water from purgatory escape, and it is for this reason that there are some springs that are bitter and noxious. (Zohar Chadash 11a, 15b) The springs of the Holy Land, however, all yield healthy water, and some also have curative powers.
Although heaven was created on the first day, the firmament was created on the second. This firmament is what Yechezkel saw over the head of the angels called Chayot (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer; Yalkut) This firmament has a brilliant light prepared for the righteous to enjoy in the Olam Habah, as it is written, "The enlightened shall shine like the glow of the firmament" (Dani'el 12:3)
The firmament between the upper and the lower waters serves to bring peace between the high and the low. (Zohar, VaYikra) Originally, the lower ones would complain, "Why are you on top, whle we are on the bottom?" The world cannot exist without peace, and where there is strife, no good can grow, so G-d made a firmament to separate them.
1:8 G-d called to the firmament: "Heaven." And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
There are various opinions among the philosophers and other Sages as to the number of the firmaments. In the Talmud, we find two opinions: Rav Yehudah maintained that there are two firmaments, while Resh Lakish held that there are seven. (Chagigah 12b; Bachya; Zohar Chadash. Cf. Yalkut)
The second opinion is generally accepted. The seven firmaments are as follows:(Chagigah loc. cit.; Zohar Rakia)
- The first firmament is called Vilon. this is the brightest of all, and it illuminates the world. At night it is closed, so the world is dark. Some say the opposite is true, that it is open by night and closed by day. It is with regard to this firmament that we say each day in the first blessing before the Shema', "In His goodness He constantly renews the act of creation each day."
- The second firmament is called Rakia. In it hang the sun, moon, stars and planets.
- The third is called Shechakim. This is the place where the manna is prepared for the righteous in the Olam Habah. It is also the source of mercy to help people in times of trouble.
- The fourth is called Zevul. This contains the upper Yerushalayim, as well as the supernal Temple, which parallels the lower Temple precisely. Michael, the greatest of all angels, is the guardian angel of Yisrael. Here he has an altar, upon which he offers the souls of the righteous when they leave the physical world.
- The fifth is called Maon. It contains the myriads of angels who sing before G-d all night. During the day they remain still, so that the prayers of Yisrael are heard.
- The sixth firmament is called Machon. It contains many chambers with doors of fire. (Ibid. 12b) Inside these chambers are evil clouds and dews, as well as the strong winds associated with hurricanes and tornadoes. Also found there are poisonous waters, which burn and kill trees and plants when they fall on them.
King David prayed that these powerful agents be brought down from heaven and placed in the depths of the earth. This was a great favor, since if they remained in heaven, the world would suffer whenever people sinned. The gates of heaven would be opened, and these agents would engulf the world, just as happened in the days of the Great Flood, the Tower of Bavel, and to the city of Sedom. Although it does not require any effort for G-d to bring these things up from the depths when He is angry. He is a merciful Father, and this gives Him an opportunity for His anger to abate. (Author's own analysis. See Parashat Derachim 22)
This teaching shows the levels to which a truly good person can aspire. Here was something that was in heaven, and through his prayers, a mere mortal brought it down to the depths of the earth.
- The seventh firmament is called Aravot. It contains life, peace, blessing and success. Also there are the souls of the righteous, both those who have already completed their journey through the physical world, and those who have not yet been born. it also contains the good dews with which the dead will be resurrected. (Chagigah 12b) This is the great hope.
There are two chambers in this firmament. In one there are the souls that are prepared to come down to the world. They exist in the form which their bodies will eventually assume. The second chamber contains souls which were already in the world and which kept G-d's mitzvot. (Zohar Chadash 11a)
From the earth to the firmament that we see is a journey of five hundred miles. (Chagigah 13a) This is also the thickness of each firmament, as well as the distance between one firmament and the next. Above them all are the four angels called Chayot, which are described in detail in the Book of Yechezkel.
Above these angels is the firmament which illuminates all the other firmaments. (Ibid.; Zohar, Bereishit 85b) Above this, we have no authority to probe.
There are ten watches of angels in heaven, divieded into three groups, each one singing praise to G-d in its appointed time. (Zohar Chadash 8d, 16b)
In the morning, all the stars, planets and angels sing praise, each according to its nature. When the sky lights up, the heavens also begin to sing praise.
These three groups of angels also sing to G-d. The first group sings "Holy," the second group sings "Holy, holy," and the third group sings, "Holy holy holy Hashem tzevaot." (Chulin 7)
This is a sign that Yisrael is more beloved on high than the angels. The Yisralite can praise G-d at any time, while the angels can only do so once each day. Some angels only sing praise once a week, some once a month, some once a year, some once in seven years, and some once in fifty years, which is a Yovel cycle.
We also have another advantage: we can pronounce G-d's Name after two words when we say, "Hear O Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." The angels, on the other hand, cannot pronounce G-d's name until after they say three words, "Holy holy holy Hashem tzevaot."
The angels also cannot sing praise on high until after Yisrael sings praise here in the lower world.
Some say that an angel cannot sing praise more than once. Each day G-d creates new angels, they sing praise, and then return to the place of their creation, the River Dinur, which flows day and night. (Bereishit Rabbah, VaYishlach; Zohar Chadash 11c)
All the angels must begin their song at once. If one begins too early or too late, it is immediately burned. ([Rabbi Avraham ben Yechezkia Chazkuni,] Shtei Yadot [amsterdam, 1726], p. 100)
The great archangels, such as Michael and Gavriel, never change. They sing praise to G-d each day.
There is another opinion that angels are not created each day, but that there are myriads of angels, and a different group sings praise eaich day. (Yafeh Toar, VaYishlach, 444) Thus, there are always new ones singing for the first time, since each awaits its appointed time.
All this shows that Yisrael is more important than the angels. One must therefore fear and tremble before G-d, because if one sins, he dishonors G-d and deserves to be punished. Since we are so important, we must be careful not to violate His mitzvot.
Also created on the second day was the fire of purgatory (Gehenom). (Pesachim 54; Zohar Chadash 5a) Even though the Midrash teaches that purgatory was created before the universe, that refers to its chambers and rooms. The fire was not created until the second day.
The angels were also created on the second day. (Targum Yonatan) According to another opinion, they were created on the fifth day, Thursday. (Yalkut; Bachya, VaYetze) Some say that the permanent ministering angels were created on the second day, while temporary angels were created on the fifth. (Zohar, Bereishit 46b) There is also an opinion that the Angel of Death was created on the second day. (Bereishit Rabbah; Zohar 46a)
Reading through the account of creation, one notes that on each day the expression "It was good" is found, with the exception of the second day. On this day we do not find the expression, "It was good."
One reason is that the waters of the universe were separated on this day, but the waters on the earth were still not put into their final form. (Zohar Chadash 5a)
They remained in a chaotic state until they were separated from the dry land on the third day, as will be explained shortly. Since the creation of the waters was not cmplete, it is not fitting to say, "It was good."
This teaches a lesson that if a person begins to do something good, he must work at it until he completes it. As long as it is not completed, even if only something minor remains undone, it is not considered finished. If another person comes along and completes it, the latter receives credit for the entire accomplishment.
Another reason the expression, "It was good," is not said here is that the guardian angels, who oversee heaven and earth, were created on this day. The fact that this expression is not used teaches that nothing can be completed by the angels without a direct command from G-d.
Yet another reason the expression, "It was good," is not found here is that purgatory was created on the second day. (Zohar Chadash 11a)
Still another reason is that these waters were set aside to punish the wicked in the time of the Great Flood. (Pesachim 4; Yalkut)
And another reason is that the heavens were still not completed, since the stars had not yet been created. (Ralbag)
It is for all these reasons that the Torah does not use the expression "It was good," on the second day. But on the third day, this expression is repeated, once for the previous day, and once for the third day itself.
It might seem logical that since the heavens were congealed and the angels were created on the second day, it would be proper for that day to be considered good. (Bachya) But the firmament and angels are actually not the most significant things in creation. When people are good and godfearing, it is the physical world that is most precious in the eyes of G-d. They are then more important than the angels and the rest of the world.
This is also why, on the third day, when dry land appeared, the expression, "It was good," appears twice. The entire goal of this physical world is that it makes it possible to attain the Future World. Each day we can gather the provisions we will need in the Future World, since we will not be able to keep the mitzvot or do good deeds there. [When dry land, where man keeps the Torah, came into being, it was good both for this world and the next, and the expression is therefore doubled.]
This is very much like the preparations that a person must make before journeying by sea or in a desert. He must be very careful to pack the necessary provisions; if he runs out, there will be no one to have pity on him.
From all this, it is obvious that the righteous are more precious in the eyes of G-d than the angels.
Still another reason why "It was good" is not said on the second day is that this was the day when strife was created. (Bereishit Rabbah) All the waters constituted a single body, and at G-d's command they were divided into two groups. One was in heaven and the other was below in the depths.
There was immediately a dispute between them, since each group wanted to be placed on high.
The lower waters wept, crying, "Woe is to us, for we were separated from our Creator." They had to be separated forcibly, and when they came to the depths, they wanted to escape and leave their place. G-d finally rebuked them and told them to remain where they were.
G-d then told them that since they were divided for His honor, He would give them two benefits. Everything in creation must sing praise to G-d' and the first benefit was that G-d commanded the upper waters to sing only after the lower waters.
The second advantage was that the lower waters would be involved in the Temple service. Furthermore, these waters yield the salt that must be used on all sacricies, as shall be explained in the proper place. As a result, the lower waters agreed to remain in the depths.
It may seem difficult to understand how water can cry. But it must be realized that everything in creation has a directing angel on high. (Author's own analysis) There are seventy such angels, each in charge of a different concept.
There was a dispute on the second day; even though it was for a good cause, dispute is ugly in G-d's eyes. The expression, "It was good," is therefore not used.
This teaches how far one must go to avoid strife and baseless hatred. One must always try to bring peace between others, and to seek as much good for others as he would seek for himself. Unity is one of the most important principles of Judaism. When all are united with a good heart, it brings great benefit to us.
From here we also see that people who follow the false belief that there are two dieties in the world deserve serious punishment. (Zohar Chadash) The expression, "It was good," does not occur here because one who believes in one G-d does not see any good in duality. One of the most important principles of Judaism is our belief in the unity of G-d. Each day we therefore declare, "Hear O Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one."
Since the expression, "It was good," does not occur on Monday, which is the second day, it is customary not to begin any task on this day. (Bachya) A dowry is not set on this day, nor is a new business opened. Our Sages also advise us not to begin anything new because strife and purgatory were created on this day. (Toledot Yitzchak) This day has harmful aspects, and these must be taken into account.
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