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Out of Nothing

Louis Pasteur, who was born 190 years ago, is one of founders of the science of microbiology. He originated the germ theory of disease, and is the inventor of pasteurization, the process of killing all bacteria by heating it briefly, which is used to this day in preparing milk, wine, beer and vinegar. He was also one of the first to understand the function of the “good” bacteria in the gut in preventing diseases. He convinced the French military to use sterile supplies to wounded soldiers during the Franco-German war, which drastically lowered the death rate from infection. He also developed vaccines against rabies, cholera, and anthrax, a disease that used to affect millions of cattle.

To this day it is difficult to imagine the fields of biochemistry, medicine and food safety without his contributions. However, precisely because his discoveries had such practical benefit, many forget his equally influential theoretical achievements. For example, in a series of careful experiments he disproved the prevailing theory of “spontaneous generation,” that bacteria and mold emerge spontaneously from the air. He showed that bacteria could only grow from other, pre-existing bacteria.

His discovery, of course, begs the question of where the original bacteria emerged from. Evolutionists believe in the theory of abiogenesis, that the first micro-organisms emerged spontaneously from a chemical soup. Pasteur did not directly address these theories, but his discoveries cast doubt on the idea that life can generate itself out of inert matter.


Chassidic teachings refer to the process of creation as yesh me’ayin – something out of nothing. But this state of nothingness is not quite as understood by scientists. The term “ayin” actually refers to a level of G-dliness that cannot be apprehended by our intellect or senses, a state that is so far removed from our reality that it is as if it does not exist. However, the state of Ayin contains the potential energy that allows the entire world to come into existence.

In Chassidic terminology, the state of Ayin is also referred to as Chayei Hachaim, the source of all life. Thanks to Pasteur, we know that life could not generate on its own. However, we are still a long way from understanding the true origin of life. Even the simplest organism has an intricacy that could not have arisen through chance processes alone. According to Chassidic teachings there was a series of emanations – Seder Hishtalshelus – that progressively concealed the Divine light and allowed the world to come into existence. With the coming of Moshiach, the world will be refined enough to be able to directly sense that Divine energy without losing its own existence. This Divine energy will be accessible to all, readily apparent with no room for dispute, and we will bless G-d together: Blessed are You, G-d, who revives the dead.”


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