‘And God completed on the seventh day the creative work which He had made; and
He rested on the seventh day from all His creative work which He had made.’
On Rosh Hashana we began counting the 5,774th year since the
creation of the world; this calculation is predicated upon the primordial first
week of creation as having consisted of seven 24-hour days during which God made
everything there is, from light to vegetation to animals to the human
Now, this biblical notion is in clear opposition to all of the
accepted scientific data, which claims the earth to be millions of years old,
with carbon testing of fossils which from a scientific perspective proves this
Is the acceptance of science over the literal reading of the
biblical text to be considered heretical? Indeed, a good friend of mine (an
upstanding Orthodox rabbi with an Orthodox congregation) was recently informed
by a haredi rabbi that a conversion he had performed several decades ago was to
be invalidated unless he would declare on oath that he believes the world to be
no more than 5,774 years old. Is the age of the earth a cardinal article of
Jewish faith to which every believing Jew must subscribe?
Literal belief in the
seven days of creation is not included in Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles of
Jewish faith or even in Rabbi Yosef Albo’s three principles (Sefer Ha’ikarim).
So why does the Bible express itself in terms of six days of creativity
culminating in one day of Sabbath rest? Why would the Bible utilize the Hebrew
world for “day” (yom) with any meaning other than a 24-hour period?
The truth is
that from the usage of the word “yom” it is possible to conclude the very
opposite, that the Bible is not interested in conveying literal and
chronological facts in its story of Creation. After all, the sun and the moon
were not created until the fourth day, and it is specifically their movements
which are the determinants for our 24-hour day. Clearly, the word “yom” in the
context of the seven days of Creation cannot be relating to a 24-hour
Furthermore, Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, interprets
all of the early biblical stories until the advent of Abraham as allegories,
whose purpose is to convey moral lessons rather than historical fact.
this certainly leaves the door open to maintain that “one thousand [or one
million] years in Your eyes is like one day just passed” (Psalms 90:4). Each
biblical day in the Creation story may well represent an epoch of thousands or
millions or years.
But then why does the Bible convey the story in terms
of primordial “week”?
In order to understand, I believe we must ponder a
question raised by the commentary of Rashi on the very first words of the Bible:
“Rabbi Yitzhak said the Torah ought not have opened with anything other than the
first commandment ordained to the Israelites, which was to make the month [of
the exodus from Egypt] the first month of the Hebrew calendar. So why does the
Torah begin with the Creation story?”
Rashi’s assumption is that the Torah is
first and foremost a book of God’s commands, and so it should have opened with
the first commandment. Rashi’s answer takes the most universal verse of the
Bible (all other ancient peoples spoke of local deities; only our Bible opens
with a God of the Universe) and transforms into a very particularistic (and
prophetic) one: “If the nations of the world charge Israel with stealing by
conquering and occupying the land of the ‘seven nations’… Israel can respond:
All of the earth belongs to the Holy One Blessed be He, who created it…, He has
given the Land of Israel to us.”
Ramban (Nahmanides) provides another
answer, based on a different assumption. The Bible teaches theology and
historiosophy, not only laws and commands.
It is important for us to know
that God owns the world and owns us, by virtue of the rights of the Creator to
his creation, and God ordains the punishment of exile for transgressions of His
Commandments (Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, Israel from the Promised
My revered teacher Rav Soloveitchik gives a third response: this
first verse is a commandment, the very first commandment of the Torah. It is
based upon the principle of Imitatio Dei, that we must walk in God’s ways: “Just
as God created a world, so must you humans create worlds. You must re-create the
incomplete, imperfect world which God made. You must remove the darkness,
leaving only the light; you must remove the evil, leaving only the good; you
must remove the chaos, leaving only order.” (See J.B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely
Man of Faith 1, D). This is the linkage between Rosh Hashana and Bereishit, our
mission to perfect the world in the Kingship of the Divine.
describes His original creation of the world as having taken place in one Divine
week of six days of creativity and one day of rest; so must we model ourselves
after Him, with each week of our lives being dedicated to six days of proactive
change and re-creation of the world and one day of rest and appreciation of what
Shabbat shalom The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah
Stone colleges and graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.
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