rambam 13.4 + illustrator[1]

Rabbi Clifton Harby Levy wrote:

“When we have found G-d in the world,
we glory in life,
and find a greater interest in living.
Nature itself takes on a new liveliness,
because we see G-d everywhere.”

But — How do we go about finding “G-d in the world”?

Newton came close:

“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.” [3]

Einstein, too, felt that his awareness of natural law was almost a religious experience:

“G-d is a mystery. But a comprehensible mystery. I have nothing but awe when I observe the laws of nature. There are not laws without a lawgiver [or: Lawgiver]…” [4]

Nor is this a rare occurrence:

“A Ba’alas Teshuva once explained to Rav Pam, z”l, what motivated her to take upon herself the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos.  She had a PhD. in Chemistry.  In a basic laboratory experiment studying the molecular makeup of a drop of water, she came to the realization this could not have happened by chance.  There had to be a Creator Who had brought into being the infinite complexities of life.  She discovered Judaism and became a loyal Bas Yisroel — all from a drop of water…!” [5]

Even Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, z”l, necessarily employed the same reasoning to answer a child who had written to him, asking how he (we) can know that G-d exists:

“Suppose you were walking in the streets and saw a skyscraper. Would you ask, ‘Is there someone who made it?’ And if this is so with a building of a number of floors, what will you say about the whole world, with the sun, moon and stars, oceans and mountains and woods, and all the creatures on land and in the seas, and so on?” [6]

Yet, Rabbi Levy seems to mean something more, as do others who have taught a similar lesson.

For Newton, Einstein and other “Deists,” the signs of order in Nature (or in the Universe) are possible, even probable indicators of an Intelligence that intentionally designed it all. But for them, that Intelligence is something separate from Nature. The Creator remains separate from the creation.

We should not underestimate the sincerity of their awe, but it is only a first step in the spiritual awareness of “G-d in the world” that leads us to “find a greater interest in living.”

Over 200 years ago, the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the (modern) Hasidic movement, offered a paradigm unimagined by Newton or Einstein, in commenting on a verse from Tehillim/Psalms:

“‘Forever, G-d, Your Word stands firm in the heavens.’ [7]
…’Your Word’ which you uttered, ‘Let there be a firmament…,’ [8] these very words and letters stand forever in the firmament and are forever clothed within all the heavens to give them life’…For if the letters were to depart [even] for a moment, G-d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become naught and absolute nothingness, and it should all be as if they never existed at all…” [9]

For Newton and Einstein, when G-d creates Nature (or the Universe), the creation immediately becomes something separate from the Creator — just as a man-made product becomes something separate from the man or woman who makes it (e.g. the tailor who makes a suit; the builder who creates a house; etc.).

The Besht is teaching that in reality, the Universe is never — and can never be — separate from its Creator.

G-d’s creative acts are — must be — continuous, and something of G-d (i.e. the words and letters of G-d’s pronouncements, which come from G-d’s own essence) remains within the things created.

Quoting this, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, author of Tanya, the fundamental Habad text, also declared the belief in a separation between G-d and creation to be a fundamental error in understanding:

“They err, making a false analogy, in comparing the work of G-d, Creator of heaven and earth, with the work of man…” [10]

Nor is this teaching entirely an innovation of the Besht’s. A thousand years earlier, Maimonides — the Rambam — had taught that the existence of creation is not, and can never be, separate from the Creator:

“1 — The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know [lei’da/לידע] that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being.
2 — If one would imagine that He does not exist, no other being could possibly exist.
3 — If one would imagine that none of the entities aside from Him exist, He alone would continue to exist, and the nullification of their [existence] would not nullify His existence, because all the [other] entities require Him and He, blessed be He, does not require them nor any one of them.” [11]

When experienced directly, personally, “We see G-d everywhere”:

“My Lord,
The very life of all.
Thou art in everything.
All-pervading art Thou.

My Lord,
Thou art everything.
Here, there and everywhere
is Thy Glory found —
Profuse.” [12]

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, “The Rov,” founder of Modern Orthodoxy, explained this direct, personal experience as the true meaning of Maimonides’ use of the word “lei’da” (לידע/to know):

“If one wishes to know what the significance of ‘lei’da’ [is]…, then study the words of the folk song — ‘A Dudele’ — which is attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev.
‘R’boyne shel Oyl’m/L-rd of the Universe…
Let me sing a song of ‘du.’ [*]
Du — are east.
Du — are west.
Du — are north.
Du — are south.’
The sun rises — and one sees the Almighty in the illumination of sunrise. The sun sets in an afterglow of haze — and there, too, one discerns His Presence…It is a feeling — and it must be experienced.” [13]

St. Francis De Sales bids us to begin each of his prescribed contemplations by placing ourselves “in G-d’s Presence.” He recommends four ways to do this, the first of which is:

“…a lively, attentive realization of G-d’s absolute presence, that is, that G-d is present in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world where He is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are, we find G-d present.” [14]

So, to know G-d’s Presence everywhere, both the Besht and the Rambam urge that we cease to see anything in creation as separate from or other than G-d’s own Existence. At every moment, G-d is creating everything we perceive, from the minute to the cosmic. While remaining present in everyone and everything created, G-d still transcends it all.

Faith is based on “finding G-d in the world.” We do so by ceasing to believe that the world is in any way separate from G-d.

As Pete Seeger said:

According to my definition of G-d, I’m not an atheist. Because I think G-d is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at G-d. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to G-d.” [15]


[1] design © 2003 by Eli Mallon, based on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, ch. 1:1

[2] Levy, Rabbi Clifton Harby; The Jewish Life; p. 36 (also quoted in immediately previous post):

[3] Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings,  ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, © 1953; p. 42

[4] Hermanns, William; Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man; Branden Books; Brookline Village, MA; © 1983; p. 60

[5] Hakhel Email Community Awareness Bulletin-Recognizing Daily Miracles; 2/1/2007;
available at: http://www.hakhel.info/Feb07DailyEmail.htm

[6] http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/1915051/jewish/Does-G-d-Really-Exist-An-Answer-to-a-Child.htm
(The Rebbe could have given an answer more in keeping with the teachings of Tanya, but might have felt that in answering a child, this was the appropriate approach to use, at least as a start.)

[7] Tehillim/Ps. 119:89

[8] B’reishith/Gen. 1:6

[9] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady; Tanya (Sha’ar ha-Yichud, ch. 1).
Note: Although the Rebbe is quoting the Besht, it’s not from a written source that can be cited. Nevertheless, several early Hasidic writers quote the same teaching and attribute it to the Besht, so its authenticity is well determined.

[10] ibid., ch. 2

[11] Maimonides; Mishneh Torah; Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 1.  This particular translation is from:

[12] Maharish Mahesh Yogi; Love and G-d; p. 28
[“Love” and “G-d” are two separate poems. This quotation is from “G-d”]. Maharishi is from the Vedanta tradition of Indian philosophy

[*] “du” is the familiar form for “You” in Yiddish/German. It’s only used when speaking to those closest to us — wife, husband, child, etc. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak is daringly referring to G-d in the most intimate terms. It’s also a pun, as “dudele” is also referring to a melody that “doodles” or wanders around the musical scale.

[13] Soloveitchik, Rabbi Joseph; On Repentance; p. 134

[14] St. Francis De Sales; Introduction to the Devout Life; Image Books (Doubleday), John K. Ryan, trans. and ed.; © 1989, p. 84

[15] Wendy Schuman. “Pete Seeger’s Session”. Beliefnet, Inc. Retrieved 16 August 2013