(The following isn’t a literal translation of the opening chapter of Bereishith/Genesis, although it’s intended to be a “close” one. Rather, I tried to capture in English some of what the Hebrew poetry conveys. My comments below aren’t “commentary” as much as some things I noticed in doing the translation.)

In the beginning of G-d creating Heaven and the World, [1]
the World was unformed and void,
dark was over the deep
and the Divine Spirit hovered over the waters. [2]

G-d said:
“Light: Be!”
and Light was. [3]
G-d saw that the Light was good; it separated light from dark.
G-d called the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.”
There were evening and morning Day One.

G-d said:
“A vast span ‘mid the waters
separating waters from waters: Be!”
G-d made the vast span;
separating the waters under it from the waters over it.
So it was.
G-d called the vast span “Heaven.”
There were evening and morning Day Two. [4]

G-d said:
“Waters: Gather from under Heaven to one place; dry land will be seen!”
G-d called the dry land “land” and the gathered waters “seas.”
G-d saw it was good.
G-d said:
“Land: Sprout vegetation —
herb that sows seed;
tree-fruit making every kind of fruit in the land, same as the seed in it.”
So it was.
The land sprouted vegetation —
herb that sows seed,
and tree-fruit making every kind of fruit in the land, same as the seed in it.
G-d saw it was good.
There were evening and morning Day Three.  [5]

G-d said:
“Lights: Be in the vast span of Heaven
to separate day from night,
signal seasons, days and years,
and shine on the World!”
So it was.
G-d made two great lights:
The larger light to tend the day,
the smaller light to tend at night;
and stars.
G-d put them in the vast span of Heaven
to shine on the World,
to tend at day and night
and separate between the Light and the dark..
G-d saw it was good.
There were evening and morning Day Four. [6]

G-d said:
“Seas: Swarm with swarms of living things!
Birds: Fly over the World in the open sky facing the vast span of Heaven!”
G-d created great sea monsters,
teeming living things of every kind that swarm in the seas
and winged fowl of every kind.
G-d saw it was good.
G-d blessed them, saying,
“Be fruitful! Fill sea after sea!
Birds: Be myriad in the world!”
There were evening and morning Day Five. [7]

G-d said:
“Land: Bring forth living things of every kind:
‘Stomper’ and ‘creeper;’ every kind of land-living animal!”
So it was.
G-d made every kind of land-living animal;
every kind of ‘stomper,’
every thing that creeps in the earth.
G-d saw it was good. [8]
G-d said,
“Humankind: We make you in Our image; like Our likeness. [9]
You’ll tend the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky,
every land-animal, and every creeper that creeps on the land.” [10]
G-d created humankind in His image;
in the image of G-d He created them;
male and female He created them.
G-d blessed them.
G-d said to them:
“Be fruitful! Be myriad!
Fill the world! Cover it!
Tend the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky,
and all that moves or creeps on land.”
G-d said to them, too:
“See! I give you every herb that sows seed in the land.
And every tree that has tree-fruit in it making every kind of fruit in the land same as the seed in it,
will be for you to eat.
Every thing that lives on land,
and the birds in the air;
every living land-creeper,
every green herb
can be eaten.” [11]
So it was.
G-d looked on all He’d done.
Behold, it was very good.
There were evening and morning, Day Six.

Finished were Heaven and the world, and all their legions. [12]
On Day Seven,
G-d finished all the work that He’d done.
On Day Seven,
He rested from all the work that He’d done.
G-d blessed Day Seven —
made it holy and separate —
because in it,
G-d, Creator, rests from all the work He does. [13]


[1] I followed Rashi’s interpretation, based on the literal meaning of the Hebrew “b’reishith” as “…beginning of…” However, by “In the beginning, G-d created the Heaven and the earth,” the “King James” version also captures something of the original intent in majestic simplicity.

[2] Although there’s much later interpretation of what Torah says existed before Creation, I take it in the simplest sense: There was no light, no life, nothing formed. Poetically, this sets up a background of complete chaos and emptiness (Hebrew: “tohu va’vohu”) against which G-d’s subsequent creation of everything — including life itself — stands in relief.

[3] G-d simply declares the thing, and it’s done. This is depicted in the Hebrew: what is “done” is described using exactly the same words that G-d had spoken.
“When G-d created the universe according to a pre-conceived divine plan, He did so while consulting no one…He spoke and it came into being. G-d’s will was the deed itself.” (from: DO-NOT-REPLY.templeinstitute.org@imsclients.com for Fri., Dec. 20, 2013 @ 7AM)
This later becomes the model for affirmative prayer, as depicted, for example, in Ber./Gen. 30:37-9, when Yakov “declares” to the flock affirmatively what he wants, by placing light and dark wood before them. They respond by producing speckled offspring!
It can also be seen in I.L. Peretz’ story, “The Wonder-Worker” :
“He [Elijah the Prophet, the ‘Wonder Worker’ of the story] said, ‘Y’he Or!’ [the same words that G-d spoke in Torah when creating light: ‘Light: Be!’]. Suddenly, two silver candelabra with burning candles appeared in the empty room, hanging in the air.”
Properly understood, then, “prayer,” more than a “request,” is actually an act of creation! “He [she] should see always…only the state in which he [she] desires to be…” (Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris: Jewish Science and Health; p. 51)

“…[God] need but entertain the wish to have a thing come into being.”
(Sa’adiah Gaon; The Book of Beliefs and Opinions; Yale Judaica Series; p. 127)

“We create our own dungeons or destiny by using the same creative power that created the universe.” (Ernest Holmes)

[4] Again, the Hebrew uses the same words that G-d had “spoken” to describe what was “done,” capturing poetically that G-d’s own affirmation/declaration/intention/visualiza-tion is the active creative force.

[5] As previously, G-d “says” it and it’s done.
Here, also, G-d creates both the “herb” on the ground, and the tree that grows above the ground — each with the ability to reproduce “its own kind.” If you plant an apple-seed, you get an apple-tree (not a pear tree, etc.). That very orderliness is what allows for human cultivation, and is in contrast to the “chaos” that existed before G-d’s creative words and/or acts.

[6] Again, G-d declares a thing and it comes to be.
Many translations say “The sun to rule by day…” etc. I wanted to avoid suggesting that anything or any one rules other than G-d, so I used the word “tend,” instead. I could have used “minister,” “manage,” etc., but I preferred “tend” because it’s one syllable and suggests that the sun and moon are G-d’s servants, just as a shepherd, who tends a flock, is the servant of the flock’s owner.

[7] The creative act and its poetic presentation are as before. Note that the “swarming things” of the sea and the birds of the air are created here. Things of the “land” come later. This also echoes the comprehensive quality of G-d’s creating “herbs” and “trees.” They’re not meant as categories of “evolution,” as much as categories that are separated by human perception of them.

[8] The same creative process continues. Here, that which swarms “on” the ground — snakes and insects — are a separate category from animals that move “across” the ground, as it were — elephants, cattle, etc. These have already been differentiated from those that live and move in the sea, and birds, which fly “above” the ground.

[9] The sequence of created “living things” also suggests a hierarchy based on the complexity of intelligence and adaptability. Humankind therefore comes at the apex of this hierarchy. We aren’t necessarily superior in any single quality we possess, but in our combination of qualities and our ability to apply them as needed.

[10] Torah here restates that sequence of created things. Again, I preferred “tend” to any suggestion that human beings have “rulership” or “dominion” over the world independent of or in any way equal to G-d’s.

[11] In addition to all that’s been said previously, and beyond the inclusion of “herbs” and “trees/fruits” here, is the connotation of the overwhelming abundance of what’s been created and given to humankind for use and tending. G-d’s authorship of creation is manifest in its abundance.

[12] “legions” — the Hebrew word (tzva-am) means “their hosts.” I looked for an English word that conveys both the military connotation and that of being beyond number. Again, G-d’s authorship of creation is manifest in its abundance.

[13] I changed the tense from “past” to “present.” Although in Torah, G-d’s creative acts are expressed as happening once, later Jewish teaching emphasizes that G-d’s creative acts are ongoing: “Ha’m’chadesh…” — He renews the work of Creation daily. Hasidic thought takes it even further — G-d’s creation must be constant; perpetual. If G-d were to stop creating, even for a moment, all would cease to exist immediately. Yet, Torah says that G-d rested on Day Seven. How can this be so?
I understand it in the following sense: On Day Seven, G-d both creates and rests! G-d isn’t defined only by what G-d does. G-d is more than all that He does and can “step back,” in a state of spiritual rest, from all that He does, while continuing to do it all.
Later, human beings are commanded to do the same on every 7th day. Animals alternate between rest and activity, but never experience that they’re more than either one. To rest on the 7th day affirms that we human beings are created in the Divine image. The mitzvah, then, is not only for us to rest, but to allow others (and animals) to rest, too.
The 7th Day — Shabbat — is the day on which we, as humans, recognize that we’re more than either rest or activity taken separately. In our rest from work, if done right, we rise above all the ordinary categories of human activity and perception (as exemplified by the categories of those things that are created) and enjoy creation from the viewpoint of eternal, unchanging rest.