The human mind is eminently adapted to coping with paradox—usually by simply ignoring it and getting on with life. A lot of knowledge, however, can come out of resolving these conflicts.

For example, on Rosh Hashanah we talk simultaneously about the Master of the Universe in two (apparently) antithetical ways. Consider this: We call Him a "King who rules by His word". "He spoke," the verse says, "and it came to be." Nachmanides, in his commentary on the Torah, explains that the word "spoke" here means "willed" (it is often used that way in Biblical Hebrew). G‑d is so omnipotent, if He wants something, it's there already.

If so, whats all this business about judging His creatures? That He measures the deeds of each one to see whether they fulfill His will or not, and metes out their reward accordingly? Where then is His inobstructable omnipotence? How is it possible that some creature could not thoroughly fulfill His will?

This is no small question. The first Jew, Abraham, distinguished himself from those he lived amongst by demanding, "Will the Judge of all the earth then not do justice?" The idea that there is a Judge and there is justice, reward and punishment, that it is up to us to fulfill G‑d's will—all this, Maimonides says, is the very basis of Torah and its commandments. And so is G‑d's omnipotence. By exploring these two concepts and the resolution our tradition has provided, we are exploring the very core of Judaism.

Is The World Necessary?

Let's return to this idea that the cosmos enters into being simply out of G‑d willing it so. Let's explore a simple question: Does G‑d have to make a world? In other words, does the supposition that there is an Infinite Essential Being who is capable of creating a world determine that therefore a world must come into being? Or, as a philosopher would put it, "Is the world necessary?"

The ancient Greeks thought so—and this perspective has persisted throughout philosophy to this day: The world is here because it must be here.

Jews, however, disagree. "You are the beginning and You are the end and who can tell You what to do?" Creation is a deliberate act. It happens only because He chose it should happen. Even after a world exists, it remains "unnecessary".

In short, Torah grants G‑d free choice.

This idea is difficult for the rational mind because it is impossible to create a model for it. True randomness and spontaneity is entirely out of the range of mathematics. Even today's chaos theories are based on procedural models. We can't create a system that will choose randomly with no explanation for why it has chosen either way—a system of effect without cause. Typical of human intuition, we imagine that since there is no mathematical model for something, G‑d is not allowed to do it.

Today's concept of science, however, has brought us to think in larger terms, surrendering to the idea that there are things that do not fit—and do not have to fit—into our neat little models (such as the essential reality). It is this surrender that has allowed us to come up with relativity and quantum mechanics. It also makes it easier for us to conceive of this idea of choice, which is so fundamental to Jewish thought.

To Be and Not To Be

G‑d's omnipotence, then, allows Him to choose to create a world or to not create a world. As the Rebbe interprets the words of Maimonides, G‑d has both the power of being and of not being. He chooses being, so a world exists. At the same time He chooses not being—as we will explain. But before explaining, let's look at a small analogy that will serve as something of a handle to grasp a very abstract idea.

All the analogies we need are provided within the human psyche, "for in the image of G‑d, He created the human being." The balanced human adult is the closest model of the cosmic process we can get.

One token quality of an adult human being is the ability to hold back. A child feels compelled to speak and do whatever arises in his mind. For an eloquent demonstration, ask a child to help another child with homework—it's next to impossible for them to help without giving the answers away. True, many adults have the same problem, but a mature mind is able to provide just what is necessary and then stand by while the student explores and discovers all on his/her own. At times the student may fail, or go off on dead-end tangents. A true adult is able to sit and watch, perhaps even assist the student to explore false options, and provide only what is necessary to ensure an eventual successful resolution.

Through silence, the adult communicates more than through overt instruction. Instruction provides information. Tacit guidance provides the student with his/her own mind. A careful balance of the two is the mark of an excellent teacher.

The act of creation, and all those things that occur instantaneously "because He so wills it" are somewhat analogous to overt instruction. He wants it, He says it, and it is. All this extends from His "power of being".

But there are also things that He wills, yet withholds. That doesn't mean He doesn't tell us about them. In some cases He may, in some not—at least, not overtly. But He, so to speak, restrains His words from their fruition, allowing us to achieve that result. He lets us know that we should care for each other, but allows us to do the opposite—and experience the consequences. He lets us know He wants a world where Shabbat below is in concordance with Shabbat above—but leaves the fulfillment of His desire up to us. In very many cases, He leaves it up to us to determine what it is that He wants—instructing us only that we must rely on those who are accepted sages of His Torah.

This is the concept of Torah. In Torah, G‑d gives us a taste of His "power of not being"--and provides us something of Himself that His act of creation does not. More accurately, Torah contains a balance of the two powers of being and not being, revealing and withholding, instructing and allowing failure—and it is through this balance that we are able to touch the Essence from whence all opposites extend, as well as our own essential selves. Once again, the ever-repeating epithet of Torah, Havaye hu HaElokim--"The G‑d of revelation is the same G‑d as the G‑d of concealment". And therefore, "There is nothing else but He."

This is also the meaning of the statement, "The Torah preceded the world": Even after creation of a world according to the blueprint of Torah, the Divine will of Torah remains beyond it. Our mission is to funnel that higher plane into our reality. We do that by exercising our own free choice, which is, in fact, a reflection of His free choice which we have just described.

Rosh Hashanah is a repeat performance of the original decision to choose existence of the world. Only that the very first time was a spontaneous decision. Now the decision is made according to a careful accounting: How well does our world match to the world He desired in creating it? The verdict is a measure of the capacity of this world to receive from an even higher source than the previous year. At a certain point, may it be very soon, it will be apparent that we got some of it right. That will be "the times of Moshiach," and its ultimate conclusion will be with the "World to Come" of the seventh millenium.