God and Nature

2.9 The relationship between God and nature is like that of the sun and the rays of the sun. The sun doesn’t choose to shine; it can do nothing else. It is the nature of the sun to shine; indeed a sun that doesn’t shine is not a sun at all. Shining isn’t what a sun does, it is what a sun is.

3.0 And because the sun shines there are rays of the sun extending out from the sun. The rays of the sun are the expression of the sun’s nature. They are not different from the sun, or other than the sun, but neither are they all of the sun.

3.1 What is true of the sun is true of God. God doesn’t choose to create; God is creativity. And what God creates is called nature. Nature isn’t other than God, but neither is it all of God.

3.2 Torah reveals this insight to us in its very first verse: Bereshit bara Elohim: Once upon a time Elohim/God created… (Genesis 1:1).

3.3 One way we Jews read Torah is through the lens of Gematria (Jewish numerology). Gematria is a powerful tool for creative misreading leading to the discovery of new meanings in Torah.

3.4 Here is how Gematria works: Hebrew letters do double duty as numbers, and each letter of the Hebrew alef–bet has a specific numerical value. That means every Hebrew word can be read as an arithmetic sum. According to our rabbis, words with the same numerical value are related and may be substituted for one another if that substitution yields another layer of meaning in the text.

3.5 The Gematria of Elohim, the first name of God revealed in Torah, is 86: Aleph/1 + Lamed/30 + Hay/5 + Yod/10 + Mem/40= 86. The Gematria of HaTeva, the Hebrew word for Nature, is the same: Hay/5 + Tet/9 + Bet/2 + Ayin/70 = 86. Words with the same value are linked and often interchangeable. Elohim is HaTeva, God is Nature.

3.6 The 17th century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza referenced this in his famous Latin phrase Deus sive Natura, “God or nature,” equating God with nature and nature with God. Spinoza uses natura in two ways: natura naturans and natura naturata. The former is the act of creativity, the later the product of that act. Spinoza believed that God or Nature creates of its own accord; the result of that creativity is the extension of the source of that creation.

3.7 When you look at the dynamic evolutionary creativity of nature over the past 13.8 billion years you are looking at natura naturans. When you focus on any one aspect of this creativity you are looking at natura naturata, one result of that infinite creativity.

3.8 Seeing that the universe is an expression of God the way sunlight is an expression of the sun, doesn’t limit God’s creativity to that which we can perceive. Creativity may surpass the universe you and I can know. God may be manifesting universes without end, and dimensions of reality that we may never be able to detect.

3.9 So do not imagine Spinoza or myself to be reducing God to the known and the knowable. Rather understand us as saying that the known and the knowable is God, though not necessarily all of God. Here are some examples of this nondual understanding of God in Judaism:

  • YHVH is God; there is nothing else (Deuteronomy 4:35). Know this day and take it to heart that YHVH is God: in the heavens above and on the earth below there is nothing else,” (Deuteronomy 4:39). [We will talk about YHVH shortly.]
  • God is found in all things and all things are found in God… Everything is in God, and God is in everything and beyond everything, and there is nothing beside God. (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 1522-1570)
  • Regarding the Holy One, Blessed be, as it were, there is… nothing but God, and nothing outside of God… (Rabbi Aaron HaLevi of Staroselye Sha’arei HaYichud veEmunah, Sha’ar I, Perek 24, Daf 49a)
  • [N]othing exists but God. Above and below, in heaven and on earth, everything is empty and without substance—although this is impossible to explain, but can only grasped according to the intuition of each person. (Rabbi Noson, Likkutei Halakhos, Matnas Sh’chiv me-Ra’ 2:2)
  • The absolute reality of God, while extending beyond the conceptual borders of “existence,” also fills the entire expanse of existence as we know it. There is no space possible for any other existences or realities we may identify—the objects of our physical universe, the metaphysical truths we contemplate, our very selves… do not exist in their own reality; they exist only as an extension of divine energy…. (Rabbi Menachem Mendal Schneerson, 1902–1994)
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