Bereshit: The Subatomic and Atomic

This week’s parshah and haftarah both mention the creation of the heavens and the earth. The parshah begins with Genesis 1:1: “In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.) The haftarah begins with Isaiah 42:5: “Thus says God, HaShem, who created the heavens and stretched them forth, who spread forth the earth.” (כֹּה-אָמַר הָאֵל יְהוָה בּוֹרֵא הַשָּׁמַיִם וְנוֹטֵיהֶם, רֹקַע הָאָרֶץ.)

Attempting to reconcile science and Torah is risky business if we assume that the Torah was written by human mystics in antiquity. Any human writing thousands of years ago would not have possessed modern instruments or understood scientific methods. The fact that we find some harmony between ancient wisdom and modern science is truly amazing.
Since the Torah speaks of God writing only the original Ten Commandments, it can be assumed that the Torah was either written by Moshe as tradition holds or possibly by several authors. Of course, any time a human is involved, errors are possible. Nature in its original state was the only book written totally by HaShem. We can learn a little about the nature of the Divine Artist by studying His artwork.
The Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 does not actually say, “In the beginning.” The word “the” is nowhere in the phrase. (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים) It is often translated this way because most translators cannot comprehend more than one possible beginning. Being anthropocentric, they think that the beginning of our local universe had to have been the beginning of everything. This was not necessarily so. The Hebrew actually says, “In beginning, God created….” Does the absence of the word “the” leave open the possibility of other beginnings prior to the formation of our local universe?
Many physicists are convinced that our local universe is but a finite part of an infinite multiverse. Let’s take that thought further by asking, “If God created our local universe, what space-time did He inhabit beforehand?” This question would seem to imply other inhabitable dimensions, if not other universes. In that scenario, an alternate universe could have a separate space-time with its own set of natural laws.
There is a common belief that time itself began at the creation of our local universe. Yet time is manifested as a sequence of events. If God thought of creating our universe before actually creating it, then there was a sequence of divine thoughts prior to the existence of our local universe. Although space-time in our local universe can be finite, it would seem that space-time in some sense is as infinite as God Himself.
Shortly after what is popularly known as the initial Big Bang, the forces still were joined as one unified Superforce. Space-time expanded at an incredible rate due to the unbelievable energies. Eventually the super-heated energies cooled enough for the first neutral atoms to appear, thereby releasing a burst of light that has been detected as the cosmic microwave background radiation. Thus, before the first atoms coalesced, they were still formless particles and void and darkness permeated the depths of space. Many of these first atoms later became heavier elements in the nuclear furnaces of stars and provided the building blocks for the earth.
After the initial creation, dispersed hydrogen atoms coalesced by gravity into the first stars. Some of these first-generation stars eventually exploded as supernovae after they depleted their nuclear fuel. The scattered material later contracted under gravity to form second-generation stars. Successive generations of stars have higher proportions of heavier nuclei and different spectra than previous generations. The ages of the universe and the sun indicate that our sun could be a second-generation or third-generation star.
Genesis 2:4 seems to confirm this by stating, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.” (אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ בְּהִבָּרְאָם, בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם.) The words “these are the generations of” can be understood in the sense of “these are the histories of,” but the word תוֹלְדוֹת actually means “generations.” Thus, one day lasted several generations. How interesting that our own sun is not a first generation star.
When ancient Hebrew prophets looked up, all of the stars that they could see were part of only one galaxy, our Milky Way. In fact, most astronomers thought until the 1920s that our own Milky Way galaxy contained all the stars of the universe. Genesis 1:16-19 doesn’t mention any other sky objects other than the sun, moon, and stars. (וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים.... וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם רְבִיעִי. ) It was only in the early 20th century that we learned that certain fuzzy patches actually were other galaxies. Today we know of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of suns.
Our concept of day and night is determined by the revolution of the earth as it spins on its axis in its relationship to our sun. Half of the earth experiences day while facing the sun and the other half of the earth experiences night while facing away from the sun. Genesis 1:16-19 says that the sun, moon, and the stars were not created until the fourth day. Thus, the first three days of creation could not have been 24-hour days as determined by the revolution of the earth in its relationship to the sun because the sun did not yet exist.
Isaiah 43:9 calls for witnesses to speak the truth. (יִתְּנוּ עֵדֵיהֶם... וְיֹאמְרוּ אֱמֶת.) So the principle is established that HaShem is a God of truth. When we learn more of verifiable truth, we learn more about HaShem.
Theologians tend to be dogmatic in their disagreements with one another. How would we know whom to believe? If we took the position that HaShem was revealed through theology, then we would often find ourselves forced to defend the inconsistencies inherent in theology. By definition, an infinite God would not need infinitely insignificant beings like us to defend Him.
Verifiable truth is always tentative and subject to subsequent data that can either verify or falsify our understanding. A mature mind longs to find such truth even if he or she is proven wrong in the process. We can get closer and closer to the full truth without ever having a complete understanding. As Einstein famously said, “I want to know how God created this world.” With every discovery, we are closer to a clear understanding than we’ve ever been.
Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob or make his habitation waste.
You can email Eli Kaufman at