It’s not easy to initiate a four-year-old into the secrets of the cosmos. But then, I wonder if the forty-year-old really understands any better. As long as there is wonder, that’s all that counts.

Sometimes I wonder: if Miri were sixteen years old already, how would our conversation go?

Me: The bagel, you see, is a three-dimensional representation of the concept of the original tzimtzum, as taught by the holy Ari, may his memory be for a blessing.

Miri: The who?

Me: The Ari. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. Greatest of all the Kabbalists.

Miri: He invented the bagel?

Me: No, no. But he did discover a great secret of the cosmos, which happens to be hidden in the bagel as well.

Miri: Really? I thought they only did that with Chinese fortune cookies.

Me: In fact, the Ari may have never seen a bagel. He lived in Egypt most of his life, until he moved to Tzfat, Israel, around 1570. He was much more familiar with pita bread. Hey—that’s even better: An empty void in which is placed an entire world of crunchy round balls, assorted salads, and various hot sauces and condiments. A perfect model of the universe!

Miri: Ughh! You mean planet Earth is just a falafel ball?

Me: Miri, we’re getting off track. What I meant to explain was like this: Before the Ari, everyone knew there was the Infinite Light and there was our world, but no one could really explain how things got from Infinite and Light to Finite and Dark.

Miri: Simple. Just turn off the lights.

Me: Well, that’s sort of what the Ari said. He said that G‑d just sort of punched a hole in the Infinite Light.

Miri: Like a bagel.

Me: Or a pita. And then, into that empty void . . .

Miri: Whoa! Hold it! You can’t make a hole in Infinite Light!

Me: Why not?

Miri: ’Cause then it’s not infinite anymore! I mean, it’s either infinite, or it’s got a hole in the middle. You gotta make up your mind.

Me: Way to go, Miri! Now I see you’re really thinking!

Miri: But if I’m thinking, aren’t things supposed to make sense?

Me: Not necessarily. At first, when you begin to think, things start to get darker and more confusing.

Miri: Sort of like punching a hole in the light.

Me: Sort of. And if you ask the right questions, you get down to the essential point behind all that light.

Miri: Like you really see it for yourself, not just ’cause your Kabbalistic Zaidy told you.

Me: Right. And then you can take that essential point and build a whole world out of it.

Miri: Actually, having a Kabbalistic Zaidy is pretty kewl.

Me: So now you understand how, when G‑d withdrew all the light from that hole, He was really still there. And He still is there. For Him, nothing really changed. He’s infinite and beyond, just like before. It’s just that He wanted a space where He could get across the essential point of everything.

Miri: I don’t get it. Where’s the empty space? You mean like outer space?

Me: No, no, Miri. Not that kind of space. I mean like psychological space. He makes space for us to have free will. To make our own decisions. To decide on our lives, where we want to go and what we want to be.

Miri: Do we get the keys to the car?

Me: He puts darkness and light in front of us, all mixed up, so that we will have a choice. And when we choose the right thing, we show that He is there, breathing within our freedom of choice.

Miri: So the empty hole is the space for us to be real people.

Me: Right.

Miri: And that freedom, that people-ness, is really G‑dly.

Me: Right. It’s what makes us divine. And makes the universe special. Just like the hole is what makes the bagel a bagel. Or the pita a pita.

Miri: Right. So what’s with the falafel balls?