The book of Midrash entitled “Genesis Rabbah” is a compilation of Midrashim based on the book of Genesis, and the first 18 chapters are devoted to the creation story, found in Parashat Bereshit. Below are highlights from Genesis Rabbah’s take on the creation story:
Day 1 – “And God said: Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3)
Genesis Rabbah 3:4 states that the light that was created on Day 1 was a spiritual light, unlike the sunlight that was created on Day 4. This light served as the light of the world for only 3 days until the sun was created. God then set aside this spiritual light to be saved for righteous generations (Genesis Rabbah 3:6).
Day 2 – “And God made the firmament and divided the waters…and it was so.” (Genesis 1:7) Genesis Rabbah 4:6 asks why the Torah does not state “it was good” at the end of Day 2, as it does with the other days of the week. The Midrash explains that since the generation of the flood would soon be wiped out by water, the Torah does not include the words “it was good” following the creation of the water on Day 2. The Torah did not want to praise an element that would be a vehicle for the destruction of humanity.
Day 3 – “And God said: Let the earth sprout vegetation.” (Genesis 1:11) Genesis Rabbah 5:9 tries to ascertain why the Torah states “cursed be the ground” (Genesis 3:17) after the sin of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The Midrash traces the origins of the earth being “cursed” to Day 3. On Day 3 God commanded the earth to bear fruit trees, but the earth exceeded God’s command by bearing both fruit trees and non-fruit trees. The Midrash also postulates that this may be the reason why the earth is punished with agitating creatures including gnats, insects, and fleas.
Day 4 – “And God said: Let there be lights” (Genesis 1:14) Genesis Rabbah 6:1 asks why the moon was created, if the sun was created to give light to the world. The Midrash answers that God foresaw that people would worship the sun as a god. Since individuals might expect their god to be forever present, God made the sun disappear at night. God hoped that the introduction of the moon in the evenings would help to prevent idolatry and provide true believers of one God with a good argument against idolatry.
Day 5 – “And let birds fly above the earth” (Genesis 1:20) Genesis Rabbah 7:3 explains how God is an excellent interior decorator! When a human king builds a palace, he puts inhabitants into the upper and lower stories. God, however, was brilliant enough to place inhabitants (birds) in the spaces between the stories! “And God said: “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures” (Genesis 1:20) Genesis Rabbah 7:1 teaches that while humans can create figures from solids (clay of the earth), God can is powerful enough to be able to make figures out of water.
Day 6 – “And God said: Let us make man.” (Genesis 1:26) Genesis Rabbah 8:6 justifies how the creation of humanity was one of God’s end-goals for creation. After all, God first created all of the plants and animals for humans to eat. It was not until after human food was ready-to-go that God created humans.
Day 7 – “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy” (Genesis 2:3) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 11:2 asks with what did God bless Shabbat and make it holy? The Midrash answers that God blessed Shabbat with the same spiritual light that God had created on the first day of creation.
God blessed Shabbat and declared it holy through the light of our faces. Our appearances are more illuminated on Shabbat than during the rest of the week. Let us work to create a Shabbat atmosphere each week in which our faces are brightened as we are surrounded by the light of the Shabbat candles and the joy of community.