When my daughter was six years old and we were discussing Bereishis (Creation), there was one issue that she couldn’t come to terms with. “Abba,” she said, “I understand that before Hashem created the world there was nothing, not even light and dark, but what color was it?
The difficulty she was having is that we are so used to the world as it is that the concept of before Creation is hard to imagine. The idea of the absence of anything—before there was a world, before there was even matter, space, or any substance to hold it in—is difficult for us corporeal beings to fathom. We keep falling back to our way of viewing things in a physical setting, and absolute void has no place in our world.
But let’s try for a moment to envision a vast empty nothingness. There is no space, no matter. There isn’t even time because time only exists in a physical world. And Creation begins. Out of nothing—because there is nothing. From nowhere—because there is no place. At this absolute first moment in time, Hashem brings forth matter, the very building blocks of creation. Then come darkness and light, not even separated, but intermingled—a patch of light here, a flash of darkness there. Next come the heavens and the earth, then the planets and the stars, the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all of the animals of the earth. And on the final day, at almost the last moment of Creation, comes man.
Ex nihilo creation
This is unlike anything in our experience—and is a point that is often missed. When man builds a house, he claims to have made something new. Yet, in reality, he created nothing. The wood was already in existence. The rocks were already there. Along comes man with a shovel and axe, moves things around, and claims that he created something new. Yet all he did was rearrange things already created.
An analogy to this would be:
Frank the cookie baker
Every day, when Frank leaves work, he brings home two packages of freshly baked cookies for his kids. His children love to brag about the delicious cookies their father makes. Frank’s kids are the envy of the entire first grade. Naturally, when the class is planning a bake sale, who do they ask for help with the recipes? Frank!
Unfortunately, Frank doesn’t know that much about recipes or baking cookies. You see, Frank works in a factory. Every morning, at exactly 4:20 am, Frank turns the switch that starts the machine, and exactly thirty-five minutes later, out roll the first batch of Stella D’oro chocolate fudge cookies
Frank didn’t create the process; he doesn’t even know which ingredients go into the dough. He wouldn’t be able to tell you the different preservatives and flavorings that are used. He wouldn’t be able to explain the difference between radiant and convection heat, and their effect on the crispness of the cookie. He certainly isn’t capable of creating the intricate system of conveyer belts, mixers, and feeder chain ovens needed to produce that cookie. His job is to flip the switch. The machine does the rest.
Creative in name, but not in principle
When a couple has a child, they use a system that Hashem put into place to bring forth a baby. They don’t claim to be knowledgeable enough in anatomy to synthesize the proteins needed for growth. They don’t allege to have sufficient understanding in physiology to weave the neuron pathways in the brain. And they certainly don’t contend that they are learned enough in pathology to create the immune system that develops within their fetus.
When we use the term made a baby, we mean the parents used a pre-existing system that was set up with great wisdom and forethought. They pushed the button, and the gears and flywheels went into motion. Nine months later, a perfectly-formed, complex marvel called a human is born. They had the baby, but they didn’t create the baby.
This is true of any creative act that a human engages in—whether it be a couple having a child, a farmer growing corn, or an entrepreneur creating an industry. We take pre-existing elements, use pre-formed systems, turn a switch—and then take the credit for the result. In our minds’ eye, it is our effort that brought forth the product, but in reality, we did little but use the machinery already in place.
Hashem alone is the Creator. From nothing, He brought forth everything. And He alone conceived of, designed and formed all of it. Every element had to be thought out; there were no givens. There was no imitating or accepting the status quo—because before Creation, there was nothing to imitate or use as a model.
When we take this huge leap of understanding, we begin to recognize the wonders that are all around us, and the wisdom that is manifest throughout Creation. Most importantly, from this we gain a glimpse of Hashem. For the house itself attests to its Creator. “And if this is the Creation, what does it tell me about my Creator?”
From this perspective, nature, science, and the world itself is a source of constant inspiration. The more I understand the wisdom of the world, the more I perceive the greatness of its Creator. By focusing on this, I see Hashem with greater clarity every day.