Although I have often heard that the world would revert to nothingness if there wasn't someone learning Torah at any given moment, I haven't seen this written yet - what is the source of this concept?

  • It's also a Medrash in Esther Rabba, somewhere in the discussion of the making of the decree.
    – LN6595
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 23:28

3 Answers 3


Pesachim 68b:

אמר רבי אלעזר אילמלא תורה לא נתקיימו שמים וארץ שנאמר אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי

Rabbi Elazar said: If not for the Torah, heaven and earth would not be sustained, as it is stated: “If not for My covenant by day and by night, I would not have set up the laws of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25).

As Rashi ad. loc. explains:

אם לא בריתי - של יומם ולילה דהיינו תלמוד תורה שכתוב בו (יהושע א׳:ח׳) והגית בו יומם ולילה:

If not for My covenant - of day and night, which is study of Torah, regarding which it’s written, “And you will contemplate it day and night” (Joshua 1:8).

  • 2
    Whose translation is that? Where does the words "its study" come from in the Hebrew?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 14:30
  • @DoubleAA The OP is asking about the concept that if Israel had not accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, the universe, meaning all of creation would have reverted to Tohu v’Vohu. And that acceptance wasn’t truly fulfilled until the events of Purim, קיימו מה שקבלו. Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:50
  • 2
    @Yaacov maybe. If he is he should state so explicitly. It certainly doesn't sound like that from what he wrote.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:50
  • It would improve the question, but I suspect he doesn’t realize that’s what it is talking about. Look at what he linked to. No source or context, just a statement. Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:53
  • @YaacovDeane If that’s what he means I’m happy to include the Gemara in Shabbos about Yom HaShishi, but as it stands this seems to address his question sufficiently.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:55

The source that explicitly states this concept is the Nefesh Hachaim written by Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner, who sees it as being expressed by earlier sources. See for example Shaar 4:25:

אבל אם היה ח''ו העולם פנוי לגמרי אפילו רגע אחת ממש מעסק והתבוננות עם סגולה בתו''הק. תיכף כרגע היו כל העולמות נחרבים ונבטלים ממציאות לגמרי ח''ו. ואף גם איש א' מישראל לבד. רב כחו. שבידו להעמיד ולקיים את כל העולמות והבריאה בכללה ע''י עסקו והתבוננותו בתו''הק לשמה. כמ''ש בחלק (צ''ט ב') כל העוסק בתורה לשמה כו'. רי''א אף מגין על כל העולם כולו. וכ''א בפ' התורה כל העוסק בתורה לשמה כו'. ולא עוד אלא שכל העולם כולו כדאי הוא לו.

  • Although Sefaria for some reason counts "Perakim" as Shaar 4, really it's a supplementary piece, and what they call Shaar 5 is really Shaar 4. Also, he first mentions this in Chapter 11.
    – robev
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 1:25
  • @robev I know. I wrote it originally as 4, but someone edited it to 5.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 3:04

A source for this is Avodah zarah 3a (with steinzaltz, translation is my own):

ואמר בעניין זה ר' שמעון בן לקיש, מאי דכתיב [מהו שנאמר]: "ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום הששי" (בראשית א, לא), בה"א הידיעה? מלמד שהתנה הקדוש ברוך הוא עם מעשה בראשית תנאי זה, ואמר: אם ישראל מקבלין את תורתי בזמן מתן תורה — מוטב, ואם לאו [לא] — אני אחזיר אתכם לתוהו ובוהו;

Rabbi Shimon Ben lakish said on this topic: why is it written “and there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day”?" (With the added ה in הששי). It teaches us that HaShem conditioned concerning creation the following condition: if Israel accepts my Torah, good, but if not, I will return you (creation) to Tohu Vavohu

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