Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THERE is a difference between first and beginning (or principle). The latter exists in the thing of which it is the beginning, or co-exists with it; it need not precede it; e.g., the heart is the beginning of the living being; the element is the beginning of that of which it is the basis. The term "first" is likewise applied to things of this kind; but is also employed in cases where precedence in time alone is to be expressed, and the thing which precedes is not the beginning (or the cause) of the thing that follows. E.g., we say A. was the first inhabitant of this house, after him came B; this does not imply that A is the cause of B inhabiting the house. In Hebrew, teḥillah is used in the sense of "first"; e.g., when God first (teḥillat) spake to Hosea (Hos. i. 1), and the "beginning" is expressed by reshith, derived from rosh, "head," the principal part of the living being as regards position. The Universe has not been created out of an element that preceded it in time, since time itself formed part of the Creation. For this reason Scripture employs the term "bereshit" (in a principle), in which the beth is a preposition denoting "in." The true explanation of the first verse of Genesis is as follows: "In [creating] a principle God created the beings above and the things below." This explanation is in accordance with the theory of the Creation. We find that some of our Sages are reported to have held the opinion that time existed before the Creation. But this report is very doubtful, because the theory that time cannot be imagined with a beginning, has been taught by Aristotle, as I showed you, and is objectionable. Those who have made this assertion have been led to it by a saying of one of our Sages in reference to the terms "one day," "a second day." Taking these terms literally, the author of that saying asked, What determined "the first day," since there was no rotating sphere, and no sun? and continues as follows: Scripture uses the term "one day"; R. Jehudah, son of R. Simon, said: "Hence we learn that the divisions of time have existed previously." R. Abahu said, "Hence we learn that God built worlds and again destroyed them." This latter exposition is still worse than the former. Consider the difficulty which these two Rabbis found in the statement that time existed before the creation of the sun. We shall undoubtedly soon remove this difficulty, unless these two Rabbis intended to infer from the Scriptural text that the divisions of time must have existed before the Creation, and thus adopted the theory of the Eternity of the Universe. But every religious man rejects this. The above saying is, in my opinion, certainly of the same character as that of R. Eliezer, "Whence were the heavens created," etc., (chap. xxvi.). In short, in these questions, do not take notice of the utterances of any person. I told you that the foundation of our faith is the belief that God created the Universe from nothing; that time did not exist previously, but was created: for it depends on the motion of the sphere, and the sphere has been created.
You must know that the particle et in the phrase et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-areẓ ("the heavens and the earth") signifies "together with"; our Sages have explained the word in the same sense in many instances. Accordingly they assume that God created with the heavens everything that the heavens contain, and with the earth everything the earth includes. They further say that the simultaneous Creation of the heavens and the earth is implied in the words, "I call unto them, they stand up together" (Ps. xlviii.). Consequently, all things were created together, but were separated from each other successively. Our Sages illustrated this by the following simile: We sow various seeds at the same time; some spring forth after one day, some after two, and some after three days, although all have been sown at the same time. According to this interpretation, which is undoubtedly correct, the difficulty is removed, which led R. Jehudah, son of R. Simon, to utter the above saying, and consisted in the doubt as to the thing by which the first day, the second, and the third were determined. In Bereshit Rabba, our Sages, speaking of the light created on the first day according to the Scriptural account, say as follows: these lights [of the luminaries mentioned in the Creation of the fourth day] are the same that were created on the first day, but were only fixed in their places on the fourth day. The meaning [of the first verse] has thus been clearly stated.
We must further consider that the term ereẓ is a homonym, and is used in a general and a particular sense. It has a more general signification when used of everything within the sphere of the moon, i.e., of all the four elements; and is used in particular of one of them, of the lowest, viz., earth. This is evident from the passage: "And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the surface of the deep. And the wind of God moved upon the face of the waters." The term "earth" [mentioned here, and in the first verse] includes all the four elements, whilst further on it is said, "And God called the dry land Earth" (Gen. i. 10).
It is also important to notice that the words, "And God called a certain thing a certain name," are invariably intended to distinguish one thing from others which are called by the same common noun. I explain, therefore, the first verse in Genesis thus: In creating the principle God created the things above and those below. Ereẓ in this verse denotes" the things below," or "the four elements," and in the verse, "And God called the dry land Earth" (ereẓ), it signifies the element earth. This subject is now made clear.
The four elements indicated, according to our explanation, in the term ereẓ "earth," in the first verse, are mentioned first after the heavens: for there are named ereẓ (earth), ruaḥ (air), mayim (water), and hoshek (fire). By ḥoshek the element fire is meant, nothing else; comp. "And thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire" (Deut. iv. 36); and, "When ye heard the voice out of the midst of the ḥoshek" (darkness) (ibid. v. 2); again, "All ḥoshek (darkness) shall be hid in his secret places: a fire not blown shall consume him" (Job XX. 26). The element fire is called ḥoshek because it is not luminous, it is only transparent; for if it were luminous we should see at night the whole atmosphere in flames. The order of the four elements, according to the natural position is here described: namely, first earth, above it water, air close to water, and fire above air; for by placing
air over water, ḥoshek (fire), which is "upon the face of the deep," is undoubtedly above air. It was here necessary to use the term ruaḥ elohim, because air is described here as in motion (meraḥefet), and the motion of the air is, as a rule, ascribed to God; comp. "And there went forth a wind from the Lord" (Num. xi. 31); "Thou didst blow with thy wind" (Exod. xv. 10); "And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind" (ibid. x. 19), and the like. As the first ḥoshek, which denotes the element fire, is different from the ḥoshek mentioned further on in the sense of "darkness," the latter is explained and distinguished from the former, according to our explanation, in the words, "And darkness he called Night." This is now clear.
The phrase, "And he divided between the waters," etc., does not describe a division in space, as if the one part were merely above the other, whilst the nature of both remained the same, but a distinction as regards their nature or form. One portion of that which was first called water was made one thing by certain properties it received, and another portion received a different form, and this latter portion is that which is commonly called water and of this it is said, "And the gathering of the waters he called Seas." Scripture even indicates that the first mayim ("water") in the phrase, "On the face of the waters," does not refer to the waters which form the seas and that part of the element "water," having received a particular form, and being above the air, is distinguished from the other part which has received the form of ordinary water. For the words, "And he divided between the waters which are beneath the firmament and the waters which are above the firmament are similar in meaning to the phrase, "And God divided between the light and the darkness," and refer to a distinction by a separate form. The firmament itself was formed of water; and in the words of our Sages (Bereshit Rabba; cap. iv.), "The middle drop congealed and formed the heavens."
Here likewise Scripture says, in accordance with what I said above, "And God called the firmament Heaven" (Gen. i. 8), in order to explain the homonymity of the term shamayim (heaven), and to show that shamayim in the first verse is not the firmament which is also called shamayim (heaven). The difference is more clearly expressed in the words, "In the open firmament of heaven" (ibid. i. 20); here it is shown that "firmament" (raki‘a) and "heaven" (shamayim), are two different things. In consequence of this homonymity of the term shamayim the term raki‘a (firmament) is also used of the true heaven, just as the real firmament is sometimes called shamayim (heaven); comp. "And God set them in the raki‘a (firmament) of the heaven" (ibid. i. 17).
This verse shows clearly that the stars, the sun, and the moon are not, as people believe, on the surface of the spheres, but they are fixed in the spheres, and this has been proved satisfactorily, there being no vacuum in the Universe: for it is said, "in the firmament of the heaven," and not "upon the firmament of the heaven."
It is therefore clear that there has been one common element called water, which has been afterwards distinguished by three different forms; one part forms the seas, another the firmament, and a third part is over the firmament, and all this is separate from the earth. The Scriptural text follows here a
peculiar method in order to indicate some extraordinary mysteries. It has also been declared by our Sages that the portion above the firmament is only water by name, not in reality, for they say (Babyl. Talmud, Ḥagigah 14b) "Four entered the paradise," etc. R. Akiba said to them, "When you come to the stores of pure marble, do not say, Water, water, for it is written, 'He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight'" (Ps. ci. 7). Consider, if you belong to the class of thinking men, how clearly and distinctly this passage explains the subject for those who reflect on it! Understand that which has been proved by Aristotle in his book On Meteorology, and note whatever men of science have said on meteorological matters.
It is necessary to inquire into the reason why the declaration "that it was good" is not found in the account of the second day of the Creation. The various Midrashic sayings of our Sages on this point are well known: the best of them is the explanation that the creation of the water was not completed on that day. According to my opinion the reason is likewise clear, and is as follows: When the creation of any part of the Universe is described that is permanent, regular, and in a settled order, the phrase "that it is good" is used. But the account of the firmament, with that which is above it and is called water, is, as you see, of a very mysterious character. For if taken literally the firmament would appear at first thought to be merely an imaginary thing, as there is no other substance but the elements between us and the lowest of the heavenly spheres, and there is no water above the air; and if the firmament, with that which is over it, be supposed to be above the heavens, it would a fortiori seem to be unreal and uncomprehensible. But if the account be understood in a figurative sense and according to its true meaning, it is still more mysterious, since it was considered necessary to make this one of the most hidden secrets, in order to prevent the multitude from knowing it. This being the case, how could it be said [of the creation of the second day] "that it was good"? This phrase would tell us that it is perfectly clear what share the thing to which it refers takes in the permanent existence of the Universe. But what good can people find in a thing whose real nature is hidden, and whose apparent nature is not real? Why, therefore, should it be said in reference to it, "that it was good"? I must, however, give the following additional explanation. Although the result of the second day's creation forms an important element among the existing things, the firmament was not its primary object in the organization of the Universe, and therefore it could not be said "that it was good"; it was only the means for the uncovering of the earth. Note this. Our Sages have already explained that the herbs and trees, which God caused to spring forth from the ground, were caused by God to grow, after He had sent down rain upon them; and the passage beginning, "And there went up a mist from the earth" (ii. 6), refers to that which took place before the creative act, related in the words, "Let the earth bring forth grass," etc. (i. ii.). Therefore Onkelos translates it: "And there had gone up a mist from the earth?' It is also evident from the text itself, where it is distinctly said, "And every plant in the field before it was in the earth," etc. (ii. 5). This question is now explained.
It is well known to every philosopher that the principal causes of production and destruction, after the influence of the spheres, are light and darkness,
in so far as these are accompanied by heat and cold. For by the motion of the spheres the elements intermix, and by light and darkness their constitution changes. The first change consists in the formation of two kinds of mist; these are the first causes of meteorological phenomena, such as rain: they also caused the formation of minerals, of plants, of animals, and at last of man. It is likewise known that darkness is the natural property of all things on earth; in them light is accidental, coming from an external cause, and therefore everything remains in a state of rest in the absence of light. The Scriptural account of the Creation follows in every respect exactly the same order, without any deviation.
Note also the saying of our Sages: "When the Universe was created, all things were created with size, intellect, and beauty fully developed, i.e., everything was created perfect in magnitude and form, and endowed with the most suitable properties: the word ẓibyonam (their beauty) used here has the same meaning as ẓebi, 'glory'" (Ezek. xx. 6). Note this likewise, for it includes a principle fully established.
The following point now claims our attention. The account of the six days of creation contains, in reference to the creation of man, the statement: "Male and female created he them" (i. 27), and concludes with the words: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them" (ii. 1), and yet the portion which follows describes the creation of Eve from Adam, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge, the history of the serpent and the events connected therewith, and all this as having taken place after Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden. All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible, because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed. There are, however, some utterances of our Sages on this subject [which apparently imply a different view]. I will gather them from their different sources and place them before you, and I will refer also to certain things by mere hints, just as has been done by the Sages. You must know that their words, which I am about to quote, are most perfect, most accurate, and clear to those for whom they were said. I will therefore not add long explanations, lest I make their statements plain, and I might thus become "a revealer of secrets," but I will give them in a certain order, accompanied with a few remarks, which will suffice for readers like you.
One of these utterances is this: "Adam and Eve were at first created as one being, having their backs united: they were then separated, and one half was removed and brought before Adam as Eve." The term mi-ẓal‘otav (lit. "of his ribs") signifies "of his sides." The meaning of the word is proved by referring to ẓel‘a, "the side" of the tabernacle (Exod. xxvi. 20), which Onkelos renders setar ("side"), and so also mi-ẓal‘otav is rendered by him "mi-sitrohi" (of his sides). Note also how clearly it has been stated that Adam and Eve were two in some respects, and yet they remained one, according to the words, "Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. ii. 23). The unity of the two is proved by the fact that both have the same name, for she is called ishshah (woman), because she was taken out of ish (man), also by the words, "And shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (ii. 24). How great is the ignorance of those who do not
see that all this necessarily includes some [other] idea [besides the literal meaning of the words]. This is now clear.
Another noteworthy Midrashic remark of our Sages is the following: "The serpent had a rider, the rider was as big as a camel, and it was the rider that enticed Eve: this rider was Samaël." Samaël is the name generally applied by our Sages to Satan. Thus they say in several places that Satan desired to entice Abraham to sin, and to abstain from binding Isaac, and he desired also to persuade Isaac not to obey his father. At the same time they also say, in reference to the same subject, viz., the Akedah ("the binding of Isaac"), that Samaël came to Abraham and said to him, "What! hast thou, being an old man, lost thy senses?" etc. This shows that Samaël and Satan are identical. There is a meaning in this name [Samaël]), as there is also in the name naḥash ("serpent"). In describing how the serpent came to entice Eve, our sages say: "Samaël was riding on it, and God was laughing at both the camel and its rider." It is especially of importance to notice that the serpent did not approach or address Adam, but all his attempts were directed against Eve, and it was through her that the serpent caused injury and death to Adam. The greatest hatred exists between the serpent and Eve, and between his seed and her seed; her seed being undoubtedly also the seed of man. More remarkable still is the way in which the serpent is joined to Eve, or rather his seed to her seed; the head of the one touches the heel of the other. Eve defeats the serpent by crushing its head, whilst the serpent defeats her by wounding her heel. This is likewise clear.
The following is also a remarkable passage, most absurd in its literal sense; but as an allegory it contains wonderful wisdom, and fully agrees with real facts, as will be found by those who understand all the chapters of this treatise. When the serpent came to Eve he infected her with poison; the Israelites, who stood at Mount Sinai, removed that poison; idolaters, who did not stand at Mount Sinai, have not got rid of it. Note this likewise. Again they said: "The tree of life extends over an area of five hundred years' journey, and it is from beneath it that all the waters of the creation sprang forth": and they added the explanation that this measure referred to the thickness of its body, and not to the extent of its branches, for they continue thus: "Not the extent of the branches thereof, but the stem thereof [korato, lit., 'its beam,' signifying here 'its stem') has a thickness of five hundred years' journey." This is now sufficiently clear. Again: "God has never shown the tree of knowledge [of good and evil] to man, nor will He ever show it." This is correct, for it must be so according to the nature of the Universe. Another noteworthy saying is this: "And the Lord God took the man, i.e., raised him, and placed him in the Garden of Eden," i.e., He gave him rest. The words "He took him," "He gave him, "have no reference to position in space, but they indicate his position in rank among transient beings, and the prominent character of his existence. Remarkable and noteworthy is the great wisdom contained in the names of Adam, Cain, and Abel, and in the fact that it was Cain who slew Abel in the field, that both of them perished, although the murderer had some respite, and that the existence of mankind is due to Seth alone. Comp. "For God has appointed me another seed" (iv. 25). This has proved true.
It is also necessary to understand and consider the words, "And Adam
gave names" (ii. 20); here it is indicated that languages are conventional, and that they are not natural, as has been assumed by some. We must also consider the four different terms employed in expressing the relations of the heavens to God, bore (Creator), ‘oseh (Maker), koneh (Possessor), and el (God). Comp. "God created the heaven and the earth" (i. 1); "In the day that God made the earth and the heavens" (ii. 4); "Possessor of heaven and earth" (xiv. 19); "God of the Universe" (xxi, 31); "The God of heaven and the God of the earth" (xxiv. 3). As to the verbs, konen, "he established," tafaḥ, "he spanned, "and natah, "he stretched out," occurring in the following passages, "Which thou hast established" (Ps. viii. 4), "My right hand hath spanned the heavens" (Isa. xviii. 13), "Who stretchest out the heavens" (Ps. civ. 2), they are included in the term ‘asah ("he made"); the verb yaẓar, "he formed," does not occur in reference to the heavens. According to my opinion the verb yaẓar denotes to make a form, a shape, or any other accident (for form and shape are likewise accidents). It is therefore said, yoẓer or, "Who formeth the light" (Isa. xiv. 7), light being an accident; yoẓer harim, "That formeth the mountains" (Amos iv, 13), i.e., that gave them their shape. In the same sense the verb is used in the passage, "And the Lord God formed (va-yiẓer) all the beasts," etc. (Gen. ii, 7). But in reference to the Universe, viz., the heavens and the earth, which comprises the totality of the Creation, Scripture employs the verb bara, which we explain as denoting he produced something from nothing; also ‘asah ("he made") on account of the general forms or natural properties of the things which were given to them; kanah, "he possessed," because God rules over them like a master over his servants. For this reason He is also called, "The Lord of the whole earth" (Jos. iii. 11-13); ha-adon, "the Lord" (Exod. xx., iii. 17). But although none can be a master unless there exists something that is in his possession, this attribute cannot be considered to imply the belief in the eternal existence of a materia prima, since the verbs bara, "he created," and ‘asah, "he made," are also employed in reference to the heavens. The Creator is called the God of the heavens and the God of the Universe, on account of the relations between Him and the heavens; He governs, and they are governed; the word elohim does not signify "master" in the sense of "owner"; it expresses the relation between His position in the totality of existing beings, and the position of the heavens or the Universe; He is God, not they, i.e., not the heavens. Note this.
This, together with those explanations which we have given, and which we intend to give, in reference to this subject, may suffice, considering the object of this treatise and the capacity of the reader.