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    Before creation – B’reshit

    The first three words of the Torah are B’reshit bara E-lokim, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.

    (Bet Shammai says He created the heavens first, Bet Hillel says the earth came first, and the sages say – Chagigah 12a – that both were created at the same time.)

    The word B’reshit is difficult. Does it mean “firstly”, “in the beginning”? If so, it should be Barishonah.

    There is a different opinion, supported by Rashi and Ibn Ezra, which understands the verse as “When God began to create” – parallel to Gen. 5:1-2, which refers to b’ro E-lokim.

    There was a series of stages. First there was tohu vavohu, dark waste and wildness (Robert Alter’s translation calls it “welter and waste”), then God said, “Let there be light”, which means that He imposed order on the strange mixture.

    This suggests that Creation was preceded by chaos, so history began before Creation with a “BC” (Before Creation) era. God imposed order on a disorganised primary substance. But how did that formless substance come to be there?

    Without a belief in God we cannot explain tohu vavohu; with a belief in Him we can say that it was something which He Himself had created.

    The rabbis say that God made many worlds before settling on one that pleased Him (Gen. Rabbah 3:9). According to Rabbi Yochanan a thousand earlier worlds were discarded by God (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:10).

    The Vilna Ga’on regarded the Creation described in Genesis 1 as the definitive beginning of history.

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