In the book of Genesis, G-d creates the various parts of the Heaven and the Earth with an intriguing sequence of phrases. While the pattern is similar enough in each instance to serve as a recognizable literary formula, it is different enough to invite questions. An exploration of textual similarities and differences in these verses opened the text for me in ways I had never before thought possible. I was exhilerated to find insights about the nature of Heaven, the nature of categories, the relationship between heaven and earth, consciousness, metaphysics and stewardship, that led me to feel included rather than excluded from the tradition’s central text.

In this brief essay I will analyze the language of the pattern of creation for “light? in Genesis 1: 3-5, and then I will compare it to the pattern of creation for “a firmament? in verses 6-8. I will conclude with a discussion of the implications of this analysis for Biblical cosmology—particularly for those of us who dwell outside the commonly understood Jewish “norms?, those of us who find particular meaning in crossing boundaries, and those of us for whom “purity? does not mean “holy.”

Reading the Patterns of Creation in Genesis 1:3-5 and 6-8

Pattern 1. The first pattern of creation is short, starting in verse three with a Divine imperative for light, followed by an acknowledgement of its presence: “And G-d said, “Let there be light?. And there was light.? [1] The tradition typically understands this to mean that, post hoc ergo propter hoc, light came into being because G-d spoke. [2]

Figure 1, below, summarizes the pattern and the explanation provided in the following paragraphs.

In verse four, light was present to the senses of a perceiver, in this case, G-d, who “saw? it, and who understood light to be “good? or “completed?. [3] G-d divides light from Darkness, something that is “not light?, creating a category for light and another for its opposite.

Vs Pattern 1 : LIGHT Interpretation of Pattern (or absence of pattern)
1.3 let there be An imperative for x
1.3 and there was x Presence of x; x could be sensed
1.4 saw x Sensed x among not-x
1.4 (saw) x was good Recognized completion
1.4 Divided x from not-x Formed categories x /not-x
1.5 Called to x by Name A Named category x DAY
1.5 Called not-x by Name B Named category not-x NIGHT
1.5 And there was evening and morning Recognized components of DAY; marks unit of time;marks passage of time

In verse five She names light (Day, or “x?) and He also names the category from which Zie separated it, (“not-x? or “Darkness?). [4] Then, curiously, the verse concludes with a second, and contradictory, notion of the components of “Day.? In translation, the verse reads: And God called to the light, “Day!? And to the darkness He called, “Night!? And there was evening, and there was morning, Day one. [5] In the first part of the verse, Day is composed of that which is “Light?. By the end of the verse, “One Day? includes “evening and morning? which are not, entirely or simply, light.

We learn from this pattern the inestimable value of difference: a foreground of “difference? is necessary to make distinctions – brains register discontinuity. Darkness was the reason that “light? was spotted in the first place. [6]

The second lesson we learn from this pattern is that “Day? is not all light, or, “Light? is sometimes Darkness. With great delight, we recognize that any way you slice it, this category contains both “x? and “not-x?, and that it was up to each “x? or “not-x? to define itself: G-d only did the calling. That which was able to respond to G-d’s call to describe itself as “light? (“G-d called to the light? presupposes ability to respond) was considered by G-d to fall into the category of “light?. For those of us who define ourselves as “x? when society would so much rather see us as “y?, this revelation comes as a –literal—G-dsend.

Pattern 2. The second repetition of the pattern of creation occurs in Genesis 1:5-8, and describes the creation of “a firmament? (רקיע , rakia). Figure 2 on page three summarizes the pattern and the explanation in the following paragraphs.

Verse six starts the same way as the pattern for the creation of light: “And God said: ‘Let there be x …?, but then it diverges. Instead of saying, “and there was x?, the text continues with: “… in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’? [7] The pattern for creation of the firmament now mentions where to put it (amidst the waters) and what its purpose is (to separate the water above the firmament from the water below the firmament). Rather than an actual act of creation, this verse records the blueprint for a future creation. For some reason, the pattern for the firmament is more complicated than the pattern for light.

Figure 2


Pattern 2: FIRMAMENT

Interpretation of Pattern

1.6 Let there be x An imperative for x
1.6 In the midst of the waters Location of x; x exists within a boundary
1.6 Let it divide x (below firmament) from x (above firmament) Plans for categories “the waters above?, “the waters below? and the flat expanse between them
1.7 Made Hammered out the flat expanse like metal is hammered flat.
1.7 Divided Formed categories “the waters above? and “the waters below? and placed the expanse between them as planned
1.8 Called to x by Name A Named category x Identity A (Heaven)
1.8 And there was evening and morning Marks unit of time, marks passage of time.

Verse seven contains the next step in the Second Pattern of Creation, the hammering of a firmament, and its actual placement. [8] This verse doesn’t have a parallel in the first pattern. God does not “see? the firmament, as he “sees? light before proclaiming it good. The verse concludes, “It was so? rather than “it was good?. We understand this to mean that the firmament was not complete.

In verse eight, G-d repeats the pattern of creation for light by naming the firmament. Notably, He does not name its “opposite? and he does not “see? the firmament. Then the text concludes with the passage of a second day. [9]

What do we learn from Pattern 2? The firmament is incomplete. This is not to say that the firmament G-d created was not durable or sturdy. In fact, the only time “the waters above? were permitted to pass through the firmament was during the flood, when G-d destroyed the world. Another way to say “incomplete? is, “ongoing?. For some reason, the creation of “a firmament? is an ongoing process.

Because G-d did not “see? it, we infer that the firmament was not something that would be visible to humans. I think the text is pointing us toward a reality that cannot be perceived through the senses.

Interpreting the Patterns of Creation

Figures 1 and 2 are augmented and combined in Figure 3: Patterns of Creation, on the following page. The similarities are located in white opposite one another, and the differences are noted in grey. To make comparison easier, the interpretations have been placed side by side in the center of the page. Read Pattern 1 from left to right, and pattern two from right to left. I extrapolated the Interpreation of the “missing areas? (in grey) based on the interpretation of the pattern where that trait is present (in white).

The differences may be restated as follows:

  1. Light exists everywhere; the firmament is a boundary zone (but eternally renewed)
  2. Light required no plan; the firmament required a blueprint that described its location and its function.
  3. From “and it was so? we understand Light was (present); the firmament’s presence went without notice, or it went without saying (was ubiquitous), or it was not present in the same way light was – perhaps could not be sensed in the same way light was.
  4. God saw light; the firmament either was not able to be seen or it was ubiquitous (rendering it invisible to normative perception which sees “difference?)
  5. Light is complete; the firmament either was somehow not complete, or, its creation was ongoing.
  6. Light required no “shaping? or “bounding?; G-d hammered flat the firmament, and placed it as a boundary zone between the waters above and the waters belows.
  7. Light’s “opposite? required separation, categorization and naming; the function of the firmament was to create two new categories, the waters above and the waters below, but they while duly separated and categoriezed, (oddly) remained unnamed. The border zone between them was named Heaven, but it is dimensionless, and invisible.


I am most interested in what we now know of Heaven based on an analysis of differences between the two patterns. The text tells us that Heaven is a boundary zone with no width or depth that separates the waters above from the waters below. The traditional understanding of Heaven, based solely on this text, is that it is a featureless invisible dome around the earth, an impenetrable shield somewhere in the upper stratosphere. The tradition also tells us that God lives there, connected to Earth through the umbilicus of the Western Wall, which, by extension, is also “Heaven?.

But the picture gets more complicated when we try to locate the waters below or identify the waters above. What are the waters below? They are the oceans, ponds, rivers, streams, and bogs surely, but also the humidity in the air, the deep trenches that bubble up from under the Earth, the glacial cover of the polar caps, the water mixed with fertile soil, and also, certainly, the 98 percent of animal flesh that is comprised of water. Most of every living cell is water. Water is everywhere.

While we know the atmosphere contains water vapor, we know it also contains mostly oxygen and some nitrogen/ So if Heaven is in contact with the water below, it’s a lumpy surface! In fact, I envision it as particulate.

Water is not a fixed or finite substance. It is an easily disturbed molecule composed of two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen. Thermal heating and evaporation release solid water as a gas into the air. If Heaven is doing its job, then, it surrounds every molecule of water. Since it was not “tov? or complete, but is ongoing, we can imagine Heaven in motion, surrounding even the new molecules that form when Hydrogen atoms bond to free Oxygen during electrical or chemical reactions.

But is “the water below? only on this planet? What about Mars? Water exists on other planets in our galaxy, and water vapor exists in distant galaxies elsewhere in the Universe.

What is the water above? How do we know if water belongs to the category “above? or “below?? The simple way to make a distinction is that the water above may never make contact with the Earth. Water in outer space must also be classified as “the water below? since nothing but distance prevents it from falling onto our Earth as rain, and the “water above? is prevented from doing that by Heaven (except in extremis). So if the water below contains any water we can possibly imagine, what is the water above?

Perhaps the ancients wanted to locate a band of Heaven encircling our planet, somewhere between ourselves and every other point in the Universe, but I do not feel inclined to suggest Heaven as a physical boundary between Earth and the Universe. And, looked at carefully, the text doesn’t support such a reading. But a metaphysical boundary seems warranted – especially when it locates Heaven, and Heaven’s First Citizen, in every cell of our bodies.

What are the waters below? All that lives is bathed in the waters below. What are the waters above? Water that we will never be able to touch, surrounded by a boundary we cannot perveive. But, because the boundary is a particulate surround for every drop of water below, the “waters above? must have flowed in to surround us, but because of the boundary we can’t perceive them. In light of this envisioning, I suspect the idea of the waters above is not linked to the idea of “physical water? at all, but rather, to the realm of perception.

I think the waters above and the waters below remain unnamed because their oppostion cannot be recognized by humans. When G-d names a thing in Genesis it is because he wants us to recognize its relationship with its Other and with the spectrum of gradations between the Thring Named and its Other. The lack of a name seems to me a significant pointer to the unknowableness of the waters above by human sensory perception. I think the fact that they are mentioned at all is significant, and indicates there is another way to get there. If the waters above can’t touch the Earth, most assuredly we are meant to seek them out.

What is the function of Heaven? To separate the waters above from the waters below. Why couldn’t G-d “see? the firmament / Heaven? To indicate the barrier is not visible to human senses. How then do we perceive the barrier, Heaven, and G-d who dwells therein (and, we can imagine, in more dimensions than the four we can perceive)? I think the text is trying to point our way toward a kind of consciousness, a kind of knowing that doesn’t come through the senses. A kind of knowing that comes from a change in our perceptual state. An awareness that locates Heaven around every water molecule, and the “waters above? as a realm of perception swimming with life of the mind and spirit.

Firmament – Heaven—is the conductor, the carrier of thought, arising out of every micron of the biosphere. Needs arise from flesh. Thoughts from need. Heaven is the semi-permeable boundary between the world of thought and the world of flesh, the origin of collective consciousness. We float in a bath of perceptions not our own. Thought is localized not in a “brain? but in all matter. Everything is speaking, but not everything has a mouth.

Verse Pattern 1 : LIGHT Interpretation of Pattern (or absence of pattern)

Interpretation of Pattern (or absence of pattern)

Pattern 2: FIRMAMENT

1.3 let there be An imperative for x An imperative for x Let there be x 1.6
Light is not bounded by anything; light is everywhere Location of x; x exists within a boundary In the midst of the waters 1.6
There is no “plan? Plans for categories “the waters above?, “the waters below? and the flat expanse between them Let it divide x (below firmament) from x (above firmament) 1.6
1.3 and there was x Presence of x; x could be sensed X is not present
1.4 saw x Recognition of x among not-x X cannot be sensed
1.4 (saw) x was good Recognition of completion X is ongoing
God did not have to “shape? light, or contain it within a boundary Hammered out the flat expanse like metal is hammered flat. Made 1.7
1.4 Divided x from not-x Formation of categories x and not-x Formed categories “the waters above? and “the waters below? and placed the expanse between them as planned Divided 1.7
1.5 Called to x by Name A Named category x as Identity A (Day) Named category x Identity A (Heaven) Called to x by Name A 1.8

Called to not-x by Name B

Naming of category not-x by Identity B (Night) The waters above and the waters below were not named. The space between them, Heaven, was named; relationship between heaven and the two categories
1.5 And there was evening and morning Recognition of the components of Identity A, (evening plus morning equals one day) and marks unit of time; and marks passage of time Marks unit of time, marks passage of time. And there was evening and morning 1.8



[1] Genesis 1:3. וַיֹּ?מֶר ?ֱלֹהִי?, יְהִי ?וֹר; וַיְהִי-?וֹר All text from Mechon Mamre online at

[2] Post hoc — A logical fallacy which assumes that if one event happens after another, then the first must be the cause of the second.
[3] “good? in Biblical parlance means “complete or functional?
[4] G-d is represented herein with transforming pronouns to demonstrate that Zie is beyond gender and may occupy any gender and transform from one to the next without diminishment. I see single-gendering G-d as an idolatrous practice.
[5] Genesis 1.5 וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹ? ?ֶחָד לָיְלָה; קָרָ? וְלַחֹש?ֶךְ יוֹ?, לָ?וֹר ?ֱלֹהִי? וַיִּקְרָ?
[6] Genesis 1: 4 וַיַּבְדֵּל ?ֱלֹהִי?, בֵּין הָ?וֹר וּבֵין הַחֹש?ֶךְ כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּרְ? ?ֱלֹהִי? ?ֶת-הָ?וֹר, The verse reads, “G-d saw the light, that it was good. And G-d divided the light from the darkness?
[7] Genesis 1:6 וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִ? לָמָיִ? וַיֹּ?מֶר ?ֱלֹהִי?, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִ?,
[8 Genesis 1:7 וַיַּעַשׂ ?ֱלֹהִי?, ?ֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִ? ?ֲש?ֶר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִ? ?ֲש?ֶר מֵעַל לָרָקִיע וַיְהִי-כֵן And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.
[9] Genesis 1:8 וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹ? ש?ֵנִי. וַיִּקְרָ? ?ֱלֹהִי? לָרָקִיעַ, ש?ָמָיִ? And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.