In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…[1] (Genesis 1:1)

 

Classical biblical commentators have given the first words of the Torah many different translations and have interpreted them to have many different meanings. That said, one simple aspect has received little attention—that God is introducing Himself to us. If we take poetic license and change the order of the words, the first phrase in the Torah could be loosely translated as:

“[My name is] God—[Who], in the beginning, created the heaven and the earth.”

God is introducing Himself to us as the Creator of everything—heaven (i.e., the spiritual) and earth (i.e., the material). This interpretation of the first verse in the Torah may be helpful for the following reason.

In truth, God is entirely unknowable. The Creator of everything, including our intellect and logic itself, He utterly transcends it all. Thus, on our own, we cannot know anything about God. We cannot say anything about God, either, because whatever we say in the positive (i.e., He is…[fill in the blank]) would imply an impermissible limitation of the One who cannot be limited. However, even saying that He cannot be limited is an impermissible limitation, too. The early Kabbalists spoke of God only in negative terms (i.e., He is not…[fill in the blank]), such as “He is infinite” (not finite). Thus, the Kabbalistic appellation of God as Ein Sof, “without end,” i.e., infinite. However, later Kabbalists objected even to this description as too limiting.

Kabbalah and Chasidic philosophy insist that God has both ko’ach bli-gevul (the “potential to be unlimited”) and ko’ach hagevul (the “potential to be limited,” if He so desires). The name Ein Sof, however, stuck with the disclaimer that Ein Sof, if He wanted to, could “limit” himself. The famous paradox, Can God create a stone He Himself could not lift?, is a paradox only from our limited perspective. For God, it is not a paradox, because there is nothing He could not do. Moreover, He is above our logic, and what appears as a paradox to us, final and limited beings, is not a paradox to infinite God. From the point of view of formal logic, the very notion of God is a paradoxical construct. By virtue of His being the Creator of everything, He contains within Himself every thesis and antithesis, every statement and its negation, the very definition of a paradox.

From a logical point of view, we cannot say anything about God. Before we can make a logical statement (the truth of which could be evaluated) about an entity, we must define that entity. Defining something means narrowing it down to a subset of a more extensive set. For example, to define a circle, we limit the set of all points on the plane to a subset of points that are equidistant from the center. To define is to limit. We cannot limit God, so we cannot define Him. And, since we cannot define God, we really cannot say anything meaningful about Him. This leaves us, however, in a difficult and lonely place—how are we to relate to God if we do not know anything about Him, cannot define Him, and cannot say anything about Him?

Any palatable reconceptualization of God that makes Him concrete and relatable is sacrilege. Whether the primitive idols of antiquity or the more refined ideas of an impersonal, “philosophical” god, or whether we speak in terms of “Mother Nature” or the “Universe,” the result is still the same. We define —i.e., “create” —a god in our imagination, instead of accepting God, who created us. Any attempts to make the notion of God more relatable to people by ascribing to Him an image invariably leads to creating a god in our own image, an idol that is anathema to Judaism. That is not the God of the Torah.[2]

So, what are we to do? God comes to the rescue and introduces Himself to us as the Creator of the universe. He also lets us know His name—Elokim[3] (the Almighty)—with which He created the universe. Later, He will disclose His other names—all in due course. We can now relate to God as the Creator of everything (both spiritual and physical), and we even have a name by which to call Him.

However, although God is the Creator of the universe, we must be cautious not to mistakenly think that the Creator of the universe is all that God is. We can never know God’s essence, since He is above knowledge. He is unknowable, incorporeal, and transcendent. So what does it mean then that God introduces Himself to us as the Creator of the universe? It is not Himself that He calls the Creator of the Universe—He is infinitely removed from the universe. He transcends all spiritual worlds, just as he transcends the physical universe we inhabit. The Almighty Creator is merely a particular divine emanation that gives rise to all creation. So, too, the other divine names the Torah subsequently introduces refer to specific divine emanations, which are associated with certain godly attributes (sefirot) through which God chooses to relate to us.

Imagine a roboticist who designs and builds a highly intelligent robot. One day this robot asks, “Who made me?” The roboticist who built the robot would answer, “I made your hardware and wrote your software.” This answer would allow the robot to relate to its maker in terms familiar to a robot. Of course, the robot would have no inkling about who his maker really is or what his true feelings, thoughts, aspirations, and desires are. So too God tells us that He created the heavens (“software”) and the earth (“hardware”). This is enough for us to relate to Him, but not enough to understand anything beyond our world of “software” and “hardware.”[4]

By introducing Himself to us as the Creator, God shows us incredible kindness and empathy, by giving us a concept and a name to which we can relate. We are all familiar with the created universe we inhabit. When the Torah refers to God as the Almighty Creator, we think: “Ah, the Creator of this world in which I exist? I am familiar with this world; I enjoy it, and I suppose someone must have created it. So, nice to meet you, God!” As long as we remember that this is not the essence of God but only a manifestation of His revelation, this concept suffices as a foundation upon which we can start building a meaningful relationship with our Creator.

As much as we need an idea of God’s emanation that relates to us as the Creator of everything, with which we can connect emotionally and intellectually, can we learn anything more from this idea? Can we make any statements about the Creator based on this understanding?

First of all, the concept of the Creator of everything (“Creator”) creates the first duality: there is the Creator (in Hebrew, Boreh), and there is everything created by the Creator—i.e., creations (in Hebrew, beriot). These two diametrically opposed concepts (Creator and creations) are connected by the act of creation—the Creator creates creations. Any being can be either the Creator or a creation. We can see this by careful analysis of the first verse of the Torah.

In the original Hebrew, the words “the heavens” and “the earth” are written as et HaShamaim v’et HaAretz. HaShamaim means “the heavens” and HaAretz means “the earth.” But what is this word et that appears before HaShamaim and again before HaAretz? This word has no equivalent in the English language and is typically omitted in translation. It is a preposition that has certain grammatical significance.[5] The word et is composed of two letters, alef and tav. Alef is the first letter of the alef bet (Hebrew alphabet), and tav is the last. It is for this reason that, in Biblical hermeneutics, et is interpreted to mean “from A to Z” — i.e., all-inclusive. Thus, classical biblical commentators interpret the first verse of the Torah as

In the beginning, God created the heaven, with all that exists in heaven, and the earth, with all that exists on earth…

If we interpret “heaven” as the spiritual realm and earth as the physical realm,[6] our verse would read

In the beginning, God created all that is spiritual and all that is physical…

Note that, by definition, spiritual is everything that is not physical (material). Therefore, if you add the physical to everything that is not physical, you get everything.[7] The classes of spiritual and physical creations exhaust all created things.[8] Therefore, the totality of existence is comprised of the Creator and the creations, with nothing in between.

This conclusion is very significant, because it allows us to see that there could be only one Creator. Were there another creator, that other being would have to be either a creation—in which case it is not the Creator—or the Creator, leaving no room for “another” creator. This illustrates how the concept of the Creator introduced in the first few words of the Torah leads to profound theological conclusions, such as that there could be only one Creator—the foundational doctrine of monotheism.

What does this mean in terms of physics? To think about the Creator and His creations in terms of modern physics, we must first introduce the concept of entanglement.

Let us imagine a particle with a spin of zero.[9] This particle then decays into two particles. Because spin must be conserved, the sum of the spin values of the two daughter particles must still be zero. Accordingly, one particle will have spin 1 and the other spin -1 (or ½ and -½, if these particles are electrons). The state of such particles could be described as a vector in a two-dimensional Hilbert space called the spin space. Any binary state (e.g., zero and one, heads or tails, plus or minus, win or lose) could be described as a vector in the spin space that can take any of these binary values. After the mother particle decays, the two daughter particles remain entangled—they form one system described by the same wave function. Entangled particles are correlated. If we flip the spin of one particle, the spin of the entangled particle will also flip, as the entangled particles shadow each other.

Just as causality is a binary property—every event is either a cause or an effect—the property of creating (closely related to causality) is also binary—one is either creator or creation. It is related to the axiom of the excluded middle. Let us assign the value 1 to the property of being the Creator and -1 to being a creation.

Now, let us imagine a level of divine emanation just above the level we call the Creator. Because this sublime level precedes and transcends the act of creation, it cannot be called the Creator because, as the sages state, there is no king without a nation.[10] Likewise, there is no Creator without a creation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no God without creation—God is utterly above and beyond any notion of creation, let alone the act of creation. As discussed, what we call the Creator is merely a particular aspect of Divine emanation that acts as the creating force. Thus, without creation, we cannot speak of this particular level of the Divine emanation. However, it does not affect the essence of God in any way, in that this essence remains unchanged before and after creation. Nor does it affect Divine emanations that precede creation and are higher than the level of creation. On this level of Divine emanation, which has no relation to creation, the value of the property of creating is zero.

The process of unfolding of ontological realms, referred to in Kabbalah as Seder Hishtalshelut,[11] involves consecutive screening and diminishing of Divine light and emanation. Turning back to the level of Divine emanation just above that which relates to creation, let us imagine that this diminishes to a lower level (or “decays” in the parlance of particle physics)—the level where we can speak of the Creator and His creations. This may be somewhat analogous to a particle having spin 0 decaying into two particles with spins 1 and -1.[12] We previously assigned the values 1 and -1 to the property of creating, for Creator and creations, respectively. This correlation eerily recalls the spin correlation between entangled particles. Could it be that Creator and creation are entangled, metaphorically speaking? Let us consider the following structural parallels in support of this metaphor:

  1. Entangled particles constitute one system. Indeed, the Creator and the creation are one whole; as the sages said, there is no king without a kingdom.
  2. Entangled particles usually originate from the decay of the “mother” particle or from interaction with each other. Indeed, in Seder Hishtalshelut, both the Creator and the creation “originate” from a higher level of the Divine emanation. Alternatively, we can say that the Creator and the creation constantly interact with each other as the Creator continues to recreate the creation each moment, as it is written, “For ever, O Lord, Thy word standeth fast in heavens” (Psalms 119:89),”[13] and creation been recreated by the Creator and guided by Divine providence.
  3. If we were to change a property (such as spin) of one of the entangled particles, the property of the other particle changes automatically as if shadowing the first particle. Indeed, the Psalmist wrote, “The Lord is thy shadow” (Psalms 121:5).
  4. One definition of entanglement is knowledge-based: if information about one part of the system can be discovered by learning information about the other part, the two parts are entangled. (As a classical example, when you pick one glove and note that it is a left-handed glove, you don’t need to check the other glove to know that it is right-handed.) Indeed, Job said, “And from my flesh shall I see God” (19:26).

This “entanglement”[14] of the Creator and His creations has profound theological ramifications. Philosophers of antiquity conceptualized the Creator as the prime cause who created the universe and set everything in motion but then removed Himself from the mundane affairs of this world and its creatures. Not so, says Judaism. Almighty God exercises His particular providence (hashgachah protit) over His creations at every moment and in every detail. This concept was stressed by the Baal Shem Tov[15] and further developed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his principal work of Chasidic philosophy, Tanya.[16] Remarkably, we can discern such profound theological doctrines from the very first words of the Torah, by drawing structural parallels with modern physics.

Endnotes

[1] Others, including Targum and Rashi, translate this verse as “In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth…”

[2] I once heard Rabbi Adin Even-Yisroel (Steinsaltz) reply to a self-proclaimed nonbeliever, “The god you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in, either!”

[3] The numerical value (gematria) of Elokim (86) is the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew word hatevah, “nature”:

Elokim Gematria Ha’tevah Gematria
Alef 1 heh 5
Lamed 30 tet 9
Heh 5 bet 2
Yud 10 ayin 70
Mem 40
Total 86 86

It stands to teach us that the name Elokim is the level of divine emanation that creates and clothes itself in nature.

[4] The metaphor of artificial intelligence or AI, besides being useful, opens up an interesting question—do we live in a matrix? This proposition is not only the subject of popular films but is seriously debated by philosophers and physicists alike.

[5] In Hebrew, the preposition et used before a definite direct object usually indicates the accusative case that exists, for example, in Greek, Latin, and Russian languages where it is modified by declension, which does not, however, exist in English.

[6] See Rashi and Nachmanides on Bereshit 1:1; see also Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (a.k.a. the Rebbe Reshab), Hemshech Yom Tov shel Rosh HaShanah (Samach Vav), p. 7 in the old edition; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Torat Menachem 5725, v. 3 Shabbat Parashat Tzav, Ma’amar “Balayla Hahu,” p. 86; and Lekutei Sichos vol. 2, p. 437.

[7] This can be clearly seen in the language of set theory. Let us define the set of all physical (i.e., material) things as M. Let us now define the universal set U that includes all created things that exist (i.e., everything that exists besides the Creator). Obviously, the set M of all physical things is a subset of the universal set U. We can then define the set of spiritual “things” (or entities) S as the complement set of M, i.e., as the difference between the universal set U and the set of physical things M: S = U\M, which includes all such elements of U that are not members of M. In other words, we define spiritual things as “not material” or “not physical” things. It is easy to see that the unification of sets M and S gives us the universal set U: M ∪ S = U. This proves that the two classes of created reality—physical and spiritual—exhaust all of created reality.

[8] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Torat Menachem 5725, v. 3 Shabbat Parashat Tzav, Ma’amar “Balayla Hahu,” p. 86.

[9] Spin is a quantum mechanical analog of angular momentum. Electrons and other elementary particles don’t really spin like tops, because they are not corporeal, but they behave as if they were spinning. Just as a top or a ball can spin clockwise or counterclockwise, a particle can behave as if it is spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. This is expressed as a vector pointing up or down (depending on the direction of “rotation”). When we say that the state of an electron is spin-up, we mean that it has angular momentum as if it was rotating clockwise. Spin (as angular momentum) is a conserving property. In quantum mechanics, spin is quantized and can have only discrete values. For instance, the spin of an electron could be either ½, or -½.

[10] Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 3., Emek HaMelech, “Shaar HaMitzvot,” ch. 1; Rabbeinu Bachaye on Parshat Vayeishev, 38:30. See also Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Tanya, “Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah,” ch. 7.

[11] Literally, “chain-like order.”

[12] Some readers may be thrown off by our assigning values or numbers to the Creator or even to Divine emanations. However, these numbers are nothing more than arbitrary symbols to denote two opposite values in a binary property. We could just as well use the words “Creator” and “creation,” but in mathematics and physics, we use symbols to denote concepts that are described by words in the vernacular.

[13] See Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, “Sha’ar HaYichud VeHaEmunah,” ch. 1.

[14] Needless to say, we use this quantum mechanical term here not in the literal sense but metaphorically.

[15] Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov, was the founder of Chasidism.

[16] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), founder of the Chabad school of Chasidism. See his 1797 main work of Chasidic philosophy, Tanya, specifically “Sha’ar HaYichud VeHaEmunah.”

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