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Something From Nothing
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

Man's avoda according to Chassidus: to accustom himself to perceive hashgacha pratis, how G-d, in His goodness, renews the universe and all creations every moment with His particular Divine Providence. This - to the exclusion of all else - is the reality, life force and sustained existence of all creations.  

The Rebbe, HaYom Yom for 29 Sivan.
Abraham Principle - Part 4.

Scientists speak of "The Field," an indivisible wholeness beyond space and time that is the ultimate ground of reality. Does this sound familiar? Another thinker, long ago, got there first.

Something From Nothing

Let's rewind the cosmos back to the beginning, and then just a little bit more, to get an inkling of how to resolve the Are We or Aren't We paradox.

Choose your beginning.

Many people believe in a big bang creation, a "singularity" that started the universe with an immensely powerful infusion of primordial light in the distant past. Others believe in a six day creation that started the universe with an immensely powerful infusion of primordial light in the distant past.

In either case there was a beginning to the physical universe, a beginning to time and space, a first event that emerged from absolute nothingness. But how could that be? How could something come from nothing?

Thirty-eight hundred years ago, Abraham had not heard of a six-day creation. He also hadn't heard of the big bang. But he did figure out using causal reasoning that there must have been a beginning. Even if, for argument's sake, time were infinite or cyclic, in which case it would have neither beginning nor end, it would still be subject to causality.

In any case, from observing and contemplating nature, Abraham deduced a number of things, including that the universe did not make itself and that prior to the first defining moment of creation, there had to be an undefined Creator. He also reasoned that this Creator could not be a thing. In fact the most cogent thing one might say about this Creator is that He is the consummate example of no-thing-ness.

But wait a moment. What's the difference between saying that the Creator is no-thing and saying that the Creator is nothing? We are basically using the same terms to define monotheism and atheism! But these are obviously not the same, for in one scenario, the world and everything that's in it is an exquisitely planned and executed masterpiece while in the other it's a collosal, uncaused, accidental, cosmic hiccup (without a hiccuper, no less!)

Abraham knew the difference between no-thing-ness and nothingness. He empathized with those who felt that they are real and the Creator is zero. Yet he knew that actually he was the zero while the Creator is the Real One, strange as that might be.

It's all a matter of perspective. From the Divine perspective, we are like the creatures in our dreams, vivid, yet ephemeral, constantly subject to the creative imagination of the dreamer. Were G-d to remove His mind from us, we would vanish.

The difference however is that our dreams and imagination can only conjure up images of reality. G-d's imagining makes a real world! Now that's a trick. The No-Thing which is the true Something makes a something which is really a nothing but is nonetheless a Divine creation and therefore is Real!

The no-thing-ness that precedes creation is the great divide, the Big Block, the curtain that hides the Divine presence from the Creations. That curtain allows us free choice, allows evil to exist, allows us to relate to G-d, and Him to us. It allows the created to seek the Creator in an ultimate game of hide-and-go-seek, and it provides a context for reward once the game is up.

(Further reading.. Likutei Torah, Devarim. Maimonides, Laws of Torah Foundations 2:10, esp. English commentary, Moznaim ed. p.174)

The Looking Glass

The curtain dividing Divine and human perspectives operates like a one-way mirror, or like the tinted glass on some automobile windows. The Creator sees us up close and personal, but no one looking back can see in.

As a result, human knowledge and Divine knowledge are utterly different. When I come to know something, that knowledge adds to me incrementally. There is me, the thing outside of me, and my knowledge of it. Three separate things.

When G-d knows something, He doesn't change. He, His Knowledge, and what He knows are all one thing. And his knowledge adds nothing to Him, because He knows things by knowing Himself.

To explain, there is a story that's told about the famous Alter Rebbe, author of the classic chassidic text, the Tanya, who traveled to console the family of a colleague who had passed away. One of the children, aged six, who later became the saintly Yisrael of Ruzhin, posed a question to the Alter Rebbe, as follows.

"The verse states, 'Hear O Israel, the L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is One.' If so, there is nothing else but G-d. The next verse says 'You should love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions.' What is going on here? Is G-d telling G-d to love G-d?"

The Alter Rebbe, who was noted for short explanations at that time in his life, gave the child a lengthy explanation of some two hours. The gist of his explanation was based on the fact that when a Jew says this prayer, he interjects a third verse between these two. That verse emphasizes the kingship of G-d, and the consequent gulf between the king and the people. Having effected such a separation, it then becomes possible to love G-d.

Not all of us today are as spiritually attuned as that six-year-old, but we are all able to achieve a comparable degree of elevated consciousness. By meditating on the one-way mirror, that great divide that separates us, unites us even more.

(To contact visit or call (416) 858-9868)

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit or call 416-858-9868


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