And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’ (Genesis 1:6). Rashi explains that “Let there be a firmament” means to let the firmament become strengthened. Even though the heavens were created on day one, they were still moist and therefore congealed on the second day.1
This idea was expressed in the Tanakh as it says “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His rebuke” (Job 26:11). Due to God’s roar of “Let there be a firmament,” the heavens stiffened.1
“R. Zulra b. Tobiah said that Rab said: by ten things was the world created: By wisdom and by understanding, and by reason, and by strength, and by rebuke, and by might, by righteousness and by judgment, by lovingkindness and by compassion. …By rebuke, for it is written: The pillars of heaven were trembling, but they became astonished at His, rebuke” (Haggai 15a).2
“[A]nd let it divide the waters from the waters” refers to the center of the waters. The distance between the firmament and the waters upon the earth is the same as the distance between the firmament and the higher waters.3
“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so” (Genesis 1:7). It was at this point in Creation, according to Rashi, that God fixed the firmament into its position. By stating “and it was so,” God was telling mankind that this part of Creation would be so forever.1
Unlike day one when God created light and “saw that the light was good,” God does not reveal that the creation of day two – the firmament – was “good.” Why is this? According to Rashi, the work of the creation of the waters was not yet completed on the second day. Since it was incomplete it was not “in its state of fullness and goodness.”1
“And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day” (Genesis 1:8).
“What does ‘heaven’ [Shamayim] mean? R. Jose b. Hanina said: It means, ‘There is water’. In a Baraitha it is taught: [It means], ‘fire [אש] and water [מים];’ this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought them and mixed them one with the other and made from them the firmament” (Haggai 15a).2
“The word shamayim is thus as if it said shem mayim, meaning that ‘heaven’ is the name given the waters when they took on a new form.” On the second day God called for a firmament to be made from the waters that were already made on the first day.3
“These spherical bodies He also called ‘heavens’ by the name of the first upper heavens. This is why they are called in [these verses] ‘the firmament of the heaven’ rather than ‘heavens’ … in order to explain that they are not the heavens mentioned by that name in the first verse but merely the firmaments called ‘heavens’.”3
“And God said: ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:9).
God called for the waters to be gathered into one place for the water at this point was spread across the entire face of the earth.1
The deep that was referenced in verse two according to Ramban consisted of both water and sand. When God called for the waters to be gathered, He decreed that they be gathered into one place surrounded on all sides by the rising sand.3
“And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10).
This verse states that the proper name for the earth is “yabashah” (יַּבָּשָׁה) which means dry land because the sand dried as the waters separated.3
However, the earth is called “Eretz” (אֶרֶץ) because this name includes the four elements that were created on the first day. These four elements were created for the sake of the earth “in order that there be a habitation for man, since among the lower creatures no one but man recognizes his Creator.”3
The gathering together of the waters were called “yamim” (יַמִּים) – that is, seas. Ramban declares that it is as if the words yam and mayim were combined. The bottom of the ocean is called yam, as it is written “…as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9) and a large gathering of water is called the sea (mayim), as it is written “…and took down the sea from off the brazen oxen that were under it…” (II Kings 16:17).3
God declared that the Earth and the Seas were “good.” This is the first instance of the third day’s Creation being declared “good.” Why is this? The creation of the waters and land began on day two and is now completed. Now that the creation of the waters and land is completed, it can be called “good.”3
“And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:11).
God calls for grass and herbs to fill and cover the Earth and grow seeds within the herbs and the fruit of the trees so they may be seeded in other places.1
“And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day” (Genesis 1:12-13).
By God declaring that the grass, herb, and trees which He created were “good” He was declaring that the existence of these portions of Creation are to exist forever.
1Yisrael Herczeg. The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary – Genesis. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2000).
2I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf]
3Charles Chavel. Ramban Commentary on the Torah – Genesis. (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).