Weekly insights into word concepts in Torah: Breishit

The Torah Portion of Breishit (Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 ).

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Vote for the covenant' : Torah scroll at Kotel
Vote for the covenant' : Torah scroll at Kotel
צילום: PR

The words we hear repeated again and again in the Torah portion of Breishit ( Genesis)  are "And God saw the light that it was good,"(Genesis 1:4). 

We read them in the midst of the work of creation in the first day. We see it twice on the third day and then once every other day , except that on Friday we read “And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day."(ibid 1:31)

What does that term “Tov-Goodness" really mean. Why would it be significant in every day of creation but be missing on the second day? Why after the creation of Man do we read that "it was very good"?

Furthermore, why do we read "But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die."( ibid 2:17). We also are told  about the creation/separation of man and woman in the following way "And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him."(ibid:18)

The word Tov-Good shows up as a thin thread hundreds of times throughout the Tanach .In fact we are admonished to "Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34 :14)


So in order to understand what "Tov" (goodness) actually means we  need to explore what it is not.

The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of the world in seven stages or "days". Every day ends with the dramatic declaration "and God saw that it was good". That was true for every one of the six days except on the second day "And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, and let it be a separation between water and water." (Genesis 1:6). The day of separation between the water and the other water was not defined as good.

The Midrash explains that the separation of the waters caused great “sadness” and consternation” amidst the “Lower” waters who were suddenly disconnected from the “Heavenly “waters .the Hassidic masters describe the "lower( earthly)  waters"as  the “crying waters”(Mayim Bochim). They are saddened by their disconnection and they cry and yearn to be reunited.

That is in fact the secret of the great joyful celebrations every day of Sukkot( The Feast of Tabernacles) .And therein lies  also the secret of TOV-Goodness.

One of Sukkot’s most joyous observances was known as Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the Celebration of the Water-Drawing. During Temple times water would be drawn from the Shiloach springs at the southern tip of the City of David . Then that water was libated unto the altar in the Temple.

After being drawn forth from the springs they were brought into the temple area with great rejoicing and the blowing of trumpets.

Why would that be ?

The source of the joy was the bringing together that which was torn asunder. The Earthly “crying” waters were reunited through the alter with the Heavenly waters. The yearning was in fact the spiritual force that brought the fixing.  The yearning and the bringing of the separated parts together is what defines  “ TOV-Goodness”.

That is why in the creation of mankind we see a confusing process.

First we read

"And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.(Genesis 1:27). Of that the Torah says "And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.( ibid:31)


Yet in the second chapter we read

"And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him." (ibid 2:8).

Yet it is clear that He had already created them as one being.

We continue to read;

"And man named all the cattle and the fowl of the heavens and all the beasts of the field, but for man, he did not find a helpmate opposite him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and he slept, and He took one of his sides, and He closed the flesh in its place.And the Lord God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man. .....Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.(ibid 20-24)


At this point the definition of "Tov-Goodness" is understood on a deeper level. Goodness is not simply defined by the separated parts being together, but rather the process and the work involved in bringing them together. Man and woman had to be separated in order to yearn to come together and achieve goodness.

"Tov-Goodness"  then, is manifested by our enabling the process of the unification. Hence the joy at the water ceremony on sukkot and the happiness at a wedding. "Behold, how good (tov) and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”(Psalm 133).

Goodness seems to be defined and rooted in the act of unifying diversity. Hence it is the ultimate goal of our being in this existence. As we read in psalms; “Sur Merah veAseh Tov – Depart from evil and do( positive action) that which is good.”(Psalm 37:27)

Finally At the end of his life we hear Moshe, the humble and faithful servant of Hashem pleading with G-d to let him enter the good land.

And I beseeched Hashem at that time, saying: “O Hashem G- d, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness, and Your strong hand; for what god is there in Heaven or on Earth that can do according to Your works, and according to Your mighty acts? Let me go over, I pray to You, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.”(Deuteronomy 3: 24-25):

What makes the land of Israel "the Good land".

Moshe saw not only the land but he saw its future and its destiny. The land of Israel is like no other land. It is a place wherein the physical melds with the spiritual. Each fruit is prophecy revealed and each raindrop a function of prayer. This is the land where the past and the future fold into the present.

On the other hand, we are living in a disjointed world the sages called Alma Deperuda, wherein the pieces of the puzzle remain painfully distant from their natural partners. In such a disjointed world, opposing forces of darkness and light intermingle and it becomes difficult to discern and reveal the goodness within the evil. Yet we read in psalms; “ Sur Merah veAseh Tov – Depart from evil and do that which is good.”( Psalm 37:27)

One could then assume that the way to deal with the complexities of our existence would be to move as far away from discernible evil as is possible. Following that, it would be critical to build walls and fences around what has been salvaged in order to ensure its purity and clarity. Those actions achieve the “Sur Merah – the separation from evil , yet how can or must we deal with the second phase of Aseh Tov- doing that which is good.

The land of Israel is the place where that “coming together” is most possible. This is the “ land that Hashem your G-d cares for. The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year"(Deuteronomy 11:12). On the other hand that is the reason that there are so many spiritual and self-centered forces in this land that try to do exactly the opposite. When good begins to flourish the "other side" works even harder.

So then , that is the secret of this land and that is the secret of the goodness that brings all things back together . One must never lose the power of discernment yet one must always look for ways to achieve a "coming together" of passions thinking and ideals. That is true for each of us in our personal lives with spouse, children and friends, That is also critical for Israel as it is for the whole world

Depart from evil and do that which is good and dwell forever “, in the "Good Land"

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Esther