Just as a miracle, which has no place in nature at all, undoubtedly stems directly from G-d's changing the natural laws, so too all of nature itself exists solely because such is the direct will of G-d. - The Rebbe - Mind over Matter, p. 152
It's that time of year again, when Jews the world over celebrate new beginnings: A new year, a clean slate, and a new start to the annual cycle of Torah readings. The ultimate in new beginnings is the opening scene of the Torah - Genesis - the beginning of the universe courtesy of G-d Himself. Talk about starting off with a bang, and a big one at that.
But how new is all that, really? 5,771 years is a long time ago and the apparent 13.7 billion years is even longer. Rewinding the Torah and re-reading the beginning of the story doesn't re-enact the events. It's a one-time, old story is it not?
Well not according to Chassidus. One of the most powerful and innovative concepts introduced by the Chassidic movement's founding father, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, is the doctrine of continuous creation. According to this notion, the entire world in all its detail is constantly brought into existence from nothing to something, ex nihilo.
The implications are profound. If the world is in fact being continuously renewed, then the whole idea of cause and effect may be brought into question.
Imagine for instance that you are trying to sink a three-banks-to-the-side shot on a pool table. Your cue hits the cue ball just so, which in turn strikes the target ball, which then ricochets off one bank, hits a perpendicular one, bounces from there to a third side and then traverses the table to plunk itself straight into the side pocket. Would you upon completing that move successfully, consider yourself the master of a strictly mechanistic, predictable and manageable process? Of course, why not? The balls and the banks behave exactly the same every day. Hit the ball too hard and the target ball bounces off the table. Hit it too soft and the target ball stops short. Cut the ball a hair too much and it misses the pocket altogether.
Now imagine that the moment you hit the cue ball it disappears only to be instantly replaced with a different one, and that the bank that it hits is not the same one that framed the table when you first took your shot, and that the other banks keep disappearing and being replaced between one rebound and the next. How would you view your sinking the shot now - as a feat of prowess, or as a divine miracle?
And how would you view life itself, the fact that your eyes can see, that your lungs can breathe, that you woke up this morning, knowing that every detail has been freshly renewed in precise beneficence out of absolutely nowhere?
Surely that's great cognitive therapy for the pious and the mystics but what about the modern, rational, and scientifically astute among us? Well for the first two hundred years, they laughed it off, but science itself has now come full circle and embraced these very same concepts.
Of course you will not find "hashgacha pratis," "yesh me'ayin" or even "continuous creation" in the lexicon of the physicists. But if you probe into "vacuum energy" you will find ideas that are hauntingly similar.
When physicists and cosmologists speak of the "vacuum" they refer to space devoid of all physical matter and electromagnetic waves. One would think that the "vacuum" would be therefore absolutely empty, completely still and abysmally featureless, but surprisingly, the opposite seems to be the case.
Scientists now believe that empty space contains a literally infinite amount of energy and that all matter derives from fluctuations in this vacuum.
Just about all matter in the universe is made up of protons and neutrons and these in turn are made up entirely of quarks. As it turns out, the quarks only provide about 1% of the mass of the proton and so the scientists have been wondering what generates the other 99%? The answer is Gluons.
Gluons are virtual particles that hold the quarks together and one of their special qualities is that they are constantly popping in and out of existence at every time and place. Even the quarks themselves are rooted in this random annihilation / recreation behavior and that makes it official that all matter is in fact virtual.
Think about it. Science itself is telling us that all matter comes into existence from a vacuum that really isn't a vacuum at all since it has infinite energy, just in a virtual or intangible form.
Doesn't his sound like creatio ex nihilo, the age old concept of yesh me'ayin, where the ayin is the tzimtzum or withdrawal through which a ray of the or ayn sof or infinite energy radiates to create a physical world in a dynamic of continuous creation?
Open a Hebrew prayer book to the blessings of the morning Shema, the declaration of Unity, and read the praise of the One "who in His goodness daily renews the entire work of creation" and realize that a supposedly atheistic physicist writing an ode to the infinite energy of the vacuum field might use the same words.
For those of you who are totally baffled by the physics gobbledygook, try looking at it this way.
Physical reality is like your computer screen. The pictures it displays aren't substantial physical objects, they are only dynamic images. They, like protons in the vacuum, have a refresh rate, a re-creation rate, in this case, of sixty cycles per second, meaning that sixty times per second the image is completely regenerated. Scientists now believe that all physical matter is created in a similar way.
In the Alter Rebbe's Tanya there is a discussion of what to tell skeptics who deny divine providence and the wonders and miracles of the Torah. He says talk about creation of something from nothing, and it works. When you realize that matter is just a dynamic download from the infinite light, why think that anything is impossible. Even Moshiach is possible, and even now!
The modern convergence of Torah and science is a megatrend foreseen by the kabbalists millennia ago as a harbinger of the Days of Moshiach, the imminent time when the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as waters cover the sea. And when that happens, I for one, will be refreshed.
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 www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868