(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.