In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. He was with G-d in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (cf. John 1).
The Scripture teaches us that the world was brought into existence from non-existence i.e. ex nihilo. The belief that the world is eternal, is not only a metaphysical falsehood and a misrepresentation of the origin of the universe, it is a belief which serves to undermine all of morality, while denying freedom in both G-d and man.
If matter existed before creation, then the Creator of the universe would have been able to fashion from the material given Him not a world that was absolutely good, but only the best possible world within the limitations of that material. G-d would then not be master over the material of the world, and man would not be master over his body. Freedom would disappear, and the entire world would be subject to a blind immutable fate.
Everything was created by the free, Almighty Creator, a Creator Who still rules freely over matter and form of everything; over the forces that act upon matter; over the laws by which these forces operate; and over the resulting forms. The free and Almighty will of G-d created matter and caused these forces to act upon it, and His will set the laws by which forms are fashioned.
And so the world that has been created is not the best possible one that can be fashioned with the given material; rather it is the only good world and is a world which reflects the wise plan of the Creator.
The possibility of sinning is part of his moral perfection and a basic condition for his moral freedom. We see then that ‘bereshit’ is the foundation of our awareness of G-d, world, and man. When man lost this awareness, it had to be reestablished. This, then, was the purpose of the revealed miracles: to demonstrate G-d’s free and unbounded mastery over the world with all its elements forces and laws. According to our Sages, these miracles were intended to restore man’s faith in a free and unlimited G-d.
Paganism fragments the whole world into many groups and spheres (e.g. gods of Greece and Rome, the Hindus, et al). At the head of each sphere stands a ruler who has been bestowed with certain powers. This misguided and erroneous notion lowers the concept of god and transforms the god into a natural power who is unfree in the act of creating. Such a god is unable to create true contrasts and differing phenomena, therefore, the world would have to have been established by many gods – as many as there are groups of opposing phenomena.
The Scriptures (and Judaism) denies the existence of these numerous gods and ascribes the powers that are attributed to them to the one and only G-d. He alone is called Elohim. All the attributes of power that were separated by paganism are united in Him. The unification of these attributes raises the one G-d above any notion of a mere natural power. For only the free and omnipotent Will of a single Being can create a world of contrasts; only He can unite these contrasts into one great purpose.
Elohim is also a Name that signifies G-d’s relationship between G-d and the world. G-d Who reveals Himself today as the Master of the universe is the One Who created the world through His Will and Almighty power. The Scripture gives expression to the complete objectivity of the creation vis-a-vis its Creator, of the world vis-a-vis G-d. Scripture thus discredits those who err and try to argue that G-d is immersed in the world – as though He were the world’s mind and soul, thus lowering G-d to the level of a force of nature, which has no existence beyond the world.
This is untrue, since after G-d created the world and all its parts, He looked at them again. It follows, then, that the work is external to its Creator, and that G-d is outside the world. G-d ‘barah,’ created, His world giving it external existence and His thoughts physical objectivity. The world is related to G-d, not as the body is related to the soul, not as the organism is related to the life-force, but as a work is related to its maker.
In other words, G-d transcends His world absolutely and His work remains forever dependent upon Him, whereas He is independent of His work. The Scripture testifies that G-d looks upon His work and finds it good, and only because He looks upon it and only for as long as He looks upon it does it continue to exist.
Adapted from commentary on Parashas Bereshis, Rabbi S.R Hirsch.