Genesis 1 (Part 2): The Good and the ‘Very’ Good

In last week’s entry (Genesis 1: Creating Order with Boundaries), I discussed how boundaries are essential to creating a functional society, as gleaned from the Creation narrative in the opening chapter of Genesis.

When speaking of an efficient or functional world, the Torah has one thing in mind. At the completion of each segment in the creation process, after God finishes organizing and naming his newly formed creations, we read:

“And God saw that it was good.”[1]

What is this goodness that God perceives in each of his creative works? It appears to be connected to the life-supporting conditions on earth.[2] Beginning with the very first day, God looks to organize a world that is suitable for life. By fashioning the light into “day” and the darkness into “night,” God sets in motion the development of ideal conditions for the flourishing of life on the planet. With the division of the waters on high from the waters on low, followed by God’s peeling back the waters to make space for land, the stage is set for the sprouting forth of life on earth. The newly fashioned land bursts forth with seed-bearing vegetation (1:11), animals and insects (1:25), while the waters teem with aquatic life (1:21).

As such, the creation undertaking is driven by God’s desire to manufacture that which man holds more dear than anything else; life. It is with the achievement of maximal life-sustaining conditions in each area of creation that God finds satisfaction with His work and is prepared to move on to the next project of goodness.[3]

Then, on the final day of creation, God brings the goodness of the world to a whole other level with His formation of man, following which:

“And Elohim saw all He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (1:31)

How does God’s addition of man improve what was already a good world prior to his arrival?

If the goodness of the world through the initial six days of creation, up until man’s formation, is achieved through the earth’s life-sustaining qualities, it remains a silent and unacknowledged good.  Even the sentient creatures on earth, while experiencing and enjoying the bounty that the world yields, cannot respond to or contemplate that goodness.

With the creation of man comes an exalted creature that bears God’s divine image, a being that can ponder and respond to God’s beneficence. With man, God has a relationship with the amazing world He fashioned.

Now, with the one creature standing before Him that can contemplate the goodness that surrounds him, God speaks to– instead of at– Adam with unique affection, informing him that He, God, is the provider of all the life-sustaining resources that fill his world:

“And God said, ‘Behold, I give you all seed-producing herbage that is on the face of the earth and every tree that has in it seed-bearing fruit. For you, it shall be for food.’” (1:29)

With the closing of the creation narrative, we learn that God is not satisfied with merely creating a good world that flourishes with life. Rather, God seeks a relationship with that world, something that can only be achieved through the creation of an exalted being capable of acknowledging and appreciating that goodness. Such a world is, indeed, very good.

There are a number of takeaways from the opening chapter of Genesis. First, the world that we inhabit is a stable environment in that it was brought forth with intention and purpose by an unrivaled, omnipotent Creator. Second, the purpose behind the world’s creation is to provide that which all of God’s creations desire more than anything else; life. Finally, God desires that the goodness He generates not only be experienced but to be contemplated and recognized. As such, the human species is the centerpiece of the entire creation endeavor through whom the goodness of the world can ascend to an enhanced level of excellence.

[1] This follows God’s completion of the seas and the land (1:12), the sun, moon, and the stars (1:18), and His sprouting forth the sea creatures and birds of flight (1:21). The only exception is with God’s creation of day and night where the “light” is perceived as good by God even before the process of division takes place. The simple explanation is that even light in its most primitive form is such an improvement from the prior state of complete darkness and, as such, earns God’s recognition as “good” even prior to achieving its full capacity as “day.” See Rashi on 1:4.

[2] Jon Levenson argues that the central message of the creation narrative is of God’s engineering a “benevolent and life-sustaining order.” (Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil, Princeton University Press, 1994, 47)

[3] Contrast the message gleaned from the Torah’s account of creation with that of the pagan creation myths (see my previous post) where the god of creation has scant interest in the well-being of his creatures.


About the Author
Gavriel Lakser most recently served as Coordinator of Academic Programs at The Herzl Institute. He was the Assistant Director and Director of Recruitment at Tochnit Shalem, and has taught at numerous post-high school gap year programs and seminaries in Israel. He received rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Hamivtar.
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