Beginnings (1): Genesis 1

The New Year is always a time of new resolutions, new decisions – and of course, new beginnings. Therefore, it seems only natural for us to open this year with a new series called “Beginnings”. We will discuss here in depth the primeval historythe first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. As most of my readers probably know, these chapters form a separate, integrated unit: while from Genesis 12 onwards, Scripture deals with the nation of Israel only, these first chapters are concerned with the topics that affect everyone, not just Hebrews. And yet, there are many details in these chapters that can only be seen in the original Hebrew text.  Therefore, we will go together through these chapters, discovering these hidden treasures along the way, and trying to better understand God’s design for this world and for each one of us.

The Beginning

The Book of Genesis is named in Hebrew after its first word Bereshit, which simply means “In the beginning”.  It is a book of beginnings or origins—of the world, of humanity, of the people of Israel. And the very first verse tells us indeed what was in the beginning:In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.

Most people know these words. Some even know them in Hebrew: BERESHIT bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz. Why? Why is this verse so significant that sometimes even people who claim not to believe in God, still know these words?

I’ve always had a feeling that this single line – the first line of the whole Bible – is like a secret pipe connecting us with God’s plans and His mysteries for all time and eternity. If we look closely through this pipe, we can catch a glimpse of the breathtaking depth of His mysteries from the beginning of the world.  It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this word that introduces the whole revelation of God to mankind: Bereshit, “In the beginning” – בְּרֵאשִׁית

There are so many things we can say about this one word; there are so many comments written about it, so many questions we can ask here. And the first question is: Why does it begin with Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and not Alef, the first letter? Why does the very first word of the Bible, the word that introduces God’s revelation to mankind, start with the letter Bet:  בְּרֵאשִׁית.  Even if you know nothing of Hebrew, you can probably guess that this letter, like letter ‘B’ in English, is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Wouldn’t it be more proper to start the book of beginnings from the first letter? So why not Alef?

Rabbinic writings offer different explanations. According to one Midrash, since the numerical value of Bet is 2, Torah opens with a message of two worlds—this world and the world to come. Another Midrash suggests that we must approach Torah with the attitude of Betthus acknowledging a process that began long ago. We have to start, not as Alef, ignoring everything from the past, but rather as Bet, drawing from and building upon ancient Torah tradition.

I personally prefer another answer to this riddle: We are not meant to know everything. Yes, “there was no beginning to His beginning”[1] – but “the secret things belong to the LORD: God never intended to reveal everything to mankind; He only revealed enough for us to know and to fulfill His will: “those things which are revealed belong to us… , that we may do all the words of this law.”[2] 

So Bet in the beginning, is like a wall separating the things that belong to the Lord, from the beginning of His revelation to us. Remarkably, in the original Hebrew text this Bet in the word Bereishit is larger in size than the other letters: even though there are no capital letters in Hebrew, it looks like a capital letter – and it signifies indeed the beginning of the things revealed!

I can’t skip another comment concerning the first two letters of this word – because not only does each letter in Scripture have its own deep meaning, but also each syllable. To our great amazement, we can see that God’s message to mankind – בְּרֵאשִׁית – begins with the syllable בר, which means, among and before all the other meanings, “son”. You’ve probably heard the expression, Bar Mitzvah – we have the same word here, bar, meaning Son of Commandment. This is a really precious revelation for those who believe in the Son: God’s Word opens with the word Son!

 

The Spirit or the Wind?

When we read the Christian Bible in English, we encounter God’s Spirit at the very beginning of the creation: the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, says Genesis 1:2. However, in many Jewish translations of Torah, the same verse speaks about the wind of God sweeping over the water. Which translation would be correct? You probably know that ruach in Hebrew means both wind and spirit, but how do we distinguish between the two meanings? How do we know what the text means? Is it God’s Spirit that hovers over the primordial waters, or just a wind that sweeps over these waters?

We find an answer through the verb that follows the word ruach: merahefet. Remarkably, this verb occurs only once more in Torah – at its very end, in the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32: the love of God to Israel is being likened here to the utmost care, love and affection of an eagle fluttering (yirahef) over the young ones and bearing them upon its wings.

He kept him as the apple of His eye.
 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
Hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up… [3]

Whilst there is a certain similarity between spirit and wind (which is why in the NT Jesus compares them), there is also a very profound difference: wind cannot express tender love, care and affection! A wind blows dispassionately and indifferently – while the Spirit of God caringly and lovingly flutters over His creation. This loving, personal, passionate hovering that we see in Deuteronomy 32:11 and Genesis 1:2 can only pertain to God’s Spirit—not to the wind! Thus, through this one word alone, we can catch a glimpse of the amazing depth of the original Hebrew text.

 

[1] Shaharit, Jewish morning prayer

[2] Deut.29:29

[3] Deut.32:11

 

The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses[1] (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  . Also, Also,  my last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

 

[1] At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course exists both in Spanish and Portuguese.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (22 comments)

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  1. John Lock

    Love it. God created the heavens and the earth, he knows the begining from the end, he is the alpha and the omega, the begining and the end, therefore BERESHIT means, The Son of God was inflicted willing gave his hand on the cross. The very first word, In the BEGINNING God is telling us what is going to happen in the end, amazing.

  2. Phil Bronn

    Julia you warm the cockles of my heart when you break the bread like this! I t awakens the admiration of really who and how the Father is, caring more than we have words enough to explain.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Phil, for your generous and beautiful words!

  3. sekhar raja ratna

    I want to learn Hebrew by emi basic. I am unable to pay single payment.

  4. sekhar raja ratna

    WAH . I PRAISING THE LORD AND GOD JESUS MAKE ME HAPPY TO HEAR SUCH A NICE THINGS. GLORY TO GOD TO MAKE ME TO HEAR THE WORDS.

  5. Nick

    Choice, purpose, and intent seem to be present in the “beginning”, as I take in this teaching. We are not orphans down here in a “dog eat dog” world fending for ourselves. This is a good start!! Thanks Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thanks Nick, you are right – we are not orphans here!

  6. Mario Torres

    Baruch Hashem

  7. Victor E Ramsey

    “Remarkably, in the original Hebrew text this Bet in the word Bereishit is larger in size than the other letters:”

    Even more remarkable to me is that you are able to observe this. I always thought that though we had very ancient texts that they were still all copies and not the original autograph itself.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Victor, there are many extra-large or extra-small letters in the Masoretic text of the Bible— 17 of them in the Torah – which were always copied by the scribes, and appear also in some printed editions.

  8. Willie

    Why do some people believe that YHWH spoke everything into existence, but ADAM was made by YHWH’S hands out of the ground? YHWH spoke and saw everything HE said that it was good.
    Willie

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree Willie. God created by His word, He called everything – everything and everybody – into existence by the authority of His Word only. In my next article (coming on Thursday), I will talk more about it. Stay tuned! 🙂

  9. Renee Gelman

    Julia love the Hebrew. Hebrew is surely the language of HaShem because of its multi layered meaning. If you read the translations of of the Hebrew text you loose some of this precious insight.

    1. Julia Blum

      I can’t agree more Renee. Hebrew is an absolutely amazing, multi faceted and multi layered language – and one indeed misses so much when he or she reads only in translation.

  10. Donald Ashton

    Julia,
    Expanding further on that very first word, I can see the preposition for ‘In’ ( ׁבְ ) and the next part of the word is derived from ‘head’ ( רוֹשׁ ) and then a suffix which I understand to be diminutive in force.
    So I wonder if a better rendering would separate this word from creating, which is the second word, and relates more to the story that is about to unfold.
    It could then be something like: “The beginning of our story is when …”

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Donald, there are different translations of course – right now, for instance , I am looking at one that says: “When God began to create the heaven and the earth…”. Personally, I think that the rendering “In the beginning” is the most adequate and accurate. It’s exactly what Hebrew text says.

  11. Victor O Olear

    Your commentaries are always very informative and outstanding.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Victor, really appreciate your kind words!

  12. karl

    In the Hebrew isn’t Genesis 1 : 1 just “beginning” G-d and NOT “in the beginning” ?

    1. Julia Blum

      No Karl, the letter Bet here means In , just “beginning ” would be “ראשית”, together with Bet it makes “In the beginning”.

  13. gladyspumpernickle

    Great article

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you!