GENESIS 01: SIX DAYS OF CREATION
In the beginning verses of the Bible, we see the Creator fashioning the world, and man in it, bringing forth first chaos, then order, then complexity.
One thing that stands out about this chapter, as has been noted often, is the role of Divine speech in the act of creation. The Word of G-d is the instrument that fashions order out of primal chaos. Dennis Prager (Genesis: God, Creation, and Destruction, pp. 1-3) lists a number of ways in which Genesis differs from all pre-Biblical creation stories: for example, the Creator is separate from nature, is not “born”, and is completely de-sexualized.
Zvi Grumet (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, pp.4 – 5) shows that the six days of Creation “are actually two cycles of three days each, with the second paralleling the first”, and explains that “this sense of structure, pattern, order, and planning is intentional, and stands in stark contrast to many ancient Mesopotamian creation stories.”
The order of Creation is logical, not chronological. Steinsaltz (The Steinsaltz Humash, p.10, note on v. 20) points out that the creatures created after the fourth day “would not grow and develop blindly, like vegetation, but would move and have some measure of will.” I’ll add that all of the creatures created after the fourth day (when the heavenly bodies were created as distinct light sources) have eyes – unlike plants, which can “see” only light and darkness.
Another thing I’d like to point out here is the role of number. Already, in just the fifth verse of the Bible, we’ve started counting: “… and it was evening, and it was morning, one day.” And each following day is numbered in succession. People sometimes say that “the Bible is not a book of science” – well, maybe not, but there sure are a lot of numbers in it.
Here, in this very first occurrence of numbers in the Bible, what is being measured is time, and that with a specific purpose: to involve man in the process of the Creation. Although the commandment to observe the Sabbath is not made explicit until later, it is first mentioned at the end of the Creation story (at the beginning of Chapter 2).
In fact, even before the Sabbath, we’re told that the luminaries were created “for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” That is, man is expected to observe the regular processes of nature and study their patterns. He is to create a calendar. (And in fact, Jewish tradition understands this commandment to mean that the calendar must incorporate three elements: the solar cycle, the lunar cycle, and the week – that is, a purely numerical element which is not dependent on natural phenomena but is reckoned by the mind of man alone.)
The Creation story of Genesis is profoundly spiritual, affirming our place in the order of Creation. It is deeply moral, calling on us to act in accord with the will of the Supreme Being. And, too, it is supremely scientific in its worldview, inviting us to engage cognitively with the processes of the world around us.
Genesis comes to teach us, not a mere collection of disconnected “facts”, but rather how to think about the universe: as a theatre of unfolding, orderly events, proceeding from a single First Cause, that can be known and understood – at least in part – by the mind of man.