Biblical Interpretations From the Sages
Bereishit 1:1 In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.
A heretic asked Rabbi Akiva: "Who created this world?"
The Sage answered, "G-d."
"Give me clear proof," he demanded.
Akiva rejoined, "Come tomorrow."
When he came the next day, the Sage asked him what he was wearing.
"And who made it?" Akiva persisted.
"A weaver," was the answer.
"I do not believe you; give me clear proof," the Sage returned.
"But do you not know that a garment is made by a weaver?" the infidel protested.
"And do you not know that G-d is the Creator of His world?" the sage retorted.
When he took his leave, Akiva's disciples asked him, "What is the incontestable proof?"
"My sons," the Sage replied, "just as a house implies a builder; a dress, a weaver; a door, a carpenter; so the world proclaims G-d, Who created it."
Midrash Abakir. T.S. 1, 214.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian asked Rabbi Joshua, "Has the world a master?"
The Sage replied, "Is then the world ownerless, anarchic1?" "G-d," was the reply, as it says, "In the beginning G-d created", etc.
"Then why," asked the emperor, "does He not reveal Himself twice a year, so that the people might see Him and stand in awe of Him?"
"The world could not endure His dazzling splendor," Hadrian was told, "as Scripture writes, "Man cannot see Me and live" (Shemot 33:20).
1. The original has a double meaning: ownerless, whence, completely unlicensed, anarchic.
Yalkut Rabbi Samuel Masnut
This reads literally, "In the beginning created G-d." The act of creation is mentioned first, because the created testifies to the existence of the Creator. Thus from the created, man recognizes the Creator, even as Iyov declared, "Out of my flesh will I discern G-d" (Iyov 19:26), i.e., the very fact that I exist, a thing created, is proof of the existence of G-d the Creator.
Midrash Hagadol Bereishit.
Rabbi Phineas and Rav on the authority of Rabbi Joshua b. Rabbi Levi, quoting Rabbi Levi, said: A builder requires six materials, viz.: water, earth, wood, stones, laths and iron. Even the rich, who does not use laths, still requires a measuring rod, as we read, "And in the man's hand there was a measuring-rod (Yechezkel 40:5).
Therefore He first created six pre-requisites, as it says, "Hashem made me as the beginning of His way, the first (1) of His works of old; (2) I was set up from everlasting, (3) from the beginning, (4) or ever the earth was (5-6)1 (Mishlei 8:22-23).
Hence Scripture says Bereishit, which reads bara sheet, He created six.
1. Each of these phrases is understood to be referring to a preliminary act of creation, whereby the primal raw materials were created.
J. Hagigah 2:1.
Rabbi Judah b. Pazzi lectured: At first there was only a universe of water in water, as we read, "and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters."
He then converted this to snow, as it says, "He casts forth His ice like crumbs" (Tehillim 147:17).
Then He transformed the snow into earth, Scripture stating, "For He said to the snow, 'Be you earth'" (Iyov 37:6).
The earth, again, stands on water: compare, "To Him that spread forth the earth upon the waters" (Tehillim 136:6).
The waters stand upon the mountains: compare, "the waters stood upon the mountain" (ibid. 104:6).
The mountains stand upon wind, as we read, "For, behold, He that forms the mountains, and creates the wind" (Amos 4:13).
The wind is appended to the whirlwind, as it says, "Wind of whirlwind, fulfilling His word" (Tehillim 148:8).
This whirlwind G-d made like a talisman pendent from His arm, as it is written, "and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Devarim 34:27).
Midrash Haneelam Bereishit; Zohar Chadash 3:
R' Judah said: By three things did the Holy One, blessed be He, create the world: by Number, Speech and Writ, which corresponds to wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
Thus it is written, "Hashem by, wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up" (Mishlei 3:19-20).
R. Nehunia said: By wisdom alone were all the worlds created. This it is written, "By (reishit) G-d created, (reishit) meaning wisdom.
This concludes with the view that the world was created with the letter (heh), which comprises all three1.
1. For the world being created by a heh see Bereishit Rabbah 12.
Zohar, p. 27.
When the will of the King began to take effect, He engraved signs into the heavenly sphere that surround Him. Within the most hidden recess a dark flame issued from the mystery of Ein Sof, the Infinite, like a fog forming in the unformed--enclosed in the ring of that sphere, neither white nor black, neither red nor green, of no color whatever. Only after this flame began to assume size and dimension, did it produce radiant colors. From the innermost center of the flame sprang forth as well out of which colors issued and spread upon everything beneath, hidden in the mysterious hidden-ness of Ein Sof. The well broke through and yet did not break through the ether (of the sphere). It could not be recognized at all until a hidden, supernal point shone forth under the impact of the final breaking through1. Beyond this point nothing can be known. Therefore it is called reishit, beginning--the first word (out of the ten) by means of which the universe was created.
1. This primordial point is identified by the Zohar with the wisdom of G-d (chochma), the ideal thought of Creation.
Midrash Shne Ketubim
It is impossible to express the great creative power of G-d, and to unfold its working to mortals; therefore Scripture described it in general terms only.
From this we derive the law not to expound the forbidden degrees of consanguinity before three, nor the cosmology before two, nor the Chariot mystery (as told in Yechezkel 1) before one, unless he be a wise man and understand such matters himself.
Midrash on Shir HaShirim 5
For twenty-six generations the (alef) complained to G-d, saying: "Sovereign of the Universe! You did make me the first letter, and yet did create the world with a (bet), (i.e., bet is the first letter used in the Creation narrative) as it says, "Bereishit (in the beginning) G-d created the heavens and the earth."
G-d answered: "The world and the fullness thereof were created only in the merit of the Torah, as we read, "Hashem founded the earth in the merit of Wisdom (which is the Torah)" (Mishlei 3:19).
Tomorrow I will reveal Myself and give the Torah to Yisrael; then I will place you at the head of the Ten mitzvot, commencing them with you; as it says, "Anochi: I am Hashem, your G-d" (Shemot 20:2).
Midrash Haneelam Bereishit Zohar Chadash 6
Rabbi Judah said: Why did the Almighty mention the creation of heaven and earth first, when in fact the angels and the Throne of Glory were created first? So that man should not meditate on things which are hidden from the eye and which were not revealed from the beginning.
Rabbi said: In order to show a man that he does not possess the wisdom to qualify him to receive the secrets of the Torah.
For Rabbi Isaac said: The secrets of the Torah are revealed only to the wise, who has studied the Scriptures and the Mishnah, has succeeded in his studies, is G-d-fearing and conversant with all other knowledge. But if a man who has not reached this stage asks concerning the celestial secrets and mysteries, answer him: Why do you ask? Lift up your eyes and see how Scripture writes, "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth", but reveals nothing more.
Now, should you think that there are no esoteric teachings in the Torah, know that upon every word there are countless mysteries, laws and interpretations. Thus Scripture writes, "His locks (k'vutzotav, here derived from kotz, a tittle) are curled (taltalim)" (Shir HaShirim 5:11): upon every jot and tittle there are mountains (tel, connected with taltalim in the proof-text) upon mountains of teachings.
Chronicles of Jerahmeel.
When it entered His mind to create the world, He drew the plan of the world, but it would not stand until He created repentance.
Seven things were created prior to the creation of the world, viz.: the Torah, teshuvah, the Throne of Glory, Gan Eden, Gehinnom, the site of the Temple, and the name of the Mashiach.
Ten things were paramount in the thought of G-d at the creation, viz.: Yerushalayim, the spirits of the patriarchs, the ways of the righteous, Gehinnom, the flood, the double Tables of Stone, the Shabbat, the Temple, the Aron, and the light of the future world.
Bereishit Rabbah 1
Rabbi Oshaya commenced his exposition thus: "Then I was by Him, as an amon (AJV: nursling)" (Mishlei 8:30). Amon is a workman (uman).
The Torah declares: "I was the working tool of the Holy One, blessed be He."
Now, when a king builds a palace, he employs an architect. The architect does not build it out of his head, but uses plans and diagrams for the correct placing of the chambers and doors. Similarly, G-d consulted the Torah and created the world. Hence the Torah states, By means of the Beginning G-d created, "beginning" meaning the Torah, as in the verse, Hashem made me (the Torah) as the beginning of His way. (Mishlei 8:22).
Torah Shelemah 1, 47. 53.
The world was created for the sake of the three things which are called reishit, viz., the Torah, Yisrael, and the fear of G-d.
Torah: "G-d made me (the Torah) as the beginning of (reishit) His way" (Mishlei 8:22).
Yisrael: "Yisrael is Hashem's hallowed portion, His first-fruits (reishit) of the increase" (Yirmeyahu 2:3).
The fear of G-d: "The fear of Hashem is the beginning of (reishit) wisdom." (Mishlei 3:10).
Midrash Haneelam Bereishit Zohar Chadash 4
R' Abba expounded: "In that day Hashem made a covenant with Avraham" (Bereishit 15:18). Covenants were subsequently made in respect of five objects, namely -- Circumcision, the Rainbow, Salt (as an essential of sacrifices), Suffering, and the Priesthood.
Before then there was only the covenant of fire made with Avraham, as it says..."behold a smoking furnace and a torch of fire that passed between these pieces. In that day Hashem made a covenant with Avram" (15:17-18); thus in the beginning there was only a covenant of fire.
This is implied in the word Bereishit: by removing eish from the middle you are left with berit: thus Bereishit-berit eish (a covenant of fire).
Midrash Me Hashiloach
Rabbi Nehemiah, brother of Rabbi Shalemia, observed: The letters of Bereishit, when transposed, read Yare Shabbat, a Sabbath observer. This intimates that Shabbat observance is an acknowledgment that the world was newly created, and not eternal. This in turn is a confession of Him who so created it.
In like manner, all fundamental articles of faith are interwoven, and all ultimately find expression in Shabbat observance1.
1. Every principle of Faith presupposes the existence of G-d, the Creator, to the belief in Whom Shabbat observance testifies.
Midrash Haserot Viy'terot.
The Hebrew words Reishit and Rishon are always spelled out in full, to indicated that G-d is the head of all, and created the world alone, without anyone else participating.
J. Beraechot 9:1
Heretics asked Rabbi Simlai: "How many gods created the world?"
He answered, "Why ask me? Go to Adam, and ask him, as it says, "For ask now of the days past, since the day that G-d created Adam upon the earth" (Devarim 5:32), where 'created' (bara) is in the singular, and not in the plural (bar'u)."
They retorted: "But the Bible says, 'In the beginning Elokim (plural) created!'"
He rejoined: "But bara (singular) is used, and not bar'u (plural)."
Bereishit Rabbah 4.
Shamayim is equivalent to Shamim (they weigh), indicating that they (the heavens) weigh men's deeds: if one is worthy, "the heavens declare his righteousness" (Tehillim 97:6); but if not, "the heavens shall reveal his iniquity" (Iyov 20:27).
Bereishit Rabbah a.1
Shamayim is so called because men wonder (mishtommemim) at it, saying: "Of what is it composed? Of fire? Of water? 'Tis a mystery!"
Rabbi Phinehas said in Rabbi Levi's name: Scripture explains it: "Who lays the beams of Your upper chambers in the waters" (Tehillim 104:3): this shows that it is of water.
What does shamayim mean?
Rabbi Jose b. Hanina said: It means, In that place is water (sham mayim).
In a Baraita it was taught: Fire and water (esh mayim): this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, fused these elements and made from them the firmament.
Pirke di-rabbi Eliezer Chap.2
Whence was the Heaven created?--From the light of G-d's garment. From that He took light and spread it like a garment, and it went on extending until G-d said, "Enough!"
G-d is called Sha(d)ai, because He said to Heaven, "Dai!" (Enough), whereupon Heaven stood still.
Whence do we learn that Heaven was created from the light of G-d's garment? From the verse, "Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain" (Tehillim 104:2).