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The traditional objection is to any material having existed prior to the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, but then why not call it "creation without material"? The will of Hashem is not "nihilo" - "nothing."

Just because we don't comprehend how His will can translate to materials and the laws within which they act, should that allow us to equate His will to nothing?

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    Would be valuable if you quote the source of the expression ex nihilo, יש מאין in hebrew, Because you are asking on this premisse.
    – kouty
    Feb 1, 2019 at 8:14
  • @kouty I see it in virtually all commentaries on Bereishit. Even scholars of theology and history find it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the idea first appeared. Some argue from Plato. Do you know the oldest Jewish source? I assume somewhere in Talmud. Feb 1, 2019 at 17:21
  • 2
    You seem to be confusing construction tools (divine will) with construction material (nothingness).
    – user18041
    Jun 14, 2021 at 0:53

5 Answers 5

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Creation "ex nihilo" is a [mis] translation of the Jewish idea of "ברא יש מאין" where אין here does not mean "nothing, it just means "לית ביה תפיסא" - we don't have any apprehension of it.

The closest I could find explicit is Raavad's interpretation on the Sefer Hayetzira:

"יש מאין אבל נקרא אין לפי שאינו מושג לא מצד עילתו ולא מצד עצמו שעילתו הוא עילת העילות ונקרא האי"ן קדמון לפי שקדם לעולם ואין זה דבר גשמי."

Zohar also calls the divine wisdom "אין":

"כְּפוּם דַּרְגָּא דִּילֵיהּ, דְּאִתְקְרֵי יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן -וְדָא חָכְמָה עִלָּאָה."

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    I remember ayn is keter והחכמה מאין תימצא
    – kouty
    Jan 31, 2019 at 13:43
  • @kouty your proof says that it is חכמה, and that's what I've learned. I.e. it's not keter
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 9, 2023 at 19:11
  • @RabbiKaii I'm not sure why you rollback-ed - "apprehension" isn't the right word it should be "comprehension"?
    – Dov
    Jul 9, 2023 at 20:48
  • @Dov apprehend seems to be a preferred word for this concept, I see it a lot, eg for לֵית מַחֲשָׁבָה תְּפִיסָא בֵיהּ : chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7883/jewish/…
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 9, 2023 at 23:22
  • @RabbiKaii that maybe the case but it is not correct English?
    – Dov
    Jul 10, 2023 at 6:45
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A very important aspect of the Jewish theology championed by Maimonides is that God does not have any attributes separate from His essence. "God's will" is not some kind of metaphysical force; God's will is simply God. This is discussed at length in Book I of Guide for the Perplexed, but here is one quote from Chapter 69 there to illustrate this:

According to either opinion, the series of the successive purposes terminates, as has been shown, in God's will or wisdom, which, in our opinion, are identical with His essence, and are not any thing separate from Himself or different from His essence. (Friedlander translation)

Thus, creatio ex nihilo simply means that there was nothing besides God before the universe was created. God's will, being identical with God Himself, is not an exception to this.

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  • And then He created something different from Him? Or does G-d "exist" at all? ... Just kidding.
    – Al Berko
    Jan 31, 2019 at 10:36
  • @AlBerko Indeed, Rambam also writes: AFTER YOU have advanced thus far, and truly comprehended that God exists without having the attribute of existence (Guide 1:65)
    – Alex
    Jan 31, 2019 at 21:14
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Sefer Hatanya Igrot Kodesh chapter 11:

וביאור הענין הוא רק אמונה אמיתית ביוצר בראשית דהיינו שהבריאה יש מאין הנק' ראשית חכמה והיא חכמתו שאינה מושגת לשום נברא הבריאה הזאת היא בכל עת ורגע שמתהוים כל הברואים יש מאין מחכמתו ית' המחיה את הכל וכשיתבונן האדם בעומק הבנתו ויצייר בדעתו הווייתו מאין בכל רגע ורגע ממש האיך יעלה על דעתו כי רע לו או שום יסורים מבני חיי ומזוני או שארי יסורין בעולם הרי האין שהיא חכמתו יתברך הוא מקור החיים והטוב והעונג והוא העדן שלמעלה מעוה"ב

Nihilo is His wisdom that is not accessible by any created.

Chapter 25:

...ההבדל הגדול שבין מעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו שהוא יש מיש רק שמשנה הצורה והתמונה למעשה שמים וארץ שהוא יש מאין

The difference between Creation and human creation is that is yech meyesh, is that when a man creates something, I'd just trans__form, change the form.

שבהסתלקות ח"ו כח הבורא יש מאין מן הנברא ישוב הנברא לאין ואפס ממ

If the creator ceases to give his force his strength, the creation will came back to nihilo and nothing.

..ההבדל הגדול שבין מעשה אנוש ותחבולותיו שהוא יש מיש רק שמשנה הצורה והתמונה למעשה שמים וארץ שהוא יש מאין

The man can only change but not create, but G-d creates without using a primary without basic.material.

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  • I understand this as an interpretation, but my question is still why His wisdom or will is described as "Ein" or "nihilo"? The important part is there was no "matter" and now there is. His wisdom still exists in the things he created, correct? If he removed it, it would not be there. We do not understand its nature, but it is certainly not "nothing". Jan 31, 2019 at 23:33
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Heres a thought: our intellect (at least mine) has a certain storage capacity, is tied to specific perceptions like the 5 senses, and in general is limited. Maybe an intellect that is not limited and that can bear any paradox can rightfully be called “Ayin”. Since the term “nature” is really a matter of the heart, (even for humans) the intellect in its pure form should not be bound by nature but rather has the capacity to dictate it as per free will. What im trying to get at is the idea that God dictating the creation of the world according to his choice/will and wisdom really is “Yesh Meayin”.

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  • +1 for a very thoughtful idea that seems to make a lot of sense. However, expect some downvotes as this site generally requires at least some reference to sources. Even "I heard that in a shiur" can sometimes be enough. Either way welcome to MY, very nice to have you learn with us
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 10, 2023 at 9:57
  • Thanks! In that sense my answer is definitely flawed. Jul 10, 2023 at 12:44
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This concept is explained in Chassidus as follows.

We understand "created from nothing" to generally mean it wasn't there, and then it was. I.e. nothing = not bepo'el; no actual existence. This, however, does not emphasise the nothing.

  • Midrash calls it אין ואפס מוחלט
  • Ramban calls it מאפיסה מוחלטת
  • Likutei Torah calls it אין ואפס ממש

Where there's a chicken, there's basically already an egg. Not only has the chicken got the potential to produce an egg, but it's also inevitable. This gives the egg an existence not bepo'el, but beco'ach; in potential.

Not so with Hashem and His creation. He is not, in essence, a creator (being a creator is out of character and beneath Him), and therefore there is no potential for a creation, or any inevitability to creation. I.e. nothing = not beco'ah either.

Maybe it didn't exist bepo'el or beco'ach, but perhaps it existed besvara, i.e. there's a good reason that it should exist. This, according to Chassidus, is not the case. Indeed, a universal Jewish axiom is that there is nothing other than Hashem. Before Hashem decided to express His will in creation, there was absolutely no creation whatsoever. I.e. nothing = not besvara either. It was absolutely only Him.

While this fact is sometimes used to develop the idea that the creation is made, so to speak, from His very self, as Alex mentioned, and another, eg Tzemach Tzedek Derech Mitzvotecha 94b, is that His reality is completely inapprehensible to us, so it is nothing to us, I want to bring another lesson learned.

The reason Hashem created the universe is completely to do with Him. He didn't look at a potential universe and decide that it seemed appealing, and therefore wanted it, but His will to create is completely self generated.

So when we talk about His will, in any context, we now know how real that will is, and how essential it is to Him; there's nothing we can do to change it, as He wants us even when we were absolutely nothing.

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