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    The first word – the first problem: B’reshit

    bereshitAre the translators right to say that B’reshit bara Elokim means “In the beginning God created”?

    Possibly not, though despite the translation it is axiomatic to the believer that history did begin with God’s act of Creation.

    The problem is that reshit does not mean “the beginning” but “the beginning of” (compare Gen. 10:10), which is supported by the vocalisation with a sh’va, which denotes “in (or at) the beginning of…”. If it really meant what the translators say, it would not have had the vowel sh’va but different vowels.

    The way it stands it might be a similar form to what we find in Gen. 5:1, B’yom b’ro Elokim – “on the day of God’s (act of) creation”, and so Rashi and Ibn Ezra render our verse, “At the beginning of God’s (act of) creation”.

    Others, like Saadya Ga’on, think it is an independent statement and the first word is to be read as if it had the vowel kamatz. Hence we are being told, “First of all, God created…”.

    Ramban and Sforno note that the verb b-r-a, “created”, is used in a more precise sense than the vague word “made”. It indicates bringing something into being out of nothing – “Creatio Ex Nihilo”. This is the way God works. Man, by contrast, cannot create out of nothing, but needs raw material of some kind onto which to impose shape, form and potential function.

    It is no contradiction to see the Midrash telling us that God created earlier worlds and discarded them (Gen. R. 9:2). It is not only that this is the world in which we are interested, but God as Creator has the logical right to create whatever He wishes whenever He wishes it.

    Were the earlier worlds “heavens and earth” like ours? What does the text say in relation to our world? “In the beginning (if that is the translation you want to use), God created the heavens and the earth (i.e. our world).”

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