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26.09.2017 11:54    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parasha  berechit  

"Let there be light"

A certain philosopher asked Rabban Gamaliel, saying to him:  “Your G‑d was indeed a great artist, but surely He found good materials which assisted Him?”  “What are they?” said he to him.  “Tohubohu, darkness, water, wind, and the deep,” replied he.  “Woe to that man,” he exclaimed.  “The term ‘creation’ is used by Scripture in connection with all of them.’  Tohu and bohu:  I make peace and create evil (Isa. 45:7); water:  Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that are above the heavens (Ps. 148:4-5); wind:  For, lo, He that formeth the mountains and createth the wind (Amos 4:13); the depths:  When there were no depths, I was brought forth (Prov. 8:24).”

(Genesis Rabbah, 1.9; Soncino ed., p. 8)

At first glance it seems that the midrash is dealing with the primal nature of the world.  The philosopher tries to prove from Scripture that there was primal matter in the world and that the story of Creation deals with giving this matter form, but Rabban Gamaliel proves from Scripture that the first matter, too, was created.[1]

If we pay close attention to the sources Rabban Gamaliel cited, we observe that they use the present tense, as much as to say that Creation constantly continues.  This would seem not to be connected to the question of the primal nature of the world.

A more modern reading of the midrash seeks to find new significance in the words of the Sages, meaning that is relevant to the contemporary view of the universe and will view the philosopher’s reservation and Rabban Gamaliel’s answer not as trying to prove a cosmological theory from Scripture, but as giving a Torah-based construction of our understanding of the physical world and its laws.

The question is no longer whether one can prove from Scripture that the world was created ex nihilo from the beginning, rather how one can derive meaning from Scripture regarding our perception of nature, meaning that can stand up to Maimonides requirement, “It is commanded to love and fear this glorious and awesome G‑d, as stated, ‘You shall love the Lord your G‑d’ (Deut. 6:5), and ‘Revere the Lord your G‑d’ (Deut. 6:13).  What is the path to love and fear of Him?  When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise and glorify [Him]” (Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah2.1-2).

In other words, the question is how the person who believes in a Creator can see the presence of the Creator in the fundamental laws of the natural world.

In the light of this requirement, the philosopher’s contention can be understood as follows:  there is no possibility of finding the Creator in the fundamental regularity of the laws of nature such as man has been able to establish, and according to human perception it is that which dictates the laws of nature themselves.

The philosopher maintains that creation of the world takes place in the context of a basic primal system of physical laws, and that the renewed creation, as it were, is none other than a “painting” which cannot deviate from this system of laws.  Thus, the perception of nature, even for the believer, leads to the conclusion that the renewal of Creation, and all that follows from that regarding the purpose of Creation and Divine Providence, are limited.

The philosopher asserts that the believer who seeks in nature, on the one hand, and in Scripture, on the other, should understand that “tohubohu, darkness, water, wind, and the deep” are only a parable and hint at the fundamental physical laws of nature.  The search for laws that will stand firm, that will provide the “superior raw material” for describing the world, has accompanied the philosopher from antiquity through to the era of modern science.[2]

Rabban Gamaliel answers that quite the contrary, the Creator is to be scene in the fundamental laws of nature.  The passages from Scripture cited by Rabban Gamaliel not only describe the basic laws of physical world as being created and renewed by the Creator, blessed be His name, but also have their verbs in the present tense, indicating that this act of Creation is constantly being renewed.

What observations about Creation give place for this new interpretation of the words of the philosopher and of Rabban Gamaliel?

Modern physics, which investigates the regularity of the physical world, describes several basic laws by which the physical world functions, with all other laws of physics being subject to these basic principles, and this is the “painting” that is done.[3] About a century ago the Jewish mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935) formulated the theorem bearing her name and dealing with the relationship between conservation of quantities in nature (such as momentum and energy) and symmetry, that is, the stability of the laws of nature when examined from any vantage point, even when the entire system undergoes a translation of place, time, mirror reflection, and the like.  Symmetry and conservation are fundamental properties that have been long known; Emmy Noether’s law, which expresses the relationship between them, reveals a fundamental principle that underlies the physical world.

According to this law, for any continuous symmetry in the world, there are corresponding quantities whose values are conserved over time.  Without this assumption, the accepted laws of the physical world would collapse.  Let us give an illustration with one of the quantities that is conserved—energy, conserved according to the well-known Law of Conservation of Energy.

According to Emmy Noether’s Law, the conservation of energy stems from the symmetry over translation in time of physical systems—the laws and characteristics of the physical system remain stable as it moves through the dimension of time.  The law of conservation of momentum stems from the symmetry of translations in space—e.g., measurements taken in a laboratory at Bar Ilan University and in a laboratory in Boston will show identical behavior for a pendulum.  More abstract symmetries also enter the picture of physical laws:  the law of conservation of electric charge stems from the symmetry of gauge invariance (of the group U1), and the law of conservation of isospin stems from the symmetry of another gauge invariance (of the group SU2).

Let us imagine a horizontal table on which balls are rolling in different directions.  They move in a straight line until they encounter another ball.  If we were to lift the entire table by two meters, for example, it would remain horizontal and the motion of the balls which not change, and the laws governing their movement would remain in force.  The dimensions of the table make no difference in this fundamental matter.  Even if the table were as long and wide as we can imagine, the motion of the balls would remain as it had been.

Another very famous basic law to which the laws of nature are subject was formulated by the great Jewish physicist Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity, by which the speed of light in a vacuum is the fixed constant upper bound of speed that a particle, body or information can move through space.  If instead of the table we imagined that we were to take a field whose dimensions are large relative to the speed of light, then something happening in one part of the field (let us call it place A) cannot affect a distant part of the field (call it B) until enough time has elapsed to enable light to move from A to B.  Therefore, when a change begins to take place in the entire field, in terms of the particles at place B no change has occurred at A.

This means that the particles at B behave as if the change in the field was not uniform, and therefore the symmetry of Emmy Noether’s law is broken.  Thus two fundamental laws that govern the behavior of the physical world are found to contradict one another.  Will symmetry be broken and conservation disappear, or will the change at A “reach” B (and all other spots C, D, etc.) instantaneously, contrary to the principle of relativity?

Yet symmetry, and along with it the laws of the physical world, continues to exist, and conservation is not destroyed nor disturbed.  A mathematical solution for this was proposed in the 1960’s by a group of scientists using another field of forces constantly created and operating on the particles to balance their action and to “step in line” with symmetry and conservation.  These forces are also described as particles in what is known as the Standard Model of quantum field theory.[4]

Most amazingly these mathematical “explanations” turned out to be hard facts.  Measurable evidence of the existence of these particles was obtained at the large particle accelerator (Large Hadron Collider) in Geneva, in 2012.

The basic laws that anchor the physical world and give it the ability to continue functioning, ostensibly forever, were created with an internal contradiction that demands constant change, and they themselves are constantly “being created” and evolving.[5] Thus a person who believes in the Creator can understand that the Creator has not ceased for a moment to create His world from the very foundations, e.g., from the level of the physical laws themselves of which the world is made, as expressed by Rabban Gamaliel.

Thus the declaration, “Let there be light,” takes on the meaning of a command that is constantly being fulfilled and that becomes revealed to those who look at the world through the eyes of faith, inseparably combining Torah and Creation.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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