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What Is Creation?

What Is Creation?

Creation Without Cause

(Bə-rē-āh) בריאה root: ברא
Related words: Bara: He created; Borei: Creator; Nivra: It was created (passive)

What it is . . .

Generally translated as creation, but more specifically, creation of something from nothing (Hebrew: b’riah yesh mei-ayin). A true b’riah does not emerge out of its antecedent; nothing predicts it or even suggests its possibility. Rather, it is something entirely new, an entirely unprecedented phenomenon.

The consensus of classic Jewish thinkers is that all existence is a b’riah out of absolute void, as the simple meaning of the opening verses of Genesis implies. Before the act of creation, there was no primordial matter or energy out of which a universe could emerge, nor any law that could explain such an event.

Obviously, without matter or energy there could be no space or time as we know them. To our minds, space without at least two objects is meaningless—in what way would such space be measured? The same with eventless time. Yet some of the classic Jewish thinkers go further and posit that the very concepts of time and space are creations. So, for example, we cannot ask, “What is beyond the created world?”—since there is no space beyond the space of the universe. Similarly, we cannot ask what was before existence, since there was no before.

. . . and why you can’t do it

Can you build a house without materials? Compose a song without sounds? Conceive an idea entirely detached from your bank of experiences? Scientists discuss multiple dimensions of space and time, extrapolating from the dimensions we can measure—but are they able to originate some new parameter that is neither space nor time?

Even if the Creator granted you the capacity to conjure physical objects out of the air, that would still not be a true b’riah, since it has a precedent—namely, your ability to conjure objects out of the air. That potential itself is a something that contains the possibility of another something.

True creativity—creating something that has absolutely no precedent—can only be realized by an entity that itself has no precedent. That entity is the absolute oneness we refer to as G‑d.

What difference does it make?

The immediate implicationIf a = b and b = c, then a = c. The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two. The energy of a quantum of electromagnetic radiation divided by its frequency equals 6.626 × 10^−34 joule-seconds. But why? of b’riah yesh mei-ayin is that nothing “must be.” Had the cosmos been formed from some primal goo, or within the parameters of some eternal laws, then certain forms or patterns would have been “necessary”—they couldn’t have been any other way, since the eternal axioms or the nature of the goo dictate that they must be just so. When we say that existence did not arise out of any law, logic or pattern, however, we are saying that everything is entirely an expression of the free will of its Creator, who is not bound by any form or nature—other than those He imposes on Himself. The patterns and laws that we observe are so simply because the Creator freely decided that they be so.

Of course, the Creator reserves the right to suspend at whim any such patterns—a.k.a. an open miracle. Yet more impressive: He remains unlimited by these laws, and can achieve whatever He wants without breaking a single one of them—a.k.a. a hidden miracle.

How often does this happen?

Since nothing exists out of necessity, there is no reason for anything to continue to exist from one moment to the next—other than the will of its Creator. Today isn’t today because yesterday was yesterday—today is an independent creation in its own right. We declare this in our morning prayers, that G‑d “renews in His goodness every day continuously the act of ‘in the beginning.’” Not only every day, but every moment is entirely new—including the past and future of that moment.

By designing His universe to operate in such a way, the Creator assigns us mastery of our past as well as our future. When our present shifts direction, the past renewed in its wake may shift as well. Each new moment becomes the vortex of all that ever was and will be.

How does it work?

One approach sees the Creator as an aloof prime mover, a sort of catalyst from whom all of reality extends spontaneously. The earliest Kabbalistic texts, however, discuss custom-fit articulations of divine energy for each detail of the Creation (described as combinations of Hebrew letters)—an approach that appears closer to the Biblical text.

The Chabad cosmology enlists the Lurianic doctrine of tzimtzum to synthesize the two approaches: the ultimate reality of each thing is the active force of the infinitely transcendent Creator that sustains it.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 19, 2014

Creation RESH B'RESHIT Today is the First Day of Creation. Every day is the First. Every single day Creation is that refreshment, that renewal. To drink from the Stream. It's not useful to argue about years of being, since it is all, in depth One, about Union, about Unity. We are all on a profound journey of soul. We are none of us, thread bare. Those threads on the prayer shawl, examine them. The tallit. Their intrinsic meaning. How a tallis can be stretched, on a canvas, portraying the river, how it flows. As in a shirt I once purchased at Aleph. We were all written into a Story, a Story that is so astounding it sends me to my knees. And there is in the word Story itself OR, for the light. Aura. Hear it! I can do a walk across Babel. A gate, and I have been gifted this. In the beginning WAS the WORD. You can say this, in every single tongue, parse This. I am moving across Babel. The babble of babies, is equipotential. There is such "utter" genius in this. I am on my knees before All Creation. Reply

Suzy woodland hills, ca February 16, 2014

Creation is a wonder that inspires all. Thank you, Hashem, for your are a great creator of man. Thank you. for infinite glory. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 19, 2011

is it all for the good I am saying we have to consider both sides of all stories, and that what we think we know or see, as in death being the end, could be, not true. For those who don't make it, there has to be mercy, justice as well.

it's very hard to contemplate it's all for the good when we see suffering here, and we all have this conundrum.

I am saying that to believe in a God of justice and mercy has to require faith in something more. Reply

Anonymous February 19, 2011

mastery i always hear stories about the upset passenger who missed his flight and the plane crashed. wowee ! please let us not forget that just as often a plan is changed , sometimes by a minute and results in disaster. the nice person who dies is not here to tell us the story. in other words, a flat tire can cause you to take a different flight and that flight crashes. so, is it all for the good ? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 16, 2011

Wow to mastery of the past I love what you wrote above!

Past "tense" can change and does morph. In reading as I am, a novel called The Postmistress about the Holocaust, that has some deep questions, as do all such books, could there be an overarching story we just don't yet see? What about all these coincidences that do inform parts of this story, the amazement of what happened to some lives, as they reconnected. A ring around the entire story, that is a flag, that reads, pay attention! Within this book the author talks about her research and how coincidence within stories, was remarkable.

But we shy away from this. As if there is some block on consciousness, preventing a closer look.

If God wrote us all into a story. Then that story will bring us all home, and into the light. And I say, This story has to be, entirely, about LOVE.

What is missing is those we miss, and for that I say, it's not over, when it's over.

There is a master key that unlocks all doors.

Av as in Aves. G_d is in the wings. Reply

Dominika Privatt Phoenix, AZ February 16, 2011

mastery of the past It is impossible to change past events but interpretation of these events and their meaning as related to present can change. For example: let's say I am on my way to the airport, car breaks down and I miss the flight. My first reaction will be stress, anger, frustration, disappointment etc, basically saying "what a bad thing this to happen to me". I am all depressed and frustrated waiting for a next flight when the news come in that plane I missed just crashed killing all aboard. The new "present" changes the past: now that event of car breaking down transforms from "bad thing that happened" into "wonderful miracle that happened". As we grow spiritually in present both our past (our interpretation of it and lessons we can learn) and our future (opportunities and consequences) change in pace with the present. Reply

God Babel February 14, 2011

Yes, the table gave actually with when because. It makes no sense, but he is above making no sense or logic, as logic is his b’riah and a subject to his whims. Therefore, little ball of three o'clock. Reply

ruth housmanm marshfield hills, ma January 30, 2011

is G_d evolving When we look at many Biblical stories they are harsh, cruel, and it does seem that G_d is a very strict disciplinarian and that what is meted out to many people is not love. What are we to derive from these stories? I didn't like them. I still don't. I hate it that there was a sacrifice demanded of Abraham. These stories bothered me deeply as a child and still do.

But what we do with them now, and through the ages, is plumb those stories for deeper meaning. So, it could be possible, that an all knowing, omniscient CREATOR, knew very well this would happen, and this placed us all in a position of having to struggle with ethics, with the ethics of love, and with a knowledge of what is the notion of wisdom coupled with compassion.

The short term and the long term goals could very well be, part of a MAJOR story involving us all, as it does, constantly, in midrash, in the interpretation of text, in recreating the "Divine Fire" itself.

And today, we all experience "mirrors in time". Reply

Rachael January 29, 2011

Question About the third to last paragraph : " By designing His universe to operate in such a way, the Creator assigns us mastery of our past as well as our future. When our present shifts direction, the past renewed in its wake may shift as well. Each new moment becomes the vortex of all that ever was and will be."

How does the creator assign mastery over our past and future? I thought we only have some control over the present. How can the past be changed, other than by a miracle?

thanks so much, Reply

Mordi January 28, 2011

principles of faith So far, emunah, bitachon, hashgacha and B'riah appear to be the lexicon of faith in G-d and also in His Creation. i suppose that the latter two are inseparable. That would suppose that the 4 words preceding are likewise inseparable if one wants to develop his/herJewish faith/way of life.

Correct me if i am wrong, but the elements above look like the basis of a pattern of Chassidic thought/faith that you are proceeding to develop.

If so, you have me hooked.

Thank You. Reply

david malekum charlottesville, va January 27, 2011

Creating the Names What puzzles me is why G-d would reveal the name Shaddai to the patriarchs and matriaichs and then later the name YHVH to Moshe and the rest of us. What's that about? Is that to imply the patriarch were/are "less illumined" than Moshe Rabbeynu? Probably not. Does it imply that as a species we are awakening to ever more insightful perceptions of reality, of this divine presence? Is G-d also evolving, as some of my friends seem to think. Can't even imagine that. Speaking of b'riah, are we not also "That" and thus free to create from nothing? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 27, 2011

the music of the spheres: sephirot: listen! My life tells me the following, and that is: we're engaging together in a cosmic dance, and that G_d is the intelligence behind this dance, so that we are each of us holding pieces of the puzzle and in our interactions with each other we are gifting each other, constantly, consciously and unconsciously.

I also know that this story is entirely about that wheel of the Hebrew letters, and all letters, as I am dancing across Babel. This is a dance and we are doing a corresponDANCE, all of us. There is wheal and here is wheel. Sorrow is part of our story, and it all does fold together into the One.

There is an amazement of mirroring, that goes up and down all creation.

Something from nothing? Life is intensely about paradox at all levels. Reminds me of The Sound of Music: something comes from nothing....

G_d is intensely involved in our lives, our experiential lives, and G_d wrote us all into a story that is deeply contained by the potentials within the letters.

A story about LOVE! Reply

Bill Kelley Tifton, GA, USA January 27, 2011

creating without a cause “What is beyond the created world?” G_d .
What was before existence? G_d
IF we let creation speak for itself after learning how to comprehend it because we have The Word of G_d, then how is it possible for us to not realize that in the beginning, Only G_d was. Then, because G_d thought everything into existance, the creation that we know about simply IS. AND, because G_d wants His creation to continue, G_d keeps purposfully thinking it is real, so it is. While this is some of the deepest kind of thought, I personally think that a deeper thought is this, "That G_d WANTS to love us and us to love Him." And then, those of us who choose to Believe this and act on it, we get to BE with G_d in heaven for ever. How deep and wonderful can you get??? Reply

The landscape of classic Jewish thought is painted with a finite set of themes and motifs...
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