ה וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד:
Translation: Gd named the light day and the darkness He named night; there must have been evening, there must have been morning, one day.
I have a two-fer this time, grammar and a midrash.
You can now sit back and absorb the certainty epistemics at the end of the verse. We know there was evening because the creation story starts off with darkness; we know there was morning which occurred when the light was separated from the dark.
And it has been so ever since. We have the evidence all through our lives that this happened because it still happens every day.
In Jewish culture, a new calendar day starts when the first three stars appear at night, or the time rolls around when they would do so. It ends with the next appearance of three stars.
There were no stars at the point we have reached in the creation story but, as when there is a cloudy night, that doesn’t matter because it got light after the darkness so we know that a time-keeping day is proceeding.
This nuance of the certainty epistemic – that something perceptible persists -- is crucial to a large number of verses in Exodus and afterward and I will show why in more detailed lessons after we get through this introductory work.
And now the midrash: why does it say “one day” not “first day”? The rabbis asked this centuries ago and came up with a number of theologically appropriate reasons.
Here’s mine. One of the things that happens because of narrative past, is that you have narrative tension. From your point of view, these things are already in the past. But from the point of view of the characters living through these times, nothing is over until the narrative is over.
If the narrator says “first day”, it implies a second day. You only have a “first” if you have a second. By saying “one day”, the narrator leaves it open that something will happen that will change everything. Gd could return everything to its primordial chaos. Narrative tension is preserved.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved