Good? Good!

Rabbi Misha Shulman
4 min readOct 21, 2022

If you were a biblical translator but your Hebrew was hit or miss you might translate the sixth and seventh verses of the Torah as follows:

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was %$*!, and God separated the light from the darkness.

Somehow you never caught the meaning of one of those words, and you couldn’t quite make out from the context what “the light was,” so you left it rather vague.

A few verses later you might do something similar when that word reappears:

God called the dry land Earth and called the gathering of waters Seas. And God saw that this was %$*!.

Still the meaning of this word could go in various directions. Any of these words and many others could logically replace %$*!: excellent, terrible, funny, right, wrong, ugly, beautiful, lacking, perfect.

The next two appearances don’t give you much indication as to the meaning of the word, so when it appears for a fifth time in verse 21 you again translate:

God created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind. And God saw that this was $%*!.

%$*! could again indicate that God is pleased or displeased with these creatures, surprised by them or not, and so on.

The seventh and final appearance in the first chapter you translate:

And God saw all that had been made and found it very %$*!.

When we step back from the translations that have been handed down to us, or from our knowledge of Hebrew, we might get a different understanding of the text. This same Hebrew word, Tov, which appears seven times in the opening chapter can be ripe with mystery.

Unfortunately for our imaginations and playfulness, all translators agree that the word Tov means “good” in English. Every day of creation other than the second, God pauses to inspect the work at least once, and finds it good. In the end God finds it all “very good.”

Fortunately, though, this gives us an opportunity to explore what we might mean when we use the word “good.”

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Jerusalem born, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art and activism since 1999. Rabbi @ The New Shul and Director of School for Creative Judaism.