KABBALISTIC VIEWS ON HOW THE UNIVERSE WAS CREATED
In September, 1981, not long after our wedding, Shoshana and I made an exploratory trip to Israel to decide if it was a place we would want to live and study. We arrived just before Rosh Hashana and were invited to over two dozen homes of religiously observant families for festive Holy Day and Sabbath meals during that month. It was a marvelous experience in almost every way, but a single theme pervaded throughout our visit that deeply bothered us and almost discouraged us from returning.
Rosh Hashana is viewed as the day marking the creation of the world. It is Adam and Eve's birthday, so to speak. On an esoteric level it is a day of judgment, when each person's name is inscribed in a heavenly book for life or death in the coming year.
My curiosity was piqued at one of the first households we visited when Elisha, our host, held firm to a fundamentalist belief that Adam and Eve were real people and that creation had occurred 5,742 years earlier. According to Elisha, nothing had existed prior to this.
I found this idea somewhat amusing and said, "But science clearly proves otherwise. Archeology, geology, biology, and astronomy all have methods to show that the world is hundreds of millions of years old."
Elisha said, "None of these scientific hypotheses can be proven. They are all dependent upon observation. But consider this: What if the creation were done in a way that artifacts were created in place? Every bone of so-called pre-historic animals was created at the same time as Adam and Eve, and every one was created in a way that a carbon test would show it to be millions of years old."
"You mean to say," I responded, "That God played a cosmic joke on science, and everything is really a fake put there to fool people into thinking that the universe is billions of years old when in fact it is only a few thousand years old?"
"Yes, that is precisely what I am saying. Moreover, there is nothing a scientist can do to absolutely prove me wrong."
Arguing this point with Elisha would be like arguing whether a falling tree makes a sound if nobody hears it. Clearly, an omniscient and omnipotent prankster could set up almost any mirage. Some Eastern traditions say that everything we experience in life is illusory. If this is so, they would agree that there is no reason to believe that anything happened one minute ago, much less a history of billions of years.
Nonetheless, I had difficulty with Elisha’s approach in that it was founded upon a God that used an elaborate scheme of deceit. Although it is true that a belief system which questions the physicality of the material world could be helpful in opening us to mystical awareness, there are many ways to suggest the illusory nature of our reality without proposing a willful trick. Unfortunately, this kind of God would have a creation that by its nature would be missing true faith as an essential quality because nothing could be believed in a universe built upon deception.
Elisha is not alone in this position. He represents a small but significant fraction of Jewry that maintains fundamentalist beliefs. Interestingly, many fundamentalists live at the core of what some people believe is "authentic" Judaism and their interpretations or opinions concerning laws, customs and rituals are highly respected. Thus I was greatly disturbed because these were not the kind of people I could turn to for spiritual guidance.
Kabbalists teach that about fifty-seven hundred years ago, according to the Hebrew calendar, human consciousness became a new reality in this part of the universe. This is what is referred to in the Torah as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of the inception of a new level of awareness. But we should never refer to creation as a thing of the past because it is on-going and constant; without it we could not exist even for an instant."
The Kabbalist views creation as an unceasing phenomenon. This does not preclude the fact that the physical universe--from our point of view--had a point of conception. In fact, according to kabbalistic calculations, the beginning of the physical universe extends back over fifteen billion years.
But Kabbalah also teaches that even fifteen billion years is not sufficient because this universe, as we know it, is not the first. There have been others.
The important point, however, is that creation itself is a process. Therefore, to set it into a time frame is absurd--whether one is a scientist or a religious fundamentalist.
Scientists have argued with theologians for hundreds of years about evolution and the timing of creation. But the perspective of Kabbalah is far more radical than science, for it proposes a string of creations. The Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest kabbalistic texts, says that seven specific letters of the Hebrew alphabet symbolize seven universes and seven firmaments.
These are universes that are created and destroyed, but there are differences of opinion as to which universe we currently inhabit. As Aryeh Kaplan points out, "According to some Kabbalists, the present creation is the second, while others state that it is the sixth or seventh."
From another perspective, many universes can run concurrently, as time shifts in meaning once we transcend the universe as we know it. These kabbalistic concepts of multiple universes, whether linear or concurrent, encompass essentially all scientific theory, including evolution, and extend beyond it.
The principle of continuous creation, without beginning or end, is based upon the idea that there is a source of life that eternally emanates the energy required for all existence. If this source of life were to withhold itself for but a split second everything would vanish. That is to say, all humanity, all nature, all of creation is constantly being sustained each and every moment. It is as if creation were a light bulb that stays illuminated as long as the electricity is flowing. The instant we shut off the power, the light fades out.
If we walk into a room with a light shining, we do not know when that light was turned on. It may have been turned on the instant before we walked in. As with a refrigerator, perhaps the door itself to this room has a switch built into it that turns on the light when it is opened. Without additional information, however, we cannot deduce anything from the fact that the light is on when we open the door to this room. No matter how fast we open the door to catch the darkness, the light is always on when the door is open.
Imagine that creation works the same way. If we go into a dark, sound-proofed room, we have no idea what is going on in the world, or if there even is a world. In fact, we so quickly lose our sense of reality in that situation, we have no way of knowing if the world even exists. Indeed, we could be in our own coffins, we could be dying or dead, for in a void without any stimuli we have no basis for assessing reality. If we were able to exit from the darkness and open our eyes, we would quickly reconstitute our reality base. During that instant when we reformulated our world, it would be as if creation were brand new.
Now imagine that each time we blink our eyes we fall into a mind state of an isolated room. Each time we open our eyes we experience creation anew. Assuming we could blink thousands of times a second, creation would always seem to be beginning.
This is actually the way it is. Look around you. As you look at something, try to imagine that from one second to the next it is receiving its form and substance from the center of the universe. If that source were shut off, everything would be gone in a blink. Everything we see, everything we know could evaporate at any instant in time.
Modern theoretical science postulates this idea in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It suggests that we never know if the existence of a certain form will persist, or if something will instantaneously take on a completely new form.
Indeed, although there are few absolute truths in this creation, one of them is that things are constantly changing. This means that we never have certainty from one moment to the next if the sustained flow of creation will persevere.
This idea of the continuous flow of creation completely alters the way we view things. When we have a sense of substance and solidity we are inclined to have more faith in the past and future. History has an important dimension in our reality and we base our lives on our own experience and that of others. Continuous creation, however, leads to a relationship with life that mystics around the world suggest is the ultimate reality; there is only Now.
The added dimension in Judaism, of course, is that the Now rests upon the palm of God's hand, so to speak. The dimension of this moment is supported in its entirety by the nature of the Divine. This evokes a vital relationship between God and every aspect of creation. Each breath I draw is initiated, sustained and nourished by the power of creation. Each event is permeated by the magic of the Divine Presence.
KABBALAH AND BIG BANG THEORY
The kabbalistic view of a continuous creation is in variance with modern theoretical physics, which currently is pursuing the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang concept is that something happened many billions of years ago that instantaneously expanded into a primordial universe. Following this theory, our universe continues to expand from an initial impulse.
The idea that creation occurred in the past leads to the assumption of a time distance between the creative act and our present experience. It implies a physical distance between our location in space and the creative force. Thus, the reality in which we live, as long as we surrender to the limits of time and space, leads to the erroneous belief of separation between ourselves and the source of life.
The belief of separateness often leads to the loss of hope and feelings of isolation. This can manifest as alienation and despair. Almost all of the difficulties experienced in the spiritual quest are related to the sense of feeling isolated, different from other people, disconnected from the source of life.
Jewish mysticism approaches the issue of feeling alone in the cosmos by questioning our essential assumptions regarding creation. Once we realize and experience our intimate relationship with God, which is continuous and fills each moment, we can never again feel alone. The mystical perspective suggests that this relationship is indispensable for both sides, Creator and creation unfolding simultaneously. For example, a parent is defined by his or her child. Without a child, one is not a parent and vice versa. There can be no giver without a receiver, and one cannot receive without something being given. Nothing is separate, except for the "sense" of separateness, a feeling which is readily disproven. Indeed, if we were separated from the source of life by even a fraction of a second, we could not exist.
The problem with Big Bang is that it suggests something happened in the past, a burst of energy that continues on its own momentum for billions of years. But in the mystical realm of the Divine, there is no past or future as we know it. Moreover, the momentum of the Big Bang theory would be predictable, while Jewish mystics believe that creation is always uncertain.
Rather, the Big Bang is an ongoing creative emanation. The universe is constantly balanced upon a symbiotic relationship of Creator and creation, each integral to the continuation of the universe. If either part of the relationship fails to nourish the other, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. On the other hand, the ongoing interaction between Creator and creation defines and nurtures each moment--and each moment is another Big Bang impulse.
One of the great hasidic masters, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (18th century), wrote: "The Creator's continuous radiation of creative force never ceases from the world; in every instant these [vital] emanations radiate to Its creations, to all the worlds, to all the palaces [realms of higher consciousness] and to all the angels."