“In the beginning Elohim (God) created sky and earth,” (Genesis 1:1). The beginning as Torah understands it was less than 6000 years ago (I am writing this book in the Jewish calendar year 5774). The beginning as I understand it was 13.8 billion years ago. The creation of the earth was a little over 4.5 billion years ago. So Torah is a bit off here. But it doesn’t matter. Why? Because Torah isn’t a science book, Torah is a storybook. The value of our story isn’t in its science (or history for that matter) but in the insights it yields when we turn Her.
One way to Turn Torah is with Gematria, Hebrew numerology. Hebrew has no numbers, so every letter does double duty as a number. That means every word of our story is an arithmetic sum. According to our rabbis words with the same numerical value are interchangeable if the change yields new meanings that we find valuable.
The Gematria of Elohim is 86 (Aleph/I + Lamed/30 + Hay/5 + Yod/10 + Mem/40 = 86). The Gematria of haTeva, nature, is also 86 (Hay/5 + Tet/9 + Bet/2 + Ayin/70 = 86), making God and Nature one and the same. In other words, “In the beginning nature created sky and earth.”
I have no idea whether or not Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish heretic who is among my pantheon of heroes, had Gematria or Genesis in mind when he spoke of Deus sive Natura (God or Nature) in his Ethics (2.1), but I am very taken by the idea and his understanding of it, and use it to Turn the opening verse of Genesis: “In the beginning Elohim/God/Nature created sky and earth.”
There are two aspects of Natura/Nature as Spinoza uses the term: Natura naturans and Natura naturata. The former is the creative activity of nature—nature naturing; the later is the expression of that creativity—creation itself. Nature is, in a sense, both a verb and a noun, though I would argue that even what passes for a noun, a static something, is actually a verb, a dynamic happening.
When I read the opening verse of Genesis I read it through a Spinozistic lens. Elohim is natura naturans, nature naturing, and natura naturata, the product of that naturing as well. God is both creativity and creation. But not the creator.
God as creator is often likened to a potter. Just as a potter makes a pot but is in no way one with that pot, so God the creator makes the natural world but is in no way one with it. I disagree completely. God is the source and substance of nature; God is both natura naturans (creativity) and natura naturata (creation), and there is no division between Deus sive Natura, God or Nature.
This may sound like I am a pantheist, but I’m not. I am a panentheist. The difference is profound. A pantheist believes that all (pan) is God (theos); that God is Nature understood as natura naturata, the physical world. A panentheist believes that all (pan) is in (en) God (theos), and God is greater than, but not separate from, natura naturata. The “greater than” is the activity of natura naturans, creativity itself. There is no maker in my theology, there is only making.