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.

From the foregoing, the answer to the heretics [may be deduced],

וְהִנֵּה, מִכָּאן תְּשׁוּבַת הַמִּינִים

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.

וְגִילּוּי שׁוֹרֶשׁ טָעוּתָם, הַכּוֹפְרִים בְּהַשְׁגָּחָה פְרָטִית וּבְאוֹתוֹת וּמוֹפְתֵי הַתּוֹרָה,

Why do they deny this when they readily admit that G‑d created the world? It is because:

They err in their false analogy,

שֶׁטּוֹעִים בְּדִמְיוֹנָם הַכּוֹזֵב,

in comparing the work of G‑d, the Creator of heaven and earth, to the work of man and his schemes.

שֶׁמְּדַמִין מַעֲשֵׂה ה' – "עוֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ" לְמַעֲשֵׂה אֱנוֹשׁ וְתַחְבּוּלוֹתָיו,

Lessons In Tanya (Kehot Publication Society)

Lessons in Tanya is a well-lit and accessible gateway to the Tanya - the fundamental, classic work upon which all concepts of Chabad Chasidism are based.

When a silversmith has completed a vessel, that vessel is no longer dependent upon the hands of the smith,

כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יָצָא לַצּוֹרֵף כְּלִי – שׁוּב אֵין הַכְּלִי צָרִיךְ לִידֵי הַצּוֹרֵף,

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.

כִּי אַף שֶׁיָּדָיו מְסוּלָּקוֹת הֵימֶנּוּ וְהוֹלֵךְ לוֹ בַּשּׁוּק – הַכְּלִי קַיָּים בְּתַבְנִיתוֹ וְצַלְמוֹ מַמָּשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר יָצָא מִידֵי הַצּוֹרֵף,

In the same way do these fools conceive the creation of heaven and earth.

כָּךְ מְדַמִּין הַסְּכָלִים הָאֵלּוּ מַעֲשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.

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.

However, 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,

אַךְ "טַח מֵרְאוֹת עֵינֵיהֶם", הַהֶבְדֵּל הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁבֵּין מַעֲשֵׂה אֱנוֹשׁ וְתַחְבּוּלוֹתָיו, שֶׁהוּא יֵשׁ מִיֵּשׁ,

merely changing the form and appearance, e.g., from an ingot of silver to a vessel,

רַק שֶׁמְּשַׁנֶּה הַצּוּרָה וְהַתְּמוּנָה מִתְּמוּנַת חֲתִיכַת כֶּסֶף לִתְמוּנַת כְּלִי,

Man’s work merely consists of shaping a pre-existing 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 abovementioned misguided thinkers fail to see the difference between the activities of the craftsman—

and the making of heaven and earth, which is creatio ex nihilo.

לְמַעֲשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ, שֶׁהוּא יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן,

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.

This—creatio ex nihilo—is [even] more wondrous than, for example, the splitting of the Red Sea,1

וְהוּא פֶּלֶא גָּדוֹל יוֹתֵר מִקְּרִיעַת יַם סוּף עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל,

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,

שֶׁ"הוֹלִיךְ ה' אֶת הַיָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל הַלַּיְלָה

and the waters were split and not merely ceased their flow but stood upright as a wall.

וַיִּבָּקְעוּ הַמָּיִם", וְ"נִצְּבוּ כְמוֹ נֵד" וּכְחוֹמָה

If G‑d had stopped the wind, the waters would have instantly flowed downward, as is their way and nature,

וְאִילּוּ הִפְסִיק ה' אֶת הָרוּחַ כְּרֶגַע – הָיוּ הַמַּיִם חוֹזְרִים וְנִיגָּרִים בְּמוֹרָד כְּדַרְכָּם וְטִבְעָם,

and undoubtedly, they would not have stood upright like a wall,

וְלֹא קָמוּ כְּחוֹמָה בְּלִי סָפֵק,

even though this nature of water [to flow downward] is also newly created ex nihilo,

אַף שֶׁהַטֶּבַע הַזֶּה בַּמַּיִם גַּם כֵּן נִבְרָא וּמְחוּדָּשׁ יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן,

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 rocklike 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.

for a stone wall stands erect by itself without [the assistance of] the wind, but the nature of water is not so.

שֶׁהֲרֵי חוֹמַת אֲבָנִים נִצֶּבֶת מֵעַצְמָהּ בְּלִי רוּחַ, רַק שֶׁטֶּבַע הַמַּיִם אֵינוֹ כֵן;

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.

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,

וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן וְקַל וָחוֹמֶר בִּבְרִיאַת יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן, שֶׁהִיא לְמַעְלָה מֵהַטֶּבַע, וְהַפְלֵא וָפֶלֶא יוֹתֵר מִקְּרִיעַת יַם סוּף,

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 nonexistence.

עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה שֶׁבְּהִסְתַּלְּקוּת כֹּחַ הַבּוֹרֵא מִן הַנִּבְרָא חַס וְשָׁלוֹם – יָשׁוּב הַנִּבְרָא לְאַיִן וָאֶפֶס מַמָּשׁ.

Rather,2 the activating force of the Creator must continuously be present in the thing created to give it life and ongoing existence.

אֶלָּא צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת כֹּחַ הַפּוֹעֵל בַּנִּפְעָל תָּמִיד, לְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ וּלְקַיְּימוֹ.

[Activating forces such as the above] are the selfsame letters of speech [that constitute] the ten utterances by which [all beings] were created.

וְהֵן הֵן בְּחִינוֹת אוֹתִיּוֹת הַדִּבּוּר מֵעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת שֶׁבָּהֶם נִבְרְאוּ,

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.

Concerning this, Scripture says, “and You give life to them all.”3 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.

וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר: "וְאַתָּה מְחַיֶּה אֶת כּוּלָּם" – אַל תִּקְרֵי "מְחַיֶּה", אֶלָּא "מְהַוֶּה", דְּהַיְינוּ, יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן,

It is written in Reishit Chochmah, as well as in the Shaloh (Shaar Ha-Otiot, 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.

The word אַתָּה (“You”) indicates all the letters from alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, to tav, the final letter of the alphabet,

וְ"אַתָּה" – הֵן בְּחִינוֹת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת מֵאַלֶ"ף וְעַד תָּי"ו,

and the letter hey 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.

וְהַהֵ"א – הִיא ה' מוֹצָאוֹת הַפֶּה, מְקוֹר הָאוֹתִיּוֹת.

This, then, is the meaning of the phrase, “and You (אַתָּה) 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.

Although He has no bodily likeness,4

וְאַף שֶׁאֵין לוֹ דְּמוּת הַגּוּף –

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?

Scripture itself explicitly applies [to Him in anthropomorphic terms such as] “G‑d spoke” or “G‑d said,” thereby ascribing to Him letters and speech,

הֲרֵי מִקְרָא מָלֵא דִּבֶּר הַכָּתוּב: "וַיְדַבֵּר ה'", "וַיֹּאמֶר ה'",

and this—the meaning of “G‑d spoke” or “G‑d said”—is the revelation of the twenty-two supernal letters to the Prophets.

וְהִיא בְּחִינַת הִתְגַּלּוּת הַכ"ב אוֹתִיּוֹת עֶלְיוֹנוֹת לַנְּבִיאִים,

[These supernal letters] are enclothed in the intellect and comprehension which is to be found in their prophetic vision

וּמִתְלַבְּשׁוֹת בְּשִׂכְלָם וְהַשָּׂגָתָם בְּמַרְאֵה הַנְּבוּאָה,

[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,”5

וְגַם בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתָּם וְדִיבּוּרָם, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "רוּחַ ה' דִּבֶּר בִּי, וּמִלָּתוֹ עַל לְשׁוֹנִי",

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.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה [בְּשַׁעַר הַנְּבוּאָה].

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,”6

וּכְעֵין זֶה הִיא הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת הָאוֹתִיּוֹת בַּבְּרוּאִים, כְּדִכְתִיב: "בִּדְבַר ה' שָׁמַיִם נַעֲשׂוּ, וּבְרוּחַ פִּיו כָּל צְבָאָם",

except that [the enclothing of the letters in created beings] comes about through numerous and powerful descents,

רַק, שֶׁהִיא עַל יְדֵי הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת רַבּוֹת וַעֲצוּמוֹת,

until [the letters] reach the corporeal World of Asiyah, which contains corporeal beings,

עַד שֶׁיּוֹרְדוֹת לַעֲשִׂיָּה גוּפָנִית,

whereas the apprehension of the Prophets is in the World of Atzilut as it becomes clothed in the World of Beriah.

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן הַשָּׂגַת הַנְּבִיאִים, הִיא בַּאֲצִילוּת הַמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּעוֹלַם הַבְּרִיאָה:

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.