Beresheet: The Beginning
by Bob Schwartz
Today the annual Torah reading cycle begins again with the portion Beresheet (also transliterated as Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8).
It is a big Torah, a bigger Jewish Bible (Tanakh), and an even bigger Christian Bible. In all that expanse, nothing compares to the way it begins.
Bereshit: “When God Created …” This first word of the first book of the Bible serves both as the Hebrew name for the book Genesis and as an idiom for “Creation.” Because of its pride of position at the “start” of creation, as well as its uniqueness (the word never appears again in Scriptures), the word is subjected to intensive and varied exegetical analysis. Many, many meanings are derived from this one six-letter word….Jewish tradition has also held the six letters contain secrets that the wise will understand. (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, Geoffrey W. Dennis)
In English, it goes like this:
When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God. (New Jewish Publication Society translation)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (New Revised Standard Version translation)
When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Robert Alter translation)
Unformed. Void. Darkness. Wind. Welter. Waste. Light. When God began to create.
Maybe you once read or studied the Bible, in any of its versions. Maybe you still do. Maybe you don’t anymore or maybe you never did. Maybe you had deep discussions about God, about creation, and about whether there was something out of which creation was made or whether there was nothing and then there was something (ex nihilo). Then again, maybe not.
No matter your beliefs, consider this first portion, the first words, and the very first of the first words consisting of six Hebrew letters. Are there “secrets the wise will understand”? Are you that wise one?