What's Bothering Rashi? Parshat Bereishit: Let There Be Lights
click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Let There Be Lights

This week we begin a new cycle of Torah readings. It is always fascinating to see how each year we can discover new insights into the Torah. The Torah's source, God's word – is infinite and thus the Torah has an infinite capacity to reveal new insights.

This week we will look at a Rashi and a Ramban and see what we can learn from them and from modern science about Creation.

Genesis 1:14

"And God said: Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate between the day and the night and they will serve for signs, for seasons, for days and for years."

 

RASHI

Let there be lights, etc. - RASHI: They were created on the first day but only on the fourth day did He command that they be hung in the firmament.

 

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question: Why does Rashi say they were created on the first day when our verse says they were created on the fourth day?

 

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

An Answer: The question which actually stares us in the face, is: If the sun, the moon and the stars were only created on the fourth day, how come we are told that on the first day God said "Let there be light and there was light." If there was as yet no sun where did the light come from?

 

Rashi's comment is intended to answer this question.

Do you see how it does?

Your Answer:


UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer: Rashi says that in fact the sun and stars were created on the first day and that's where the light came from on the first day. But they were not yet "hung" in the heavens until the forth day.


RAMBAN DIFFERS FROM RASHI

The Ramban recognizes the same difficulty as Rashi did, but he views the creation of light differently and offers a different explanation. He says that on Day One light in some abstract form was created. But only on the fourth day was this light concretized and given material form as the sun and the stars.

The Ramban's interpretation fits the Hebrew grammar better than Rashi's does. The Hebrew says "Yehi m'oros" "Let there be lights." Lights is plural but the word "Yehi" ("Let there be") is in the singular. The Ramban would say "Let the light that exists" (in the singular) turn into lights (plural) in the heavens. Rashi, however, says that "Let there be" refers to the sun and the stars that already existed. But this would require a plural verb as "Yeh'yu" whereas the Torah has the singular verb.


SCIENCE AND CREATION

I would like to add an amazing fact to this discussion. My friend, Professor Nathan Aviezer (of Physics at Bar Ilan University) has written two excellent books on the subject of science and the Torah. The first is called "In the Beginning" (Ketav Publishers) and the second is new, titled "Fossils and Faith" (Ketav). He tells us that until about 50 years ago (not that long ago for some of us) science could not imagine the universe being created out of nothing. That would fly against the basic premise of physical science, that all material effects have material causes. If the world was in fact created out of nothing, we would have a physical effect without a physical cause. But in 1946 George Gamov propounded the Big Bang theory, which has, by now, accumulated scientific evidence to its validity and is accepted by most physicists. This theory states that the world was created at some point out of nothing! The Big Bang was in effect a gigantic "initial ball of light." In 1965 two American astrophysicists discovered evidence of remnants of this primeval "ball of light." Their discovery was rewarded by receiving the Nobel prize. So we are not talking about some farfetched maverick theory. "Far out" maybe (as that's where the light was found) but not farfetched.

This ball of light was the sum total of all the energy and material reality that constituted the newly created Universe. From this ball of light (and energy), the theory states , all else was formed. In light of this (excuse the pun!) we see the Ramban's interpretation - that the initial light of Day One was eventually transposed into the sun and the stars – as precisely modern science's understanding of the Creation event.

David says in Psalms (108:17): "Uncover my eyes so I shall see the wonders of your Torah."

How true! How inspiringly true. How truly inspiring!


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: September 26, 2004

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, October 17, 2009 8:04 PM

The Science of it All

I think the emphasis in aligning the modern scientific explanations of creation with the rabbinical teachings is an important step in lending credibility to the Torah. While we see lots of attrition to the Jewish population and arguments that religion is increasingly irrelevant, this type of commentary offers a dialogue to which many can relate. It is hard to many to believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. By merging the rabbinical teachings with what we now understand from modern science, it shows that there are many aspects of the Torah that can be supported by hard science, thus satisfying a need by many of us to have rational explanations so that we can relate more closely to what is written.

(1) Michael, October 19, 2006 9:23 AM

Arno Penzias

Indeed, one of those astrophysicists who won the Nobel for finding evidence of the big bang was Arno Penzias, who is Jewish, and a man of deep faith.

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub