By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Looking over the creation story in the Bible, I’m a bit confused how a language could be used to create the universe for a couple of reasons:
1. God is omnipotent, so it doesn’t make much sense for him to rely on something else such as a language to create the universe instead of doing so directly.
2. Language is a method of communicating concepts. It would be a higher form of power to simply create things from ideas instead of taking the extra step of turning those concepts into language. I’m assuming here that the language would be used in some transcendental fashion since God has no mouth, and it physically wouldn’t make sense for the words to actually be spoken.
I mean, I get that there were 10 utterances, (as the Mishnah states that over the 6 days of creation God spoke 10 times), but to say that it was in Hebrew instead of some divine mechanism that transcends human language doesn’t really make sense.
— Marc W.
Very thoughtful questions!
Your assumption is that the language God spoke is God’s method of creation, not part of the creation itself. I would like to suggest that we consider looking at God’s words in a different light.
The word for “speech” in Hebrew is “dibur.” The word for “object” or “thing,” is “davar.” The root of both words is the same, dalet, beit, reish. Scholars of the Hebrew language teach that whenever two words have the same root, conceptually there is a common denominator between those two words. This would not seem to hold true in our example of speech and objects. They seem to be two completely different concepts with no common denominator at all! Why, then, do they share the same root?!
The Kabbalists explain that this common root reveals the hidden meaning of both a word and an object. We learn from this that the word actually is the object!
When the Torah says that God spoke to create, it means that God’s will was concretized into a manner of speech, the word. That word itself forms the internal foundation for the object being created. This internal essence is the very purpose for which the object is being brought to be. That concretized will of God, which was crystallized into a word, was then used to be cloaked with a physical shell, the object itself. What you see when you observe and object is the external manifestation of a higher essence, the “word.”
We see from this that the “speech” of God is not merely the mode of creation, it is the essence of the creation itself!
There’s another level of understanding which further elucidates this lesson that the word is the object. What I mean is that by the same token that the word is the object, the object is the word. What does this mean?
As we mentioned above, God willed an object into existence before creating the word. Each object God willed should be created was for a purpose; it is supposed to, in some way, exhibit the will of God in the world. The mission of that object is to forever “speak” the message of that will of God through which it was created. The object continues to be a “word” which eternally “speaks” that message by its very existence. The word is the object and the object is the word!
That’s precisely why it would not be a higher form of power to create the objects directly, as you asked. That would usurp the purpose of the creation and rob it of its purpose: to forever speak the message of God!
This concept is borne out further in the first task assigned to the first man, to ascribe names to all the animals. A name in Hebrew is its “sheim,” spelled the same as the word “shom,” which means “over there” in Hebrew. Again, what is the common denominator? The answer is that its name, which is the word which created it, is it’s “over there,” the deeper meaning hidden beyond the shell that meets the eye. The first man was able to delve into the purpose of the creation of each animal and, from there, to trace it back to name, the speech that God utilized in the creation of that animal.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.