Rabbi Mordechai Becher’s Blog – Genesis – Bereishit 5776
The Torah begins with the simple and elegant statement that “In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth.” Maimonides understands this as one of our most basic beliefs, as he formulates in his famous thirteen principals of faith.
God is eternal and infinite, and everything else is temporary and finite in comparison to Him. The verse describes Him as, “God, Who preceded all existence…” Another basic concept which is a consequence of this belief, is that the world was created ex nihilo, from absolute nothingness. This means that space, time and matter did not always exist, but that they had a beginning. The only reality that always existed and always will exist, is God Himself.
Let us try to understand why this verse is so fundamental to Judaism. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers believed that matter was eternal, that God and matter had co-existed for all eternity. Until the middle of the 20th century most scientists also believed that the universe was infinitely old and that matter was eternal. In 1925, Edwin Hubble, an American astronomer, demonstrated that every galaxy was receding from the earth. This indicated that the universe was not static, but expanding, suggesting a beginning. In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, discovered background radiation that constituted evidence of the “Big Bang.” As a student of Einstein predicted, if an initial explosion created the universe, remnants of the released energy should still exist in the form of background radiation. They received a Nobel Prize for their discovery, and the paradigm of an infinitely old universe, that had dominated the world since the time of Aristotle, was dealt a death blow. The view that the universe was not “always here” but rather, was created and had a beginning is now accepted by most of the scientific world. When it was first proposed, however, this view generated much opposition and argument, perhaps because, as Stephen Hawking writes, “Many people do not like the idea that time had a beginning, because it smacks of divine intervention.”
The principle of creation and of God’s eternity informs us of the possibility of miracles. Matter and nature are not eternal; they were created by God and are subject to His will. In contrast, the Aristotelian concept of God views Him as equal to and part of the world and therefore, bound by nature. He exists but he cannot act upon the world.
Perhaps the most important ramification of our belief that the world was created by an intelligent Creator, is the logical extension that the world and all of existence have a purpose. If the world is merely a result of a chain of accidents, luck, and random chance, existence has no intrinsic purpose or meaning. As Richard Dawkins writes:
“Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered… has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all.”
People can and do attempt to imbue existence with purpose that they subjectively create. Judaism, however, believes that God, designed, created and sustains the world and He imbues it with a universal, objective purpose. He created (and continues to create) the world with a purpose and a plan, and our involvement in achieving that purpose is what invests life with true meaning.