And the Eternal God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposite him.” (Genesis 2:18)

 

The end of this verse is rather puzzling. Why would the woman designated as a helpmate for Adam be opposite (literally “against”) him? One can perhaps soften things by translating the Hebrew eizer kenegdo as “counterpart.” However, in a literal translation, the question remains. A simple explanation is well known: if a man is worthy, his wife would be his best friend, ally, partner, companion, and helpmate. If the man is not worthy, however, his wife would be his opponent and antagonist.

An esoteric interpretation offered by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in his commentary on this verse in “Torah Ohr,”[1] provides a deeper meaning. He writes that a man and a woman are allegorical references to the two names of God—”Havayah[2] (YHWH, the Tetragrammaton), and Elokim.[3]

What is a name? I have many names: my wife calls me by my nickname; my friends call me by my first name; others call me by my last name; when I lecture on physics at a university, my students call me “professor;” and my children call me “Papa.” We relate in different ways to various people, who in turn relate to us in different ways, as indicated by their use of different names. God, too, has many names. These many names, however, do not imply any multiplicity in God whatsoever—God is one, but He relates to us, his creatures, in different ways: sometimes as a loving husband or a kind father; other times, as a strict teacher; and sometimes, as a just judge. These various modes of Divine manifestation are represented by different names.[4] In Kabbalah literature, Divine names are associated with different sefirot and partzufim.[5]

What are the meanings of these two principal names of God? The name Havayah, usually translated as “the Lord,” denotes the creative power of God with which He created the universe. However, this manifestation is so intense, its light so brilliant, that, if unchecked, the universe created by this name alone would leave no room for any existence separate from the Creator.

We can’t know God’s thoughts, and we don’t know the ultimate reason that God wanted to create this world. But among the various reasons proposed by our sages, one suggests that God is kind and He wanted to be kind. However, one cannot be kind to oneself—one needs someone other than oneself to be kind to. That is why God decided to create human beings: to bestow on them His Divine kindness.[6] Another reason given is that God desired to have an abode in the lowest of the worlds.[7] The “lowest” world is a level where, by definition, creations feel themselves completely separate and independent from God. Yet another reason suggested is that God desired to be a king, but, as the Talmud states, there is no king without a nation. This reason, once again, demands the existence of “subjects”—people who feel separate from the King and accept His sovereignty.

That is why God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” meaning, according to the Arizal, that it is not good for the name Havayah to act alone. It needed a helpmate opposite it, i.e., a complementary name that would mitigate the blinding light of Havayah, making the world possible for creatures to exist. Such a helpmate is the name Elokim.[8]

 

Elokim

The creation of Eve, in this mystical explanation, is emblematic of the creation of the name Elokim. As noted earlier, the second chapter of Bereshit repeats and expounds on what chapter one sketched out more concisely. So too with this concept, which is a variation on a theme already mentioned in passing in chapter one. Indeed, the first verse of the Torah,

Bereshit bara Elokim… (Genesis 1:1),

is traditionally translated as “In the beginning God (Elokim) created [heaven and earth].” However, the Zohar reads this verse differently: Bereshit created Elokim. In this interpretation Bereshit (the ultimate beginning) refers to God Who creates His name Elokim in order to create heaven and earth. In the second chapter, the Torah explains why God needed another name—so that the name Havayah is not alone.

The name Elokim is traditionally translated as “God.” This name functions as a screen to diminish the blinding radiance of the name Havayah. The verse says,

For Havayah Elokim is like a sun and a shield. (Psalms 84:12)

The juxtaposition of two words—a “sun” and a “shield”—with the two names Havayah and Elokim provides excellent metaphors for Havayah as the sun (i.e., the source of light and life), and Elokim as the shield for the sun, screening and diminishing its brilliant light to the degree that the light can be appreciated by its recipients. It may also be viewed as the shield for the created world and its creatures, sheltering them from the blinding light of Havayah. Just as looking directly at the sun without sunglasses can blind the eyes of the beholder, so too the force of the Divine emanation denoted by the name Havayah is blinding for the creations but for the screen provided by the name Elokim that is “against” Havayah in a way that diminishes its blinding light. To be sure, the light of Havayah is blinding not because it is distractive—it is the source of life itself—but because in its full force it makes the presence of the Creator so palpable that it leaves no room for creatures to feel their own existence, just as the light of the sun cannot be appreciated and felt within the sun.[9]

Etymologically, the name Elokim is related to the word eloha, meaning “judge” or “force.” For example, in Exodus 21:6, the word ha-elohim[10] means the “judges” or the “lawgivers.” It could also mean a court where laws are enforced. The word eloha means “force” in singular and the word elohim means “forces” in the plural. The two-letter root, el (alef-lamed), connotes “power,” which, of course, is related to the word “force.” In Bereshit, the expression b’nei elohim is traditionally translated as the “sons of powerful men.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888) translates the name Elokim, as it appears in the very first verse of the Torah, as “God of all forces.”

Commenting on the first verse of the Torah, classical commentators point out that the name Elokim signifies the Divine attribute of din, i.e., judgment.[11] Also, in Kabbalah, the name Elokim is associated with the sefirot arranged in the left column,[12] Binah or Gevurah. The sefirot in the left column represent power, force (gevurah), and judgment (din). The word din means not only “judgment” but also “law.” This is another reason that the name Elokim can be seen as the mode of Divine manifestation through the forces of nature and laws of physics.

The gematria (the numerical value) of Elokim is 86.[13] This is the same value as the word ha-teva, i.e., “the nature.”[14] This is highly significant, because the name Elokim is understood as the mode of God’s revelation as manifested in nature.[15] Just as the name Elokim shields the brilliant light of Havayah, nature conceals godliness by covering it and camouflaging it by natural laws. Indeed, the word for nature, teva, shares the same root as the word tub’u, i.e., “sunk” or “sunken,” as in tub’u v’yam-suph, which means “sunk in the Sea of Reeds.”[16] Godliness is sunken in nature; just as seawater covers and conceals the seabed, nature covers up and conceals godliness. This is also evident from the literal meaning of the word olam, i.e., “world,” which means “hidden”—indeed, godliness is hidden in this world.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek (1789–1866),[17] compares the names Havayah and Elokim to soul and body, respectively.[18] In other words, these two Divine names are emblematic of the spiritual and the physical, respectively.[19]

These observations all pose significant ramifications for science. It has become fashionable to compare modern physics with Eastern mysticism. Eastern mysticism, however, is based on polytheism. The belief in the multitude of deities associated with various physical phenomena is not conducive to developing universal laws of physics, such as Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, for example, let alone a unified field theory or any grand unification theory (GUT). In stark contrast to such beliefs, Judaism, with its absolute monotheism, dictates that we look for unification in physics. As Rabbi Hirsch translated Elokim as “God of all forces,” it follows that one fundamental principle, i.e., the GUT, must govern all forces of nature. The ultimate unification of the laws of physics in a GUT or theory of everything will be the physical manifestation of the prophesy:

“…on that day shall the Havayah be One, and His name one.” (Zechariah 14:9)

Grammatically, the word Elokim is plural. Needless to say, this implies no multiplicity in God whatsoever. What it does imply is the multiplicity of the created universe. The creation is the process of One God creating many things, spiritual and physical. It is a one-to-many relationship. It is this type of relationship that the name Elokim personifies. The prophet Isaiah says:

“Lift up your eyes on high and behold: mi bara eleh—who hath created these!” (Isaiah 40:26).

The Zohar comments on this verse that the word eleh, i.e., “these,” implies multiplicity, whereas the word mi, i.e., “who,” refers to the Creator. If we put these two words together and rearrange the order of the letters, it will read Elokim,[20] implying that Elokim is the source of multiplicity in the world.

The name Elokim acts as an “interface” between the absolute oneness of the Creator and the multiplicity of the creation. If its modus operandi is from-one-to-many, it is the role of humanity to do the reverse—to sublimate the multiplicity of the creation into its source in the one Creator, from many-to-one. This is done by uncovering the underlying godly nature of the physical world and by revealing its hidden unity. The Tzemach Tzedek stresses that “even after multiplicity is created by the name Elokim, everything is included in the unity of Havayah just as before the creation of the world; and, in truth, there is no separate existence—all is one seamless unity.” This is why the development of the grand unification theory (GUT) has cosmic, theological implications well beyond its implications for physics. The ultimate unification will herald the time of the messianic redemption when “God will be one and His Name will be one.”

Every Jewish man is obligated to recite twice a day—in the morning and in the evening—the prayer Shema Yisrael, “Hear, O Israel: Havayah is our God, Havayah is one,”[21] which is the credo of monotheism. The Hebrew word for God in this prayer is Elokeinu, which is the same name as Elokim, modified to mean “our God.” The principal meaning of this prayer is that God is one in all His manifestations, whether He manifests Himself through the name Havayah or through the name Elokim. This message is further stressed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, when the congregation exclaims in unison, “Havayah is Elokim!”[22] This fundamental monotheistic belief in the absolute oneness of God, including God’s manifestation in nature through His name Elokim, is a possible, albeit subconscious, impetus for seeking unification in physics—the theory of everything.

This idea is further illustrated by the ubiquitous Jewish custom of attaching a mezuzah on the doorpost of each room in the house. Different rooms have different purposes and may be viewed as a metaphor for different areas or phenomena of physics. The mezuzah is a parchment scroll, on which the Torah paragraphs of Shema Yisrael are inscribed by hand. In general, this may be viewed as the unification of the fragmented space dedicating all of it to one purpose—one God.[23] In the context of a physics metaphor, this may be viewed as an allegory for the unification of different laws and different forces in physics.

Clearly the Big Bang has strong religious implications and begs the question, Who set off the Big Bang? The logical answer is the Creator. Atheist-minded physicists don’t like this obvious implication of the Big Bang and propose alternative theories, such as the existence of a multiverse, that supposedly are immune to religious undertones—nobody created the Big Bang, because before our universe there was another universe, and before that universe was yet another one, et cetera, ad infinitum. Not only is such a theory utterly unscientific, in that it can never be tested, nor can it be confirmed or disproven—it is un-Popperian, i.e., unfalsifiable—it misses the point entirely. Even if, arguendo, it was true, it would still leave open the question: Who created the laws of physics, based on which such theories are constructed? No matter how far we push the envelope, this ultimate question will always remain open, demanding one logical answer—there must be a Creator who created laws of nature. And this is what the Divine name Elokim implies.

 

Havayah

The name Havayah, also called in English the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), is referred to as the proper name of God. This name transcends nature and represents the infinite creative power of God. Much is written about this holiest of names in the revealed and esoteric parts of the Torah. However, what we will focus on here is only one aspect of this name—how it relates to space and time.

As the sages teach, this name is an amalgamation of three words: Hayah (He was), Hoveh (He is), and Yihieh (He will be). It signifies the aspect of the Divine that transcends time.

Although this name is traditionally translated into English as “the Lord,” the closest translation that reveals its meaning “the Eternal.” This translation needs to be qualified, in that the “Eternal” does not mean that God exists forever within time, as Aristotle thought, but rather that God created time, and He Himself is timeless—He utterly transcends time.

This aspect of transcendence is best illustrated by how God relates to space. The name Havayah relates not only to time but to space as well. We can see it by squaring the numerical values of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton and adding them up:

 

Letter of the Tetragrammaton Hebrew Letter Numerical Value Value Squared
Y  י (yud) 10 100
H  ה (heh) 5 25
W  ן (vav) 6 36
H  ה (heh) 5 25
Total     186

 

The gematria of the word maqom (מקום), i.e., “place” or “space” is

 

Letter Hebrew Letter Numerical Value
M  מ (mem) 40
Q  ק (qoph) 100
W  ו (vav) 6
M  מ (mem) 40
Total   186

 

As we see, the numerical value (gematria) of the word maqom (“place” or “space”) is equal to the sum of the squared values of the letters in the name Havayah—186. Furthermore, the HaMaqom (“the Place”) is one of the Divine names. As the sages explained, this means that space is not the place for God, but instead, God is the “place” for the world. In other words, God does not exist within space, but space exists within God, as it were, meaning that space is the creation of God, who Himself transcends space.

Similarly, as far as time is concerned, God does not exist in time, but time, as God’s creation, exists in God. Thus, the name “Eternal” means not perpetual existence in time, but rather the transcendence of time. Of course, we cannot fathom existence outside of time. As mortal beings, we can only imagine existence within time, i.e., temporal existence. An extra-temporal existence, i.e., existence beyond time, is beyond our ability to imagine. It is nevertheless important to bear in mind that, as the Creator of time, God transcends time.

Because God transcends time, for Him, past, present, and future are all just one moment. This is what is implied by his name Havayah: Hayah (He was), Hoveh (He is), and Yihieh (He will be) are all the same to Him.

Imagine a caterpillar crawling along the branch of a tree. It sees only one point—immediately in front of it on the branch. It cannot see anything beyond that point on the branch, nor behind itself. We, however, looking from the outside, can immediately see the entire branch in front of and behind the caterpillar. Time is a one-dimensional line, just as the branch of that tree is to the caterpillar. We crawl along the timeline, just as the caterpillar crawls along the branch. That is why we see only our present—we cannot perceive the future nor can we see the past. We image the future. We remember the past, i.e., we see our memory of the past, but we cannot see the past itself.

God, however, being above time, perceives the entire timeline as a whole—for Him, past, present, and future are contemporaneous and exist as one point. That is why the notion that He was, He is, and He will be is meaningful only as far as we—beings that exist in time—are concerned. The concept of time is not something we can apply to God Himself besides to say that He created time.

However, the time aspect of the name Havayah expressed in the words Hayah (He was), Hoveh (He is), and Yihieh (He will be) is extremely important to physics and the philosophy of science.

It has become fashionable for physicists and philosophers of physics to deny the reality of time. They say time is an illusion, the product of the human psyche.

Scholarly discussions by philosophers and physicists about the nature of time or the arrow of time are replete with references to time-symmetry in physics, which is invariably contrasted with the subjective perception of the asymmetry in time—the arrow of time. The intuitive conception of time clearly distinguishes among the past, the present, and the future, whereas no such distinction can be found in physics, the argument goes. Indeed, most laws of physics (with a notable exception of the second law of thermodynamics) seem to be time-symmetric, i.e., they are invariant to the reversal of the direction of time. Thus, naysayers claim, at the fundamental level, time does not exist.

The denial of the objective existence of time is incompatible with the Torah on many levels. The very first commandment (mitzvah) given to the Jewish people upon the exodus from Egypt was to count time and keep the calendar. Time plays a fundamentally important role in Judaism. (See my essay “On the Nature of Time.”) And, as mentioned above, the proper name of God, Havayah, the Eternal, stands for the proposition that God transcends time—a proposition that would be meaningless if time did not exist.

The misconception about the “disappearance” of time on a fundamental level originates from the false equivalence between the laws of physics and physical processes. The laws of physics, such as the equations of classical and quantum mechanics, by themselves, do not adequately describe physical processes. To know the evolution in time of a physical system, one needs to know not only the relevant dynamical law but also the initial conditions. Initial conditions describe the initial state of the system in the past. The dynamical law describe the future state of the sytem, as it evolved in time. Measurement, which in quantum mechanics irreversibly collapses the wavefunction, represent the present.

We see from the above that not only our intuitive perception of time does not contradict physics, but to the contrary, our intuitive perception of time consisting of the past, present, and future is mirrored in physics, wherein the initial conditions represent the past, measurement represents the present, and the dynamical law represents the future. This correspondence, in turn, mirrors the structure of the Tetragrammaton as the amalgamation of past, present, and future.

 

Endnotes

[1] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, “Torah Or,” 4d–5b, maamar “Lo Tov Heyot HaAdam Levado.

[2] Since we are not allowed to pronounce this ineffable name of God (only the High Priest was allowed to pronounce this name on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple), it is pronounced in a modified way. In Kabbalah and Chasidic writings, it is referred to as “Havayah,” i.e., the Eternal.

[3] The name Elokim is really spelled with an “h” (the Hebrew letter heh) instead of “k.” However, it is customary to modify the spelling of the name by replacing “h” with “k” to avoid accidental desecration of this Divine name should the paper on which it is printed be discarded.

[4] Shaar HaEmunah Ve’Yesod HaChassidut, for example, states, “Here it is perfectly clear that all of these names and attributes exist only for the purpose of the creation, and that they are also created forces essential to the creation” (Entrance to the Gate of Beit Yaakov 3:8).

[5] Kabbalists stress that all Divine names imply limited modes in which God relates to us, His creatures, and do not relate to God as He is for Himself. The only thing we can say about God, as He is for Himself, is that He is Ein Sof—without limit. However, this name is also limiting, because God is not limited by His limitlessness. As Chasidic philosophy stresses, God has both—koach hagevul (power of finitude) and koach bli gevul (power of infinitude)

[6] See, for example, Mesilat Yesharim, the ethical treatise written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707–1746).

[7] Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16; See also Tanya I, chapter 36.

[8] See at length Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, “Torah Or,” 4d–5b, maamar “Lo Tov Heyot HaAdam Levado.” In English, see “Words of the Living G-D,” Bereishis.

[9] See Tanya, Shaar HaYihud VeHaEmunah, chapter 4.

[10] There is no need to capitalize this word or to replace “h” with “k,” because this is not a Divine name, but an ordinary word with no sanctity that needs guarding.

[11] See, for example, Rashi and Abarbanel on Genesis 1.

[12] In Kabbalah, the sefirot in the configuration Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) are arranged in three columns: the right column, associated with kindness, includes Chokhmah, Chesed, and Netzach; the left column, associated with judgment, includes Binah, Gevurah, and Hod; and the central column, associated with the “middle way,” i.e., a compromise between the opposing tendencies on the right and on the left, includes Keter (or the quasi-sefirah, Da’at), Tiferet, Yesod, and Malchut.

[13] The name Elokim is spelled alef-lamed-heh-yud-mem. The gematria is alef (1) + lamed (30) + heh (5) + yud (10) + mem (40) = 86.

[14] Nature, ha-teva, is spelled thus: heh-tet-bet-ayin. The gematria is heh (5) + tet (9) + bet (2) + ayin (70) = 86.

[15] Baruch Spinoza was onto something when he developed his philosophy of pantheism, believing that God is identical with nature. Indeed, the Divine name Elokim connotes the manifestation of God through nature, and nature may be viewed as the physical manifestation of the name Elokim. This is, however, only part of the picture. Unfortunately, Spinoza was unacquainted with God as He manifests Himself through the name Havayah that transcends nature—God that is ontologically distinct from nature.

[16] Exodus 15:4.

[17] The third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.

[18] Derekh Mitzvotekha, Mitzvat Milah, p.10.

[19] Scientists detest the word “spiritual,” because it cannot be sensed and measured through physical experimentation. We forget, however, that to sense a physical phenomenon, one must use equipment that is sensitive to that phenomenon. The only reason we can sense electromagnetic force is that an electron, which has an electric charge, can “couple,” i.e., interact, with the electromagnetic field. A neutral particle would never detect electromagnetism with which it does not couple. Our physical equipment does not couple with spiritual things, because it is “spiritually neutral.” Consequently, we cannot expect to detect spirituality in a laboratory. We need to remember, however, that the absence of proof is not the proof of absence.

[20] Eleh is spelled alef-lamed-heh; and mi is spelled mem-yud. Together the combined word is spelled alef-lamed-heh-mem-yud. If we reverse the order of the last two letters and put yud before mem, we get alef-lamed-heh-yud-mem, i.e., Elokim.

[21] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[22] Deuteronomy 4:39.

[23] See Alexander Poltorak, “Rooms and Doorposts,” originally published by Chabad.com at https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/257634/jewish/Rooms-and-Doorposts.htm, and later as a chapter in Alexander Poltorak, “A Light unto My Path,” New York: Maon Noam, 2011.

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