- It’s a beginning, not the beginning
- The heavens and earth were not created tohu va-vohu (formless and void), but became that state
- The earth was returned to tohu va-vohu, again, in Noah’s flood
Bereishit, bara Elohim et hashamayim w’et haaretz. V’haaretz hatah tohu va-vohu vechoshech al-peney tehom veruach Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim. – Genesis 1:1-2
At first, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth became in disarray and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water.
Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, begins with “bereishit”. This word is virtually exclusively translated at “In the beginning”. However, there’s one problem here, the word in hebrew has no definite article. To express “the” (i.e. a definite article), one must use the prefix “ha”, “ha bereishit”. Or when using grammatical shortcuts, one can condense it into “bareishit”, where the vowel is joined with the “bet” (eg. B) in order form the phrase, “in the”. Given that the definite article is not there and in our study, we must take note of it and consider a scenario where the omission was intentional, the question one must ask is, what does it mean.
The prefix “b`” is commonly translated as “in”, but it can have the meaning of “b”. The real key here is reishit. The root of “reishit”, is “rosh”, meaning “head”. Throughout the bible, in Hebrew, you will see words like “Rosh Qadosh”, new month, “Rishon”, first, “Roshim”, tribal heads, etc… Rosh has the meaning of literal head or authoritative, but also “first”. Accordingly, what if the word, bereishit’, means “at first”. “At first, God created the heavens and earth”. But why this construction?
Most, of not all, of those who have some familiarity with this verse have been taught that the world was created empty, void, and in darkness. In short, in chaos. However, is it supported by the text itself. There’s a saying, let Torah teach Torah. In other words, one section of the books can illuminate other areas. But where can we find a mention that relates to this verse.
Well, look no farther than Isaiah. In 45 chapter, verse 18, it is stated explicitly that the world was not created empty, lo’tohu.
The understanding of the prophet was such that it was not created in chaos, so can it be the meaning, to the prophet, was “the heavens and earth were created, whole as it were and not void/empty”, but it became void and empty.
Furthermore, we can see from Jeremiah 4:23-26, the tohu va-vohu does not have to mean formless and void in the sense of a black hole, or a vacuum. In the verses mentioned, the world is described as being “without form and void”, but we can clearly see that there exists landscape and cities. However, what the world was empty of, primarily, was man. (I behold, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled).
The natural question one may ask is, why did the Earth become void and empty. It seems that detail was intentionally left out, but one is not without ability to understand why, in the general sense. That is to say, we have an instance where the world is returned to emptiness and void in the time of Noah, thus if we understand the reason why the world was destroyed at that time, it may point us to why the heavens and earth, before they became void and empty, initially, were destroyed. However, this point we will deal with when we reach that section.