The world was created with ten Divine utterances. What does this come to teach us? Certainly, it could have been created with a single utterance. However, this was in order to make the wicked accountable for destroying a world which was created with ten utterances and to reward the righteous for sustaining a world which was created with ten utterances.

Ethics of the Fathers, 5:1

In other words, G‑d chose to "expend" ten utterances on our world to make our life's mission within it more significant and valuable.

Yet this explanation seems somewhat unsatisfactory. If G‑d could create a world with a single utterance, then this ought to be the true measure of its worth. Any additional "expenditure" on His part seems but an artificial inflation of its value. As the commentary Midrash Shemuel puts it: If A pays ten zuz for an object worth only a single zuz, and B steals it, would B's obligation be for more than the object's true value?

Could and Did

Chassidic teaching explains that the above mishnah actually describes two existing dimensions to our existence. When the Ethics says that the world "could have been created with a single utterance," it is not merely speaking of a theoretical possibility, but of a particular facet of our present reality. A facet that exists by virtue of the "could" element of G‑d's creative power.

In other words, there are two aspects to G‑d's creation:

1. The very fact of its existence: before it was not, now it is. G‑d brought all created things into being out of a prior state of absolute nothingness. Their "somethingness" is a feature that they all share equally, their individuality fading to insignificance before this fact. This most basic creative power of the Almighty originates in the "could" of G‑d, the sublime potential for creation rooted in His essence.

2. The individual nature of the various elements to comprise our world. In addition to the common fact of their existence, G‑d imbued each entity with its own unique features and qualities, making for a diverse and multifaceted universe.

Of course, G‑d could have created our world, in all its infinite detail, with a singular expression of his desire for a world. But had He done so, the only meaningful aspect of our existence would have been the common denominator of all reality: the fact of its existence and the ultimate purpose of its creation. Since the ultimate measure of a thing's value is the significance imparted to it by the Creator, the particular nature of things, despite their vivid individuality, would have been but a superficial phenomenon, devoid of any true import.

Enter the "ten utterances." They represent the Divine creative force that shapes the specific nature and function of all things. And because the Creator is involved in creation also on this level, the deeds of man - for better and for worse - are doubly significant. Not only does creation as a whole serve a Divine purpose, but each of its parts has its specific utility imbued in it by the Divine utterance that creates and sustains it.

So when man makes use of a specific talent or resource that has been placed at his disposal, he fulfills (or, G‑d forbid, abuses) its Divine purpose on both levels: on the existential level, where it is defined as an object of G‑d's overall objective in creation; and on the particular level, the level on which the Almighty identifies and lends import to its specific features and function.

Four Applications

These two dimensions to existence, the singular and the particular, are likewise present in the "miniature universe" that is man, and find expression in many areas of our lives.

The individual human being is a virtual "community" of ideas, character traits, drives and tendencies. And yet, it is the same ``I'' who experiences them all. This duality is likewise reflected in everything that we do. To cite a few examples, the manner in which we contemplate the mystery and majesty of the Creator, how we develop our environment, how we commune with the Almighty in prayer and how we approach the study of the His wisdom, the Torah - all include both an "all-inclusive" approach as well as a localized, particular approach.

In man's perspective of the world and its Creator. Through contemplating the nature of His creation, one comes to appreciate the greatness of G‑d and to develop feelings of love and awe towards Him. This meditation may take the inclusive or the specific approach, each with its own results.

One can contemplate G‑d as the creator of existence per se. The result: a humbling realization of how lofty and removed He is from our reality. For the creation of something out of nothing (ex nihilo) is attributable only to a being who transcends the terms and definitions of both "something" and "nothing" - an abstraction beyond the domain of the rational mind.

Or, one may contemplate the intricacies of nature, the amazing individual qualities of every created thing. This causes a more "personal" love and awe of G‑d - something closer to and more digestible by the human mind and heart.

In our utilization of the world's resources. The Midrash describes G‑d's desire for a world as a "desire for a dwelling place below." By using the resources of our world to serve the Almighty, we fulfill this Divine aim, creating an environment hospitable to His presence.

Here again we employ a dual approach. On the one hand, in everything we do we are guided (not by the dictates of its mundane, self-focusing nature, but) by this single common goal - that "all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven." On the other hand, this does not result in a homogeneous, featureless approach to life, in which the means are insignificant and only the ultimate goal matters. Rather, the unique characteristics of each element are recognized and appreciated as integral elements of G‑d's creation and purpose.

In Prayer, we approach G‑d with the recognition of our dependence upon Him for existence and sustenance. Here, too, both the inclusive and specific elements are present.

We begin our day with acknowledgement and gratitude to G‑d as the giver of life - the Modeh Ani prayer (see insert). Then, throughout the day, we recite many blessings and prayers, each verbalizing a particular aspect of our relationship with G‑d as it pertains to our specific needs and experiences.

In our study of Torah. Torah is a revelation of G‑d's wisdom and will, binding its student to the "mind" of G‑d. In this most basic function of Torah, the nature and depth of our understanding is all but irrelevant. As one great chassidic master put it, ``There are seventy ways of studying Torah; the first one is silence.''

In this, the entire Jewish nation is a unified, singular knower of G‑d via the Torah. We see this reflected in the wording of the verse, "...and he (Israel) camped opposite the mountain (Sinai)." As our sages comment on the singular usage ("he camped"), the entire nation of Israel was unified as a single individual in preparation for its receiving of the Torah from the Almighty.

On the other hand, G‑d encased His Torah wisdom in rational concepts, designating the human mind as the tool to grasp His Divine truth. And the realm of the intellect is a specified and individualized domain: no two minds are identical, and different fields must be approached with differing methods, rudiments and points of reference.

The Torah embraces the entire range of intellectual potential of the human mind. It includes every rational discipline known to man, from the mystical to the analytical, from the legal to the psychological. Its every concept is a virtual universe of multilayered meanings and countless applications to every area of life. We therefore beseech G‑d, "Grant us our portion in Your Torah" - enable us to properly employ the specific intellectual talents that You have granted us to discover our individual portion and path to our knowledge of Your truth.