The Grand Scheme of Things
HOW DID THE UNIVERSE BEGIN? Most cosmologists believe in a Big Bang type of event billions of years ago that started everything. On the other hand, many believe in the Biblical account of a 6-day creation less than 6,000 years ago.
In either case, the question arises: What was before the first split-second burst of creative energy? This is a very tough question for a few reasons. For one thing, time is itself a creation. The idea of "before" time is therefore meaningless. It's just like saying "somewhere beyond space" - If it's beyond space, the term somewhere would not apply, since this implies at some point in space? Intuitively we know what we mean by "before" time and "beyond" space. But somehow the language gets us into a pickle.
Besides finding the right words, there's a deeper problem.
We really need to find the right ideas. How can one imagine a reality that is neither spatial nor temporal? No size, no age, no weight, no color, no texture, no motion, no sound, no light, no nothing!
And yet with all these difficulties, logic dictates that there must be a first cause. The big bang had to have a cause which set it in motion, or in other words, creation has to have a creator.
About 1900 years ago a sage of the Talmud met someone in passing who initiated the following timeless dialogue:
"Who made the world?" asked the skeptic.
"G‑d did," replied the rabbi.
"Who made your suit?" the rabbi countered.
"Why, a tailor, of course," answered the skeptic.
"What do you mean 'Prove it'? Don't you see that it fits me perfectly? The sleeves match my arms; its got buttons and buttonholes."
"So,” concluded the Rabbi “just as the suit proves the tailor and the - door proves the carpenter, so too the heavens and the earth testify to the handiwork of the Holy One Blessed Be He."
The world hinges together too neatly to "just happen" this way. If the universe is orderly and behaves according to orderly laws of nature, then we can ask why this order exists. Order is a phenomenon; it needs a cause, if you want to be logical about it. The cause for order is one who created order - it's that simple.
Imagine you were to walk into a totally automated factory that made cars for example. Raw materials come in one side. In the middle, there are conveyor belts and hundreds of machines of all kinds, cutting, stamping, folding, riveting, sanding, painting, etc. Out the other end rolls the finished automobiles. All of this happens without a person on the assembly line. What would you think? How lucky this arrangement is? Not at all!
Surely one would be in amazement at the wondrous talents of the engineer who could mastermind and coordinate these diverse functions without any guiding hand visible. In fact the more automated the setup, the greater the engineer of the process would be in our estimation.
Now compare this to another kind of factory, a leaf, for example. What does a leaf do? A leaf takes raw materials (carbon dioxide from the air, water and nutrients from the soil, and light from the sun) and turns it into product (sugar and starch). The "machinery" it uses includes hundreds of biochemical substances and various integrated processes, all neatly coordinated to one end: The production of food for the plant.
So let's think. What is coordinating this system? Is the air in charge? Is the water or sunlight? Does chlorophyll tell the sun to provide light for this project? There is not one part that knows or controls how the whole process works. Not even the best plant physiologist fully understands every aspect of photosynthesis. And photosynthesis is a good example because it is considered to be one of the best-understood biological processes.
Let's move from the example to the general idea. When two items exist together in a structure or relationship, and neither controls the other, there must be some factor external to both that constrains them into their patterned mode of relationship. Since this third factor can do so, it must be more powerful than both.
Take the following example. Your lungs and heart work together. Does your heart tell your lungs to transport oxygen across the membranes of the lung? Do your lungs make your heart pump rhythmically? The answer is no. Yet when you need more oxygen, your heart beats faster and you breathe quicker as well. What makes the heart and lungs work together? Whatever it is, it must be external to them and be more powerful than them, since it can coordinate their functioning.
The same reasoning applies at every scale of reality from the quark, to the atom, through the molecule, organelle, cell, organ, organism, biological population, biotic community, ecosystem, biome, the ecosphere and all the way up through the planetary system, the galaxy, and the entire universe.
That is, since all these scales of reality are subject to the orderly laws of nature and everything is so exquisitely integrated from the subatomic all the way to the inter-galactic, it's all part of one big system. So what is the coordinating factor of the universe as a whole?
Well, it must be external to all its parts and more powerful than them all since it controls them. It must be beyond all the forces of nature, too. Itmust be beyond space-time, and matter-energy. It must be beyond perception and human reason as well, since people are also integrated into the order of the cosmos. That's what G‑d is.
This was Abraham's reasoning in founding his faith in one transcendent all-powerful being. He came to this understanding while he was in a society that imagined separate beings governed each aspect of nature and human life. The Abraham Principle is just as relevant today. The suit proves the tailor and the world and its elements prove its architect, creator, and sustainer.
What can we say about G‑d before creation? We could say that he was the one-and-only being in existence, absolutely free and unconstrained in any way, shape or form. Chassidic teachings explain that since G‑d is essentially unchanging, creating the world did not change the Creator in any way. Therefore at a level of ultimate reality, G‑d is still the one-and-only, free and infinite. It follows that the reality of here and now is G‑d alone.
Modern science has come to look at reality in much the same way Judaism does. The most recent experimental advances in quantum physics have confirmed that there is an indivisible wholeness and consciousness to the universe which is its basis and continuously gives existence to nature and its laws. 1 The Abraham principle makes sense in today's scientific climate.
Science tells us that there is something beyond nature that has made the universe in such a way that humans are very important to its very existence. Moreover nature lets us know that we are of importance. But what are we important for? What is the purpose of Creation?
Why Are We Here?
Who has not asked this question at some point in his life? Does life only have as much meaning as we give it, or is there a deeper purpose?
Before the beginning of time, it arose in G‑d's will to create a world in which He will be revealed. Our purpose is to do the revealing.
A Rebbe 2 came across a crying child and asked him what was wrong. Sobbing, the child told the Rebbe that he was playing hide-and-seek and while he was hiding, the other children stopped looking and forgot about him. The Rebbe looked heavenward and sighed, "Master of the Universe! You have concealed yourself so that we should search for you. But it's been so long, your children have stopped looking for you. Come out of hiding! Return to us and we will return to you!'
G‑d wants us to reveal Him. But why does he want that? One can never really rationalize a "want", so the question "why" does not apply. This is not only true of G‑d's wants, but of ours as well. Consider, for example, the will to live. In general, people want to live. It's a very fundamental desire. But why do people want life? Is it for the food, money or prestige? Could it be for love or work? Really it’s for none of the above.
People want to live because that's a fundamental human want. It's not conditional on anything. Therefore it's not subject to reason. This is true for our other wants as well (excluding perhaps base materialistic desires). One may be able to come up with reasons, but these reasons don't explain why there are these wants.
The situation is analogous to G‑d wanting to be revealed in this World. Why does He want this? He wants it because he wants it and he likes it because he likes it. Not everything is based on reason, least of all, human reason.
In the spiritual system underlying the cosmos, intellect is the highest of the Divine attributes. However there is a higher, transcendent Divine quality: Will. It is beyond the whole spiritual infrastructure. This wanting-a-world that G‑d does comes from this transcendent will which is higher than even the Divine rational qualities of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
Once we have this "given" that G‑d wants revelation, it follows that some created being should be chosen to do the revealing. People have been endowed with special qualities to accomplish this. A person can grasp ideas and communicate them. A person is capable of abstract thought and can discover and understand the Abraham Principle. A person can study G‑d's wisdom and speak to G‑d through prayer. And a person can exercise his free choice either to degrade or to improve the world through his actions.
This is the purpose of creating a world in the first place: To recognize G‑d and to serve him. In the words of the sages, "The end action was the first in thought."
The end action in the vision of the Tradition from Sinai is Moshiach and Redemption. It has always been the predestined goal of human history. And now, after all these years, mankind's cosmic odyssey is approaching ultimate fulfillment: The experiential revelation of G‑d in this world in an ultimate state of consciousness 3, serving the one-and-only G‑d with joy and enthusiasm.
Six Days; Six Thousand Years
Man towards heaven: "Master of the Universe! Is it not true that one of your days is like a thousand years?"
Voice from above: "That's right."
Man: "So wouldn't one of your pennies be like a million dollars?"
Voice from above: ''Pretty much. "
Man: "So could I please have a penny?"
Voice from above: "Sure… tomorrow."
In the Jewish concept of time, patterns repeat at different scales. Among these continuing patterns in time, sevens figure prominently. Thus the seventh day is a special day of rest, and similarly, the seventh year is observed by resting from agriculture and allowing fields to lie fallow. The same is true at the scale of millennia.
The Sages say 4, "The world is to exist six thousand years: Two thousand of chaos, two thousand of Torah, and two thousand of the days of Moshiach." Following this is the seventh millennium, a time beyond time during which the world will achieve its ultimate perfection and G‑d will be openly revealed to all.
During the first 2000 years, mankind suffered original sin, murder, robbery, and idolatry. The flood took place in this period, and ethnic conflicts multiplied. During the second 2000 years, the Patriarchs lived, and the exodus and the stand at Sinai took place. The written Torah developed and expanded to include the entire 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. During the third period of 2000 years, the Jews were exiled from their land and dispersed throughout the world. Through their suffering and divine service over this period, they have spiritually prepared the world for the true and complete redemption by Moshiach.
How can these latter 2000 years be called "the days of Moshiach" if the world is in such an unredeemed state? The sages explain that before the third 2000-year period, Moshiach could not have come even if the world would have merited it. However during the third 2000, Moshiach will certainly come, whether or not the world deserves. 5 If so, perhaps we can sit back and wait for the good times with folded arms? The reason we don't just sit back and wait is because by doing more goodness and kindness during this period-we can cause Moshiach and the ultimate redemption to come earlier, even today!
Let's say that it's within your grasp to accelerate the redemption by one minute. Accelerating the redemption by one minute will relieve over 5 billion people of one minute's suffering. That's 10,000 man-years of trouble that you can save the world for every minute you bring the redemption closer! Bringing the redemption before its latest scheduled time is comparable to the Jewish custom of welcoming the Shabbos on Friday afternoon, before the seventh day actually starts.
Each millennium is comparable to one of the days of the week. As the Jewish year at the time of this writing is 5768, we are in the latter part of the sixth millennium, comparable to Friday afternoon, when the radiance of the Shabbos starts to shine. This period is called the footsteps of Moshiach, because just as you can hear the approaching footsteps of a person when he is very close but not yet in sight, so too can we notice unmistakable signs that Moshiach is very near.
1 . More on this in Chapter 15. See also the works of physicists Ernst Schrodinger, David Bohm, Stephen Rosen, John Wheeler, Paul Davies and Amit Gotswami.
2 . The terms rebbe and rabbi are not identical. Rebbe refers specifically to a Chassidic master (see Ch.3).
4. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.
5 . Netzach Yisrael, Ch,27 by the Maharal of Prague.