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In the Beginning God Created Nothing

by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

  

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There is a saying that we do not know who discovered water, but it was certainly not the fish. If so, it is difficult to imagine how humankind discovered existence—or conceived the absence of it.  If to perceive the water you must be able to know it from the outside, what is needed to comprehend existence itself? How can any of us be beyond Existence?

Yet a story of the Beginning is just that: A statement that there is existence and we are swimming in it.  Most peoples have myths of how our world began, how the Earth and its creatures were formed in some mythological past from some greater, celestial world. From a big thing came a smaller one—that fits nicely into what we know and
how we think. We end up with a universe continuing endlessly in time and space. The finite extending infinitely, continually rebuilding itself on its own power. Absurd, perhaps, but entirely built of knowables. Being human, we are generally more comfortable with the absurd than with the unknowable.

Yet, there is a place within the human soul that resonates with the nothingness, that knows existence from Beyond. It is not mind, not heart, nothing tangible or describable
But to imagine a creation of heaven and earth out of the void—that would seem beyond the human mind. For how could we imagine that which we do not know? How can we imagine the absence of the very substance of our imagination —an absence of the verb “to be?” That is why, when the ancient Greeks translated the Bible, they wrote, “G–d, in the beginning, made heaven and earth.” They didn’t have a word for creation ex-nihilo, as the Hebrews did, because for them such a concept simply did not exist.

Yet, there is a place within the human soul that resonates with the nothingness, that knows existence from Beyond. It is not mind, not heart, nothing tangible or describable, just a certain sense of intimacy with the Infinite. The unknowable within us connects with the Unknowable of the cosmos, and from there we know all things.

Knowing Genesis means to know the world from Beyond.

As Moses told his people, “Know as clear as day and meditate upon this: In the heavens and beyond, in the earth and below, the Unknowable is G-d. There is nothing else.”1

Perpetual Creation

Like every story of the Torah, the story of Creation is a perpetual event. So too with every article of G-d’s creation, spiritual and physical, large and small, from that glorious fusion reactor in the sky to the magazine in your hands.
From the tactile sense of paper beneath your fingers to the very thoughts going through your mind right now...each creation is pulled back out of the void over and over.

And if, for the smallest instant, that dynamic should cease, there would be not remain even a trace of what was. Nothing. Just as there was nothing before it all began. We are not objects—we are events. And not very firm ones, at that.

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 4:39. (The author uses "Unknowable" as a translation for the Tetragrammaton. For more see http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/687840/jewish/Beyond-Heresy.htm).

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Philosophy » Creation

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