21 Nov

This week we read the story of creation from the Torah, and later on during services we will hold the Torah for the announcement and blessing of the new month. The fourth day of creation is a fascinating one to examine in the Torah because it is so out of step with our modern conceptions of that which was created.

In Gen. 1:14 the purpose of the sun and moon is set forth as acting as markers for the passage of time. Today that purpose has mostly fallen by the wayside due to the advent of calendars and digital clocks. If we built a giant sphere around the Earth that could provide us with all of the heat and energy that the sun does, people would not start missing their appointments because they don’t know what time of day or day of the week it is. Today we only use the sun and moon for this in very limited terms. We think of the sun as the big bright thing in the sky during the day and the moon as the big shiny thing in the sky during the night, but unless we are calculating important Halachic times or dates, we rarely care about the position of the sun or the shape of the moon in the sky. This conception of the sun and the moon fits in more with Gen. 1:15, which, when read in the larger context of the fourth day of creation, comes across as more of a detail to allow the sun and moon to fulfill their purposes in 1:14 than it does as an actual purpose in and of itself.

Another interesting note to support this is that during the fourth day of creation, the sun and the moon are not referred to by those names at all. They are merely referred to as the “greater luminary” and the “lesser luminary.” The terms “sun” and “moon” only come about later. The use of these more familiar terms can be connected with the emergence of the worshipping of the sun and moon as idols. There is a midrash which explains how God had come to be “forgotten” in the world, with humans starting out by praising the sun and moon as key parts of God’s creation and slowly over time replacing the invisible God with the very visible celestial bodies whose effects they could see. Thus human forgetfulness and lack of searching for the greater truth perverted the sun and the moon from their proper purpose and made them instruments of idolatry.

Unsurprisingly, human forgetfulness and lack of desire to search for a greater truth often leads us to make the same mistake our ancestors did. Nowadays, however, it is not the sun and moon who we pervert by forgetting their purpose; it is ourselves. We are often told that we have been put here to live a “good life,” and that is true. The problem is that we often focus on making sure out life is materially good instead of morally and spiritually good. We must not allow ourselves to make the same mistakes our ancestors did. Just as a thorough examination of the fourth day of creation reveals the true purpose of the sun and the moon, so too will an honest and thorough examination of ourselves reveal our own true purpose.

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