Isaiah 45 states in part:

לֹֽא־תֹ֥הוּ בְרָאָ֖הּ לָשֶׁ֣בֶת יְצָרָ֑הּ He did not create it (earth) for a waste, He formed it to be inhabited ...

But per the Ramban, the verb ברא means to create something from nothing. There is only one thing that was created from nothing - תהו.

... ואין אצלנו בלשון הקדש בהוצאת היש מאין אלא לשון "ברא"; אבל הוציא מן האפס הגמור המוחלט יסוד דק מאד, אין בו ממש, אבל הוא כוח ממציא, מוכן לקבל הצורה ולצאת מן הכוח אל הפועל. והוא החומר הראשון, נקרא ליוונים "היולי". ואחר ההיולי לא ברא דבר, אבל יצר ועשה, כי ממנו המציא הכל והלביש הצורות ותיקן אותן. ודע, כי השמים וכל אשר בהם – חומר אחד, והארץ וכל אשר בה – חומר אחד. והקב"ה ברא אלו שניהם מאין, ושניהם לבדם נבראים, והכל נעשים מהם. והחומר הזה, שקראו היולי, נקרא בלשון הקדש "תֹּהוּ", והמלה נגזרה מלשונם (קידושין מ ב): "בתוהא על הראשונות". מפני שאם בא אדם לגזור בו שֵׁם, תוהא ונמלך לקוראו בשם אחר, כי לא לבש צורה שיתפש בה השם כלל. Now we have no expression in the sacred language for bringing forth something from nothing other than the word bara (created) ... He brought forth from total and absolute nothing a very thin substance devoid of corporeality but having a power of potency, fit to assume form and to proceed from potentiality into reality. This was the primary matter created by G-d; it is called by the Greeks hyly (matter). After the hyly, He did not create anything, but He formed and made things with it, and from this hyly He brought everything into existence and clothed the forms and put them into a finished condition. Know that the heavens and all that is in them consist of one substance, and the earth and everything that is in it consist of one substance. The Holy One, blessed be He, created these two substances from nothing; they alone were created, and everything else was constructed from them. This substance, which the Greeks called hyly, is called in the sacred language tohu, the word being derived from the expression of the Sages: “betohei (when the wicked bethinks himself) of his doings in the past.” If a person wants to decide a name for it [this primordial matter], he may bethink himself, change his mind and call it by another name since it has taken on no form to which the name should be attached.

Thus, the phrase from Isaiah seems very odd because there is nothing else that God was Boreh except for Tohu! What do you mean that He was not Boreh it for Tohu? Tohu is precisely the only thing He was Boreh.

I realize that the verse is speaking about the earth and God is saying that he did not create the earth to be desolate. But, technically, per the Ramban what happened during creation in fact contravenes the verse - The only thing actually 'created' was Tohu! The word Bara does not apply to anything else.

The Sforno has a very interesting take on that verse in Isaiah which deals with some of this tension, but I do not think his opinion works with the Ramban:

וכשבראתיה מאין, לֹא בראתיה תֹהוּ בלבד, אבל בראתי ׳תוהו ובוהו׳ יחד when I created the earth from nothing I did not create it as Tohu alone, but also created it as Bohu

Again, the Ramban would not agree that ברא can go on anything other than תהו ...!!??

  • I think we might be forced to posit something along the lines of the Seforno (but not exactly the Seforno) for the Ramban - Tohu is indeed the only thing that He technically 'created,' but the earth was not only created with Tohu, but it was "formed" for population - supplied with the Bohu bells and whistles too ... something like "לֹֽא־תֹ֥הוּ בְרָאָ֖ה and that was it, but rather לָשֶׁ֣בֶת יְצָרָ֑הּ/Bohu too." In the end, the world was not only created for X, but formed for Y.
    – GratefulD
    Mar 10 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


He would read it as not being descriptive of the creation process, but of the purpose of creation. That is, creation was not meant to remain tohu, but rather inhabited. This can be seen in the Targum to the passuk, which adds a "ל" before the word tohu:

אֲרֵי כִדְנַן אֲמַר יְיָ דִי בְרָא שְׁמַיָא הוּא אֱלֹהִים דְשַׁכְלִיל אַרְעָא וְעָבְדָהּ הוּא אַתְקְנָהּ לָא לְרֵיקָנוּ בְרָהּ אֱלָהֵין לְאַסְגָאָה עֲלָהּ בְּנֵי אֱנָשָׁא אַתְקְנָא אֲנָא יְיָ וְלֵית עוֹד:

  • Thx. I found an amazing Malbim but once again he differs from Ramban. מלבי"ם בראשית פרק א פסוק ב (פרשת בראשית) כוננה לא תהו בראה לשבת יצרה, ר"ל שהשמים לא נוצרו ונעשו רק נבראו לבד, כי כמו שנבראו יש מאין כן נשארו ולא נוצר בהם צורה ולא עשה בהם שום תקון, אבל בארץ מלבד הבריאה הראשונה שנבראה יש מאין יצר הארץ ע"י שאמר יקוו המים ואח"כ עושה ע"י שאמר תדשא הארץ דשא, ואח"כ כוננה וגמר בנינה ע"י יצירת ב"ח והאדם, ומזה מבואר כי לא תהו בראה שלא רצה שתשאר תהו ובהו שאז הי' די הבריאה לבד שאז היתה תהו ובהו, רק לשבת יצרה מה שיצר אותה בתיקונה בששת ימי המעשה היה לשבת שיהיה בה ישוב.
    – GratefulD
    Mar 10 at 13:07

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