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Exegetical Lectures on the Bible.

(Continued from Vol. IX. p. 477.)

By Rabbi Isidore Kalisch, of Cleveland

No. IV.

Gen. i. 14. “And God said, There shall be lights in the expanse of the heaven, to distinguish between the day and the night, that they maybe as signs for seasons, days, and years.”

Under the word מארת “lights,” nothing else is to be understood, as I have already remarked, but that God imparted to the sun on the fourth period the matter of light, which He had created in the first, in order that not alone his rays may illuminate and warm the earth immediately, but that those also which the moon receives, should be reflected back on our globe. It is accordingly not asserted that the stars were created in the fourth period, but that the sun was surrounded with a luminous fluid, which also reaches us through means of the moon. With this view also accords the modern discoveries of astronomers, that the sun, in himself, is an opaque body, which is enveloped in an atmosphere of light.

Sun and moon are not called lights, in respect of what they are in themselves, but of what they are for us. Verse 17 should, therefore, <<100>> not be translated, as is done erroneously, “And God placed them;” but “destined them in the expanse of heaven, to shed light on the earth;” for נתן followed by ל denotes to destine something for a particular use.

V. 16. “The lesser light to rule by night and the stars also.”

Under כוכבים “stars,” must be understood the planets which belong to our solar system; for, when it says, “for the rule of the night,” which evidently refers to the first named, it cannot possibly mean the innumerable luminous bodies which appear in the firmament; because these cannot be seen on every night, but the light of which, on account of their great distances, cannot reach, or have any influence, on the earth after three or even thousands of years, although light is the most rapid in its motion, and the most pervading of all substances; and this must be especially the case with the telescopic stars. Perhaps, the periodical influence of the light of the most remote worlds may also be comprehended, for all we know, under the expression לממשלת הלילה, “for the rule of the night;” since, as Alexander Von Humboldt correctly observes, “It is certain that, just as it does on the structure of the plants, the light of the moon, nay, of the most distant orbs must, to a certainty, produce also changes in man; but when a thou­sand more powerful forces influence us at the same time, the effect of the weaker must become imperceptible.” The correct rendering of כוכבים, must therefore be planets.

From v. 20-29, we have described the development of animal life, in which sensation, instinct, intelligence, and will are gradually more and more combined in various proportions with the phenomenon of mere existence. First, we have the creeping animals, gastrozoa, שרץ; then, the articulated, asthrozoa, עוף (as Yarchi also remarks in his commentary, כגון זבובים, such as flies); and, lastly, osteozoa, animals with spines which are denoted, first, as תנינים, whales and in short fishes; secondly, נפש חיה הרמשה, amphibia; thirdly, עוף כנף, birds, and fourthly, בהמה ורמש וחיתו ארץ, mammalia. The highest degree, however, is reached in the fifth and sixth epochs of the creation by man, who is the immediate work of the Creator and the image of God. Concerning what is to be understood by בצלם אלהים, “in the image of God,” Sirach supposes, xvii. 1-8, that it signifies the power of man to rule over all creatures on the earth. But this will only explain, בצלמו, “in his image,” and would leave the expression of כדמותו, “in his like­ness,” quite superfluous, as a meaningless tautology, which is not conceivable as likely in the history of the creation, where everything is <<101>> given with the greatest brevity. Perhaps, it may be urged that notwithstanding this brevity there is discoverable a pleonasm, to wit, that the word, אלהים, “God” occurs thirty-five times in thirty-four verses, which repetition might have been easily avoided; for which reason it is not necessary to regard so particularly the phraseology of the history of the creation. But I would reply to this, that at a time when nothing was so low or so high among all that is created, but was worshipped by mankind as divine, at a time when people fancied all space to be filled with diverse divine beings: it was highly necessary to counteract this madness, by constantly and emphatically repeating at every period of the creation, that it was and is but ONE highest Cause, which has called everything that is into being. From the expression in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, ii.23, “Deus enim creaverat hominem ad conditionem incorruptam, et imaginem ipsissimae nature me fecerat eum,” it appears that we must understand by “our image and our likeness,” that man was originally not intended to die. But this exposition is also incorrect; since it would then be improper to employ the expression צלם, and דמות אלהים, in Gen. v. 1, 3, and ix. 6, for man had become mortal and corruptible already in the third chapter. Besides, this view of the book of Wisdom is against the opinion of the Talmud; for Midrash Rabbah remarks on Gen. i. 31 : “And it was very good,” or, answering the purpose, זו המות, “This is the death;” according to which, it must be considered that it was God’s purpose that everything earthly should decay and perish. The Talmud, therefore, imagines that the first human pair were also created mortal. And if it should be objected to this, that according to Gen. ii. 17, and iii. 3, 4, man must have rendered himself mortal by means of sin, which would presuppose his being originally created immortal, for which reason the Talmud’s view of the question ought to be rejected: I would reply, that ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות (Gen. ii. 17), does not mean to convey, “on the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die;” but is according to a well-known Hebraism, an indication of an early occurrence of the fact, and thus says that the death spoken of shall take place early. The threat is therefore merely: “At the time thou eatest from the tree, thou art destined to die early;” and this actually occurred, inasmuch as man was not permitted to eat any longer of the tree of life, the fruit of which prolonged life if not for ever, at least, for a very long period; (since לעלם does not always embrace the idea of eternity, but a long indefinite period; as יחי המלך דוד לעלם, “May King David live for ever,” or, more correctly, “very many years,” &c.)

From verse 19, however, it seems to appear that death is not to be regarded as a punishment, but as a necessary consequence of the composition of the various parts of the human body. According to my opinion, therefore, we ought to understand under בצלמו, the psychological, כדמותנו, the moral, and רדו בארץ, &c., the political freedom, which are the daughters of an all-enlightening reason, which is given to man as his property here below, and through which alone he is constituted the ruler of all on earth, and is destined to be the most exalted creature of the whole series existing on the face of the globe. The phrase נעשה אדם (i. 26), “We will make man,” is a pluralis majestatis, which is also used by kings (Ezra iv. 18, and vii. 24). This mode of speaking is not used in modern languages in this instance, only but is employed likewise in addressing single persons, as in the German sie and ihr, French vous, English you, &c.

The phrase טוב מאד, “exceedingly suitable,” which occurs in i. 31, is the Hebrew superlative, and is used on the sixth period only, for the reason, because it is applicable only at the summing up of the whole creation on earth, when all things were linked together, and were connected with each other as necessary cause and effect. For, since there reigns a constant progress in the infinite varieties of created things, from the incomplete to a better state, from the better to the more perfect, and from the more to the most perfect, the utmost applicability must exist likewise in the combination of things, where the highest and deepest, and the most distant are united in one common bond.

(To be continued.)