“In the beginning” (1: 1)
(an exploration of the idea of when the world was created)
It states in masechet Sanhedrin (97a): The world will be for 6000 years and 1000 it will be destroyed.
Rashi explains that apart from the 6000 years there will be another 1000 years of destruction and desolation.
The Talmud there explains that the 1000 years of desolation corresponds to the shmita year (as explained in parshat Behar), and thus the world has a shmita of 1000 years every 7000 years.
The relationship between the years of the world and the shmita year can be explained because the reason for shmita every seven years corresponds to G-d resting on the seventh day of creation (which was Shabbat). Therefore the shmita of the 7000th year primarily relates to resting from Creation. It is known that a day of G-d is 1000 years, as the verse states “For a thousand years in Your eyes is like from yesterday to today” (Tehillim 90: 4). Therefore the worlds has a shmita every 7000th year.
However the entire concept of the shmita of the 7000th year, based on the wording “and one thousand destroyed” means that it is part of a long chain without end, from the time of the first creation. Since then this cycle has repeated itself every 6000 years, with 1000 years of destruction following. It as then rebuilt every time for another 6000 years. This repeated over and over again.
It is almost certain that this is the meaning of the midrash rabba on this parsha on the verse “And it was evening and it was morning” which says that G-d creates worlds and destroys them, creates worlds and destroys them.
This also fits with the words of the Talmud that we brought above, that the world will last for 6000 years then be destroyed for 1000. This means that after every 6000 years there is 1000 of destruction before the world is renewed. Only G-d knows which cycle of 7000 years we are in at the moment.
This is clear from the words ‘destroyed for 1000’ which implies a cycle as we have said. If there would only be 6000 years to the world altogether followed by destruction it would not make sense to talk of 1000 years of destruction since after the 6000 the destruction would be forever. But according to what we have said it makes sense, because after the destruction there will be a new beginning.
There is another reason why it is difficult to understand that after 6000 years there will be total destruction forever, because we are now towards the end of the 5000th year, with only a couple of hundred years until that destruction. Even if the redemption were to occur today, does it make sense that the reward for all the thousands of years of exile would be sandwiched into such a small time of only a couple of hundred years? About this the Talmud says ‘Do you think G-d brings judgement without justice?’ (Brachot 5b).
Furthermore, just before the redemption all settlement of the world will cease. As the Talmud says (Avodah Zarah 9b) ‘if a person were to offer to sell you a field worth 1000 dinars for only a single dinar don’t accept the offer’.
Also, based on the analogy between the seven year shmita cycle and the years of creation it must be that the destruction of the 7000th year cannot be a permanent destruction. The shmita year only lasts for one year, and after that year everything returns to the way it was, so it must be also that the years of creation with the ‘shmita’ of the 7000th year is only temporary, and afterwards everything will return to its normal way.
Perhaps the reason for the destruction of the world from time to time is congruous with the way things work in the world. When someone builds new houses in a place where old houses stood earlier, the entire foundations of the original buildings must be completely destroyed and the area cleared and only then can the foundations be laid for the new buildings. So too with the world, after a period of 6000 years all the building and foundation of the past era must be destroyed so that new building can begin for another 6000 years afterwards.
This is the way that G-d fixed the nature of the world. When someone plants seeds in the earth, they must first be destroyed and only afterwards can they begin to sprout. Similarly, a new world can begin to sprout after the destruction and decay of the world and everything that is within it.
Based on this we can explain the Aggada in Talmud Shabbat (152b): If someone has jealousy his bones will rot (after his death), and anyone who doesn’t have jealousy, his bones will not rot. This is based on the words of a verse. Then the Talmud challenges: Doesn’t the verse states, “You shall return to dust” (and Rashi explains that the decree against Adam the first man also applies to every person since). The Talmud explains that this only applies just before the resurrection of the dead. In other words, the rot that was decreed for someone who doesn’t have jealousy will only be a moment before the resurrection. It doesn’t explain the purpose of the rotting, or define the time which is ‘just before the resurrection of the dead’.
But the explanation is as follows, based on what we said above: In order to have a new life in the resurrection of the dead, it is necessary that the former body be destroyed and rots into dust. If someone is jealous this rotting takes place as part of the natural process. However, someone who does not have jealousy, his bones remain whole and ready until a moment before the resurrection. At that time it is necessary for them to rot so that they can come back to the new life that will come, to fulfil the decree of “You shall return to dust”.
We will see the purpose of the destruction of the world in the Aggada that we will bring shortly. For those thousand years while G-d is renewing the world, He will make wings for the righteous and they will fly over the surface of the water. However we understand the Aggada, it certainly seems that the world will be completely covered with water.
With what we have explained we can also understand the verses in parshat Va’etchanan (Devarim 7) where it says about G-d that he keeps the covenant and the kindness for a thousand generations. Also in Tehillim (105: 8) it states “He commanded His word for a thousand generations”. As we know, a generation is seventy years, as the verse states “the days of his life in them are seventy years” (ibid. 90: 10). See also at Talmud Yevamot (50a). A thousand generations is therefore 70,000 years. G-d is guaranteeing the world’s existence for that length of time. So the number of 6000 years for the world must be only for one period of the world’s existence, which will repeat until that total number of years.
With this we can understand how scientists have found trees and bones of animals that clearly lived tens of thousands of years ago (look at ‘Oh Hachaim’ by the author of Tiferet Yisrael at the end of Nezikin). This is no contradiction to our counting of years, since they are just remnants of earlier periods of the world’s existence which somehow survived the destruction and lasted until now. Just as the Talmud (Nida 61a) says that Og King of Bashan remained (and survived) from the flood, or that three boiling pools of water survived from the time of the flood (Sanhedrin 108a).
In the beginning (1: 1)
There are many hints in this first verse. Look at Rashi, who brings some of the allusions. We can also find a hint to what we explained in the previous piece. We have a tradition in the Talmud that the world will exist for 6000 years, and then be destroyed for 1000 years. We explained above that this is a 7000 year cycle which repeats over and over again.
We can find a hint to this in the first verse. The Hebrew word for 1000 is eleph, and the word for destroyed is shamam. In the first verse there are seven words – Bereishit Bara Elokim Et Ha-shamayim v-Et Ha-Aretz. Each of the words contains the letter aleph (related to the word for 1000) except for the word Ha-Shamayim The root of the word Shamayim is the word shamam (as we find in Iyov 32: 43 “Utterly destroyed without any life”). The six words with the letter aleph allude to the six thousand (eleph) years, and the seventh word (Shamayim) alludes to the destruction (Shamam), which is the only world without the letter aleph.