General My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew Shorties

Shorty*: The Basic Human Condition — “Angels of God Ascending and Descending” (Gen. 28:12)

(Related podcast:  Basic Human Condition: “Angels of God Ascending and Descending” (Gen. 28:12; Podcast-audio) .)

The Bible starts with a succinct description of all that there is:

“In the beginning God created The Heaven (“Ha-Shamayim“) and The Earth (“Ha-Aretz“)” (Gen 1:1).

This seven-word verse (in the original Hebrew) delivers four messages:

  • There is God; * There is creation; * God and His Creation are separate (pantheism is false); * There is a point in creation when time started (“In the beginning”);

However, there is an additional most important fifth message:

* There are two worlds apart: The Earth and The Heaven.

In the rest of Genesis creation narrative (Chapters 1 and 2), “The Heaven” is not addressed ever again. Genesis describes only that which is visible, or potentially visible, to humankind — “The Earth” (more specifically, the universe). As part of the description of the six days of creation of The Earth, the narrator relates to two separate parts of the universe (“The Earth”):

  • That part that God calls heaven (“The” omitted) — “and God called the sky (Rakia) heaven (Shamayim)…”, Gen. 1:8;
  • That part that God calls Earth (“The” omitted) — “and God called the dry land (Yabashah) Earth (Eretz)…”, Gen 1:10. However, The Heaven (Ha-Shamayim) is not repeated again, neither described nor implied. When alluding to Shamayim, Genesis 1 refers only to Rakia-Ha-Shamayim, as if to emphasize that this is not Ha-Shmayim of the first verse of Genesis.

These two worlds, The Heaven and The Earth, are they communicating with one another?

The Bible is mostly mute about it. Existence of free-will for the human species cannot co-exist with the explicit and undeniable knowledge that The Heaven does exist, that it influences our experiences in life and that… it responds to our decisions.

This should be contrasted with our explicit knowledge of The Earth (the scientifically observable universe), governed by law-of-nature. The latter allows us knowing, or potentially knowing, how “it influences our experiences in life and respond to our decisions“. For example, we know well in advance how nature would respond if we have decided, out of free will, to jump from the rooftop of a highrise.

So, is the Bible indeed utterly mute about communication between The Heaven and The Earth? Is there such communication at all?

There are stories of communication between the Divine and human beings, either one-way communication, like the Ten-Commandments, or two-way communication, like biblical stories of dialogues between the Divine and human beings (“…perhaps ten shall be found there? And He said: I will not destroy for the sake of the ten”, Gen 18:32). Yet, these stories relate to direct communication between man and God, not between “The Earth”  and “The Heaven”, both created (according to the first verse of Genesis). Also, they are not as compelling as Law-of-Nature — You believe these stories or you do not. Same cannot be extended to Law-of-Nature:

Free-will is preserved, maintained and protected with regard to possible “dialogues” between human beings and The Heaven — these are completely invisible to us; Free-will is not so with regard to “dialogues” between human beings and Law-of-Nature (The Earth) —  these are visible to us in their entirety.

Areas in our lives that are not subject to Law-of-Nature are areas where free-will is exercised. These are the areas where The Earth and The Heaven communicate. However, to preserve free will, Scripture is mostly mute about this communication‼

There is one exception — a single verse in the Bible that describes, in a very vivid way, the basic condition of humankind, namely, the untold and intuitively unrecognizable continuous dialogue, maintained by us all, between The Heaven and The Earth:

“And he dreamed and, behold, a ladder set up to The Earth and its top reaches to The Heaven; and behold angels (Malachim) of Elohim ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).

To fully understand this verse, and the function of  ladder in Jacob’s dream, let us be reminded what “Angel” (Malach) is in biblical Hebrew — a messenger (human or non-human), dispatched for an explicit purpose, to deliver a certain message or to perform a certain task. Examples:

  • “The Lord God of The Heaven, who took me from my father’s house… He shall send his angel (Malacho) before thee…” (Genesis 24:7);
  • “And Jacob sent messengers (Malachim) ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3);
  • “The angel (Ha-Malach), who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads…” (Genesis 48:16);
  • “And there came a messenger (Malach) and said…” (Job, 1:14).

We realize that same word, Malach, serves in Scripture to describe delivery of two sorts of “messages” — one via words, another via actions; Also, same word, Malach, is used for both human and non-human messengers.

In view of the new insight about the meaning of Malach, what does it mean that messengers are ascending and descending on a ladder that connects “The Earth” and “The Heaven”?

There can be a single interpretation:

“Messages” are being exchanged between the two worlds, explicitly declared to exist in the first verse of the Bible — “The Heaven” and “The Earth”‼

These messages are being exchanged, unknowingly to us, continuously; And they are delivered by us by thought, by word and by action. Wishes that we express, prayers that we pray, acts of grace and righteousness, or, conversely, acts of evil, these are all “messages” sent by us, via “ascending messengers”, to “The Heaven”; Experiences we go through, which look to us random and not the outcome of interference of Law-of-Nature, these are “messages” sent back to us, by “descending messengers”, from “The Heaven”.

And these experiences, from the realm of “randomness”, where free will reigns supreme, unconstrained by Law-of-Nature, these are doomed to remain unexplainable so long as free-will is preserved and the Divine is hidden, hiding also His hiddenness (“aster astir panai“, Deuteronomy 31:18).

There are three well-known symbols signifying that same idea, an ongoing dialogue between The Heaven and The Earth.

  • God relates to the rainbow, a bow aimed to Heaven from Earth, as a reminder, a message, sent to Him from humankind and all living beings on earth: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign for the covenant between me and the Earth; Whenever I bring clouds upon the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and all living creatures of every kind, so that never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Genesis 9:13-17);
  • In the most well-known symbol of the Jewish faith, the Magen David, there are two triangles: One aimed from Earth to Heaven, another directed from Heaven to Earth;
  • The pyramids of Egypt are similarly built as a triangle directed from earth to heaven.

In Conclusion:

The most basic condition of humankind is existence of a dialogue between “The Earth” and “The Heaven”, the two parts of creation alluded to in the first verse of the Bible (and only there). This dialogue is maintained via two channels:

  • A visible dialogue between all living creatures and Law-of-Nature; The latter, unexplainable but well described (by science), is all observable; In this “Dialogue”, Law-of-Nature is forced on us for full compliance — no compromise, no freedom of choice;
  • A hidden dialogue, partially visible to us in the sense that only “messages” from The Earth may be recognizable; By contrast, to preserve free will, messages from The Heaven are invisible, incomprehensible to us; Yet, not always and not completely:
    • At times, they may be deduced, providing explanation to our experiences as Heavenly response (descending angels) to our own “messages” (ascending angels);
    • At other times, they may not even be deduced, doomed to remain hidden and utterly unexplainable (“..and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”, Exodus 33:19; “Why bad things happen to good people”).

  • Shorty is a short post
My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

“And Elohim Saw Ki Tov” (“that it was good”)” (Gen. 1) — A Different Viewpoint

This famous verse from the first chapter of Genesis, referring to parts of Creation, appears therein, with variations, six times. It appears a seventh time as the act of Creation is drawn to its conclusion:

“And God saw everything that He has made, and, behold, Tov Meod (“it was very good”)” (Genesis 1:31).

These translations from the original biblical Hebrew, and as the original verses have been universally interpreted over the generations, both within Judaism and outside, are probably incorrect on three counts:

  • They are inherently illogical and inconsistent;
  • They constitute desecration of the Divine and defamation of God’s name;
  • They are inconsistent with numerous other verses in the Hebrew Jewish Bible, where Ki Tov is interpreted differently, however with a unique and consistent meaning.

In this post, we first explain these three seemingly outrageous claims. Later we detail our own personal understanding of what these verses of Genesis 1 really mean. Finally, we address the astounding lesson that the Torah attempts to convey to us in its detailed tale of the Divine act of Creation, accompanied by “God has seen Ki Tov” or “God saw… and behold Tov Meod”.

We start with the first claim: Why are traditional interpretations of these verses illogical and inconsistent?

To understand this, we need to perform a formal analysis of what “Good” really means. First, note that Genesis “Good” is devoid of any moral judgment. “God saw the light that it was good” (Gen. 1:4) does not carry any moral perspective; Rather, “Good” here resembles, and is indeed compatible with, the definition of “Good” as used in quality engineering (which is my profession). To declare a produced item (or delivered service) “Good”, we require that two conditions/requirements be met:

  • That the item conforms to certain pre-conceived and precisely-articulated technical specifications;
  • That said specifications conform to all requirements that the product has been designed to fulfill.

When at least one of these conditions is violated— the item at hand cannot be denoted “Good” (though in traditional quality-control parlance it may be called “conforming” if it satisfies the first condition). With regard to both requirements, denoting “something” as “Good” is senseless, and inherently illogical and inconsistent, if there is no standard to compare it with.

Does God have a standard for “Good”, so that He can declare, regarding His creation— Ki Tov (“that it was good”)?

This is a preposterous suggestion. Our very concept of God implies that God is source for all “Goodness”. This is clearly validated, in an extreme fashion, in the Torah, as God responds to Moses request: “Show me your Kavod (“Show me thy glory”; Genesis 33:18). The Divine response:

“…I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy… (Exodus 33:19-20)

“God”, by definition, does not have a standard by which to judge whether “something” He has created, or has done, is good or otherwise; Especially so given that all that exists is, per Genesis, the result of Divine creation. Interpreting, indeed translating, from biblical Hebrew that “God saw that it was good” is therefore senseless and utter nonsense!!

This brings us to the second claim, tightly connected to the first: If our concept of God as source of all goodness holds true, then the idea of God judging the created as “Good” constitutes, by an inescapable logical conclusion, desecration of the Divine and defamation of God’s name.

We will address the third and last claim, articulated earlier, while working out what we believe is the correct interpretation of the current (wrongly translated) “Elohim saw that it was good”. To do that, we look for other verses in the Jewish Hebrew Bible that are carrying formal resemblance to the verses in Genesis, or use the exact same non-conventional combination of the Hebrew words— Ki Tov.

We start with analyzing what “God Saw” really means. We first note that interpreting “God saw” in Genesis as a standalone, linguistically separate from what follows (Ki Tov; Gen. 1: 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), this phenomenon is not at all rare in the Jewish Hebrew Bible. It appears in multiple other verses, where a certain human action is attributed to God without specifying the object of the action. Examples:

  • “…I will now go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry that has reached me, and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21); Know what?
  • “And God saw the children of Israel and God knew.” (Exodus 2:25); Knew what?

In these verses and others, human actions are attributed to the Divine without specifying what was the object of the Divine action. Therefore “God saw”, without qualifying words of what God saw, is consistent with other verses in the Bible.

Secondly, addressing the “humanized” Divine seeing, we recall at least four instances where “God saw”:

  • Va-Yar Jehovah (and Jehovah saw) that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that all the impulse of the thoughts of his heart was evil all day long” (Genesis 6:5);
  • “And Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men were building” (Genesis 11:5);
  • “And Jehovah said, because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievous, I will now go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry that has reached me, and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21);
  • “And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry…” (Exodus 3:7);

In these particular verses, God is looking over the affairs of humankind, ultimately resulting in Jehovah’s intervention to correct that which had been twisted by human actions. These verses are obvious examples of Divine Providence, the Divine watching to see what transpire in His creation, and as needed intervenes.

Why should “God saw” in Genesis Creation be interpreted differently, even though this time Divine Providence applies not to human actions but to parts of Creation of Heaven and Earth and, finally, to Creation as a whole?

Thirdly, and most importantly, we search for other instances where the unique combination Ki Tov appears. The latter appears in the Bible (apart from Genesis 1) sixteen more times, all in a single idiom, with variations. Examples:

  • “O give thanks to Jehovah Ki Tov (“for He is good”); for His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 107:1; 136;1; Chronicles 1 16:34);
  • “And they sang responsively in praising and giving thanks to Jehovah Ki Tov (“for He is good”); for His steadfast love endures forever…” (Ezra 3:11);
  • “ ..and praised Jehovah, saying, Ki Tov (“for He is good”); for His steadfast love endures forever…” (Chronicles 2 5:13);
  • “ ..they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement.. and praised Jehovah, saying, Ki Tov (“for He is good”); for His steadfast love endures forever” (Chronicles 2 7:3);
  • Halleluiah (“Praise God”) Ki Tov (“for He is good”), sing praise to our God for it is pleasant…” (Psalms 147:1).

We realize that when the combination Ki Tov appears elsewhere in the Jewish Hebrew Bible, preceded by a mention of “God”, it invariably has one meaning: “For God is good”. Furthermore, in all these instances Ki Tov appears in a sentence having common structure, namely, a first part relating to God, a second part comprising only the two words— Ki Tov. And these qualifying words refer to the present goodness of God. Consistently.

Why should Ki Tov be interpreted differently in Genesis creation story?

The implication of the new interpretation is staggering. Let me explain why.

Jewish scholars have consistently and insistently preached, throughout centuries of Bible-based Jewish scholarship, that there are two sorts of leadership by which God leads His world:

* Via Law-of-Nature (Genesis 8:22; This leadership is denoted Elohim);

* Via Divine intervention (looking over what transpires in His world and occasionally intervenes in real-time, as the above four examples about Noah’s flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorra and Exodus testify; This leadership is represented by Jehovah).

Furthermore, Jewish rabbis have continuously insisted that Divine leadership is ever-present in the created, and if Elohim-Jehovah stopped sustaining His world— all would return to “nothingness” in a blink of an eye. Put differently: God is sustaining creation every single moment, and if He ceased “seeing” His creation, the whole world would collapse at once into Tohu va-Vohu (“without form and void”). Wikipedia, in entry “Divine Providence”, asserts that rabbinic literature, and in particular classical Jewish philosophers, “maintain that divine providence means that God is directing (or even recreating) every minute detail of creation”. The new interpretation of Ki Tov in the first chapter of Genesis obviously is consistent with that credo and support it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jehovah is not mentioned explicitly anywhere in describing Genesis creation— God appears therein explicitly only as creator (Elohim). But Jehovah is always there, looking over his creation. With the new interpretation of Ki Tov in Genesis 1 (the only logical and self-consistent possible), a new insight is gained and a powerful lesson:

“God saw, Ki Tov” testifies to the ever presence of Jehovah-Elohim, looking over His creation from the beginning (Be-Reshit), and ever thereafter, because of His goodness (Ki Tov). And when creation is taken in its totality, “behold, Jehovah-Elohim is Tov Meod”.

My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

First, Ten “Says” (Creation); Then Ten “Acts” (of Divine Intervention); Finally, Ten “Speaks” (Commandments)

Biblical Hebrew offers a fundamental distinction between “Say” and “Speak”. The difference put them worlds apart:

  • In “Say” one sends a message in one direction; There is no expectation of a response. “Say” implies sending contents that no doubt will be accepted (by listeners) or implemented. Kings and absolute rulers “Say”. They do not speak. An example: “And God said let there be light and there was light” (Genesis 1:3);
  • In “Speak” one sends contents in expectation of a dialogue with the receiver of the message. “Speak” implies an expectation of a listener that reacts and responds. An example: “And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am Jehovah” (Exodus 6:2). One wonders why the repetition of “Speak” and “Say”. But there is no redundancy. First— a message is sent to the reader that God started a dialogue with Moses. Then the message itself is said by the supreme ruler.

A byproduct of this distinction, an expression of the unique role of “speak” in biblical Hebrew, is Davar (thing). The latter derives from same root as “speak”. This sends a powerful message that every “thing” in the universe is intended to speak to us. Nothing is “message-less”. All have meaning. And that message speaks unto anyone who wishes to listen and maintains a constructive dialogue with the world and all that it contains. A good example is God Jehovah forming “out of the ground” “every beast of the field and every bird of the air” (Genesis 2:19), bringing them to Adam “to see what he would call them and whatever the man called every living creature that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Thus, names are not senseless combination of letters but rather expressions of the essence of that which is named. And same goes to every Davar in the universe, defined by a certain combination of letters in biblical Hebrew.

Having elaborated on the distinction between “Say” and “Speak”, one may monitor the evolution of the dialogue of the Divine with mankind. Witnessing the different forces of nature and their seemingly unpredictability (for example, the seemingly random trajectories of the stars in the sky), ancient generations had no choice but to believe that they are helpless living creatures under the control of forces that they cannot understand or maintain dialogue with. The main message of the Torah is that this perception is fundamentally flawed, and it gives a timeline for the evolution from an “incomprehensible world” to a world, the creator of which wishes to listen and to respond.

Certain time-points mark the transition from the one to the other. First, Jehovah God calls unto Adam “Where are thou? (Genesis 3:9). But Adam prefers to hide and not to maintain a dialogue with the Divine because Adam, like most humanity nowadays, does not like anyone to tell him what he is allowed to do and what he is allowed not. This led to a perception of the world as rule-less, in ancient times, or as intervention-less (by the Divine), and ruled only by the mathematical laws of nature, as revealed to us by modern science. But in truth, nothing has fundamentally changed in the basic condition of humankind: Only the randomness of a chaotic world, as perceived by our ancestors, has been replaced by a rule-full world, as described by modern science. But with non-explainable randomness notwithstanding, randomness of a different sort. Seemingly randomness of the observed world of ancient times has been replaced by the inexplicable randomness of current laws of science. For example: The phenomenon of the constant speed of light, as well as the very value of the latter, both remain as mysterious and as random and inexplicable today as were directly observed natural phenomena of ancient times. Seemingly randomness has migrated from the directly observable natural phenomena to the non-observable, but just as random and inexplicable, laws of nature, as articulated by modern science.

To demonstrate to the struggling human species that not all is indeed random and that there is a monitoring authority that is not subject to laws of nature, yet wishes to start a dialogue with us, human beings, the ten plagues of Egypt were initiated and carried out by messengers of the Divine, Moses and his older brother Aaron (starting at Exodus 7:20). The ten interventions of the Divine, as unfolding in Exodus, were meant by Torah to send a single message— The Divine is maintaining a dialogue with us, mere mortals. If only we listen. This dialogue is succinctly summarized in Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12):

“And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it”.

We are reminded that in biblical Hebrew “angel” is malach, namely, a messenger whose only function is to carry a message or carry out a message. For example: “But there came a messenger (“Malach”) to Shaul, saying, “Make haste and come, for the Philistines are raiding the land” (1 Samuel 23:27).

This lends Jacob’s dream a whole new interpretation: Every human being sends messages to Heaven of his/her wishes and desires. Most often, these messages are not expressed explicitly, but at times they do (as in prayer). These messages are “processed” and sent back down to Earth in corresponding Divine messages, to be executed by “descending messengers of God”.

How does Torah make explicit this dream, making clear that the dialogue between Heaven and Earth is a living reality?

By showing that the Divine intervenes in all that occurs on planet Earth, at times even via violating laws of nature.

This had occurred with the ten plagues of Egypt. And to Pharaoh, who had initially stated “Who is Jehovah that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, nor will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2), ten Divine interventions sent a clear message, causing Pharaoh to change his stance:

  • First, acknowledging Jehovah as a judge of the Earth (“..I have sinned this time: Jehovah is righteous and I and my people are wicked”; Exodus 9:27);
  • Eventually, by letting Israel go out of Egypt to worship their Jehovah God, but with a little request: “..Rise up and get you out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel and go serve Jehovah, as you have said, ..and be gone and bless me also” (Exodus 12:31-32).

The ten Divine interventions in Egypt had started, indeed made possible, the process of a dialogue between heavens and earth. Now ten Divine “says” of creation, of the first chapter of Genesis, followed by the Divine seeking a dialogue with humankind (“Where are thou?”), then ten interventions demonstrating that the Divine is not subject to the rule of nature, eventually culminating in ten Divine “speaks”, as manifested in the Ten Commandments:

“And God spoke all these things (Dvarim), saying: “I am Jehovah thy God, who has brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slaves; Thou shall have no other gods beside me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)..”..Thou shall not murder   Thou shall not commit adultery   Thou shall not steal   Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:13).