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In Bereishis 1:9 it says וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה , And God said, "Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear". Rashi explains: שהיו] שטוחין על פני כל הארץ והקוום באוקינוס], They were spread out over the surface of the entire earth, and He gathered them in the ocean. Why did the water need this special prompting from God? Why didn't the water simply follow the laws of nature, and flow down to the lowest place (the seabed)?

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On what day was the law of universal gravitation created? –  Yitzchak May 13 at 14:25
    
@Yitzchak I had a very similar thought. Without gravity, surface tension would pull the water over the entire surface of the earth. No mekor though –  Tzvi May 13 at 14:27
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Without gravity, there'd be no earth to have a surface. –  Isaac Moses May 13 at 14:28
    
@IsaacMoses why? explain –  Tzvi May 13 at 14:29
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It's not at all obvious what the Torah means by any of those words in this context, but if we assume, as you seem to, that they take their plain meanings as we'd use them now, then "land" means something like "ball of mostly solid matter held in ball shape by mutual gravitational attraction." –  Isaac Moses May 13 at 14:57
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Tol'dos Yitzchak (by Rav Yitzchak Karo, uncle of the Bes Yosef) suggests that the water and continents were combined at first as a muddy slush, and this command separated them, with the land portion coming together (and rising) to form the continents and the water portion coming together (and sinking) into the space between the continents. In his words:

נאמר שלפי שהיה התהום שהיה מים ועפר כמו מים עכורים גזר השי״ת שיקוו המים שהם גבוהים אל מקום שפל למטה ושיעלה העפר למעלה ושניהם הפך טבעם זה עולה וזה יורד

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the vilna gaon says this is a remez to kriat yam suf (splitting of the red sea) where the waters retreated and the "dry land" appeared. i.e. the wet ground became dry as the midrash says. forgot the exact source.

pshat could also mean some of the water retreated to the tehom (deep) as we see regarding the flood that the tehom opened up and flooded the world along with the rain (Genesis 7:11 "on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened")

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The source is actually R' Itzele Volozhener, son of R' Chaim Volozhener, who answered the question when it was asked by his father to the Gaon. The Gaon confirmed it. –  YEZ May 13 at 17:52
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Was the GRA (or his student) actually saying that these words are referring to events that happened thousands of years later? It's hard to believe that's the peshat, at least. –  Isaac Moses May 13 at 18:07
    
The tehom idea doesn't seem to fit with the language of the pasuk, and certainly not with the language of Rashi - "והקוום באוקינוס" - "He gathered them in the ocean." –  Isaac Moses May 13 at 18:12
    
@IsaacMoses the Gra is a remez not pshat. 2. could be the verse is not saying the whole story. i.e. the water was gathered to the ocean and at the same time the existing water over there went down under. would be better with a source though. right now just a suggestion. –  ray May 13 at 21:00
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Perhaps the land mass was completely covered by water and after the command the land mass rose up and differentiated itself from the water that previously covered it.

Or, the water had a significant amount of turbulence such that the land mass was regularly covered by the water. After the command the waves calmed down and the land mass was visible.

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