The Earth: Biblical Clues for its Purpose

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

 

 

 

 

“IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH.”

As creation and Torah are intended for mankind’s study, to acquire knowledge of God, to find the utmost delight in the discovery of God’s brilliance, and to attain human perfection, all that is found in creation and Torah must target these objectives. Astronomical (heavenly) and geographic (earthly) knowledge must teach something more than mere science; how are we perfected through this study? While it is true that man needs to know that all that exists—heaven and Earth—are creations of God alone and that there exists nothing other than God, can we ask why the main categories of creation are identified as “heaven and Earth,” as opposed to stating, “In the beginning, God created the Universe?” There is a precedent for this question: our first daily prayer —Baruch She’amar—reads, “Blessed is the One who spoke, and the Universe came into being.” What is it about Creation that demands that “heaven and Earth” be isolated, and not “Universe?”

I wonder if these two are related to an intriguing fact: God gives names to only five phenomena. On day one, God called light “day,” and darkness He called “night.” On day two He called the firmament “heavens” and on day three He called the dry Earth “land,” and the collection of waters He called “seas.” God does not name the substance of water, mountains, the sun, moon, stars, man, animals, vegetation or any other creation. Interestingly, these five names relate again to heaven (day, night, heavens) and Earth (land and seas). Furthermore, these are prioritized: addressed first before all other creations. And what is the concept of “naming” one thing and not another: Is the named 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?

These phenomena of light and darkness are highlighted by the daily blessings of the Shima:

 

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…

 

These blessings emphasize light and darkness, day and night. There are many purposes to God’s creations. Light and darkness teamed with Earth spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun affect temperature, weather, and seasons. But perhaps man is affected also psychologically by the phenomena of “day” and “night”: God giving alternate names to light and darkness—“day and night”—suggest an additional concept.

 

 

 

Day and Night

God wished a unique reality to exist, and affect man’s emotional makeup, and ultimately his soul. These purposeful divisions of time are not simply light and darkness, but “day and night.” What is the difference? Light and darkness are ocular phenomena: biological perceptions. However, day and night reflect man’s attitude of ambition and rest respectively.

The present is man’s reality. Man attributes greater reality to the “now” which he senses, than to the past or future that do not exist. Man infuses ambition into his present. He is driven naturally to sustain himself, and to preserve and dignify his life. “Day” provides that screen onto which man projects his hopes and dreams and realizes his ambitions. If day were to never cease, if night never came, man might never recoil from his pursuits. Day regularly transitioning into night forces man’s realization of the passing of time from days, to weeks, to months and to years. The initial generations of man were very large and enjoyed lifespans nearing 1000 years which fostered an invincibility that fed their arrogance and violence and disregard for others. God cured those generations of evildoers with the Flood, and by subsequently reducing man’s stature and longevity, immortality fantasies were dashed. Grasping time’s passing is a blessing. Perhaps the very design of day and night are integral to God’s plan for the Earth—a domain created for man to perfect himself. Day and night are a ticking clock that enables man to release himself from immortality fantasies, realizing this world’s Designer and humbling himself before His will, for man’s own good.

 

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You set in place, what is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him? (Psalms 8:4,5).

 

King David marveled at the heavens. There is a vast humiliating contrast: heaven’s endless expanse that dwarfs earthbound man. Even one as great as King David—the author of the most poetic praises—was speechless when beholding this contrast and man’s insignificance. He couldn’t describe the discrepancy, and simply questioned, “What is man?” God also named the firmament “heaven”, perhaps due to its role of impressing man into a state of awe for its Creator.

 

 

Land and Seas

In addition to the passing of time to which man is alerted by the relentless transition of his days into nights, the ideas of confinement and subjugation also present themselves.

Man’s domain is limited to Earth, not heaven. Even on Earth, man is somewhat confined to dry land versus the sea. And on dry land, night confines man. Perhaps this is so significant, God named these phenomena alone. In other words, with these names “day,” “night,” “heavens”, “land” and “sea,” God highlighted Earth’s purpose—man—who should subjugate himself to God. Man is confined to his quarters on Earth, not in the heavens, only on land and not at sea, and his actions too are confined to day and not night, a psychologically different realm of time when man’s ambitions are constrained.

Man is restricted: geographically, heaven and sea confine him. He can’t halt time—day and night are relentless. God created time; it plays a central role in perfecting man. Time is fleeting. Time is limited. Ultimately, youth transforms into old age…life ends with death. God’s earthly phenomena are designed to steer man towards reality. “In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth” describes divinely-set boundaries. Man must choose what is the most precious use of his passing time. Genesis’ commencing words lay the foundation and purpose of creation. 

 

 

“IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH.”

This can be read as follows:

 

 

“IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CONFINED MAN SO HE MIGHT RECOGNIZE WHO IMPOSED THAT CONFINEMENT.”

 

God gave names—day, night, heavens, land and seas—to highlight the imposed passing of time and geographical boundaries, the duration and location of human existence. These phenomena focus man on a world he can’t control but that controls him and forces his realization of the world’s Creator. The Rabbis recognized the significance of God commencing His Torah with these phenomena, that they formulated our prayers to again reiterate these lessons:

 

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…

 

Day, night, heaven, land and seas…matters so basic and overlooked and taken for granted, were created intentionally to focus us on the purpose of Creation, and our purpose in life.

It is notable that Ibn Ezra writes, “God gave 5 things names for man wasn’t existing yet: light, darkness, heaven  Earth and the seas, and so too man” (Gen. 1:8).  Perhaps with “so too man,” Ibn Ezra means that like God, man also referred to these 5 phenomena as entities delineating time and space. Ibn Ezra means that God’s naming of these 5 phenomena were names fitting for man’s relationship to them.