Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ex Nihilo - Something from Nothing


This morning upon reviewing of a section of Rabbi Bachya’s “Gate of Unity”, I noticed something very interesting that I must have glossed over in the past. He wrote that there is no entity in between the Infinite and the finite. Apparently, according to him the Infinite and finite are so paradigmatically different that there can be no entity that somehow contains features of both, functioning in the capacity of an intermediate entity - bridging the gap between the two. Therefore, creation did not come about because there were successive stages leading downward, like a ladder, from Infinite to less Infinite to partially finite and finally to fully finite. With this he affirms that anything which isn’t the Creator came about literally ex nihilo - i.e. literally something from nothing.

This does not seem to match the notion of ex nihilo I have learned in Chabad philosophy, where divine emanations transform into a creations by a radical paradigm shift. In such a scenario, the creation is said to be created ex nihilo only because of the radical difference the original substance has undergone. Ultimately, the new creation is still from the original substance in the emanation phase.  One might say that this latter kind of ex nihilo is a "borrowed term". It’s not too literal. Whereas, the ex nihilo of Rabbi Bachya is very literal.

Now I see more clearly the view of those who say that Kabbalah does not say anything about the Essence of the Creator. Accordingly, even the Lurianic Infinite Being referred to as “Ein Sof” is not the Essence. This is because the whole stratified system of emanation and creation where the Lurianic Infinite Being leads downward like a cosmic ladder to successively less and less spiritual levels, all expressions of potentials latent in previous higher spiritual levels, is not literal ex nihilo in the sense Rabbi Bachya explained it. In some sense, this ex nihilo is ultimately a morph, an evolutionary process. Real ex nihilo is not evolutionary chain. It’s from nothing literally.

Now that I became aware of this, is it still possible that Rabbi Bachya believed in Monism, that there’s nothing other than the Creator, or was his true belief that how the creation co-exists with a truly Infinite Creator is an unsolvable mystery; since one of the two parties in this co-existence is ultimately unknowable?

What amazing food for thought!

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