At about age fifteen, I mustered the courage to ask a Rabbinic advisor what I imagined to be the world’s most difficult theological question, “Who created the Creator?”
The broad smile that gently swept across his face already signaled to me that my question wasn’t particularly new or inventive. I was merely walking along a path already well beaten by a long line of seekers before me. He then proceeded to unravel my question with an ease that matched the buoyancy of his smile. While I was entranced, he spoke, “Time is a mere creation. Since the Creator is not bound by His own creations, He’s beyond the framework of time. Without time, there’s no before or after anything, let alone a before or after the Creator. Therefore, the Creator never needed to be created.”
I treasure this very memorable episode because not only did it answer a very big question, but, it also for the very first time taught me something else very big; namely, that which on the surface seems integral to the core fabric of reality might not necessarily be integral at all. Instead of being a feature of the Creator, it may be a feature of creation; emerging as a later stage in the ongoing saga of creation. The whole reason why my question loomed so large was because deep down I imagined time as an integral feature of the Creator Himself, like beingness, existence, oneness and infinity.
Later on, I learned that not only time, but other abstract phenomena in the background of our daily lives, share the distinction of appearing very “pre-creation”, when in fact they weren’t even present at creation’s initial impulse. Like time, they emerged as a further development as creation unfolded. Among these phenomena are space, spiritual realms and logic.
I remember finding it quite a surprise to encounter mystical teachings that treated logic as just another tool in the Creator’s vast toolbox to “draft n’ craft” creation with. Certainly, it was not being viewed as something that always was or even will be.
Since logic is among the phenomena that emerged along with the creation, asking why the universe was created is truthfully an artificial question. Questioning "Why?" presupposes the the presence of logic. However, logic had not yet emerged as of the initial impulse of creation. Logic was awaiting for its birth along with the spiritual realms, angels, trees, mountains, sky and planets. In a sense, asking such a question is like asking a child why did he birth his own father? Such a question is backwards because it’s a serious confusion of cause and effect.
Yet, the Torah sages have classically advanced various reasons for the creation of the universe. Probably, because they found value in trying to approximate the initial impulse of creation within the more limited scope of logic, even if imperfectly.
The limits on such an attempt are reminiscent of the ancient Indian tale of a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant. One man held the trunk and shared that an elephant is like a snake. Another touched its tusk and shared that an elephant is like a sword. Yet, another touch the elephant’s leg and claimed that an elephant is like a pillar. Several others, touched other body parts claiming that an elephant is other things entirely. However, none of the blind men accurately described the entire elephant. Each just perceived and shared the fragment of the truth that he was exposed to.
This is what occurs when the holy sages try to capture the brightness of pre-logic in a vessel of logic. Logic’s inadequate grasp on pre-logic, results in a partial grasp at best. Pre-logic is way too big to fit into logic. Logic merely casts spotlights illuminating select facets of creation’s initial impulse, without ever lighting up the whole picture.
So why did the holy sages seek to convey this unbounded initial impulse logically? Why fetter this impulse in chains of logic? Why not leave it alone to run free? Quite possibly, they were driven by their yearning to properly guide humanity. Whatever a person accepts as the ultimate goal of creation will become mirrored as his/her central spiritual goal; subsequently, guiding all of his/her spiritual activity. For the sake offering people real spiritual direction, they delved into what they knew was a partial viewing, yielding imperfect results. As with the blind men’s attempt to describe an elephant, our sages through the ages have arrived at a string of correct answers with no single answer expressing the full story.
Though I’m sure there are more Rabbinic explanations for why creation happened, here some I’ve encountered in my Torah education thus far:
(1) “All is created for His glory”. Most often, this phrase is chanted at weddings as part of the matrimonial blessings intoned under the canopy. So much about a wedding, reaches to the very heights of the human capacity for pleasure. Yet, early on in the ceremony there’s this sobering remark reminding the attendees about the real reason for their presence. They have come to partake in a poignantly holy moment. All the pleasures associated with the event are designed to enhance the holiness of the moment with celebration. They aren’t designed to indulge. So, please don’t get carried away.
The notion that the whole creation was made for the Creator’s glory beckons a person to be cautious with every moment of life. Every detail in life, whether an object, living being, encounter, scenario or situation, is a “royal possession” belonging exclusively to the Creator - not to be toyed with for personal indulgence.
(2) Early in his work “The Way of G-d”, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto comments that the Creator desires to bestow kindness. His yearning to do kindness led to the creation of a creature particularly suited to receive His kindness - namely, a human being. In order to design a human being to become the proper the recipient of His kindness, He also created the world as we know it to house him/her in. So the whole creation was designed to sustain the human being in this role; pretty much, like an earthly king designs and builds a castle particularly suited to house his queen.
The Talmud (Shabbat 153b) teaches that human spiritual growth comes through imitating the Creator’s ways. This echoes the Biblical commandment Deuteronomy 28:9 “And you shall walk in His ways”. When properly internalized, the Creator’s preoccupation with kindness becomes a rallying call for humans to follow His lead and take up His cause of doing kindness; thereby, centering their own spiritual lives around doing kindness.
Space doesn’t exist spiritually the way it does physically. In spiritual terms, space is defined by similarity or dissimilarity. When two entities resemble each other, they are similar, they are said to be close to each other. When they don’t resemble each other, they are dissimilar, and are said to be distant from each other. This is the underlying logic of why imitating the Creator’s ways, especially His kindness, brings a person closer to the Him. By doing something similar to what the Creator does, the person in his/her own small way has become more similar to the Creator and thereby, becoming closer Him.
Kindness can take be expressed in a wide varieties of forms: philanthropy, volunteer work, a listening ear, free advice, hosting guests, a kind word, finding work for people, cheering up the ill, etc. Mainly, it’s about crafting the world into a truly sweeter place for someone else - just like the Creator constantly does.
(3) “...That the Creator created to do.” (Genesis 2:3) This verse informs humans that we are designed to be co-creators. There are also other verses in the creation story that suggest this role, such as, “... rule over every fish in the sea and over every bird in the sky and over every wild beast that walks upon the earth.” (ibid 1:28) or “...the Creator has not yet caused rain to fall on the land for there was no human to work the soil.” (ibid 2:5)
We were created to co-create. The Creator created creation “perfectly imperfect”. He kindly left us a raw unfinished corner of His magnificent work to complete. We were handed a mostly completed puzzle, with a bit left off for our participation. If life came to humans perfectly complete, we would find it very stifling and boring. Our beautiful talents and abilities would have absolutely no arena of expression - rendering, our very existence meaningless. We would feel like we have been created for nothing. That’s why being given important projects to do is a most amazing blessing. It literally provides us not only with means of building life, family, community and country, but also with the means of personal happiness and dignity.
(4) One of my favorite reasons for creation is advanced at right at the onset of the holy work, "Tree of Life", by Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620) - the closest disciple of the most celebrated Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572). In this passage Rabbi Vital explains that the whole purpose of creation is for humans to experience a relationship with the Creator through His divine names, attributes, potentials and actions; thereby, imbuing these divine forces with meaning.
For example, what’s the meaning of the divine attribute of compassion if there’s no one to be compassionate to? So the Creator created humans with imperfections and now there was definite meaning to His attribute of compassion.
In Rabbi Chaim Vital’s own words:
[The Sages] said that the reason [for creation] was because He needed to be complete in all his deeds, potentials and in all His names of greatness, esteem and honor. Had He not brought out His capacities and potentials into work and deed, it would be, as if, He would not have been called "complete", neither in His deeds, nor in His names, nor in His appellations.
For instance, the "great name" which is the four letters of Y-H-V-H, is called so because it points to the eternity of His existence; past, present and future - before creation, during creation and after it will revert to what it was. Had the creation of the universes, and all they contain, not been, then the eternity of His existence would not be discernible: in past, present and future. Thus, He would no longer be called, "Y-H-V-H".
So too with the name "Adnus" [i.e. Mastery]. He's called so because [the name] demonstrates mastery. He has servants and He's a master over them. If there weren't created beings, He would never be able to be called by the name "Master". Similarly, with the rest of the names.
The same would apply to His appellations, like: compassionate, graceful and patient. He would not be called by them unless the world is populated with creations. It is only then that His works and potentials can emerge, allowing Him to be called "whole in all His works and potentials", as well as, "whole in all His names and appellations", without any imperfections, heaven forbid.
This underlying reason for creation is well founded in the Holy Zohar (see Parshat Pinchas P.257B), "The 13th commandment is the Shema affirmation. It's meant to be known that He is called wise in all kinds of wisdom and understanding in all kinds of understandings ... However, before He created the world, He was referred to by all these levels on account of the creation which He will later create. For if the world wasn't going to be populated with creatures then why would He be called compassionate or judge? It could only be on account of the future creations..."
Another similar quote in the Holy Zohar (see Parshat Bo P.52), "Had His light not been cast over all His creations, how would He be known, how would the verse (Isaiah 6:3) '...His glory fills the entire earth' be fulfilled?"
Essentially, the whole purpose of creation is to give meaning to His divine names and all the forces that flow from them - like His potentials, appellations and deeds. However, what’s unstated, but, implied in the midst of Rabbi Chaim Vital’s explanation is that there are certain instances where the divine names and forces are only completed when humans invoke them. This becomes almost self evident when one considers that it’s likely that the main goal of the book “Tree of Life” is to lay down the groundwork for an education in the meditative usage of divine names. Therefore, it make sense that every passage in this deeply mystical work, including one above, speaks from the framework of this goal.
In the unique cases when divine names are designated for human invocation, their capacity for human involvement is part of their meaning and purpose. If they’re not invoked by humans and instead are left to be wielded entirely by the Creator, their meaning and purpose has been compromised.
This scenario can be compared to a loving father who is grooming his almost grown son to participate in his business. As part of his son’s involvement, he assigns him a project to complete. This is a project that the father has done many times himself and is more than capable of doing on his son’s behalf. However, he wants his son to be a part of his operation and therefore, had specially reserved the project for him. If the son does not follow through on the project and instead, leaves it for his father to work on, the underlying meaning and purpose of the project has been compromised.
Like the son being groomed for participate in his father’s business, the Creator wants the truly saintly to participate in spiritual workings of His creation. Therefore, He allowed them opportunities to invoke His names and be His partner in creation on this particular level.
This is really a Kabbalistic extension of the co-creator notion, mentioned earlier. The standard notion of being a co-creator includes building up the tangible world by contributing materially, biologically, artistically and intellectually . The Kabbalistic version of co-creation involves actively working with spiritual forces, like divine names, to improve the spiritual structures of the greater cosmos; thereby, enhancing the flow of blessings that reach humanity from the higher realms.
(5) In his very first teaching as the newly installed Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson explained that the purpose of creation is “To make a dwelling below”. Though his predecessors also commented widely on this notion, its central role during his inaugural address, underscored that this is going to be a dominant theme under his leadership. With the conceptual and devotional force of this message he launched a global movement, a call to activism, to transform the world into a place where the Creator can comfortably “dwell”.
What does it mean to transform the world into a “dwelling below” for the Creator? It means that the Creator feels at home in the physical realm. Until that time, the Creator behaves as if He’s uncomfortable here and tries to disassociate Himself with what happens on the earthly realm. Of course, this is an act. He’s always perfectly aware of everything that occurs and ultimately, everyone is tended to according to his/her deeds. However, He designed the world in a way that it looks like He’s not constantly responding to us, even though He really is.
This is why people often have trouble identifying which of their previous deeds are being mirrored back to them in their life occurrences. Sometimes this effort can be even more challenging, as the occurrences might be reflecting a past life event; Obscuring, what is being mirrored back, behind a veil of a blockage to past life memories.
However, when the world is transformed into a “dwelling below”, the Creator can feel at home in His creation and among His creatures. Consequently, the act will no longer need to continue. Then messianically directed Biblical verses like, “...for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Creator as waters cover the seabed.” (Isaiah 11:9) or “It will happen that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy...” (Joel 3:1) will become our day to day experiences. In affect, our realm will become an earthly version of heaven paradise, alive with divine revelations!
This whole transformation seems so amazing, but, what role do humans play in bringing this age to fruition? The Talmud (Berachot 10A) states that just like a soul fills a body, so too the [light of the] Creator fills the universe. The Creator’s light serves as the soul of the universe. By human beings, the more intensely the soul illuminates the body, the more alive the person is. Similarly, the more intensely divine light fills our physical universe, the more alive our universe becomes.
Jewish mysticism teaches that these two parallels, the human being and the universe, are deeply linked. The human soul is a bit of the divine light vitalizing the universe. The human body is a bit of the universe being vitalized. When one more intensely unites these two bits, simultaneously s/he more intensely unites their two wholes; the divine light and our universe - as the bits are continuous with their larger selves. Pulling on one tiny corner of a blanket, pulls the entire blanket. Within the entire span of creation, from the highest angel to the humblest pebble, only humans can affect this amazing union. How?
The soul has five basic levels. Generally speaking, only the lower three are active in the daily arena of human life - they are most familiar to us as our biological vitality, our emotional self/personality and our intellect. However, there are another two higher levels that are more difficult to reach for. They are our intuitions and deep seated volition. Manifesting these two levels, beyond our intellects, will bring a much fuller soul presence into our lives, allowing more soul light will illuminate our bodies. Since our souls are really part of the divine light flowing through creation, by drawing down our souls closer towards our bodies, we are simultaneously drawing down the universe’s soul closer to illuminate the physical universe - leading to a long desired transformation of our physical universe into a sweet paradise.
By accessing as high up in our souls as we can; namely, by accessing our deeply inner volition, we become participants in this transformation. One way to identify our inner volition is to ask ourselves the following question, “Let’s say you have just won the lottery, guaranteeing that you will not have to work another day in your life. How would you spend the rest of your days?”
Naturally, since most of us have long pent up desires to try many interesting things, which at one time seemed off limits, our first wave of answers might not be the most altruistic. We might hear ourselves wishing to indulge ourselves with a trip to a favorite vacation spot, a tour the various countries, getting involved in recreation, trying out exotic pleasures, etc.
Ok ... so play out the first wave of wishes in your fantasies. Close your eyes and see yourself finally enjoying the pleasures you’ve long dreamed of. Now imagine that some time has passed and they are tried, enjoyed, overdone and now watch them grow repetitively old hat and boring. Now what do you want to do? You are still left with the question of what to do with yourself? How to make your life meaningful? Maybe, the answer to this question will come with the second wave (if not repeat the exercise three or four times until the outer layers of self indulgence peel away and only your soul’s actual yearnings remain).
Deep down, no human being wants to spend an entire life just wallowing in pleasures - even if it’s comfortably affordable and perfectly safe to do. At some point, we all deep down yearn to make a nice contribution to the world. In accessing our precious inner yearnings, we expose our volition to give, it was just lurking beneath the layers. Now the key to the deepest layers of our souls is discovered. Once exposed, we each become mini-messiahs ready to actively bring about the positive changes which will transform our world.
At this moment some words of caution is in order. When we open up to our deepest and sweetest drives, some of us may discover that our life situations don’t fully support what we suddenly long to do. The obstacles can be various. They might include be our responsibilities, our roles, financial status, location, vocation, family members, etc.
These obstacles are usually not designed to bust through. Usually, they are part of the divinely designed pattern of one’s life. If one manages to bust through such obstacles, s/he may find that in the long run s/he did not make any more progress in bringing his/her deepest soul dreams into fruition than had s/he simply embraced the “obstacles” as tools to build the dream. Quite possibly, the Creator does not grant blessing to approaches which compromise His work. The universe was created to be settled. Instead of breaking up one’s life pattern, one is encouraged to work with it by finding expression for his/her lofty spiritual yearnings within the settled framework of his/her life.
Over a century ago there was a man who deeply yearned to move from Eastern Europe to the Land of Israel. He asked his Rabbinic advisor what to do. His Rabbi responded, “Make Israel here!”
The Rabbi obviously recognized that the man was caught in a conflict between two inner forces, his yearnings to move to the Holy Land and a life pattern of local attachment. It was impossible to satisfy both at once. The Rabbi’s carefully constructed advice honored both callings by finding a local expression for the man’s yearnings for the Holy Land. Similarly, if one’s newly discovered soul yearnings seem to conflict with his/her life situation then one solution might be to visit a competent spiritual coach.
(6) In his work “Lights of Dew”, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shpielman quotes the Maggid of Mezritch’s explanation for creation, “Once He saw the deeds of the saintly, He was overwhelmed with a passion to create the world”. The underlying message here is that attaining saintliness places one directly in the center of creation’s main purpose.
This concept is echoed by the song praising Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, “Let us make man’ was uttered for your sake”. In other words, the entire humanity was worth creating just for the sake of one exceptionally saintly individual, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
In this scenario the initial impulse of creation is depicted as having nothing to do with pleasing the creation, only the Creator. Creation is for His pleasure only. Everyone who's on the track towards attaining saintliness must leave aside all yearnings for personal pleasures, even spiritual ones, in order to selflessly identify with the Creator’s pleasure. Ultimately, the only real way to attain such an awareness is to leave aside the illusion of self and with one’s whole self know that all’s Him!
After stringing together these six reasons for creation on paper, it dawned on me that these six might be the way the various levels of the human soul relate to and process the meaning of the initial impulse of creation.
In a general sense these are the various soul levels (from bottom to top): The lowest level is called nefesh. It’s the level of the soul with the most bodily contact and can be called the “biological” level of the soul. The next level up is called ruach. It’s the human personality and the seat of our emotional self. Then comes the neshoma level. Its the rational level of the soul. The part of us that processes logic and abstract thinking. Edging beyond logic is the chaya level of the soul. This is our inner intuitive or mystic. Yet higher is our yechida soul level pulsating with our volitional drive. The yechida’s higher inner space is filled with ta’anug - the spiritual pleasure which comes from changing the world for the better. Let’s examine how each of the six reasons might be the way a particular soul level relates to and processes the meaning of the initial impulse of creation.
“All’s created for His glory” seems to be a nefesh approach towards handling the big question of creation. Just like in the wedding example, it’s a reminder of what the physical pleasures that the body enjoys is for. Worldly pleasures are really the royal possession of the King of the universe. Therefore, involvement with these pleasures should ideally only be for enhancing the King’s glory.
“The creation of the world to perform kindness” seems like a ruach approach for processing this question. The core of the human personality and emotional self interacts and transacts in the currency of kindness. This aspect of the inner self both receives and gives in acts of love, caring and contact. Business is successful for this part of ourselves when she’s in the midst of a very dynamic flow of love and kindness.
“Becoming a partner in creation” seems like a neshoma approach. Here the rational mind learns skills and uses them as part of a calculated effort to improve human life; in effect, continuing the process of creation.
“Usage of divine names” is how the chaya soul level engages the purpose of creation. This level begins to move up and edge away from rationality. The human contact with the spiritual is essentially beyond the rational. It’s more of an intuitive connection to spiritual forces, which at times defies the limits of logic.
“Making a dwelling below” is how the yechida level expresses its perception of creation’s purpose. The human volition at its core, wants to contribute to redeeming our lowly realm from its state of estrangement with having open access to divine light and transform the earthly into a normative home for the bliss of divine revelation. As naturally as planet earth receives sunlight she should receive divine light.
“Pleasuring in the deeds of the saintly” really seems to speak to a higher level within yechida. On this level the yechida’s volition is not yet developed because she has not yet differentiated from her higher source. Instead, she’s still one within her source and feels what her source feel. The waves of pleasures that pulse through her source, pulse through her as well. Therefore, when her source feels pleasure in the deeds of the saintly, she too feels the pleasure as well and yearns to implement it. This yearning to implement the pleasure, is what motivates her to differentiate into a separate soul identity with a volition that mirrors her source’s pleasure. With this volition she now has the motivation to carry down the higher vision of saintliness into our lowly realm - making the pleasure real!
While all these reasons for creation have their place, it’s important to remember that they’re all trying to grapple with a pre-logical reality which is beyond them. They’re like six blind men trying to describe a huge elephant. None of them can gain a perception beyond what the limits of their senses relay. As a result, none have the full picture. That’s why none of these reason for creation, even when added together, can possibly do justice to the initial impulse of creation.