In The Beginning

In The Beginning...

These words open the description of God’s creation and its saga. This is just the beginning, can we at least find some order we can understand?

Creation happened over a period of time. How long of a period? We know – seven days. How do we know? It is written. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; Exodus 20:10

So what is a day exactly? In Genesis 1:5 we find two definitions. The first one is,  God called the period of light day. From this we understand that the word day (yom – יוֹם) refers to the time when we see light. A few words later, and after every time God completed a certain process of creation, we have our second definition. And there was evening and there was morning… day.

An evening and a morning are a day, and so the day starts in the evening, and not at midnight or in the morning. Another interpretation is that the day was completed once it was evening and then morning again. In Jewish tradition every day or holiday starts at sunset. For that reason the celebration of passover is called ‘the night of the ceremony’ or ‘the night of passover’. Even today, in modern Israel, special days that were added to the calendar e.g. remembrance and memorial days, and independence day, start on the night “before”.

What are the days called in Hebrew?

We can learn these names, and something interesting that takes place here. The major influence on the naming of the days of the week, in most cultures and languages, was the Roman empire. Therefore, in most languages the days were named after the planets, which were named after the Roman gods. The Hebrew names came much earlier and are very different. In Hebrew most of them are simply ordinal numbers (in masculine form since day is masculine), we see this throughout Genesis 1.

And there was evening and there was morning… day. וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם…

Second     Sheni             שֵׁנִֽי

Third         Shlishi        שְׁלִישִֽׁי

Fourth       Reviߵi          רְבִיעִֽי

Fifth          Ḥamishi     חֲמִישִֽׁי

This shows us that the days are not only being counted but actually being named. Since ordinal numbers in Hebrew are treated like adjectives, and usually would be accompanied by the definite article, i.e. the second day, the fifth child, the third book, the day that follows the fifth day (Genesis 1:31) emphasizes this point- it is written in a definitive construct form in which only the second word receives the definite article.

The sixth day (or the *Sixthday)     Yom HaShishi     י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי

Which day follows the sixth day? The seventh day? No! in Genesis 2:2-3 we receive a hint of the name of the seventh day. 

By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is the day in which God rested, therefore later on, when the story of the manna is being told, we find the first mention of the day’s name and, we find that it is derived from God’s rest (Shavat שָׁבַת) on that day – a holy sabbath to the Lord. Exodus 16:23

From Shavat (Verb) שָׁבַת to Shabbat (Noun) שַׁבָּת which was transliterated to Sabbath. This is also the origin of the sabbatical some really seem to wish to enjoy.

But do not worry, we didn’t forget about the number seven (Sheva שֶׁבַע) – seven days are a week, שָׁבוּעַ Shavuaߵ (can also means seven years). Inspired by Hebrew, this is the reason many languages today named the day after Friday – Sabbath, and in some languages even the day names were changed into numbers to purposefully not mention other gods. 

Have we forgotten something? Oh, yes. What is the day before the second day called? 

First     Rishon     רִאשׁוֹן

But Genesis 1:5 says one (Echad אֶחָֽד). And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Why? There simply weren’t other days to start counting yet…


Further reading:

הרטום א. ש., טור-סיני נ. ה., ליכט י. ש., (1988) יום ולילה, ליכט י. ש. (עורך), מועדי ישראל (עמ’ 7 – 14), ירושלים: מוסד ביאליק.

Richard A. Fletcher (1999). The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. University of California Press. p. 257.

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