Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twerski, the Hasidic rebbe of Chernobyl, lived from 1730 to 1797. He could trace his Hasidic pedigree through his teacher, Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch, to the Baal Shem Tov. The Chernobler Rebbe wrote in Me’or Einayim of creation as a mystical or Kabbalistic “Big Bang”: God is the singularity point and Torah brought about the quantum fluctuation. What for physicists is physical truth, for Rabbi Menachem Nachum is metaphysical truth. Torah tells us:
When God began to create the heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water — God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)
Rabbi Menachem Nachum understands it this way:
It was through Torah, called the beginning of His way (Prov. 8:22). All things were created by means of Torah, and the power of the Creator remains within the created. Thus Torah’s power is present in each thing, in all the worlds, and within the human being. Of this Scripture says, This is the Torah: a person (Numbers 19:14), as will be explained. Torah and the blessed Holy One are one. Thus the life of God is present in each thing. You give life to them all (Nehemiah 9:6). God reduced Himself to the lowest rung; a portion of divinity above was placed within the darkness of matter. The whole point was that those lowly rungs be uplifted, so that there be a greater light that emerges from darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:13).
If this is the Chernobler Rebbe’s “Big Bang” theory, think of God as the singularity point. The universe came into being out of God. It’s not that God waved a cosmic wand and created the world and is separate from it. God is the universe; God is everything. Everything is in God. What is more, the Torah that gave rise to Rabbi Menachem Nachum’s “Big Bang” and the singularity point are one in the same, and he tells us this explicitly: “Torah and the blessed Holy One are one.” The universe is inseparably interconnected; all its “parts” are threads in one great cosmic tapestry of time, space and matter. All that is derives from the “singularity point”; everything derives from God. God is the oneness, or unity, of the universe. This is why Kabbalists call God the “Ein Sof” which means “there is no end” or the Infinite.
French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas addressed our interconnectedness from a different angle. He spoke and wrote of the face-to-face human encounter, a foundation of his moral philosophy. He said that I can only recognize and experience my own radical uniqueness in recognizing the radical uniqueness of others. When I see the trace of God in others — the background radiation of the Big Bang — I can then recognize it in myself. Therefore when I gaze into a human face, it “orders and ordains” me, which is to say that I am called into “giving and serving” when I see an Other.
The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) describes what it would look like to implement the Chernobler’s thinking and Levinas’ principle of the Other through an allegory:
Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul (of Israel), Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves one soul (of Israel), Scripture accounts it as if she had saved an entire world. And [also] for the sake of peace among people, that one should not say to his or her fellow, "My parent is greater than yours;" and that heretics should not say, "There are many powers in Heaven." Also, to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow…
What would it mean to see the world through this lens and live your life by this understanding? What would it mean for you to gaze into the face of another and know you are seeing God reflected back — not just an image or model of God, but God? How would you speak to people? How would you respond when they irritate, insult, or even undermine you? How would you conduct business? How would you run organizations? How would you approach politics, negotiation, and diplomacy?
It seems to be all about sensing the background radiation of the Big Bang.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twerski’s yahrzeit is coming soon. It falls on October 15 this year 2013 (11 Cheshvan). In his honor, perhaps try to spend an entire day seeing everything as a piece of God, a part of the Infinite. Then see what kind of radiation comes back to you.
© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman