Wednesday, December 1, 2010

G-d or nature?


[a re-post, with a link to a Chanukah-related post... keep reading]

A little red ball just made me think about G-d, nature, and G-d in nature.

I drove to my house and parked my car in the driveway. My neighbor’s car is parked by the sidewalk, and next to the rear-right wheel of the car I saw a small red rubber ball. The neighbors on the other side of my house have children, so I thought it might belong to one of them and kicked the ball in the direction of the house. (No, the ball didn’t break the window — although that would make for a better story.)

The ball went to the side of the street, but then rolled onto the street itself, where it actually would be more likely to be run over. Then, the wind rolled it gently back towards my neighbors’ house and down the slope of the street, until the ball stopped — you guessed it — where I picked it up to begin with, my neighbor’s car’s right-rear wheel.

As a result I had a few thoughts:

1. Hashgacha protis. Eibeshter wants the ball to be right there, because even a silly red ball can have a G-dly purpose, and anyway, G-d controls every atom of the Universe.

2. Nature. Don’t be silly! That place is just a stable position for the ball on the street. What we would call in chemistry the state of least energy, or, in computational neuroscience, an attractor state. It’s a position, which, despite the sundry chaotic forces of the street (wind, gravity, friction, relief of the street, car, my kicking the ball), is the most stable for the ball at the moment and to which it tends to return.

As it happens, wind blows the ball towards my house, but not hard enough for it to climb the sidewalk, and, since the street is slopped, it rolls down, until it’s stopped by the car’s rear wheel (since the car is parked a bit at an angle). This is how the Universe operates. On the quantum level, it’s events like this and their combining probabilities that result in all deterministic complexity that we see in our world. Every time you take an aspirin or eat a bagel, you expect certain reactions to go exact way — with electrons dancing their little dance, bonds breaking and forming, etc. But in the end of the day, it’s no different from the red ball (in fact, much-much more chaotic and unpredictable).

3. Why can’t it be both 1 and 2?

Why can’t we say that sure, the Universe operates according to its laws, which include, yes, the laws of probability and least-energy-states and stable-state attractors — and at the same time, G-d is present in all this?

Not in the sense that He set it all up and now observes from the side (only interfering sometimes) how the clock of the Universe ticks away through its own energy, invested in it by Bing Bang or whatever initial “winding” — which is the view of the school of Chakirah (philosophy). But no, in the sense that G-d is actively, immediately, omnipresently, omnisciously, omnipotently, omni-etc. involved in the affairs of the Universe, of every electron making a decision whether to jump from one orbital to another or not — and at the same time, electrons’ movement can be described through probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics, emergence of species can be described through theory of evolution and so on.

Sounds impossible? Well, if G-d can pull of Chanukah, I think he can pull off nimna ha’nimnois in nature.

* * *

This is the point of Malchus — the idea that “converted me” to Chassidus (OK, it was a little more sophisticated, but this is where it started). Malchus is the last sphera of the Seideir Hishtalshelus, the chain of creation, 10 forces with which G-d creates and controls every world. Malchus represents kingship — and, at the same time, concealment. Мalchus is a salesman (actually, а saleswoman). It tells the world what the world wants to hear — that it exists and G-d does not. And this allows the world to exist.

So, how does this lead to His Kingship? Zohar states: “King donned his robes and rose on his throne”. It is precisely through the concealment of Himself — the ultimate concealment, which allows us to think that electrons are moving by themselves, in the sea of chaotic forces — that G-d becomes a king in this world.

See, it’s no fun to be a king over a bunch of robots, programmed to follow your will. You are not really a king. To be a king, you need those capable of making a free decision to obey or disobey you (“No king without a nation”) — and when they choose to obey you, you become a king. Also, when G-d’s presence and kingship are revealed in the spiritual worlds, it’s no big deal. It’s like lighting a dry match, dipped in oil, with a lot of oxygen around. “Look, it burns!” Of course it burns. Lighting a match under water — that’s the trick. When G-d becomes the King over this world, made seemingly independent and G-dless through Malchus, then He really is a King.

(And the point is that the physical world is not only a make-belief world of darkness, but the world of darkness mamosh. I mean, do you really think that G-d can conceal Himself on the level of a forest, but not trees? On the level of a table, but not the electrons that the table is made of?)

We cannot discard the nature — even the nature that tells us, “Look, I exist and operate perfectly well without G-d”. As it states in Torah, “Bereishis bara Elokim” (Elokim davka) — G-d created this world, and He wants it to exist. At the same time, He wants it (the same dark, lying world) to be a home for Himself, in the paradoxical state of events that only He can pull off.

But for that to happen, we need to invite Him and make this world into a G-dly place, without — at the same time — breaking it. We do that by literally uniting the nature (and its probabilistic and deterministic laws) with the Essence of G-d. How? By taking a candle and lighting it before Shabbos. By taking tefillin and wrapping it every morning. By learning Torah with our physical brains. Because, as Tanya explains (Ch-s 4 and 5), G-d invested His Essence (which is one with His Will) in Torah and mitzvos.

Bы following and learning Torah, we are making G-d into King of the Universe and are inviting Him into this world. We are bringing close that time when His Kingship and Essence will be revealed.

1 comment:

yitz.. said...

there's a story in midrash rabbah (breishit, i wish i could quote you an exact source, but it's been a while --- i can tell you it's somewhere after bereishit and before Sara's encounter with Avimelech (because that's about as far as I got learning midrash rabbah so far)

in which a Rav sees a bone lying in the road, and he moves it away and it rolls back, and he moves it away again and it rolls back, and i think he tries to move it only twice, and by seeing that it's returned to the same place three times, he says "it must be the will of HaShem" and he waits to see what will become of this bone. .. sure enough a big Rasha walks down the path, trips on the bone and dies.

for me i got out of the story (1) HaShem does arrange things, but (2) perhaps our responsibility to leave things up to hashgacha only applies if there's a chazakah that HaShem is doing something specific. [suffice it to say that the insane shenanigans in the state of israel since its inception makes it clear it's under direct hashgachah :) ]

also one point about your larger point: we only talk about natural laws in terms of probability on the quantum level, and while there are experiments that suggest the 'probable' is the reality, I think there's a lot of room to say that HaShem is the one who chooses how the probability pans out in reality, which means His hand is intimately related to everything in the world at every level. (the koach hakollel)

also lastly that the natural state of the universe is in a time of yenikah from the klippoth, ie. galut. But in the time of direct face-to-face relationship with HaShem, it's not a closed system, HaShem's direct intervention is the primary nature of the world at which point natural rules become secondary and science breaks down. (as far as I understand what I've learned of what has been written)