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As a non-Jew who has very little knowledge of Hebrew, I'm curious as to the following:

  1. Is the Hebrew text clear on this, one way or the other?

  2. If so, which is it?

  3. If not, are there any Jewish interpreters and/or rabbinical commentators who explain it one way or the other, and what is their reasoning?

My reasons for asking this question are as follows:

  1. I looked at this site and found that Leeser (a Jewish translator) says "And God saw the light that it was good; and God divided between the light and the darkness." Also, the JPS version (another Jewish translation) says "And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness." The Christian translators, however, seem to be more divided on the issue since the YLT says "And God seeth the light that it is good, and God separateth between the light and the darkness," and Julia Smith's translation says "And God will see the light that it is good, and God will separate between the light and between the darkness."

  2. I'm curious as to how Jewish theology plays into this issue. For example, do Jews believe that "sin" is more accurately described as "badness" or "brokenness" - and moreover, do Jews believe that God's creation can "become bad" or is this not considered possible?

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    The Hebrew is in the past tense. What does the second question have to do with the first?
    – shmosel
    Mar 2, 2023 at 23:29
  • @shmosel: Thanks for clarifying. So building off of that, what conclusion does Jewish theology draw from the fact that the Hebrew is in the past tense? Would it be correct to conclude that, in spite of God's creation being originally good, when someone commits a sin, not only does that put them in a broken condition, but it actually makes them a bad person? I just want to learn more, to understand the Jewish perspective better. I have no horse in this race. Mar 2, 2023 at 23:32
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    @TruthSeeker very interesting questions. The whole passage is past tense, so there's nothing unusual about saying the light was good, and doesn't imply that things got worse (however the fact that it doesn't say "and it was so" is noted , and leads to a similarish idea but not the same). So I don't think there's necessarily a connection (nor from what I can see with a quick look) between this and the ideas you mention (so therefore I recommend making them into their own questions). Welcome and nice to have you learning with us
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 3, 2023 at 1:10
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    Well we know Hashem is above time and all of His creation. It being in past tense could perhaps be proof of this time we have being something limited that has already ‘happened’ in Hashem eyes, blessed be He. Mar 3, 2023 at 2:45
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    @TruthSeeker not a single letter or word is wasted, or superfluous, or lacking deep and hidden meanings in Torah, so you are in the right place, asking the right questions. We do need a good tradition for each interpretation though.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 3, 2023 at 2:45

1 Answer 1

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The sentence itself is indeed in past tense but Hebrew almost always omits the copula, so it would have no tense, so literally, He saw the light, that it good, or that it ["be"] good.

However, consider the following:

  • In the verse "וירא מנוחה כי טוב" ("and he saw that rest was/is good") the adjective doesn't agree with the noun's gender so it has more idiomatic rather than literal meaning.

  • When you scroll through other places in the Tanakh, sentences which are constructed in a similar manner (someone sees something that it is ...), the second part of the sentece can be either present or past tense (where there are verbs that conjugate), depending on context.

  • Some languages are less strict about tenses i.e the verbs aren't conjugated to agree with tenses (or not as much). Therefore when translating to a language that gramatically requires tense, you can deduce the tense by context, but when absent, just understand it a "vague" tense.

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