In his commentary of Beresheith/Genesis 1:1, Rashi states:

And a further proof that the heavens and earth were not the first thing created is that the heavens were created from fire (אש) and water (מים), from which it follows that fire and water were in existence before the heavens

How did he come to this conclusion that the heavens were made from fire and water? What was his source?

As always scriptural references, articles, commentaries, and personal insight are always welcomed.

2 Answers 2


Chagigah 12a:

מַאי שָׁמַיִם אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר חֲנִינָא שֶׁשָּׁם מַיִם בְּמַתְנִיתָא תָּנָא אֵשׁ וּמַיִם מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהֱבִיאָן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּטְרָפָן זֶה בָּזֶה וְעָשָׂה מֵהֶן רָקִיעַ

What is the meaning and source of the word “heaven” [shamayim]? Rabbi Yosei bar Ḥanina said: It is an acronym, shesham mayim, meaning: That water is there. It was taught in a baraita: Shamayim means esh umayim, fire and water, which teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, brought them both and combined them together, and made the firmament from them.


The Midrash (Bereshit Raba 4:7) is the earlier source

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם, רַב אָמַר אֵשׁ וּמָיִם, רַבִּי אַבָּא בַּר כַּהֲנָא אָמַר מִשּׁוּם רַב, נָטַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֵשׁ וּמַיִם וּפְתָכָן זֶה בָּזֶה וּמֵהֶן נַעֲשׂוּ שָׁמַיִם.

"G-d called the firmament heaven", Rav said fire and water, Rabi Aba Bar Kahana said in the name of Rav: G-d took fire and water, joined them together and made the heavens.

  • 1
    Do you mean the midrash is earlier than Rashi or earlier than even the gemara brought in the other answer?
    – Harel13
    Sep 29, 2021 at 15:48
  • @Harel13 Yes the midrash is earlier than Rashi. The midrash Raba is a midrash from the Sages of the Talmud which predate Rashi by hundreds of years. In this case, R Yosei bar Ḥanina from the gemara in Chagiga is a 2nd generation Amora, a student of R Yochanan in Israel. R Abba bar Kahana from the midrash is a 3rd generation amora, the son of R Kahana II who lived both in Bavel and Israel. But he brings a saying in the name of Rav, a 1st generation Amora, who is therefore the earliest source
    – mbloch
    Sep 29, 2021 at 16:49
  • 1
    @mbloch The source in chagigah is a beraita, which would seem to be earlier than Rav
    – Joel K
    Sep 29, 2021 at 22:02
  • @JoelK you are right, the relevant part of the gemara is actually the baraita, not the statement from R Yosei bar Ḥanina
    – mbloch
    Sep 30, 2021 at 3:33

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