Bereshit: The Two Stories of Creation

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

How many stories of Creation are there in Parshat Breishit, ONE or TWO? Although this question is often discussed more by Bible critics than yeshiva students, its resolution may carry a significant spiritual message.

In this week's shiur, we discuss the structure of Parshat Breishit, in an attempt to better understand the meaning of the Torah's presentation of the story of Creation. Our analysis will also 'set the stage' for our discussion of the overall theme of Sefer Breishit in the shiurim to follow.


From a literary perspective, it is quite easy to differentiate between two distinct sections in the Torah's account of the story of Creation:

  • SECTION II - MAN IN GAN EDEN / 2:4 ->3:24

In our shiur, we will first explain what makes each section unique.  Afterward we will discuss how they complement one another.

Perek Aleph

SECTION I, better known as PEREK ALEPH, is easily discerned because of its rigid structure, i.e. every day of creation follows a very standard pattern. Each day:

  • Begins with the phrase: "VA'YOMER ELOKIM...", heralding a new stage of creation (see 1:3,6,9,14,20,24);
  • Continues with "VA'YAR ELOKIM… KI TOV" (see 1:4,10,12,18,21,31);
  • Concludes with "VAYHI EREV VAYHI BOKER, YOM..." (see 1:5,8,13,19,23,31).

In fact, one could construct a 'blank form' that would fit just about any day of Creation, that would look something like this:

"va'yomer Elokim" - And God said... _________

[followed by some act of Creaton.]

"va'yhi chen" -  And so it was

[often followed by some naming process: like "va'yikra.Elokim... , or some divine 'comment']

"va'yar Elokim... ki tov" - And God saw it was good

"va'yhi erev va;yhi boker, yom __#__"

Even though certain days may vary from this basic format, certainly each day begins with the phrase "va'yomer Elokim...".

This observation allows us to identify the first two psukim of this unit (1:1-2) as its header, for Day One must begin with the first "va'yomer Elokim" (in the third pasuk/ see 1:3 and Rashi on the meaning of the word "Breishit" in his interpretation to 1:1).

We reach a similar conclusion in regard to the 'Seventh Day' (i.e. 2:1-3).  Since these psukim describe 'Day Seven', they must be part of this overall Story of Creation; yet because they begin with "va'ychulu..." - and not with "va'yomer Elokim" - they form the conclusion of this unit.

To verify this, note the beautiful parallel between these two 'bookends' (i..e 1:1-2 and 2:1-3, noting the phrase "shamayim v'aretz" and the verb "bara"!), and how Day Seven 'concludes' that which was introduced in 1:1.

This introduction and conclusion define for us the primary topic of this entire unit - - "briyat ha'shamayim v'ha'aretz" - God's Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.  This topic is presented through a daily progression of God's creations that span over six days.

With this general framework defined, we can now begin our analysis of the progression of Creation from one day to the next.  We will pay attention to how each day either follows, or slightly varies from the standard format discussed above.  [For example, the fact that day two does not include the phrase "va'yar Elokim ki tov " should be significant.]

A Daily "Chiddush"

As we mentioned above, within this unit, the phrase "va'yomer Elokim" begins each day, and is always followed by an act God's Creation - or at least some type of "chidush" [i.e. something new, that didn't exist the day before].

After the execution each act of Creation, we may find 'peripheral' comments such as God giving names or duties to what He just created.  However, we will show how the next "chidush" of Creation doesn't take place without an additional "va'yomer Elokim"!

We should also point out that in Days Three and Six we find our basic form repeated twice, i.e. the phrase "va'yomer Elokim" appears twice on each of these days, and each time followed by a distinct act of Creation, followed by the evaluation of - "va'yar Elokim ki tov".  This suggests that each of these days will contain two acts of Creation.  [The deeper meaning of this will be discussed as we continue.]

Therefore, .our analysis begins by identifying what was the precise "chidush" of each day.   Then, we will discuss the 'peripheral comments' of each day, showing how they relate to that "chidush".

Day One  (1:3- 5)

God's first act of creation (i.e. what follows the first "va'yomer Elokim") was making "OR" - or what we call 'light'.

This creation is followed by a 'naming process' where God calls the light - 'Day', and the darkness (the lack of light) is called 'Night'.

Day Two  (1:6-8)

God makes the "rakiya" - whose function is to divide between the 'water above' and the 'water below'.

Then, God names these 'waters above' - "shamayim" [Heavens].  Note that the 'waters below' are not named until Day Three.  Note as well that this is only time when God's creation is not followed by the phrase "va'yar Elokim ki tov".  Hence, it appears that something on this day is either 'not so good' or at least incomplete.  [We'll return to this observation later in the shiur.]

Day Three (1:9-12)

  • Stage One: (i.e. the first "va'yomer Elokim").
    • Gods makes the "yabasha" [dry land].
    • Then God names this 'dry land - ARETZ  [Earth?] and the  remaining "mayim" - YAMIM [Seas].
    • Followed by God's positive evaluation: "va'yar Elokim ki tov"
  • Stage Two (i.e. the second "va'yomer Elokim" / 1:11-12)
    • God creates what we call 'vegetation', i.e. all the various species of vegetables and fruit trees.  Note how these psukim emphasize precisely what makes the 'plant kingdom' unique - i.e. how these species contain seeds that will produce the next generation - e.g. "esev mazria zera" and "etz pri oseh pri".

Note that God no longer gives 'names' to what He created.  However, we still find the standard positive evaluation "va'yar Elokim ki tov".  [You were probably aware that "ki tov" is mentioned twice in Day Three, but you probably weren't aware that it was because it contains two "va'yomer Elokim's"!]

A Quantum Leap

Note the 'quantum leap' that takes place in stage Two on Day Three.  Up until Stage Two, everything that God had created was 'inanimate' (non-living).  From this point on, livings things are created.  [Keep this in mind, as we will uncover a similar 'quantum leap' when we discuss the progression from Stage One to Two in Day Six!, i.e. when we jump from animal to man.]

This may explain why Stage One of Day Three is the last time that we find God giving names.  It seems as though God gave names only to His 'non-living' creations.

[In chapter two, we will see how it becomes man's job to give names to other livings things (see 2:19), and maybe even to God Himself! (see 4:26)!]

Furthermore, note the 'separation process' that emerges as God created "shamayim v'aretz".  In the introduction, we find "mayim" - with "ruach Elokim" [God's spirit?] hovering over it  (see 1:2).  Then, in Day Two, God takes this "mayim" 'solution' and separates it  ["va'yavdel"] between the "mayim" 'above' and 'below' the "rakiya".  The 'water above' becomes "SHAMAYIM", but the 'water below' needs further separation, which only takes places on Day Three - when the remaining 'solution' separates between the "ARETZ" [Land] and the "YAMIM" [Seas].

Technically speaking, this is how God created "shamayim v'aretz".  [The creation of the remaining "v'kol tzvaam" - and all their hosts (see 2:1) - takes place from this point and onward.]

Day Four (1:14-19)

God creates the "meorot", i.e. the sun, moon and stars.

This time however, note how God explains the function of His new creations (instead of giving names).  For example, "va'hayu l'otot u'moadim " - and they shall be for signs and appointed times; and later - " l'ha'ir al ha'aretz" - to give light on the land (see 1:14-15).  And finally: "l'mshol ba'yom u'va'layala" - to rule over day and night (1:18).  [Note as well how this day relates back to Day One.]

Day Five (1:20-23)

On this day, we find yet another 'quantum leap', as God begins His creation of the 'animal kingdom' (i.e. in contrast to the 'vegetation' created on day three).  God creates all livings things that creep in the water or fly in the sky (i.e. fish and fowl).

Even though this day follows the standard 'form' (discussed above), we do find two very important additions.

  1. The verb "bara" is used to describe how God creates this animal kingdom: "va'yivrah Elokim et ha'taninim ha'gedolim v'et kol nefesh ha'chaya..."  (1:21).  Note how this is the first usage of this verb since the first pasuk of "breishit bara..." (1:1)!  The Torah's use of the verb "bara" specifically at this point may reflect this 'quantum leap' to the animal kingdom in this critical stage of the Creation.
  2. A 'blessing' is given (for the first time) to these fish and fowl after their creation: "va'yvarech otam Elokim laymor - pru ur'vu..." - that they should be fruitful and multiply and fill the seas and skies. Note how this blessing relates to the very essence of the difference between the 'plant kingdom' and the 'animal kingdom'.  Whereas self produced seeds allow vegetation to reproduce itself, the animal kingdom requires mating for reproduction to take place, and hence the need for God's blessing of "pru u'vru" to keep each species alive.

Day Six (1:24-31)

Here again, like in Day Three, we find two stages of Creation, each beginning with the phrase "va'yomer Elokim, with yet another 'quantum leap' in between:

  • Stage One (1:24-25)

God creates the living things that roam on the land, i.e. the animals.  There is really nothing special about this stage, other than the fact that God found it necessary to create them 'independently' on the first stage of Day Six, instead of including them with His creation of the rest of the of the animal kingdom (i.e. with the fish and the fowl) in Day Five.

In fact, we find an interesting parallel between both days that contain two stages (i.e. days Three and Six). Just as Stage One of Day Three (separating the Earth from the 'water below') completed a process that God had begun in Day Two, so too Stage One of Day Six (the animals) completed a process that God began in Day Five!

  • Stage Two (1:26-31)

God creates MAN - "btzelem Elokim"!

Note how many special words and phrases (many of which we encountered before) accompany God’s creation of man:

First of all, we find once again the use of the verb “bara” to describe this act of creation, suggesting that the progression from animal to man may be considered no less a ‘quantum leap’ than the progression from vegetation to animal.

Secondly, God appears to ‘consult’ with others (even though it is not clear who they are) before creating man (“naaseh adam b’tzalmeinu…”).

Here again, we find not only an act of creation, but also a 'statement the purpose' for this creation – i.e. to be master over all of God’s earlier creations:

“v’yirdu b’dgat ha’yam u’b’of ha’shamayim…” – Be fruitful and multiply and be master over the fish of the seas and the fowl in the heavens and the animals and all the land, and everything that creeps on the land.” (see 1:26).

Thus, it appears that man is not only God's last Creation, but also His most sophisticated creation, responsible to rule over all other creations ‘below the heavens’.

This explains we find yet another blessing (following this act of creation / similar to the blessing on Day Five). This blessing to man includes not only fertility, but also relates to his potential to exert dominion over all that Elokim had created. [“pru u’rvu v’kivshuha, u’rdu b’dgat ha’yam…” / see 1:28, compare with 1:26)

It should be noted that we find one final section, that also begins with the phrase “va’yomer Elokim” (see 1:29), but quite different than all the earlier ones, as this statement does not introduce an act of Creation, but rather the administration of food.  In a nutshell, in these psukim God allows the animal kingdom to consume the plant kingdom.  The green grass is given for the animals (to graze upon), while man receives the ‘added privilege’ of eating the fruit of the trees (see 1:29-30).

Something Special

As you surely must have realized, all of these ‘variances’ from the ‘standard format’ in regard to God’s creation of man emphasize that there must be something very special about man’s creation, and hence his purpose. But this should not surprise us, for that is precisely what we should expect from a book of prophecy, a divine message to man to help him understand his relationship with God, and the purpose for his existence.

All of these special points about man's creation should be important, but before we discuss their significance, we must take into consideration one more observation concerning the progression of Creation during these six days.

A Parallel Structure

Let’s summarize our conclusions thus far concerning what was created on each day (and each statement of "va'yomer Elokim…"):

Day   God Created...
I "Or" = Light
II "Rakiya" - separating:
A. the mayim above [=shamayim], and
B. the mayim below [=yamim].
IIIa "Yabasha", called the aretz (the land) -
IIIb Vegetation (on that aretz)
A. seed-bearing plants: "esev mazria zera"
B. fruit-bearing trees: "etz pri oseh pri"
IV Lights in the shamayim (sun, moon, stars etc.)
V Living creatures:
A. birds in the sky [=rakiya shamayim]
B. fish in the sea [=mayim]
VIa Living creatures who live on the aretz (land)
animals - all forms
VI Man b'tzelem Elokim blessed by God to dominate all other living creatures
Then, God assigns the appropriate food for these living creatures:
1 Man - can eat vegetables and fruit (see 1:29)
2 animals - can eat only vegetables (see 1:30)
VII Shabbat
God rested, His Creation was complete.

Now, let's turn our list into a table.

If we line up the first three days against the last three days, we find a rather amazing parallel:


DAYS 1-3 DAYS 4-6
I.  LIGHT IV. LIGHTS in the heavens
II. RAKIYA – divding: SHAMAYIM (above) V. Living things: Birds in the SHAMAYIM
MAYIM (below the sea) Fish in MAYIM
III. ARETZ (land) VI. Animals & Man on the ARETZ
Seed-bearing plants Plants to be eaten by the Animals
Fruit-bearing trees Fruit of trees, to be eaten by Man


that from Day Four and onward, God not only creates, but He also states the purpose of His creations.

It also shows how the last three days 'fill in' the potential for what God created in the first three days.  Basically, from day four and onward, nature 'goes into motion', as we find 'movement' both in the Heavens above and in the Earth below.

In summary, when these six days are complete, what we call 'nature' has gone into motion.

Divine Evolution

If we understand the phrase “tohu va’vahu” in the introductory section (see 1:2) as total chaos, then from this primordial state - six days later, we find a beautifully structured universe containing all of the various forms of life that we are familiar with; including plants, animals, and man.

Note that the Torah emphasizes that each form of life is created in a manner that guarantees its survival, i.e. its ability to reproduce:

  1. plants: "esev mazria zera" - seed-bearing vegetation "etz pri oseh pri" - fruit-bearing trees (1:11-12)
  2. fish and fowl: "pru u'rvu"- be fruitful & multiply (1:22)
  3. Man: "pru u'rvu..." - be fruitful & multiply (1:28)

One could summarize and simply state that the end result of this creation process is what we call NATURE - in other words - the exact opposite of TOHU VA'VAHU.

In this manner, PEREK ALEPH describes God's creation of nature, i.e. the entire material universe and its phenomena.

Even though 'nature' itself remains dynamic, with living things constantly changing and reproducing, its basic framework remains constant - for after "va'ychulu" (2:1), nothing 'new' will be created, and certainly, nothing more advanced or sophisticated as man.

This established, we must now ask ourselves the more fundamental question, which is - what can we learn from the unique manner by which the Torah tells over the story of Creation?   Is it recorded for the sake of our curiosity, simply to let us know 'how it all happened'  - or does it carry a prophetic message - for any human being contemplating the purpose of the world that surrounds him!

One God, or Many?

Certainly, one primary message that emerges from this presentation is that the creation of nature, with all its complexities and wonders, was a willful act of GOD.  Hence, by keeping Shabbat, resting on the seventh day, as God did, we assert our belief that God is the power the created nature (and continues to oversee it).

This analysis can also help us appreciate why the Torah uses the name -Elokim - to describe God throughout this entire chapter. As Ramban explains (toward the end of his commentary on 1:1), the Hebrew word "el" implies someone with power (or strength) and in control.  Therefore, "shem ELOKIM" implies the master of all of the many forces of nature.

[This can explain why God's Name is in the plural form- for He is all of the powers / see also Rav Yehuda ha'Levi, in Sefer Kuzari, beginning of Book Four.]

This understanding can also help us appreciate the Torah's use of the verb "bara" in PEREK ALEPH. Note how the THREE active uses of the verb "bara" in PEREK ALEPH reflect each level of sophistication in Creation, i.e. "tzomeyach" [plant kingdom], "chai" [animal kingdom] and "m'daber" [man].  This also reflects the three ‘quantum leaps’ that we discussed in the evolutionary development of nature during these six days.

Step One - All matter and plants -

"Breishit BARA Elokim et ha'SHAMAYIM v'et ha'ARETZ" (1:1)

This includes everything in the SHAMAYIM and on the ARETZ, i.e. the creation of all "domem" (inanimate objects) and "tzomeyach" (plants). Note that this takes place during the first FOUR days of Creation.

Step Two - The animal kingdom

"va'YIVRA Elokim - and God created the TANINIM and all living creatures... by their species"(1:21)

This includes the birds, fish, animals, and beasts etc. which are created on the fifth and sixth days.

Step Three - Man

"va'YIVRA Elokim et ha'ADAM..." (1:27)

The creation of man b'tzelem Elokim, in God's image.

The Torah's First Story

Now we must ponder what may be the Torah's message in telling man that the creation of nature was a willful act of God?

In his daily life, man constantly encounters a relationship with nature, i.e. with his surroundings and environment.  Man does not need the Torah to inform him that nature exists; it stares him in the face every day.  As man cannot avoid nature, he must constantly contemplate it, and struggle with it.

Without the Torah's message, one could easily conclude that nature is the manifestation of many gods - a rain god, a sun god, a fertility god, war gods, etc. - as ancient man believed.  Nature was attributed to a pantheon of gods, often warring with one another.

In contrast, modern man usually arrives at quite the opposite conclusion -- that nature just exists, and doesn't relate to any form of god at all.

One could suggest that Chumash begins with story of Creation, for man's relationship with God is based on his recognition that nature is indeed the act of one God. He created the universe for a purpose, and continues to oversee it.

But how does this relate to man himself?

Man ‑ In Perek Aleph

In Perek Aleph, man emerges not only as the climax of the creation process, but also as its MASTER:

"And God blessed man saying: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and MASTER it, and RULE the fish of the sea, and the birds in the sky, and the living things that creep on the earth..." (1:28).

Note that this is God's BLESSING to man, and NOT a commandment! One could consider this 'blessing' almost as a definition of man's very nature. Just as it is 'natural' for vegetation to grow ["esev mazria zera"], and for all living things to reproduce ["pru u'rvu"], it is also 'natural' for man to dominate his environment; it becomes his natural instinct.

The Torah's use of the verb "bara" at each major stage of creation, and then in its description of God's creation of man - may shed light on this topic. When contemplating nature and his relationship with the animal kingdom, man might easily conclude that he is simply just another part of the animal kingdom. He may be more advanced or developed than the 'average monkey', but biologically he is no different.  The Torah's use of the verb "bara" to describe God's creation of man informs us that man is a completely new category of creation. He is created "b'tzelem Elokim", in the image of God, i.e. he possesses a spiritual potential, unlike any other form of nature.

[See the Rambam in the very beginning of Moreh N'vuchim (I.1), where he defines "tzelem Elokim" as the characteristic of man that differentiates him from animal.]

In other words, man's creation in a separate stage of Day Six, and the use of the verb "bara", and his special blessing etc. all come to impress upon man that he is indeed a 'quantum leap' above all other creations.  He should not view himself as just the most sophisticated animal of the universe, but rather as a Godly creation.

Perek Aleph teaches man to recognize that his very nature to dominate all other living things is also an act of God's creation.

However, man must also ask himself, "Towards what purpose?" Did God simply create man, or does He continue to have a relationship with His creation?  Does the fate of mankind remain in God's control; does there remain a connection between man's deeds and God's "hashgacha" (providence) over him?

The answer to this question begins in PEREK BET - the story of Gan Eden, and will continue through the rest of Chumash!

Perek Bet - Man in Gan Eden (2:4-3:24)

PEREK BET presents what appears to be conflicting account of the story of Creation.  As your review chapter two, note how:

  •  Nothing can grow before God creates man (see 2:5), therefore:
  • God creates man FIRST (2:6-7), then:
  • God plants a garden for man, vegetation develops (2:8-14);
  • God gives man the job to work and guard this garden (2:15);
  • God commands man re: what he can/cannot eat (2:16-17);
  • God creates animals for the sake of man (2:18-20)
  • God creates a wife for man, from his own rib (2:21-25).

Clearly, the order of creation is very different. In PEREK BET we find that man is created FIRST, and everything afterward (i.e. the plants and the animals) are created FOR him. In contrast to perek Aleph where man was God's final Creation - the most sophisticated - and blessed to exert his dominion over the entire animal kingdom; in Perek Bet we see how man is simply a servant of God, tending to His Garden (see 2:15-16), and searching for companionship (see 2:18-25).  In perek Aleph, he emerged as 'ruler', almost like a god himself ("b'tzelem Elokim"); in perek Bet he is a servant.

In addition, there are several other obvious differences between these two sections:

  • Throughout this section, God's Name is no longer simply ELOKIM, rather the name HASHEM ELOKIM (better known as "shem Havaya").
  • In contrast to the consistent use of verb "bara" (creation from nothing) in Perek Aleph, Perek Bet uses the verb "ya'tzar" (creation from something'/ see 2:7,19).

Although it is possible to reconcile these apparent contradictions (as many commentators do), the question remains - Why does the Torah present these two accounts in a manner that (at least) appears to be conflicting?

We obviously cannot accept the claim of the Bible critics that these two sections reflect two conflicting ancient traditions.   Our belief is that the entire Torah was given by God at Har Sinai - and hence stems from one source.  Therefore, we must conclude that this special manner of presentation is intentional and should carry a prophetic message.  For this reason, our study of Sefer Breishit will focus more so on how the Torah's 'stories' of Creation explain the nature of man's relationship with God, and less so on how to resolve the 'technical' problems to determine what events actually took place and when.

Two renowned Torah scholars of the 20th century have discussed this issue of the two creations stories at length.  The analytical aspect, the approach of "shtei bechinot" (two perspectives), has been exhausted by Rabbi Mordechei Breuer in his book Pirkei Breishit.  The philosophical implications have been discussed by Rav Soloveichik ZT"L in his article 'The Lonely Man of Faith' (re: Adam I & Adam II).

It is beyond the scope of this shiur to summarize these two approaches (it is recommended that you read them). Instead, we will simply conduct a basic analysis of PEREK ALEPH & PEREK BET and offer some thoughts with regard to its significance.  Hopefully it will provide a elementary background for those who wish to pursue this topic in greater depth.

With this in mind, we begin our analysis in an attempt to find the primary message of each of these two sections. We begin with a review of our conclusions regarding Perek Aleph.

Perek Aleph - The Creation of Nature

Nature - the entire material universe and its phenomena ["ha'shamayim v'haretz v'chol tzvaam"] - was the end result of the Seven Days of Creation.  Without the Torah's message, man may logically conclude that the universe that surrounds him is controlled by various different powers, each controlling their own realm (or what ancient man understood as a pantheon of gods).

Chumash begins by informing us that nature itself, with all its complexities and wonders, was a willful act of the 'one God' - who continues to oversee His creations. [Hence the name -Elokim -(plural) all of the powers of nature.]

However, if there is one phenomenon in nature that appears to contradict this conclusion of unity, it is the very existence of "shamayim" [Heaven] and "aretz" [Earth].   Two totally different realms, with almost not contact between them, separated by the "rakiaya"!  This observation may explain why there was 'nothing good' about Day Two, when God made the "rakiya", for it was this very first division that leaves us with the impression that there must be 'many gods', and not one.

This may also explain why the entire story of Creation begins with the statement that Elokim made [both] "shamayim v'aretz" (see 1:1), and concludes with a very similar statement (see 2:1 & 2:4).

[Note as well See Breishit 14:19-22 & 24:3.  Note as well Devarim 31:28 & 32:1.  See also Ibn Ezra on Devarim 30:19 (his second pirush on that pasuk)!]

One could suggest that this may be one the primary messages of the Torah's opening story of Creation - that the apparent 'duality' of "shamayim v'aretz" is indeed the act of one God.  Hence, the only aspect of Creation that could not be defined a 'good' was the creation of the "rakiya" which divides them.  Later on, it will becomes man's challenge to find the connection between "shamayim v'aretz"! 

Perek Bet - Man In Gan Eden

Perek Bet presents the story of creation from a totally different perspective. Although it opens with a pasuk that connects these two stories (2:4), it continues by describing man in an environment that is totally different than that of Perek Aleph.  Note how man is the focal point of the entire creation process in Perek Bet, as almost every act taken by God is for the sake of man:

  • No vegetation can grow before man is created (2:5)
  • God plants a special garden for man to live in (2:8)
  • God 'employs' man to 'work in his garden' (2:15)
  • God creates the animals in an attempt to find him a companion (2:19/ compare with 2:7!)
  • God creates a wife for man (2:21-23)

In contrast to Perek Aleph, where man's job is to be dominant over God's creation, in Perek Bet man must be obedient and work for God, taking care of the Garden:

"And God took man and placed him in Gan Eden - L'OVDAH u'l'SHOMRAH - to work in it and guard it." (2:15)

Most significantly, in PEREK BET man enters into a relationship with God that contains REWARD and PUNISHMENT, i.e. he is now responsible for his actions. For the first time in Chumash, we find that God COMMANDS man:

"And Hashem Elokim commanded man saying: From all the trees of the Garden YOU MAY EAT, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad YOU MAY NOT EAT, for on the day you eat from it YOU WILL SURELY DIE... " (2:16-17)

This special relationship between man and God in Gan Eden, is paradigmatic of other relationships between man and God found later on in Chumash (e.g. in the Mishkan).

God's Name in perek Bet - HASHEM ELOKIM (better known as "shem HAVAYA") - reflects this very concept. The shem HAVAYA comes from the shoresh (root) - "l'hiyot" (to be, i.e. to be present). This Name stresses that Gan Eden is an environment in which man can recognize God's presence, thus enabling the possibility of a relationship.

Should man obey God, he can remain in the Garden, enjoying a close relationship with God. However, should he disobey, he is to die. In the next chapter, this 'death sentence' is translated into man's banishment from Gan Eden. In biblical terms, becoming distanced from God is tantamount to death. [See Devarim 30:15‑20.]

In the Gan Eden environment, man is confronted with a conflict between his "taava" (desire) and his obligation to obey God. The "nachash" [serpent], recognizing this weakness, challenges man to question the very existence of this Divine relationship (3:1-4). When man succumbs to his desires and disobeys God, he is banished from the Garden.

Whether or not man can return to this ideal environment will later emerge as an important biblical theme.

A Dual Existence

From PEREK ALEPH, we learn that God is indeed the Creator of nature, yet that recognition does not necessarily imply that man can develop a personal relationship with Him. The environment detailed in PEREK BET, although described in physical terms, is of a more spiritual nature - for God has created everything specifically for man. However, in return he must obey God in order to enjoy this special relationship. In this environment, the fate of man is a direct function of his deeds.

So which story of Creation is 'correct', PEREK ALEPH or PEREK BET? As you probably have guessed - both, for in daily life man finds himself involved in both a physical and spiritual environment.

Man definitely exists in a physical world in which he must confront nature and find his purpose within its framework (PEREK ALEPH). There, he must struggle with nature in order to survive; yet he must realize that God Himself is the master over all of these Creations. However, at the same time, man also exists in a spiritual environment that allows him to develop a relationship with his Creator (PEREK BET). In it, he can find spiritual life by following God's commandments while striving towards perfection. Should he not recognize the existence of this potential, he defaults to 'spiritual death' - man's greatest punishment.

Why does the Torah begin with this 'double' story of Creation? We need only to quote the Ramban (in response to this question, which is raised by the first Rashi of Chumash):

"There is a great need to begin the Torah with the story of Creation, for it is the "shoresh ha'emunah", the very root of our belief in God."

Understanding man's potential to develop a relationship with God on the spiritual level, while recognizing the purpose of his placement in a physical world as well, should be the first topic of Sefer Breishit, for it will emerge as a primary theme of the entire Torah.