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I have always understood that when God created the universe, he subjected it to a natural order and process under which the universe can function. The laws of nature are those that govern the universe, with the exception of the occasional supernatural intervention in times of necessity.

In view of this, how does one understand that which we say every morning " המחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית", which implies that God is continuously renewing the natural order instead of "leaving it" to its natural course?

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Reading through Abarbanel's "Mif'alot Elokim", I found that he addresses the interpretation of this line in the siddur twice.

First, after explaining at great length how it is indeed philosophically sound to say that God created the universe ex nihilo, he writes:

ואמנם אשר התקינו הקדושים לומר בתפילת יוצר וטובו מחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית פי׳ כמו שהבדיל בין האור ובין החשך כן הוא עושה אותה הבדלה בכל יום בבא אורו אחרי חשך הלילה. ולכן תקנוהו בברכת יוצר אור עם שיש לי בו פי׳ אחר עוד תשמעהו אחר זה

This explanation is appealing for two reasons:

  1. It avoids the apparent contradiction of the question above by reading "renews what happened in the beginning" instead of "recreates the entire existence".
  2. It explains the use of the phrase "מחדש בכל יום" instead of "מחדש כל היום", which would be more grammatically correct if the intention were a continuous creation.

On the other hand, we are left with the word "תמיד", which we must interpret as "always [every day]" instead of "continuously [throughout the day]".

The reference made by Abarbanel above "שיש לי בו פי׳ אחר עוד תשמעהו אחר זה", refers to much later in his book, where he explains the idea that God is not only the creator of the universe, but also its supporter, in that everything continues to exist and follow its natural order because God's will remains for it to continue to exist. If God "relinquished" His will for it to exist, it would then cease to exist. [This is very different, however, from the idea that God continuously creates everything ex nihilo.] There he writes:

ואולם שלזה גם כן כוונו הקדושים בתקונם בתפלת יוצר ובטובו מחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית כי הוא יתברך ברצונו נותן אליו תמיד המציאות והקיום ובזה הוא מחדשו

Here, he seems to be translating "מחדש" non-literally to mean "supports the existence of" instead of "renews" or "recreates". But we do get to translate "תמיד" here as "continuous".

Personally, I prefer the former interpretation, but both answer the question originally asked. The assumptions stated in the question hold true. The universe functions with a natural order since its creation, and our statement every morning in the b'rachos of k'rias shema does not contradict that.

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Tamid often means continually rather than continuously, as in l'haalos ner tamid and olas tamid. –  msh210 Nov 21 '11 at 7:13

R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains (Shaar Hayichud Veha'emunah, ch. 2) that all of creation itself is "anti-natural," in that everything that exists was created ex nihilo (יש מאין), and so it would naturally tend to revert to nothingness. Hashem has to keep on re-creating it constantly in order for this not to happen.

(He draws an analogy with the splitting of the Red Sea, where "a strong east wind" had to keep blowing all night (Ex. 14:21), since otherwise the water would keep on flowing rather than standing as a solid wall.)

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I appreciate the link. However, I don't think the Tanya there is referring to the idea you explained. It says, "שבהסתלקות כח הבורא מן הנברא, חס ושלום, ישוב הנברא לאין ואפס ממש אלא צריך להיות כח הפועל בנפעל תמיד להחיותו ולקיימו". This means that God's will for the world to exist remains constantly, for if it didn't, the world would cease to exist. This is different from creation, which is an initiation of existence. He even continues, "ועל זה נאמר: ואתה מחיה את כולם. אל תקרי מחיה אלא מהוה ".מהוה is different than מחדש. It is the difference between initiating something and tolerating it. –  jake May 18 '11 at 23:14
    
If you want, you can say that that is what's meant by המחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית, but I don't see that in the Tanya. –  jake May 18 '11 at 23:15
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... Rather he is מהוה them constantly, which means a constant "continuation of existence", or yesh mi'yesh if you will. They do not continue to exist independently, but rather, continue to exist with God's assistance. In the previous chapter that you referred me to, he talks about the "Ten utterances" and says שיש בהם כח וחיות לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו לעולם, that is, the power to create them once and then to keep them existing indefinitely. This is different from מחדש בכל יום תמיד, which implies a constant yesh me'ayin. –  jake May 19 '11 at 16:05
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Right, I didn't mean that you were saying that everything was just created once, etc. - just that this is what would be implied by 'מחי (whereas מהוה means continuous creation). I see what you're saying, that on the face of it מהוה could mean "continuous creation יש מיש" rather than יש מאין, but: (a) in ch. 2 there RSZ says that without the כח הבורא בנברא it would become אין ואפס ממש, not just a different form of יש; and (b) at the beginning of the next chapter, he spells out that Hashem's power is מהוה אותו תמיד ומוציאו מאין ליש ממש. –  Alex May 20 '11 at 17:39
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Thanks for clarifying. Although (a) doesn't convince me, (b) indeed does imply that this is his intention. A constant yesh me'ayin. Even if I did understand this concept fully, which I don't, it still is somewhat of a contradiction to the idea of teva, that there is a universal nature. Although this explanation of RSZ fits with מחדש בכל יום תמיד, the question is still intact. It still needs a reconciliation with the natural order. –  jake May 20 '11 at 18:40

My favorite way to understand this is "virtual particles"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_particle

Quantum Fluctuations are also related to the virtual particles. Basically, it has been discovered that in spaces of vacuums, and other unique situations, particles suddenly come into existence from nowhere, and just as suddenly cease to exist. It is as if the situation which created the big bang, is constantly being recreated within the tiny voids of reality.

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Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for introducing this fascinating concept! You could make this answer even more valuable by articulating how you feel this concept resolves the dilemma posed by jake. Also, please consider registering your account, to help the site keep track of all your contributions. –  Isaac Moses May 22 '11 at 17:37
    
I must admit I find this fascinating, and at least at first glance, it seems plausible as an explanation for this idea. Though, one must be comfortable with explaining ma'amarei chazal with contemporary science. Do you perhaps have a source in which someone explains "המחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית", in accordance with this idea? –  jake May 22 '11 at 18:55
    
I am terrible as sources, so no, I don't have a direct source. However, I have heard in at least 3 different shiurim the idea that G-d is constantly re-creating the world anew via a process of re-creating the inner essence of each of the four elements. You are most likely going to find a similar explanation in works of Chasidut. I have a vague memory, of shells upon shells all being illusion, and thus not needing creation, but the central essence of those shells being a pure light of godliness, that must be pushed into this finite world, constantly. –  avi May 22 '11 at 19:06
    
Sorry, if the above comment is incoherent, I'm trying to remember a chasidut shiur from over 15 years ago, which I barely attended. It does require a jump from spiritual language of chasidut to the empirical language of science, and science by it's nature is not meant to be used as philosophy. But the similarities in this instance are striking to me. –  avi May 22 '11 at 19:11

Perhaps think of the existence of the Creator as the prime existence upon which all of creation depends. That in any second that the Creator would not exist, then none of creation could be; i.e. that all is dependent on Him (as Rambam mentions in Hilkhoth Yasodhei HaToro). In this way, one can realize that at any moment that HaShem would not re-create the creation, all would die and not exist.

Notice that the phrase goes "...מחדש בכל יום תמיד". That means HaShem does not just renew creation every day, but every day continuously, He renews creation.

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I'm not sure I understand your answer. I acknowledge the fact that God must exist for the universe's existence to continue, as the existence of the creation depends on the the creator. However, in my mind, God's continuous existence is not the same as His continuously renewing creation. For example, if I hold a cup in the air at shoulder-height, then the cup's being in the air depends on my continuing to hold it up. But, my continuing to hold the cup is not the same as continuously lifting it up off the table. –  jake May 22 '11 at 18:01

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