It is the traditional time each year when the Torah cycle reading begins again on Genesis.
In honor of that, I’d like to address a mess.
The mess is an almost-taken-for-granted doctrine called “creatio ex-nihilo”, creation out of nothing, or yesh-ma-ayin.
In this “theory”— because that’s what it is— there is God, and God makes a creation out of nothing. The opening sentence of the Book of Genesis frames a creation-out-of-nothing according to both Rabbinic and classical Christian teaching.
If so— then there is God and there is Creation. In between there is a gulf, a gap, a hole, a chasm, and the two are apart.
There is a terrible problem here, for religious people, particularly. Actually, it’s not a problem; it’s a challenge that religious people solve— and without which a good amount of “religiousness” would fail.— and therefore it’s rather good for religion that there is this kind of challenge, or they might be out of a job. You see, when you have God “here” and Creation “there”, then you need some kind of bridge. But where is this bridge?
For some it is revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. For others it is the Word made Flesh. For others, such as the early rabbis in the rabbinic midrash, it is a host of ministering angels that seem to mediate God and God’s Creation.
But, then there’s that pesky problem with the next chapters of Genesis. If God directly breathed into Adam his spirit, then, God, however separate from Creation is actually connecting, directly to creation, and indeed mustering some kind of Spirit over the dust— in which case God is not apart from Creation, and there is no ex in the ex nihilo.
Philosophically, this creates a real nightmare, which philosophers do not solve very easily; they are in a worse state than religion. If God is apart, then they tend to identify God as “abstraction”, some kind of “simple field” to which all thought progress teleologically, like a stream that dumps into an ocean. Oftentimes— and you will see this problem continuously— they see God as the telos or end-result of some kind of progression. Mathematics is riddled with all sorts of philosophical problems because of this, which truly messes up some issues dealing with infinity and infinitesimals, and their definitions.
Now, if God created anything, and that anything has some kind of scale to it, which is different than God, then how can God be some kind of a simple, perfect abstraction-consciousness? How can something which is scaled come from something with no internal scale?
One sees this mess in Kabbalah, and here the sephirot serve mightily as a vehicle by which God can be channeled on different scales, in order to create.
Such a problem exists in many neo-platonic constructs, whether it is Kabbalah or Christology. The problem is the over-ex-nihilo of God, into some kind of other-dimensional God, with no divisions within God’s nature, out of which something scaled can come. Perfect Being is not so perfect.
The problem is further muddled by Christianity, which proclaims that God created the Word, and through the Word all things were brought into existence, and, in fact, this word, which pre-existed Creation, was Jesus. The first part of this is not so terrible: God creates, and that creation is some kind of scale-of-God, a “word”, out of which creation comes. It’s a kind of neat thing.
It creates a similar model to the one you find in Genesis, where God creates the heavens and the earths, and then, directly creates the human being. So, you seem to have a God of Creation, and then, in a second major act of Creation, the human spirit is granted.
Both these are similar, insofar as we have a God who progresses. The first is rather deficient, at first glance, because it equates the Word AS God, and pre-exists creation, which is saying “the human being” came before existence: pre-posterous, putting the latter before the earlier. (Though it has great TRUTH, see below!)
The second is rather deficient too, because it postulates that God must act in Creation, separately, and there is no God of Science, one where the forces of nature just “know how to act”, and things just happen by the laws inherent within them. Here we have an interfering God. This undermines the religious God of Law. But, it affirms God the Law Giver.
If you qualify that the Word of God in the first is not the exact same scale as God’s Totality (if it isn’t why have a Trinity), and if you qualify, that God’s second act to create a human being, is more of a second stage, than an international act of creation by an interfering God, the two views are more or less the same thing.
Now, the God of Science is not much better. We are so full of ourselves with the so-called Big Bang Theory. Yet, there is no proof at all, of the kind of rapid acceleration that is required to make the observed-data work. Moreover, the classic Big Bang theory could not account for dark matter, which we now know figures highly powerfully in the Creation.
Newer, string-theory modelling, solves the problem with an ekpyrotic creation, harkening back to the Ancient Stoics— a kind of cyclic universe, initiated by the
collision of two Branes. One cannot but laugh at the pun in the language. God’s BRANES (Brains) creating the universe!
Nonetheless, in this model, by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, all the observed numbers are accounted for, without mythical acceleration , and dark matter becomes a necessary component. This however, has not been proven, as yet.
The search is on! Paul Steinhardt’s a really nice guy by the way.
Even if this were so, we would still have a difficulty when it came to the human being, hence, the need for a second Genesis account. What kind of universe creates something within in it, that has dominion over it: an earthly creature that can set up housekeeping on the moon, for example.
If the so-called universe is the origin of the human being, then, how does the human being conceive of the universe in a way that is correct, unless, somehow, he has a revelation of “how the universe functions”, i.e. some kind of revelation of the Order (or, punning, “commandment) by which it was organized.
This then, brings us back to the Word, that is human, so that it can comprehend the universe. However, not necessarily, THE word— i.e. the word for one universe. It could be the word for “A” universe, and there may be many universes, and many consciousnesses prior to any particular creation, which set the scale for the many kinds of “humans”— cosmic creatures— that might exist within that universe.
Messy, messy messy.
In Universal Judaism, we look at things two ways. First, and foremost, we look at things scientifically. How, in fact, is the universe organized? The simple use of Aristotelian physics in early Jewish theology and Thomistic theology, is no more dignified than appropriating new learnings of today, and re-understanding Genesis. No reason to stay back in the past, when there is new learning.
However, the second way— has little to do with the mechanics of creation, but the mechanics of the GOAL of human civilization. You see, it is THIS that the Genesis structure is there to elucidate, to serve any functional Jewish (or Christian or Islamic) goal.
The purpose of Hebrew thinking, as embodied in J udaism, Christianity, Islam, and today’s global culture—- is that while we are a living aspect of material creation, we have a dominion over this. Therefore we are not mere “dust”. We are not a mere object of creation, even though we are OF creation. We are also a subject of and OVER creation. If there is dust, there is also us. Therefore, there must be more than one dimension here. We are not simply the RESULT of a simple, linear, creation!!
It doesn’t make a difference whether your equations can quantify the existence of a soul, or spirit—- you’d better have a stupider way to describe this incredible strangeness of human beings, if you don’t like the word “soul” or “spirit”.
All the words used to describe the mystery of Life are inadequate. I’m not enamored with the words “God” or “Soul” or “Spirit”. To use these without defining them, is a bit of a trap that most religionists fall into. I think we need to define our terms, if we are going to use it.
Even if the words are precise, mathematical, that does not mean they are any more adequate.
Whether it is Genesis, or the Big Bang, or the Ekpyrotic model,— whether it is God through the instrumentality of Word or Angels—- nonetheless— we are dealing with theories—- theories with varying degrees of proof and no-proof.
Do not mistake a human theory AS God. That is idolatry, whether the theory is scientific or religious.
I have my particular views about Genesis.
I do not believe in Creatio ex-nihilo. It makes no sense for God to create this world, and for it come from “nothing”. It only makes sense to say that this nothing is God, and is “no thing”, relative to the formed things in our world, as we cognize it.
If this is the case, I do not need God to BE no-thing, i.e. to not possess some internal scale of God’s own, out of which God creates a world. I don’t need to imagine some Perfected Being or Abstraction.
For that matter, I don’t need God to be outside all creation—- and then create a world. God could, from my thinking, BE CREATION, and within which, worlds— which are extensions of God— can be brought into existence, such that we could say that God grows by creating new worlds.
In this model, God is LIVING. Creation is God’s Livingness. There is an intimate connection between God and Creation, and at the same time, there is a separation between God and Creation, since the SCALE of God is so much greater than any particular world WITH-IN (within) God, that might be created.
And because there is scale— there is no pantheistic problem.
This is not alien Judaism, if you look at the prophet Jeremiah 10:10. God is Living.
The God of philosophy? The God of religion? The formal God of constructions-of-our-minds? Give ME the break. Don’t give God the break from God’s creation.
In the model I use— there is no contradiction— except one thing: authoritarianism. In a God that keeps growing and changing, laws are not absolute, but continuously change.
But, that’s no contradiction to me, only to some of my more traditionalist brethren, who desire an unchanging God so much, for some kind of security in Life.
What’s more inspiring than a God who grows and changes, and learns, and adjust to us as we learn to cooperate with it?
Is this fantasy?
Another word for it is COVENANT.
Yes, only when we lose some of the incrustations of the past, can the actual meaning of the some of the more ancient Hebrew teachings come alive.
Happy Simchas Torah to those who celebrate it. I don’t celebrate it by the way.
I have no desire to celebrate the Pentateuch as a revelation by God, when that is a lie. I can celebrate the Torah itself—- an incredible book of knowledge and wisdom. But, I can’t celebrate it as revelation from Moses.
Nonetheless, for those who DO celebrate it. Enjoy it.
But, don’t ever fail to think clearly. Don’t ever fail to think beyond the trappings of religions. Or science. Or, it is YOU who will be ex-nihilo. Truly, created out of NOTHING.