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If this is a simple minded question, please forgive me, but I'm not Jewish and so most of my information is via naive study and second hand.

I've been told by a Jewish friend in my physics class that the Torah teaches that G-d created only two things: light and a very small point. Everything else in creation that followed from this was forming and arrangement of the original created matter and light. As 'light' is radiation (depending on what kind of light) and a 'very small point' is a great non-technical way to describe an exotic state of matter, this (if it really is part of Jewish canon) implies that something pretty close to the standard conception of the beginning of the universe was known thousands of years ago.

He said that his Dad (a Rabbi) told him this before he died and that it inspired him to study physics. However, he couldn't tell me exactly where I could verify this. I have asked people, but I'm assuming that if this is true, it's not a major part of Jewish teaching and the people I've asked say that they doesn't know. Can anyone point me in the right direction or debunk this outright?

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  • There are a lot of different understandings of the Creation story told in the beginning of Genesis. Many people might understand it in a way similar to how you described. Others would disagree.
    – Daniel
    May 24 '14 at 20:31
  • This actually comes from a medieval debate about the nature of the creation of the world. I can't remember if it's Ramban, Rambam, Rashbam or Raavad who suggests this explanation. Otherwise I'd give an answer.
    – avi
    May 24 '14 at 20:36
  • @avi I'm pretty sure it's the Ramban...see also Gerald Schroeder's Genesis and the Big Bang
    – MTL
    May 25 '14 at 3:01
  • God created other types of creations beside physical light matter and physical time. There is a whole chain of mystical worlds as explained in the books of the kabalists such as shaarei kedusha.
    – ray
    May 25 '14 at 7:03
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Far from being a "simple" question, this is actually very complicated, and I'm in no position to answer it properly. I can tell you, however, that the doctrine to which you refer is kabbalistic. There are allusions to it in the Ramban's (Nachmanides') commentary on Genesis 1:1 and in the writings of other mediaeval scholars. Its fullest treatment is in the Zohar and in the two major 16th century schools of Zoharic interpretation: the Lurianic (after R' Yitzhak Luria, the "Arizal") and the Cordoveran (after R' Moshe Cordovero).

To provide you with but one passage from the Zohar that treats of this, consider the following:

ויאמר אלקים יקוו המים וגו׳ בארח קו למהוי בארח מישר דהא מרזא דההיא נקודא קדמאה נפיק כלא בסתימו עד דמטי ואתכניש להיכלא עלאה ומתמן נפיק בקו מישר לשאר דרגין...

"And God said: Let the waters be gathered (yiqavu)" (Genesis 1:9) - by means of a line (qav), so that it should be a straight path, for all emerged, while still hidden, from the mystery of the primal point (nequda), until it reached and entered the supreme palace. From there it went forth in a straight line to the remaining levels...

  • Zohar I:18a; Isaiah Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts (trans. David Goldstein; 3 vols; Oxford, 1989), I:318.

I've no doubt that by searching online you could find more information on this, but it's a complex and esoteric branch of enquiry, the practitioners of which are unlikely to upload material to the internet in any real detail. As such, most information that you will encounter will be of a dubious nature.

If you wish to read print material about this subject, a good place to start will be the text from which I took the translation above, and Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), §6.

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The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his commentary on the Torah as follows

At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard…. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so.

I would assume this idea is to be found in earlier writings, especially in Kabbalistic literature. Also, Plato already conceptualized this, and the Rambam was familiar with Greek philosophy.

You may find it interesting, however, that the age of the universe was already calculated by Kabbalists in the 13th century, by Sefer Livnas HaSapir (as understood by Rabbi Yitzhak deMin Acco), reaching the conclusion that it's around 15 billion years old.

https://www.simpletoremember.com/faqs/Kaplan-SimpleToRemember.com.pdf

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya Michael and thanks for this first answer. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Jun 16 '21 at 7:35
  • Anyone having the precise source of this Ramban? Maybe this one: והנה בבריאה הזאת, שהיא כנקודה קטנה דקה ואין בה ממש, נבראו כל הנבראים בשמים ובארץ? Jun 16 '21 at 10:30
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Looks like the Zohar says something similar

  1. "Let there be (Heb. יְהִי) light," means that everything that comes forth and emanates in the world proceeds according to the secret of the words: (...)

  2. When the first point, which is Yud, proceeded from Arich Anpin, its light shone upon it according to the sense of 'reaching yet not reaching'. Once the point expanded, the light was revealed, and this is the secret of the Or (light) that has remained from Avir (air). (...)

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