- 1. Through the Ten
Sefirot, God created, from
absolute nothingness, the prime matter of the heavens and all it
would contain and the prime matter of the earth and all that it
- 2. The lower prime matter, after its creation from
nothingness, was completely prime matter, that is matter without
substance. God then clothed
it in four forms:
fire was above the
air was above the water.
- 3. God thoughtfully willed that, from the upper prime matter,
light should pass from potentiality into
existence; and it was so
- 4. God confirmed the light in its existence in God's
will. God set the measure
of the light and of the
- 5. God differentiated "day" from
"night." The prime
matters, the elements, and the light existed separately for twelve
hours; then, God allowed the light to shine forth to the
- 6. God thoughtfully willed that, in the upper prime matter, an
expanse should pass from potentiality into
existence, and that it
should set the measure
for the upper and lower parts of the upper prime matter.
- 7. God set the expanse in its proper setting, giving forms to
the upper prime matter.
It set the measure
between the waters above the expanse and the waters below the
expanse; and it is so
- 8. God differentiated the upper spheres from the lower spheres
of the expanse, giving the whole the name
"heaven." The diurnal
sphere revolved once; a second day.
- 9. God thoughtfully willed that, below the heaven, the mixture
of water and earth should be separated by the water gathering in
one place, even though its nature is to cover all that is around
it; by the earth rising above the water, even though its nature is
to sink; and by the earth's drying out;
and it is so forever.
- 10. God differentiated the "dry land," by giving it the form
of habitable earth, from the water to which God gave the form of
the "sea" which contains water. God confirmed them in their
existence in God's will.
- 11. God willed that, in the four elements, there be a force
which makes things grow and produce seed so that each species be
able to reproduce; and that, from that
force, there grow small
plants and shrubs as
well as large, seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing
trees; and it is so
- 12. The force in the four elements brought forth small plants
and shrubs, as well as large seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing
trees. God confirmed them in their existence in God's will.
- 13. The diurnal sphere revolved; a third day.
- 14. God thoughtfully willed that, within the realm of the
bodies should pass from
three-fold purpose shall be to distinguish day from night; to
serve as miraculous
signs, as the signs of
the change of seasons, as the measure of day and night, and as the
measure of the cycle of the sun which is 365 days and the cycle of
the moon which is 30 days;
- 15. and to be luminous bodies in the realm of the spheres
which shed light on the earth; and it is so
- 16. God in-formed
the realm of the spheres with the forms of the two large crystal
bodies, the larger crystal body to rule the day and the smaller
crystal body to rule the night; he also in-formed the realm of the
spheres with the forms of the stars and planets.
- 17. God put these bodies in the realm of the spheres by
in-formation to shed
light on the earth,
- 18. to rule the day and the night through the astrological
forces in the heavenly
bodies, and to
distinguish between the light and the darkness. God confirmed them
in their existence in God's will.
- 19. The diurnal sphere revolved once; a fourth day.
- 20. God thoughtfully willed that, from the power of continuous
movement inherent in the
waters, beings which
have souls and which move
continuously and birds
that would fly over the earth across the face of the
heavens should pass from
potentiality into existence.
- 21. On the first day, God created from
and his mate, killing the latter lest the two overwhelm the earth
and salting away her flesh for the righteous in the
world-to-come and, on
the fifth day, God set Leviathan into its proper place in
creation. God also generated all the beings which have souls and
which move continuously, which the waters had generated by their
continous movement, each according to its kind, together with each
bird according to its kind. God confirmed them in their existence
in God's will.
- 22. God decreed a blessing on all the animals that each should
give birth to many of its
kind and that the sea
animals should fill the waters in the seas while the birds,
although their origin was in the sea, should reproduce on the
- 23. The diurnal sphere revolved once; a fifth day.
- 24. God thoughtfully willed that, from the power inherent in
the earth, beings which have souls and which move continuously
should pass from potentiality into existence, each according to
its kind -- herbivorous animals, animals which travel using their
whole bodies, and carnivorous
animals -- each
according to its kind; and it is so forever.
- 25. By in-formation
God generated the carnivorous animals according to their kinds,
the herbivorous animals according to their kinds, and the animals
which travel using their whole bodies according to their kinds.
God confirmed them in their existence in God's will.
- 26. To show the importance of humanity, God thoughtfully
willed that God and the earth, with its power to generate beings
which have souls which move
cause humanity to pass from potentiality into
would be like the earth in its corporeal manifestation and in its
having a soul which allows movement, and it would be like God in
form, that is, in the capacity for thought, wisdom, and
action. Human beings
will have complete control over the fish of the sea, the birds of
the heavens, the herbivorous and carnivorous
animals, the earth
itself, and over all
things which travel over the earth.
- 27. On the first day, God created humanity from nothingness
like God, that is, God created the upper
soul of humanity from
nothingness -- like God, God created the upper soul of humanity
from nothingness; male and female God created them from
nothingness -- and on the sixth day, God set the upper soul into
its proper place in creation.
- 28. God blessed them directly saying,
"Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and
have control over it,
and have control over the fish in the sea, the birds in the
heavens, and all the animals which travel over the earth."
- 29. God commanded
them, "I give you as food all the grains of the seed-bearing
plants which are on the face of the earth and all the fruit of the
fruit-bearing trees, but not the non-seed-bearing plants and
shrubs nor the trees themselves.
- 30. As to all the carnivorous and herbivorous animals of the
earth, all the birds of the heavens -- indeed all the animals
which travel across the earth because they have souls which move
continuously and hence can move toward food and pleasure and away
from death and pain -- I give them the non-seed-bearing plants and
shrubs as food." And it
was so until the flood of
- 31. God confirmed all that God had done in its existence in
God's will, even the evil within creation -- death, the evil
impluse, and punishment -- for evil requires the existence of
good. There was one
revolution of the diurnal sphere; the sixth day.
- 1. The heavens -- together with the sun, the moon, the stars,
Intelligences, and the
souls of humanity -- and the earth -- together with all the
animals, including humanity -- were finished.
- 2. On the seventh day, God finished God's creation from
nothingness which was done on the first day, as well as God's
creation by in-formation which was done on the other
days. On the seventh
day, God ceased God's creative work, whether from nothingness or
- 3. God made Shabbat the fountain of blessings, the foundation
of the world, and the partner of the assembly of Israel. God
sanctified the Shabbat by enabling it to draw from the realm of
holiness. For on this
day, God ceased from all God's creative work, whether from
nothingness or by
 Ramban notes that the Torah begins with the
narrative of the creation because creation is the root of Jewish
faith. He, thus, knowingly disagrees with Rashi.
-  The Ten Sefirot of Jewish mysticism are:
Keter, Hokhma, Bina, Hesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netsah, Hod, Yesod,
and Malkhut (Shekhina). They are aspects of the inner being of
God; they are, thus, "intradeical" and precede the creation of all
parts of the universe. The sources always refer to them through a
complicated set of symbols and images which need to be deciphered.
Through study, one can learn the process by which the sefirot were
generated and, through meditation, one can attain mystical contact
with them. The Zohar is the best known source for this
theosophic-mystical theology, though Ramban, who preceded the
Zohar by a generation, was familiar with this system of
thought. On the realm of the sefirot, see D. Blumenthal,
Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1 (New York, Ktav:
1978) part two.
- In his interpretation of this passage, Ramban reasons that the
first word, be-reshit, means "with reshit." The
latter alludes to Hokhma since Hokhma is called reshit
(Prov. 3:19). Another biblical use of reshit refers to the
heave-offering, which represents Malkhut. Yet another
reshit refers to Israel, which represents Malkhut. And yet
another reshit refers to Moses who, according to rabbinic
tradition, look at the "shining speculum" (a reference to Tiferet)
and saw reshit, again a reference to Hokhma. Several
sefirot, then, are alluded to with the word, bereshit. It
is be-reshit, through, or with, these sefirot that God
created the world.
- Later in this commentary, Ramban notes that the crown on the
word bereshit alludes to Keter while the word
Elohim, the third word in the sentence, represents Bina.
This yields the most esoteric interpretation which, however,
Ramban does not mention at all: Through Hokhma, Keter created Bina
(the rest of the sefirot correspond to the six days of creation
plus the Shabbat). In this interpretation, Keter is the ineffable
subject of bara' ("created"); Elohim is the object;
and bereshit designates the means. This intepretation
appears in the Zohar and elsewhere. Ramban, however,
considered it too profound to state explicitly, though it is
clearly present in his commentary.
- Alt.: In the beginning. Ramban, thus, provides an alternate,
non-mystical rendering. back
-  In medieval physics, all matter has a
substrate. The heavenly spheres and the heavenly bodies are
dervied from the "fifth (quint-) essence," i.e., they have one
common substrate; it is called a "prime matter" (Greek, hyle;
Arabic, hayula; Hebrew, golem). The four
elements -- fire, air, water, and earth -- and therefore all
terrestrial beings also have a substrate; it too is called a
"prime matter" (same terms). Some theorists thought there was only
one prime matter but Ramban clearly states that, since the two
types of matter -- supernal and sublunar -- are different, so must
their substrates be different; hence, there are two prime matters,
an upper and a lower. These two substrates were created ex
nihilo, from absolute nothingness, in contrast to the rest of
creation (see below). back
-  Hebrew, tohu, with supporting
-  Hebrew, bohu, derived as two
words: bo hu. In medieval physics, in addition to matter,
there are "forms" (the neoaristotelian term) or "ideas" (the
platonic term). These are "put" into matter to make it into
whatever the form is. Thus, the form of "dog" put into the proper
substrate generates a real dog. The process of "putting forms"
into substrate, called "in-formation," constitutes the other acts
of creation. The first stage of creation is putting the forms of
the four elements into the lower prime matter. That is the
activity of bohu. The work of in-forming the upper prime
matter is left to the second day. back
-  Hebrew, hoshekh, taken as the
element of fire. Elemental fire is invisible; hence,
hoshekh, "darkness." On the elements, see the commentary of
Ibn Ezra to v. 3. back
-  Hebrew, tehom, is a mixture of
water and earth, like the sea floor. back
-  Hebrew, ruah. The elements are
actually invisible spheres around our earth and, in the verse,
they are arranged in their natural hierarchical order. The
creation of the angels is not recorded in Scripture.
-  Hebrew, `amar, always means:
After thoughtful consideration, God willed that a given being pass
from potentiality into existence, i.e., that it come into being.
-  Hebrew, ra'ah, always means: God
confirmed that a given being continue to exist according to God's
-  Hebrew, vayavdel, always means:
God set the measure / limits of. back
-  Hebrew, vayikra', always means:
God differentiated. back
-  There was, thus, a period of
(co-)existence equaling one "evening" (night) followed by a period
of existence equaling one "morning" (day) in which the light
shined in the realm of the elements. With this, Ramban aligns
himself with those who say that the day begins at evening. For
more on the light, see the fourth day.
- Alt.: The prime matters and the elements existed for the
length of one night; then the light existed for the length of a
day. Again, Ramban preserves the precedence of evening (night).
- Alt.: The diurnal sphere revolved once, generating a period of
twenty-four hours: evening, morning, and evening. Again, Ramban
preserves the precedence of evening (night) though he must posit
that, on the first day, the diurnal sphere was in-formed into the
upper prime matter, just as the four elements were in-formed into
the lower prime matter. back
-  Ramban notes that, since there is no
second day yet, it would be inappropriate for the text to say "a
first day." This obviates Rashi's elegant explanations.
-  Hebrew, `amar.
-  Hebrew, mavdil.
-  Hebrew, vaya`as, in the
sense of in-forming the proper substrate with the proper form.
-  Hebrew, vayavdel.
-  Ramban writes: "This is a matter of
the Works of Creation. Do not expect me to write anything about
it, for it is one of the secrets of the Torah. The verses must not
be explicated. Scripture does not enlarge on the matter. And the
interpretation of it is forbidden to those who know it and
certainly to such as us." In this, Ramban follows the general
instruction of the rabbis. In spite of this, however, Ramban goes
on to explain in the next verse what happened.
-  Hebrew, kara'. These are ten
spheres in medieval astrophysics, which must not be confused with
the sefirot which are part of the Godhead. On the heavenly
spheres, see the commentary of Ibn Ezra to v. 5. The work of the
second day, according to Ramban, was the differentiation of the
upper prime matter into the nine upper spheres by in-formation.
All the spheres are, thus, in a hierarchy; i.e., they are "above"
and "below," though all are derived from the upper prime matter
and all, together, comprise the "expanse," now called "heaven."
- Ramban adds, however, that there are heavens above the heavens
(with Ps. 148 and elsewhere). These refer to the realm of the
angels, which is not mentioned in the creation narrative, though
the angels are clearly created and, therefore, extradeical. There
are also, Ramban notes, heavens and thrones even higher up. These
refer to the sefirot, which are alluded to in the first verse and
which, being part of the Godhead, are intradeical. Knowledge of
them constitutes esoteric knowledge and Ramban only alludes to
this realm. back
-  Alt.: that part of the globe of the
earth should be water and part of it be dry land.
-  Hebrew, kara' and ra'ah.
-  By mixing and in-formation,
i.e., the elements are mixed in various proportions and form is
put into this substrate; the process is simultaneous (see the
commentary of Ibn Ezra to v. 3). back
-  Hebrew, deshe', which includes
the trees which did not bear fruits, differing with Rashi.
-  Hebrew, `esev and `ets
peri, differing with Rashi. back
-  Hebrew, bi-rqi`a ha-shamayim.
See the second day. back
-  They, thus, refract light and do not
generate it. back
-  Alt.: should take on corporeal
-  With the appropriate verses.
-  Ramban notes that the creation of
light, then, is as follows: On the first day, the light was
created along with the prime matters and later that day, it was
permitted to shine upon the elements which had meanwhile been
generated by in-formation of the forms of the elements into the
lower prime matter. On the second day, the realm of the spheres
was generated by in-formation of the upper prime matter and the
light shone through that realm but still reached only down to the
realm of the elements. On the third day, the dry land, seas, and
vegetation were created but it was still dark on earth itself.
Only on the fourth day were the luminary bodies generated in the
realm of the spheres. One of their purposes was to shed light on
the earth itself, this light being divided between the sun and the
moon, i.e., between day and night.
- Ramban, referring to Talmud, Sanhedrin 42a, adds, by
allusion, an esoteric meaning: The differentiation of the light
refers to the differentiation of the sefirot: Keter (Ateret) into
Tiferet into Malkhut. Referring to Is. 30:27, he notes that,
ultimately, the seven lower sefirot will be united and, then, the
light of the moon (Malkhut) will equal the light of the sun
-  Hebrew, vaya`as.
-  Hebrew, vayitten.
-  Ramban points out that, in
verses 14-15, a three-fold purpose is set for the heavenly bodies
and that, in verses 17-18, each of the three is mentioned again.
The first is to distinguish the day from the night (light from
darkness); this is done by having the two main luminaries of
different sizes. The second is to shed light on the earth; this is
done by both the sun and the moon. And the third is to serve as
various signs; this is done by serving as seasonal and cyclic
signs and by serving as astrological and supernatural signs.
Ramban believed, as did many medievals, that the heavenly bodies,
in the course of their natural movements, do affect the events
that happen on earth. Astrology was, thus, a natural science, not
a superstition, in medieval times. Of course, Ramban asserts that
these heavenly influences do not act on their own but act within
the will of God, i.e., under the influence of the sefirot which
are high above them in the hierarchy of being.
-  Hebrew verb, yishretsu and
noun, sherets, present a complicated linguistic problem.
Ramban rejects Rashi's approach which gives preference to the noun
form and renders, "beings which are close to the earth," and
aligns himself with Targum Onkelos who gives preference to the
verb form and renders, "beings which move continuously." Ramban
also adds the popular etymology, "sherets = shehu rats;
that it runs." The waters, here, act through their own continuous
movement to generate beings that have continuous (restless)
-  Hebrew, nefesh haya. Ramban
points out that the animals have a soul, called nefesh,
which permits them to move, in contradistinction to humanity which
also has a soul, called neshama (Gen. 2:7), which allows us
to think and cogitate. The plants, Ramban notes, have no soul at
all, none of the appropriate words having been mentioned on the
third day, contrary to the theory of Greek science which posited a
"vegetative soul." back
-  Ramban notes that, according to Gen.
2:19, the birds were created from the earth. This creates three
possibilities: that the birds were created from the waters, from
the land, or from the mud at the bottom of the sea. Ramban aligns
himself with those who say that the birds were created from the
sea though they were destined to fly in the air.
-  Ramban is consistent in maintaining
that bara' always refers to creation ex nihilo, here
as in v. 27 in reference to humanity. The reason he gives here,
drawing on Greek science and rabbinic literature, is that these
beings were so great in size that God had to create them
specially. (The reason for humanity being created from nothing is
its very high status in creation.) I am not sure Ramban was
convinced of the reasoning here because size alone does not seem
to be an issue in his view of creation, but he did choose to
remain consistent in his usage. All creation ex nihilo was
accomplished on the first day and later set into its proper place
in creation. back
-  On this, see Rashi, ad loc.
-  Ramban points out that the
plants did not need to be blessed because they were created in
large numbers while the animals were created in pairs only, like
the humans. He also points out that no separate blessing was
necessary for the earth-based animals of the sixth day since all
animals without a rational soul (i.e., all except humanity) are of
- Alt.: Since humankind hunts the animals, God blessed them.
-  Rather than domesticated and wild
animals, Ramban uses herbivorous and carnivorous eating habits as
the criteria for distinguishing behema from haya.
Ramban understands Hebrew, romes, to designate locomotion;
hence, the animals whose locomotion is accomplished with their
whole bodies, and not just with their appendages, are called
-  By mixing and in-formation,
i.e., the elements are mixed in various proportions and form is
put into this substrate; the process is simultaneous.
-  This is Ramban's solution to the
problem of the plural verb. back
-  Hebrew, na`aseh.
-  Hebrew, tselem and
demut, but see below. back
-  Ramban explicitly includes the latter,
though they are not specifically mentioned in the text.
-  Ramban: to tear out, to uproot, to
dig, and to mine it. back
-  Humanity has two souls: The first is
called nefesh. It is the soul which enables movement and it
is received from the earth, as all creatures which have the power
of movement receive a nefesh either from the power inherent
in the waters or from that inherent in the earth. The second soul
is called neshama. It is the soul which has the power to
think and to act consciously. It was created ex nihilo
specially for humanity by God. Ramban indicates, then, that v.
26, using the Hebrew na`aseh, refers to the generation of
the human body with its animal capacity for movement by mixing and
in-formation, paralleling the use of Hebrew yatsar in Gen.
2:7a, while v. 27 refers to the creation ex nihilo of the
upper soul, paralleling Gen. 2:7b. In this, Ramban is very
consistent in his use of terms. Since, however, all creation ex
nihilo took place on the first day, he teaches that the upper
soul was set into its proper place in humanity on the sixth day.
(The Hebrew, tselem, thus, refers to the corporeal and
moving dimension of humanity in v. 26 but refers to the upper soul
in v. 27. This double meaning is also maintained by Maimonides,
Guide for the Perplexed, 1:1.)
- In Maimonidean thought, the form of each animal is its
"species-form," i.e., the idea of "dog-ness" or "human-ness." This
species-form is an Aristotelian "universal" and, hence, not
subject to corruption. This means that, while individual dogs die
and wink out of existence, the idea of dog-ness remains forever.
The same holds true about humanity. In this sense, species are
"immortal" though, according to Maimonides, human immortality is
also a function of other matters. Using this thought, Ramban
proposes an alternate to v. 27 though he does not consider it the
primary sense of the verse: God and the earth created the
species-form of humanity which makes humanity immortal like God;
like God, God created humanity with a species-form; male and
female [the means by which individuals propagate the species], God
created them. In this alternate, Ramban takes creation of the
species-form as bara' and distinguishes it from the
formation of the human body from the elements, yatsar
and `asah. back
-  Ramban points out that, in v.
22, the text reads, God blessed them saying, while here it reads,
God blessed them and God said to them; hence, he interprets that
this is a direct blessing. Since this vayomer is not a
creative word but a command, I render "saying." Ling. alt.: God
blessed them directly, giving them the power to be ... and to have
-  Ramban specifically takes
vekivshuha and uredu as synonyms.
-  Since this vayomer is not a
creative act but a command, I so translate.
- Ling. alt.: God thoughtfully ordained that.
-  Hebrew, yerek `esev. The
distinction between what humanity and the animals could eat until
the flood is very clear in Ramban. back
-  Ramban notes that, after the fall
(Gen. 3:18), humanity had to eat the non-seed-bearing plants as
well. He also points out that the slaughter of animals was later
permitted because that is their purpose in creation: to be food
for humanity. But, there are still several restrictions: First,
one may not tear limbs from live animals even for food. Second,
one may not eat the blood of animals since the blood contains the
soul which enables the animal to move (Lev. 17:14). And third, one
must use proper slaughter because it drains the blood quickly and
is as painless as possible (with the commentaries cited in
-  Alt.: To show the importance of
humanity, God confirmed all that God had done in its existence in
God's will, especially humanity. back
-  The "separated Intelligences" (or
"Intellects") are pure spiritual beings, emanated from God. This
was standard medieval neoaristotelian metaphysics (see
Understanding Jewish Mysticsm, vol. 2, part 1). Maimonides
and other medievals took the Intelligences as the angels; hence,
Ramban includes the angels here in the narrative of creation.
Human souls, too, are specially created (as noted above) and are
also included here in the word tseva'am, "hosts."
-  Ramban connects Hebrew,
melakha, with bara' and takes all references to
`asah as referring to work by in-formation.
-  This is esoteric doctrine in usual
sefirotic code language. It means that God blessed Yesod (usually
known as the "fountain of blessings" and the "foundation of the
world") because it can draw spiritual energy from Hokhma (the
"realm of holiness") through Tiferet. With this blessing, Malkhut
(the "assembly of Israel") becomes its (sexual / spiritual)
partner. The "blessing" is that Yesod becomes the point where all
spiritual energy concentrates itself and the "sanctification" is
its ability to draw energy from Hokhma. back
-  Ramban adds an
historical-eschatological note here, working from the common
rabbinic idea that the six days of creation correspond to six
millenia in Jewish history:
- The first millenium (0 - 1000 A.M. = 3758 - 2758 B.C.E.) is
the day of light and the era of Adam who, even after the sin, knew
God most intimately.
- The second millenium (1000 - 2000 A.M. = 2758 - 1758 B.C.E.)
is the day of separation of the waters and the era of Noah, who
embodies the separation of the righteous and the wicked.
- The third millenium (2000 - 3000 A.M. = 1758 - 758 B.C.E.) is
the day of dry land, vegetation, and fruits and it is the era of
Abraham, Sinai, and the beginning of the first temple; this is the
age of instruction and spiritual fruits.
- The fourth millenium (3000 - 4000 A.M. = 758 B.C.E. - 242
C.E.) is the day of the heavenly bodies and the era of the first
and second temples, i.e., an era of light.
- The fifth millenium (4000 - 5000 A.M. = 242 - 1242 C.E.) is
the day of fish and creeping things; the era when humanity
multiplied quickly but did not know God.
- The sixth millenium (5000 - 6000 A.M. = 1242 - 2242 C.E.) is
the day of beasts and humanity. It is an era which begins in
beastliness and terrible persecution but which will end in the
redeemer, the ultimate human being who is truly in the image and
likeness of God. Ramban predicts here that 118 years after the
beginning of this sixth era (5118 A.M. = 1358 C.E.) the true
human, i.e., the messiah, should come. The burning of the Talmud
in 1244 C.E. and the flourishing of the inquisition certainly
could have confirmed the first part of Ramban's prediction but,
since Ramban died before 1358 C.E., he could not know that he was
wrong on the second half of his calculation. Of course, there is
still room for his larger prediction about the ultimate image to
- The seventh millenium (6000... A.M. = 2242... C.E.) is
open-ended. It is a period of complete Shabbat. As Ramban
concludes: "May God watch over us in all periods and cast our lot
in with those of God's pure servants." back