The Purpose of Creation
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:3,4).
At first we know only of the existence of light and darkness, but not about their behaviors: they might have been in static states, occupying separate regions of the universe with no interaction or change.
And it was evening and it was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:5).
This introduces something new: there is a transition of light in the same location. With the repeated transition between darkness and light, “And it was evening and it was morning day 1, day 2, day 3 etc.,” we learn more: God created a “continuous” cycling transition between darkness and light. What is the purpose of this transition and cycle?
Although God had made a separation between the light and the darkness, assigning to each different time frames in which to be active, independent of the planet earth revolving on its axis, He arranged for a transition from one phenomenon to the other to take place gradually, step by step. This occurred by means of inserting a period known as evening (erev) preceding total night, and a period of dawn (boker) preceding bright sunlight, daylight.
Sforno explains that even without Earth rotating, there was light and darkness. This is true, for as the sun shone on Earth’s western hemisphere, the eastern hemisphere facing away from the sun was in total darkness. Sforno also explains the new terms erev and boker: gradual transitions between day and night.
God changed the names of 5 phenomena. God called light “day,” and darkness He called “night.” He called the firmament “heavens,” the dry Earth He called “land,” and the collection of waters He called “seas.” However, God does not rename the substance of water, mountains, sun, moon, stars, man, animals, vegetation or any other creation.
Interestingly, these five names relate to heaven (day, night, heavens) and Earth (land and seas): His first [primary] creations: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and Earth” (Gen. 1:1). Furthermore, these 5 are prioritized, addressed first before all other creations. Also, what is the concept of “renaming” one thing and not another: Is the renamed thing thereby highlighted as more significant, and if so, in what manner?
“And it was evening and it was morning, day X,” is repeated many times. Why this emphasis of night transitioning into day? Primarily, what is the purpose of day and night? What in man’s path towards perfection demands this regulated transition between light and darkness? Why must night exist?
These phenomena of light and darkness and day and night are highlighted by the Shima’s blessings:
Blessed are you God, King of the world, forming light and creating darkness…
Blessed are you God, King of the world, with His word He sunsets the evenings…with understanding He changes times, and exchanges the moments…creating day and night, You expire day and bring night, and divide between day and night…
The Purpose of Creation
With “day,” “night,” “heavens,” “land” and “seas” God renamed these—and no other creation—to focus man on the purpose of creation, and our purpose in life. Constraining our ambitions (through darkness) and our geographical habitation to land—not water or heaven—God constrains our involvement in a purely physical life—God constrains both our time and space. God redirects us towards the higher pursuit of Torah and perfection, matters of the soul. The physical serves only to enable the perfection of our souls. “Day and night” differ from “light and dark,” in that day and night are human measurements of activity, not visual phenomena of light or darkness. Animals perceive only light and darkness, not day and night. The latter two refer to human measures, to parts of a day when man changes his activities. Thus, day and night are ideas perceived by intelligent beings alone.
God renames light and dark to “day and night” to impose this perspective upon us, preventing our lives from being spent on only physical pursuits. Not only due to lack of light, but night also affects us psychologically, when we recoil from our endeavors. Maimonides says that whomever desires to attain the crown of Torah should not let his nights go without Torah study. This is because with fewer distractions at night, we have greater focus on knowledge and gain so much more wisdom during these hours. And when land lies dormant in winter, God increases nighttime hours to increase our Torah study.
With “night” (darkness), God identified a time restriction over our physical pursuits. With seas, God restricted human travel and habitation. Both time and space contain restrictions as God wishes man restricts his physical pursuits, and uses the Earth as a means for a higher occupation: Torah study. Rashi states that if the Jews abandon Torah, God will return the Earth to an unformed and void state pre-Creation (Avos 2:8). And in His mercy, God made the transition from day to night a gradual change, offering a type of warning sign to disengage in our physical pursuits. A sudden change from light to darkness would understandably bewilder man, and would place those people in danger who did not properly estimate nightfall.
Thus said the Lord: “As surely as I have established My covenant with day and night—the laws of heaven and earth— so too I will never reject the offspring of Jacob and My servant David; I will never fail to take from his offspring rulers for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Indeed, I will restore their fortunes and take them back in love” (Jer. 33:25,26).
If it is possible that the covenant that I formed with day and night to be in their time, should be abolished, and if it is possible for the statutes of heaven and earth to be abolished as though I had not set them, also the seed of Jacob would be abolished.
Rashi means that just as God will never abolish natural law, so too He will never abolish the Jews. Again we see a direct correlation between day, night, heavens, earth…and the Jew: those who follow Torah. Jeremiah equates Earth’s existence with the Jew: Earth exists for the purpose of man who studies Torah, the Jew.