Secrets of Bereshit: The Occult Bible III
בְּרֵאשִׁית In the beginning/When [God] began... (TaNaKH)
Since RaSHI, it has been widely understood that the conventional sequential translation, "In the beginning.." is inaccurate. Bereshit is a construct, not absolute form, so a temporal "When [God] began..." is better. So already on the merely syntactical level the word has its complexities.
But Jewish tradition has also held the six letters contain secrets that the wise will understand:
By making a notarikon (in this case, separating the word into two words:
בָּרַא שִׁית He created six [things]....
(Genesis Rabbah 1:4; Midrash ha-Gadol)
A secret is revealed - six critical entities preceded the actual creation of heaven and earth: The Throne of Glory [positive existence], Torah [the blueprint for existence], the Ancestors [the righteous pillars that support existence], the concept of the Temple [the link between worlds], and the name of Messiah [redemption and rectification].
Although the Torah itself suggests that certain hylic entities co-existed with God at the beginning (water, darkness), by separating out the diacritical dagesh from the word [it is the dot in the first letter]:
Beginning with a point...בְ • רֵאשִׁית
the Zohar finds the philosophic principle creation ex nihilo [from nothing] in the first word. Zohar also finds hints of the Sefirotic structure in the first sentence:
"With Wisdom [reishit = chokhmah, a claim based on Proverbs 8:22; 3:18], the Infinite [= Keter, the subject being implicit in the verb form bara] created Elohim [binah]"
All Jewish mysticism takes very seriously the pathos (the caring) of God, that God is driven by a 'need' to create and relate to that creation, an idea scandalous to rationalist philosophy, which posits that God must be impassive. Re-arranging the six letters yields that creation is a:
שִׁיר תָאֵב A song of desire
(Attributed to Isaac Luria)
And confirms the mystical premise of a deity longing for us.
All of which is very cool and enlightening. And its just a sample. Tikkunei Zohar has many, many d'rashot on the word Bereshit (70, I'm told, but I've never counted them). But this kind of free-form interpretation creates other problems for the tradition. For example, Christians can play this game too:
the letters can yield:
fire [ = holy spirit, though don't ask me how] אישׁ
a fortunate daughter [guess?]בּת אשׁרי
crucifixion on the sixth [day] ת
[This last one's another stretch - the Hebrew tav is the equivalent of the Greek tau....which is cross-shaped!]
(courtesy of Alexander Neckham, a 12th Century monk, in his De Naturis Rerum)
Which may in part explain the gradual shift to more contextual, plain-sense [peshat]interpretations of the Bible by later generations of Jewish commentators - less chance of having your hermeneutics used against you!
Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050