Rabbi Simcha Weinberg-Genesis-The Third Verse
Recorded November 1999 at the home of Ms. Nora Shaykin-Copyright, © 1999 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg-Transcribed by Daniel Goldman:“And the Lord said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? But the obvious question is, if the Lord said that there was going to be light, then of course there will be light. Why does the verse have to say that there was light?
Gerald August: I have another question. What does ‘saying’ mean?
RSW: Any other questions? Such a simple verse, we’ve been reading it all our lives, and suddenly we have some real issues with it. Anything else?
Leon Sutton: It seems to me that va’yomer suggests an intention, or an expression of intention.
RSW: In other words, intention is not enough.
LS: I’m thinking of intention as a thought in my head, whereas va’yomer suggests actualization.
RSW: So why does the verse have to say “Let there be light.” Why doesn’t it just say that there was light?
Nora Shaykin: To show that the thought creates reality.
RSW: So there was no reality before God spoke?
NS: There was no light.
RSW: I’m sorry, I’m lost. The way you understand it is that when “the Lord said,” it means that He thought, not spoke.
NS: No, that He spoke but…the light occurred simultaneously with His speaking.
RSW: But didn’t God need to think about it before He said it? It just burst out spontaneously?
Mordechai Balus: In the first verse, when it says God created, what does that mean?
RSW: I didn’t miss any classes!
MB: I’m asking this rhetorically. There is a difference between creating something and saying it, and there it is.
RSW: So why here do we go through another stage? And, what are the stages?
MB: In the progression in which God is creating, there are different ways that He can create.
RSW: Absolutely. So what is the progression? I think we can all agree that there is a progression. Yes? Is that true?
Daniel Goldman: Didn’t we say earlier that Creation is not necessarily in order? So this verse could have occurred earlier.
RSW: Did we?
DG: Didn’t we say that according to at least one opinion, the order of Creation is not as related?
NS: I remember something like that.
RSW: That’s when we got into Midrash, not the simple reading of the verse.
MB: I think creating is the though process. God thinks it, and therefore it is created. God could ‘think’ the light and it would be created. The progression is not just the ‘thinking,’ but the action that follows.
NS: I’m confused.
RSW: What are you confused about?
NS: My Chumash reads that when the Earth was created, it was “astonishingly empty.” How could you have a concept of Darkness without a concept of Light?
RSW: That’s what we meant when we said that Darkness was the element of Fire. We’ll do more work on that as we finish the first day.
RSW: Why is the action necessary?
LS: We need the action because here now is a world of time and space.
RSW: In other words, now that we have a physical world, it is no longer enough for God to think, but God must now speak. What do you think?
GA: I don’t agree. What’s the difference?
LS: Prior to the world of time, space, and matter…God is acting within the rules of that.
RSW: Whoa! Let me understand this. You’re saying, now that the physical world has been created, God is now committed to working within that physical world?
LS: No, not quite. That’s too strong a statement. Rather, this a statement of an action that will affect the physical world.
RSW: I understand. But why does there have to be speech?
LS: Because speech is an actualization of what would be on our level, or our mind.
RSW: OK, then why can’t God think of light, and there would be light?
LS: That’s not actualization.
RSW: Sure it is – If it comes into existance.
LS: It’s an instruction to convey actualization. In other words, we have to use language that we understand. If I think, nothing happens outside of me. But if I say something…I impact the physical world.
RSW: In one sentence or less, what are you saying?
LS: “And the Lord said,” is an expression of God’s acting upon His intention.
RSW: So va’yomer is God’s acting upon God’s intention of creating.
LS: The way of saying…
RSW: That is, the way of saying God’s acting upon God’s intention of creating. Everyone got that?
Sandra: I think that va’yomer is a kind of anthropomorphic way of describing God’s thought.
RSW: So you are saying like Leon that ‘said’ is an analogy, that is, putting God’s thought into human terms? Rav Saadia Gaon says that.
NS: I think that “And the Lord said,” is a way of saying that words themselves create a reality.
RSW: That’s very good. I never thought of that. I should write that down and use it in a drasha. Or perhaps, we’ll just switch seats. It doesn’t read the verse, but it’s a great thought.
MB: I see it as a thought process in which God can say, “I’m going to create the heavens and the earth,” and then immediately they are there. God gave us light. We light Shabbat candles to show that Shabbat is here. I think the fact that God says specifically this, it is to give us something that we can relate to. Maybe I can’t light a candle by speaking it, but there is some action involved, and I can understand action. I can’t understand God’s thought process.
RSW: Could you say that again? I’m trying to understand your thought process.
MB: God gave us the power to give light in the same way He created light. In order for us to understand that, He has to have some kind of action so that we can understand an action. We can’t understand His thought process.
RSW: So you’re taking Sandra’s idea of analogy one step further. This is making it practical for us. Further, you’re connecting to Nora’s idea that words create realities. Let’s review. Leon says that “And the Lord said,” is and expression of God’s intent to create. Sandra said that it’s an analogy put in human terms.
NS: That is, to understand that words create realities.
Q: And words create light?
RSW: Ahhh! Before you get to the rest of the verse you need to understand the first word. That words create realities, that’s the creation of words. Mordechai is saying that the “great abstractions” as Dr. Sonnenberg put is, now were ready to work with the more practical aspects of creation, such as light, and that there is a way we can conceive of creating light. It’s really amazing that even before we did any commentaries, we came up with some great stuff!
DG: I’d venture to say that we don’t create anything at all, we synthesize.
RSW: That’s interesting because how do we refer to the creation of light? Is it an act of beriah, creation ex nihilo? No, it’s an act of yetzirah, formation, or synthesis. As we say in the morning brachot, “Blessed are you God, who forms light and creates darkness.” Already Daniel has taken us to a whole new level. We’re no longer speaking about creation; we are speaking of synthesis. So let’s go back. Leon posited that God was addressing different elements, the “Tohu Va’vohu.” We can combine that with what Daniel said which would mean that these elements should synthesize their respective ingredients and produce light. Would that be your reading of it?
RSW: So you’re essentially on Leon’s side. So the phrase, “And the Lord said,” is an expression of God’s desire put into human terms, but is really speech. Sandra said it was thought expressed in human terms, which is Saadia Gaon view, and Nora said that speech creates reality. Back to our second question – Is God addressing anyone or anything when God says “Let there be light?”
NS: Is He addressing the light?
RSW: There is no light to address.
NS: But He’s imagined it.
RSW: If He has imagined it, it’s there. The moment He’s imagined it, it is created.
NS: But we don’t have a statement of this ‘thinking before He speaks.’
RSW: So now you’re on Leon’s side, which is an expression of God’s intention to create.
NS: That’s not what I’m saying. It happens…
NS: There doesn’t seem to be a dichotomy between speech and thought.
RSW: Like a child. Whenever he thinks, he speaks right away?
RSW: And the Torah says, va’yomer in order to put it in human terms, as Sandra said.
NS: I don’t think so. That suggests that there was an audience. I see it as God saying, “I want light,” like a child would say, “I want a lollipop,” and it is there. The lollipop, in a child’s mind, comes as a result of his asking for it.
RSW: I’m confused here. So you’re saying that this is an act of creation, not synthesis.
NS: Well, synthesis involves more than one thing. So yes. But light is an object or light, as a thing didn’t exist until He addresses it as such.
RSW: You’re getting so close. This is unbelievable!
NS: God address these elements, the Tohu Va’vohu, and expresses what He wants them to become.
RSW: So God is addressing these elements?
NS: Not separately, but simultaneously.
Let’s back up. God’s thought and speech are simultaneous. The realization is also simultaneous. But this is not an act of creation; it’s an act of formation. And Sandra said that God is in control of the light. Daniel said that it is a synthesis of different elements. Mordechai said that it had to be something tangible. So let’s take this altogether. God is speaking and thinking simultaneously. “Let there be light,” is not God addressing light, but in His thinking, what happens? The different things that are there synthesize and produce light.
What are the interactions here? Let’s go back to what Sandra said. This is a world which, at this point, responds immediately. It is not separate from God yet. But what was Sandra’s issue? – God is still in control. Daniel introduced the concept of synthesis, and Nora, the concept of words creating reality. Now put it all together. God is thinking, “Let there be light,” but not addressing the light, synthesizing it in the very act of thinking.
DG: The way I think about the progression is sort of like cell division, in which one cell becomes two cells by going through several different phases. There’s one phase at which point the cells are not yet apart; part of each new cell is still forming. Can we understand this to be the stage at which the two halves are becoming distinct from the other?
RSW: We’ll see if that’s possible or not. What are the practical implications of all of this? After you decide what they are, what does “And there was light,” mean? According to what you are saying, this phrase makes sense. There are actually two stages. One is the expression of intent, and the other is when the different elements come together to do God’s will.
NS: But the stages are simultaneous, not first the one and then the other.
RSW: When is this going to be a problem? We are laying the groundwork to deal with what? – The third day. On the third day, the trees don’t produce the way they were supposed to. That’s why we have to go through this whole experience now, so we can understand how it was that the trees didn’t produce the way God expressed it to. It might seem like a long, drawn out process, but it’s very important. So what are the practical implications? This is so confusing. You agree? I’ll tell you a story in the Gemara to get things rolling.
R. Avahu was bragging about his son Avini, who was so careful about the mitzva of honoring his father. His example was that even though Avini had five full grown children of his own, all of whom had Rabbinic ordination, whenever Avini would hear his father approaching, he would call out, “I’m coming, father! I’m coming to open the door for you.” Ben Yehoyada says that one of the reasons he did this was that his voice and his thoughts would be combined with his actions when he would perform the mitzva. There would be synthesis; the mitzva would become part of him and every part of Avini would be participating in the mitzva.
We find another idea in the laws of Shabbat. All the work done in constructing the Tabernacle cannot be performed on Shabbat. So we have to define what ‘work’ means. We find that the words, ‘work of thought’ are used throughout the construction to describe the ‘work’ done in its construction. ‘Work of thought’ is obviously creative. Already we have something to think about, don’t we? We have spoken about the Mishkan as being a recreation of the world. Therefore, ‘work of thought’ can be understood as being creative acts that require thought.
We can explain this as follows: If I break one of the biblical laws of Shabbat, my punishment is Karet, the excision of my soul from the Jewish people. It will be as if I existed for no purpose at all, and my entire existance is over. If there were witnesses, and I was properly warned, then the punishment would be skilah and I would be stoned to death. If I broke the law by mistake (e.g. I didn’t know it was Shabbat, or I didn’t know this wasn’t permitted on Shabbat), then I am not responsible, but I do bring a Sin offering. But it’s interesting that if I would break a law of Shabbat not having all the information, I am not liable!
Again, if I break one of the biblical laws of Shabbat, the consequences are karet, stoning, or a sin offering. In order to be liable for any one of these three, I would have to say, for example, “I am about to plow this land in order to plant something afterwards.” But let’s say I happen to see a plow, and I pull it. In doing so, I don’t have the intention to pull the plow in order to plant; I just am pulling it along in the earth. This is not considered ‘work of thought.’ If I am tilling the ground in order to plant a seed, then I would be liable. But if I’m digging up some dirt to throw at my sister, then I’m not. This is because I am not doing it the act of work for the same purpose as was needed to build the Mishkan. There has to be intention, action, and purpose. This is how we define the creative acts of Shabbat in Halacha.
Therefore, it would be fair to say that intention, action, and purpose are significant parts of each one of the steps of Creation. Soto put it all together, Leon said that “And the Lord said,” is an expression of God’s intention to create. This is the first part – intention. Daniel introduced the concept of synthesis. This is the second part – action. The light itself is the third component – purpose.