Of course, there are many things to discuss about Noah and The Flood. But lets first step back and look at the big picture: G‑d makes a world and puts people in it. He sets an ideal for how those people should take care of His world. The people mess up, G‑d gets upset, drowns the subjects of this first experiment and starts all over again.

Now lets ask the most basic questions: How is it that a G‑d who is capable of creating an entire universe, time, space and laws of nature included, cant get His own creatures to fall in line? He built them, He programmed them—He even created the raw materials out of which they were made. How can they possibly break out of the procedure of His Divine Plan?

There are short, pat answers. But its far more interesting if we take this step by step. So lets start here:

Some like to say that Judaism is an answer. Others point out that we have far more questions than answers. The best description of Jewish ideology is a sustained paradox. You know, the state when you have finally grasped just what the problem is and stand at the verge of reaching the answer. Sustain that point and you have all the look and feel of Jewish thought.

Those who need straight and simple answers, who need to make immediate sense of their world, who find it impossible to sustain any form of cognitive dissonance—well, better they dont read this essay. Judaism began with Abraham facing some very difficult challenges, and it hasnt been exactly comfortable for most of us since then. As the Ethics of the Fathers puts it, gain comes with pain. Theres nothing rewarding about a comfortable life.

What is that paradox? There are many ways of expressing it, just as a diamond has many facets. One facet is the paradox of free choice and omnipotence: All extends from one source and each individual controls his destiny. Another is the paradox of exclusivity: There is nothing else but G‑d and G‑d created a world. Or oneness and plurality: G‑d is One, and from Him comes many. Or creation: Out of nothing came something. I could go on.

Everybody wants answers. Few have the patience to savor the question. But a good paradox deserves to be savored, as a connoisseur of wines savors his first taste of a delicate champagne.

So instead of jumping to find answers, lets ask: What are all these paradoxes trying to tell us? Why do they exist? What do they have in common?

Lets go back first to free choice and omnipotence. Free choice is a vital element for our world to exist as its own entity. Imagine our universe as a finite bubble floating within an infinite soup. What keeps the bubble from popping and being deluged by the soup about it? As far as the soup is concerned, there is no bubble—since the soup is infinite, there could be no vacuum within it. The bubble exists only from the point of view of those who observe it from the inside. In other words, it is only a subjective world. If the inhabitants of the bubble would attain the perspective of the soup beyond them, the bubble would effectively burst.

And yet it is the soup that sustains the bubble.

That is basically how the Lurianic Kabbalists talk about the creation of our world—except instead of a soup and a bubble, they talk about the Infinite Light and the Void. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi describes two competing realities, which he calls the Higher Mind and the Lower Mind: Looking from above down, there is no world, only the Infinite Light. Looking from below (within) up, there is a world sustained by the light that enters it. Both realities, he says, are true.

So if we would perceive ourselves as puppets of Above, that would be a dissolution of our reality. In terms of the Kabbalah, the lower mind would be surrendering and collapsing before the higher mind and, poof, the world never was. It is only because we are created with a perception of self-volition that our existence is sustained.

It is fascinating to note the convergence here with several modern cosmologies. Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner wrote that consciousness and free will are necessary to "reduce wave functions" into actual events. John Wheeler, one of the most influential physicists alive, comments, the observer is as essential to the creation of the universe as the universe is to the creation of the observer. Without the decision making process of human perception, they explain, there would not be any true cosmos or universe, only an infinite set of possibilities.

This may well be the best description we can get of the core of all these paradoxes: The greater universe is composed of not one, but two realities, apparently at odds with each other, but somehow coinciding.

Coinciding, because—and this is the oddest thing of all—we are somehow aware of this paradox! We know that our reality is not the exclusive one, that it is sustained by a higher, apparently conflicting one. To the point that we feel a need to resolve the conflict with this higher reality.

It is something like standing in a dark room with a white shirt under an ultraviolet light. Its dark, but your shirt is bright. You know the light cant be coming from your shirt, but you cant perceive any other source of light. You are aware of something that is not within your realm of awareness.

In our case, we perceive ourselves as the source of our decisions. Yet we understand that all extends from a single source. That source, however, is not really part of our realm, our reality. It belongs to the infinite space beyond our bubble. So we can continue with our awareness as a truth for ourselves.

The mistake of the original idolaters was to believe that the space beyond the bubble is G‑d. That the higher mind is the true mind, and ours is no more than a mirage. The idea endured in Zoroastrianism and in early Gnostic writings. It is the subject of several refutations recounted in the Talmud. It was the idea Isaiah was refuting when we said that G‑d, forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil. Light and darkness are both His creations, the finite as well as the infinite, our existence as well as the absence of us—both realities, both minds belong to Him. If we could interview G‑d and ask, So does the world exist or does it not exist? He might simply answer, Yes. It could be said that He does not take sides—He is the paradox itself.

Much of our difficulty stems from seeing G‑d as the beginning of existence. But, although it is impossible for us to conceive, G‑d is before existence. Not before in a sense of time—there is no time before existence. But in the sense of being That Which Generates Existence. This is the meaning of the most essential of the Divine Names, the four letter name pronounced by Kabbalists as "Havayeh". It is a conjugation of the verb "to be," in a causal, atemporal sense: That which is making be.

He is not limited to "making be," however. He could also "not make be." And He does, for as far as the "higher mind" is concerned, there are no creatures that make decisions on their own volition, because there is nothing. Only His non-existent existence—as Rabbi Schneur Zalman describes it. Or, as Maimonides writes at the beginning of his codification of Torah Law, Mishneh Torah: If it would arise in the mind that He is not existent, nothing would exist.

Can G‑d then be described as a balance of two powers: The power of being and the power of not being? No—for that too would be a departure from the concept of oneness. And so we say, Havayeh is Elokim—the G‑d of being is also the G‑d of judgment, of withdrawal, of not-being. It is all a perfect oneness. And that is how He creates a world: By withdrawing and sustaining at once.

We can have some sort of grasp of this idea from the analogy of a teacher. A mature teacher is able to be there with the student and not there at once. Perhaps she has a deep concept she wishes her student to comprehend, but she knows he is not ready for it. So she withdraws. In the withdrawal she finds the essential point of the idea she wishes the student to grasp, and reincarnates it in a form digestible to the student. In this new incarnation, the teachers mind is there. But it is also concealed. Because, if the teachers mind were apparent in this new form, we would be back at square one with no room for the students mind to develop. The teacher has withdrawn in order to give of herself. To the teacher, holding back is part of giving.

This is the Lurianic description of creation: The Infinite Light is withdrawn to form an utter void of light in which the worlds can be formed. The Gaon of Vilna understood this to mean that G‑ds presence is removed from this world. Rabbi Schneur Zalman, following the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, countered that, no, this could not be. It is only the light that is withdrawn. The source of light is always present. It is something only He can do: To be present and not present at once. Because, in His essence, being and not-being are one simple whole.

According to the Zohar, there were infinite worlds created. Ours, however, is the only world where there are creatures with free choice. Ours is also the lowest of all worlds, with the greatest withdrawal of light. This was the intent of creation, that His essence should dwell in the lowest of all worlds. And so, here He is: The ultimate paradox of omnipotence and free choice, where His power of being and of not-being collide in perfect, sustained harmony.

Which all puts us in a better position to approach the issue we began with: How is it possible for human beings to abrogate the Divine Plan? And just how much of a mess do they make when they do that? G‑d willing, and if its part of His plan, and we dont mess it up, well get to that in our next article.