In his opening chapter the Alter Rebbe explained that the Divine life-force which brings all creatures into existence must constantly be present within them, in order to recreate and revivify them on an ongoing basis. Were this life-force to forsake any created being for even one brief moment, it would revert to a state of utter nothingness, as before the creation of the universe.
והנה מכאן תשובת המינים
From the foregoing, the answer to the heretics [may be deduced],
וגילוי שורש טעותם הכופרים בהשגחה פרטית ובאותות ומופתי התורה
and there is exposed the root of the error of those who are deemed heretics not because they deny that G‑d created the world, but because they deny individual Divine Providence and the signs and miracles recorded in the Torah.
Why do they deny this, when they readily admit that G‑d created the world? It is because:
שטועים בדמיונם הכוזב
They err in their false analogy, and the outcome would be quite different from what they imagine even if they were justified in their analogy,
שמדמין מעשה ה׳, עושה שמים וארץ, למעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו
in comparing the work of G‑d, the Creator of heaven and earth, to the work of man and his schemes.
כי כאשר יצא לצורף כלי, שוב אין הכלי צריך לידי הצורף
For, when a silversmith has completed a vessel, that vessel is no longer dependent upon the hands of the smith,
כי אף שידיו מסולקות הימנו, והולך לו בשוק, הכלי קיים בתבניתו וצלמו ממש, כאשר יצא מידי הצורף
and even when his hands are removed from it and he goes his way, the vessel remains in exactly the same image and form as when it left the hands of the smith.
כך מדמין הסכלים הללו מעשה שמים וארץ
In the same way do these fools conceive the creation of heaven and earth.
They imagine that heaven and earth, once created, no longer need their Creator. They therefore deny individual Divine Providence and the signs and miracles recorded in the Torah, inasmuch as these indicate that G‑d continues to be involved with creation, and from time to time chooses to change the course of nature through miraculous means.
אך טח מראות עיניהם ההבדל הגדול שבין מעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו, שהוא יש מיש
But their eyes are covered, so that they do not see the great difference between the work of man and his machinations, which consists of [making] one existent thing out of [another, already] existent thing,
רק שמשנה הצורה והתמונה, מתמונת חתיכת כסף לתמונת כלי
merely changing the form and appearance, e.g., from an ingot of silver to a vessel —
Man’s work merely consists of shaping a preexisting mass. Moreover, even the new appearance already existed in potentia, for the nature of physical matter such as silver is such, that it may be extended and bent and made to assume different shapes and forms.
Thus, in reality the craftsman did not change the matter at all. Hence, once he finishes shaping his artifact he can leave it to its own devices, secure in the knowledge that it does not need him any more.
The above-mentioned misguided thinkers fail to see the difference between the activities of the craftsman —
למעשה שמים וארץ, שהוא יש מאין
and the making of heaven and earth, which is creatio ex nihilo.
Before heaven and earth were created they simply did not exist; only after they were created did they come into being as existing entities. Their being is thus something utterly novel, something which previously had not existed at all.
In such a situation, the Alter Rebbe will soon conclude, the creative force which brings them into existence must constantly recreate them in order for them to exist. Were this force to withdraw for even the briefest moment, creation would revert to nothingness.
והוא פלא גדול יותר מקריעת ים סוף, על דרך משל
This — creatio ex nihilo — is [even] more wondrous than, for example, the splitting of the Red Sea.
שהוליך ה׳ את הים ברוח קדים עזה כל הלילה
For then, G‑d drove back the sea by a strong east wind all the night, i.e., the G‑dly force that split the sea clothed itself in the wind,
ויבקעו המים, ונצבו כמו נד וכחומה
and the waters were split and not merely ceased their flow, but stood upright as a wall.
ואילו הפסיק ה׳ את הרוח, כרגע היו המים חוזרים ונגרים במורד כדרכם וטבעם
If G‑d had stopped the wind, the waters would have instantly flowed downward, as is their way and nature,
ולא קמו כחומה, בלי ספק
and undoubtedly they would not have stood upright like a wall,
אף שהטבע הזה במים גם כן נברא ומחודש יש מאין
even though this nature of water [to flow downward] is also newly created ex nihilo,
As the Rebbe points out, the Alter Rebbe means to say that not only is water itself a creation ex nihilo, but the nature of water to flow downward is also created ex nihilo.
When the mighty wind caused the water to stand like a wall, nothing was newly created ex nihilo, yesh me‘ayin; this was no more than a case of yesh miyesh: one existent state (the fluidity of water) was merely replaced by another existent state (its ability to remain upright).
Nevertheless, since the ability of water to stand rock-like is something novel, the force that is responsible for this novelty — even though this novelty involves no more than a progression from one yesh to another — must constantly cause it to come about; the moment it ceases to do so the novel event is arrested.
We thus see that the fluidity of water is not intrinsic to its essence. (By way of contrast, the fact that a created being occupies space, for example, is an essential characteristic that does not require separate creation ex nihilo.) In order for water to be fluid a distinct act of creation ex nihilo is required.
The Alter Rebbe makes this point by citing the contrasting case of a stone wall, which stands upright, independently of any external force.
שהרי חומת אבנים נצבת מעצמה בלי רוח, רק שטבע המים אינו כן
for a stone wall stands erect by itself without [the assistance of] the wind, but the nature of water is not so.
Since water by nature does not stand upright but flows downward, an additional degree of creation ex nihilo is called for if it is to do otherwise.
The above demonstrates that the Divine force that clothed itself in the wind did not have to create yesh me‘ayin, a newly existent being within creation: it merely had to change one yesh to another yesh, one form of existence to another — the natural property of fluidity to the natural property of standing erect. Nevertheless, even in such a situation, since a radical degree of change is involved, it is necessary for the power causing the change to effect the change unremittingly.
Surely, then, the Alter Rebbe soon concludes, with regard to the creation of the world, which comes into being absolutely ex nihilo, the activating force of the Creator must continuously be present in the created universe, providing it with life and existence. Indeed, were it not to be constantly present, the universe would revert to absolute nothingness.
Thus, even those who mistakenly compare G‑d’s creation to the works of man should also realize that an act that effects a radical change in a preexisting entity (e.g., causing water to assume the properties of a wall) requires that the activating force renew its effect continuously. This in itself should suffice to demonstrate that the activating force of the Creator must continuously revivify creation.
We thus see that not only is the analogy of the heretics false, for one cannot meaningfully compare G‑d’s creation and the works of man, but even according to their view, a situation which requires radical change in a created being necessitates the constant input of the animating force.
וכל שכן וקל וחומר בבריאת יש מאין, שהיא למעלה מהטבע והפלא ופלא יותר מקריעת ים סוף
How much more so is it in the creation of something out of nothing, which transcends nature, and is far more miraculous than the splitting of the Red Sea,
על אחת כמה וכמה שבהסתלקות כח הבורא מן הנברא, חס ושלום, ישוב הנברא לאין ואפס ממש
that surely with the withdrawal of the power of the Creator from the thing created, G‑d forbid, the created being would revert to naught and utter non-existence.
אלא צריך להיות כח הפועל בנפעל תמיד להחיותו ולקיימו
Rather, the activating force of the Creator must continuously be present in the thing created to give it life and existence.
והן הן בחינת אותיות הדבור מעשרה מאמרות שבהם נבראו
[Activating forces such as the above] are the selfsame letters of speech [that constitute] the Ten Utterances by which [all beings] were created.
This is why the above-quoted verse states, “Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands in the heavens.” G‑d’s speech, which is the force that brings a created being into existence, must be present there forever, so as to give it life and existence.
--ועל זה נאמר: ואתה מחיה את כולם. אל תקרי מחיה אלא מהוה, דהיינו יש מאין
Concerning this Scripture says, “and You give life to them all.” I.e., G‑d provides the heavens and earth and all the creatures found within them, with life. Read not “give life,” but “bring into being,” i.e., ex nihilo.
It is written in Reishit Chochmah, as well as in the Shaloh (Shaar HaOtiot, pp. 48b, 70a), that although the verse uses the phrase “give life,” this does not mean that G‑d only provides created beings with life, in the way that the soul animates the already-existent body. Rather, the verse implies that this provision of life also serves to create them and to be responsible for their continued existence.
ואתה הן בחינת האותיות מאל״ף עד תי״ו
The word אתה (“You”) indicates all the letters from alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, to tav, the final letter of the alphabet,
והה״א היא ה׳ מוצאות הפה, מקור האותיות
and the letter hei of the same word alludes to the five organs of verbal articulation, i.e., the larynx, palate, tongue, teeth and lips, which are the source of the letters.
This, then, is the meaning of the phrase, “and You (אתה) give life to them all.” The spiritual letters that emanate from the five supernal organs of verbal speech, provide life ex nihilo to the whole of the created universe.
ואף שאין לו דמות הגוף
Although He has no bodily likeness,
How, then, can we speak of letters existing in the worlds above, and indeed add that it is through them that creation takes place ex nihilo?
הרי מקרא מלא דבר הכתוב: וידבר ה׳, ויאמר ה׳
yet Scripture itself explicitly applies [to Him anthropomorphic terms such as] “G‑d spoke” or “G‑d said,” thereby ascribing to Him letters and speech,
והיא בחינת התגלות הכ״ב אותיות עליונות לנביאים
and this — the meaning of “G‑d spoke” or “G‑d said” — is the revelation of the twenty-two supernal letters to the Prophets.
ומתלבשות בשכלם והשגתם במראה הנבואה
[These supernal letters] are enclothed in the intellect and comprehension which is to be found in their prophetic vision,
וגם במחשבתם ודיבורם, כמו שכתוב: רוח ה׳ דבר בי, ומלתו על לשוני
[and are enclothed] as well in their thought and speech, as it is written, “The spirit of G‑d spoke within me, and His word is upon my tongue,”
וכמו שאמר האריז״ל בשער הנבואה
as has been explained by the AriZal (in Shaar HaNevuah).
Clearly, there exist letters and speech above which are capable of being garbed in the thought and speech of the Prophets.
וכעין זה היא התלבשות האותיות בברואים, כדכתיב: בדבר ה׳ שמים נעשו, וברוח פיו כל צבאם
Similar to this is the investment of the letters in created things, as it is written, “By the word of G‑d were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host,”
רק שהיא על ידי השתלשלות רבות ועצומות
except that [the enclothing of the letters in created beings] comes about through numerous and powerful descents,
עד שיורדות לעשיה גופנית
until [the letters] reach the corporeal World of Asiyah, which contains corporeal beings,
מה שאין כן השגת הנביאים היא באצילות המתלבשת בעולם הבריאה
whereas the apprehension of the Prophets is in the World of Atzilut as it becomes clothed in the World of Beriah.
It is from this lofty level that the spirit of prophecy descends upon the Prophets.
In similar fashion, the supernal letters descend and are invested within created beings, providing them with life and creating them ex nihilo.