The Infinite Light
All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including photocopying, without
permission in writing from the publisher
1. What do we know about God?
Mostly, we know about God from our own experiences, both as individuals and as a people.
We know Him from such great events as the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai. We know Him
from the many times that He intervened to guide the history and destiny of our people. We
know Him from the careers of people who have been touched by Him.
But most of all, most of us know God through our own experiences. There have been times in
all our lives when we have felt close to God, or experienced His hand guiding our lives.
It is very easy to forget these times, but if we look back and think, we can remember.
We seek God in many ways. We approach Him in prayer. We keep His commandments. We look at
the world and stand in awe at His handiwork.
Who at some time has not contemplated nature and stood awestruck, realizing that he is
gazing at the handiwork of God? Who at some time has not shared Job's experience, when he
exclaims (Job 12:7-9):
Now ask the beasts, they will teach you,
The birds of the sky, they will
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you,
The fish of the sea, they will tell
Who cannot learn from all these
That God's hand has done this?
In His hand is every living soul,
The breath of all human flesh.
We experience God in our own lives and also know of Him from the history of our ancestors.
We therefore call Him, "our God and God of our fathers." He is our God because
we ourselves have experienced Him, but He is also God of our fathers, because we know even
more about Him from our traditions and history. This is what our people sang at the Red
Sea, "This is my God, I will glorify Him; my father's God, I will praise Him" (Exodus
We know God for His mighty deeds, but also from his small miracles. God fashioned the
stars, but He also listens to the cry of the small child. The Psalmist expresses this most
beautifully when he says, "He rides upon the skies, His name is God . . . the Father
of orphans, the Judge of widows, He is God in His holy place. God gives the friendless a
home, and frees the captive, bringing him to safety" (Psalms 68:5-6). Our
sages thus teach us, "Wherever you find God's greatness, you also find His
We know God as the Highest, and yet, we seek Him with humility. As long as one is filled
with his own egotism, he has no room for God. Our sages teach us that God says that He
cannot abide in the same world with the haughty man. 2
A man must surrender his own ego before he can truly find God. This is God's message,
"I dwell in a high and holy place, but I am with the brokenhearted and humble. I
revive the humble spirit and give new life to the broken heart" (Isaiah 57:15).
We know God through love. It is He who bids us, "You shall love your neighbor as
yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). We know of this love as a reflection of our
love for God, as the Torah says, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your
heart, with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). We
know of His infinite love for us, as He announced through His prophet, "I love you
with an infinite world of love, and so, have drawn you to Me with affection" (C
Jeremiah 3l:3). And there are times when we can say along with the Psalmist, "0
God, my God, I seek You, my soul thirsts, my flesh longs for You, like a dry and thirsty
land that has no water" (Psalms 63:2).
We know God through our hope in the future. We know Him through our prayers for life,
health and prosperity. We know Him through our hopes for Israel, for all mankind, for
peace and brotherhood among men. We know Him through our optimism that the world will be
good in the end.
One of the most profound prayers ever written is the Amidah (or Shemoneh Esreh),
the silent, standing prayer, that every Jew has repeated three times each day for the past
2500 years. In the opening lines of this prayer we express our most basic feelings toward
Blessed are You O Lord,
Our God and God of our fathers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
And God of Jacob;
Great, mighty and revered God,
Giver of love and goodness,
Master of all,
Who remembers the love of the fathers
And brings help to their children's children
For His name's sake, with love.
King, Helper, Savior and Shield.
What can we say about God'?
We know about God mostly from traditions found in the Bible. God Himself revealed these
things when He spoke to His prophets. Looking in the Bible, we can obtain a very profound
concept of God.
Many great thinkers among our sages have written about God. They have delved into all our
traditions, analyzing and clarifying them. It is no exaggeration to say that some of the
best minds that have ever lived have dealt with the question of God. But for most of them,
this was more than a mere intellectual exercise. Their writings were guided by a most deep
inspiration and feeling for God. As they thought about God and delved into His mystery,
they were also experiencing Him. Thus, our traditions combine both the intellectual and
But above all, our traditions go back to the Bible. Almost everything written about God
can be found in this Book, if one knows where to look. Searching it carefully, we can
build up a picture.
It is clear from all our traditions that we define God primarily as the Creator of all
things. We find this in the very opening verse of the Torah, which says, "In the
beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This is a statement about creation,
but it also tells us that God is the Creator. 3
When we speak of God as Creator of "heaven and earth," we are not just speaking
of the visible world. God's creation includes every possible thing that exists. The Bible
clearly tells us that there is absolutely nothing that is outside the domain of God's
creation, as He told His prophet, "I am God, I make all things" (Isaiah
We may be able to conceive of other universes. There may be worlds beyond our imagination.
All of them, however, ultimately emanate from God. This is what the Psalmist meant when he
said, "Your dominion is a kingdom of all worlds" (Psalms 145:134).
There are many things that are difficult to imagine as emanating from God. For example,
there is much evil in the world, and one may be tempted to think of it as coming from a
separate power, independent of God. Nothing could be further from the truth; everything
ultimately comes from God. If we understand God's purpose in creation, we understand why
evil must exist. But it is most important to realize that there is no power independent of
God's creation. He therefore told His prophet, "I form light and create darkness, I
make peace and create evil, I am God, I do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).
The very word "create" --Bara in Hebrew --implies creating something
out of nothing. Otherwise, we use the word "make" or "form." When we
say that God created the universe, we mean that He created it absolutely ex nihilo---
out of nothing. This is alluded to in the verse, "He hangs the world upon
nothingness" (Job 26:7). 5
The Midrash 6 tells us that a
philosopher once remarked to Rabban Gamaliel, "Your God is a wonderful artist, but He
had fine materials to work with. When He made the world, He fashioned it out of waste and
desolation, darkness, wind, water and the depths." 7
Rabban Gamaliel replied, "Your words are mere wind! All of these things were also
created by God."
The act of creation involved absolutely no effort on the part of God. When the Torah says
that He "rested" on the seventh day, it does not mean that He rested because He
was weary or tired after six days of hard work. Rather, it means that God stopped creating
after six days, since the world was completed with the creation of man. The act of
creation, however, involved absolutely no effort on the part of God, as the prophet Isaiah
taught, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, Creator
of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint" (Isaiah 40:28).
This is because God is absolutely infinite. To an infinite Being, the entire universe is
like nothing, and therefore, its creation involves no effort. The Bible thus says,
"Everything on earth is like nothing to Him, He does as He wills with the host of
heaven and the hords of the earth" (Daniel 432). Every possible thing, even
the creation of a universe, is infinitely easy for an infinite God.
In order to emphasize the fact that God's creation involved no effort, the Torah speaks of
it as being done with words. Each act of creation begins with the expression "And God
said." 8 The Psalmist
explicitly states, "With the word of God were the heavens made, with the breath of
His mouth, all their host. . . . For He spoke and it was, He commanded, and it stood"
(Psalms 33:6, 9). The Midrash comments on this: "Not with work nor effort
did God create the universe, but with a mere word." 9
In expressing the absence of effort in the act of creation, our sages teach us that it did
not even involve a word, but a mere letter of the alphabet. This furthermore was not just
any letter, but the one letter that is most easily pronounced. They teach us that the
world was created with the letter Heh, the Hebrew equivalent of "H." 10 Pronouncing this letter
involves no more effort than the slightest breath. With such a small effort God created
When we say that the world was created with God's word, we are, of course, using a
metaphor. God did not actually speak in a physical sense. 11
He merely willed the existence of all things. His very wisdom and knowledge implied
creation. When the Torah says that He spoke, it merely does so to tell us that creation
was a willful act. In actuality, however, God's creation came about as a direct result of
His wisdom and knowledge. 12
The Prophet said, "He made the earth with His power, founded the world with His
wisdom, and unfurled the skies with His understanding" (Jeremiah 10:1213).
Of course, this also means that creation was an intelligent and purposeful act. God does
not act blindly, but with infinite wisdom. We find this concept echoed in the verse,
"God founded the earth with wisdom, and fixed the heavens with understanding" (Proverbs
We therefore see God's work as ultimately perfect. The Torah tells us, "The Creator's
work is perfect, for all His ways are just" (Deuteronomy 32:4). The
Psalmist, too, sings, "God's way is perfect, His word is tried" (Psalms 18:31).
We may not be able to see the ultimate perfection in creation, but, in truth, everything
has its own perfect time and place. This is the meaning of the verse, "He has made
everything perfect in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Once we say that God is Creator of everything, it becomes obvious that there can
be no other creator. If there were a second creator, God would have created everything but
it. The fact that God is Creator of everything therefore implies that He is One
and Unique. We hear this in His word to His prophet, "Thus speaks God, Who created
the heavens, God, Who formed and made the earth . . . I am God, there is none else"
(Isaiah 45:18). We shall speak at length of God's unity in a later section.
As Creator of all things, God takes a keen interest in His world, down to the smallest
details. The same God Who spins the galaxies also takes care of the hungry child. Nothing
in all creation is too trivial for His attention. The Psalmist tells of this in his song,
"He made heaven, earth and sea, and all that is in them, He is a true Watcher
forever. He provides justice to the oppressed, He gives bread to the hungry" (Psalms
The belief that God is creator of the universe is a foundation of our faith. 14 As discussed earlier, belief in a
purposeful Creator is what gives both man and the universe a sense of purpose in
existence. The fact that everything was created by one God also provides us with a concept
of unity in all creation. It makes every human being a brother under the fatherhood of
God. If we are all God's creatures, placed on earth to fulfill His purpose, what possible
reason can we have for hatred and warfare? The prophet Malachi expresses this most clearly
when he says, "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then do we
deal treacherously with one another?" (Malachi 2:10).
We can really say very little about God other than that He Is the Creator of all things.
About God Himself, we can say nothing. We know that He exists, but beyond that, no mind
This is essentially what God told Moses when he asked His name. God replied that His name
is, "I Am what I Am." (Exodus 3:4). God was saying, "I am. I
exist. There is nothing more you can understand about Me."
The only positive thing we can say about God is that He exists. We may experience God, but
we cannot understand Him.
Although we cannot comprehend God, we do know Him as Creator, and as such, we understand
that certain things must be true about Him. For example, we cannot say that He is any less
than any of His creatures. Thus, the very fact that we can see and hear implies that God
can do no less. We see this in the words of the Psalmist, "He made the ear, shall He
not hear? He formed the eye, shall He not see?" (Psalms 94:9).
We therefore say that God at least has every kind of perfection found in the world. Here
again, we do not know exactly what this means when speaking of God Himself, but we see His
power manifest in creation. All these qualities ultimately come from God, therefore, we
cannot say that He Himself does not have them. King David expresses this thought in his
prayer, "Yours O God is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, the
majesty, and everything in heaven and earth . . . For it is in Your hand to give strength
and power to all" (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). From the fact that God can grant
all these powers, we know that He can also use them.
We must constantly remember that God is the sole Creator of all things. He was the very
first, and everything else emanated from Him. It is therefore obvious that God has power
over all things. Everything came from Him; therefore, nothing can stop Him or prevent Him
from doing as He wishes. God thus told His prophet, "I am God from the beginning of
time,15 none can deliver from
my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?" (Isaiah 43:13). God is saying that
He is the very first and therefore is Creator and Master of all. His power is unlimited,
nothing can hold Him back.
We therefore say that God is omnipotent---all powerful. He is the One Creator and Master
of all things and there is no power in existence that can turn Him back or frustrate His
ultimate purpose. We hear this in the words of Job when he says, "He is in Unity, who
can hold Him back? He does what His own will desires" (Job 23:13). 16 The same concept is also
expressed in Jehoshephat's prayer, "God of our fathers, You alone are God in heaven.
You rule over all kingdoms. In Your hand is mighty power, and none can withstand You"
(2 Chronicles 20:5).
This is one of the important things that we believe about God. He is all powerful and
nothing can stand in His way. He rules the world according to His desire. This was one of
the very first things that God revealed about Himself when He asked of Abraham, "Is
anything too difficult for God?" (Genesis 18:4).
God repeats the question to Job, saying, "I am the Lord, God of all flesh. Is
anything too difficult for Me?" (Job 32:27). He expresses the same thought
in the song of Deuteronomy when He says, "I bring both death and life, I wound and I
heal. None can deliver from My hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39). The same concept
is stated in the Prophet's words, "When God decides, who shall cancel it? When He
stretches forth His hand, who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:27). The
Psalmist sums up the idea of God's omnipotence when he sings, "Our God is in heaven,
He does whatever He pleases" (Psalms 115:3).
God has only to send forth His word and His will is done. As we discussed earlier, this
word is not actual speech, but a command that is even more tenuous than thought. When God
wills something, it is as good as done. This is what He meant when He told His prophet,
"The word that leaves My mouth shall not return to Me unfulfilled. It shall
accomplish what I planned, and succeed in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55:10).
As Creator of the world, God not only is just, but He also defines justice. We cannot
think of such concepts as justice and good as independent of God. Even these are His
creations, and are therefore defined by Him. To set up an independent standard of justice
and good by which to judge God is to place something on the same level as God, and this,
of course, we cannot do. God expressed this idea to His prophet when He said, "I have
made the world, and man and beast on the face of the earth . . . and I give it to whom I
see fit" (Jeremiah 27:5). Elihu told Job essentially the same thing, saying,
"Who can tell Him what course to take? Who can say, 'You have done wrong'?"
Since there is no force that can turn God back, there is nothing that can make Him change
His mind. Everything in creation fulfills His purpose, and everything that He does leads
toward it. No power exists that can change this purpose. This is what God meant when He
told His prophet, "I have spoken, I have decided, and I do not repent nor turn back
from it" (Jeremiah 4:28). It is also what the Torah says, "God is not
man that He should lie, nor is He mortal that He should change His mind. Shall He say and
not do, or speak and not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19).
It is for this reason that God is called True. The prophet teaches us, "The Lord, God
is Truth. He is the Living God, King of the world" (Jeremiah 10:10). Our
sages explain this verse by stating: "Why is He true? Because He is the Living God,
King of the world. A mortal king may make a promise and not be able to keep it. But God is
always able to make His word come true." 17
Our sages similarly teach us that God's seal is Truth. 18
As Creator, God is Master of all creation. Everything that exists is His and is here to
fulfill His purpose. The Torah tells us this, saying, "It all belongs to God: the
heaven, the heaven of heaven, the earth, and everything in it" (Deuteronomy
10:14). It is also what the prophet means when he says, "This is the plan
prepared for the world: It is the Hand stretched over all nations" (Isaiah 14:26).
God is the ultimate Ruler over all mankind. Man is given freedom, but ultimately the
world's destiny is in God's hands. We are utterly and totally dependent on God, as He
Himself told His prophet, "As clay in the potter's hand, so are you in Mine. At one
instant, I may decree upon a nation to pluck up, break down and destroy . . . . At another
instant, I may decree upon a nation to build up and plant" (Jeremiah 18:6-9).
We therefore call God the "King of the universe." This was one of the first
things that the Jews realized when they left Egypt, and they exclaimed in the song of the
Red Sea, "God is King forever and ever" (Exodus 15:18). 19
We call God a King, but He is like no earthly king. A human monarch may rule, but there
are limits to his power. Only God is a King with unlimited ability. The Psalmist thus
sings, "God is most high and awesome, a great King over all the world" (Psalm
47:3). The prophet Jeremiah sums it all up when he prays, "There is nothing like
You, O God. You are great, and Your name is Mighty" (Jeremiah 10:6).
As mentioned, there is very little we can say about God Himself. However, we can, to some
extent, understand His relationship to His creation. 20
One of the best analogies of the relationship between God and the world is that of the
soul to the body. In a sense, we can call God the "soul" of the universe. Of
course, the analogy is far from exact, since God cannot be compared to anything else in
creation. But it does serve the useful purpose of clarifying His relationship with the
Our sages use the analogy of the soul to the body to explain God's relationship to the
world in six basic ways:21
Just as the soul is one in the body,
so is God one in the universe.
Just as the soul is pure and above the body,6
so is God pure and above the world.
Just as the soul does not eat or drink,
so God does not eat or drink.
Just as the soul fills the body,
so God fills the world.
Just as the soul sustains the body,
so God sustains the world.
Just as the soul sees and is unseen,
so God sees and is unseen.
These are very basic statements about God. All of
them are mentioned many times in our traditions and will be discussed at length. Here we
will merely outline them:
1. God is one in the world. He is an absolute unity.
2. God is pure and above the world. He does not partake of any worldly quality. He has
neither body, shape nor form. Nothing in all creation can be compared to Him. He is even
above such basic worldly concepts as space and time.
3. God does not eat or drink. He is in no way dependent on His creation. Absolutely
nothing can be given to God, for ultimately, everything is His.
4. God fills the world. There is no place empty of His presence.
5. God sustains the world. His life-force permeates all creation and gives it existence.
If this were removed even for an instant, all creation would instantly cease to exist.
6. God sees and is not seen. He is aware of every single thing in the world, but no
creature can see or comprehend God. There is nothing in all creation that can grasp His
These six concepts provide us with our basic knowledge regarding God's relationship to the
world, and we will discuss each one at length. There are a few additional ways in which
our sages use this analogy, and we will explore these briefly.
Our sages teach us:
Just as the soul dwells in the innermost chamber,
so God dwells in the innermost chamber.
Here, our sages are teaching us that even though God
fills all creation, He does so in a hidden manner. God is everywhere, and yet, no matter
how deeply we probe, we cannot detect His presence. 22
Just as the soul survives the body,
so God survives the world.
This is closely related to the statement that God
does not in any way need creation. If the world were to cease to exist, God would still
remain the same.
Just as the soul does not sleep,
so God does not sleep.
This alludes to God's constant providence, whereby
He is continuously aware of everything in the world and in direct control of all things.
There is absolutely no time that His attention is in any way diverted from His creation.
This is what the Psalmist meant when he sang, "The Guardian of Israel does not doze
nor sleep" (Psalms 121:4). God's providence is constant and continuous.
About Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
Titles From OU/NCSY
Jacobs Shabbat Learning Center
1 Megillah 31a.
2 Sotah 5a.
3 See Emunoth VeDeyoth 1:1; Yad, Yesodey Ha Torah
1:1, 1:5; Mechilta on Exodus 6:2 (120a); Sifra on
Leviticus 18:2 (85c).
4 Metzudoth, Targum ad loc.; Reshith Chakhmah
5 Yad, Teshuvah 3:7, Raavad ad loc.; Ramban on
Emunoth VeDeyoth 5:8 (74a); Kuzari 1:67
6 Bereshith Rabbah 1:12. See Raavad loc. cit.
7 Alluding to the things mentioned in Genesis 1:2. According
to the Ramban ad loc., the philosopher was referring to the
primeval matter of the Hyle, the primitive Form, and the four
elements of the ancient world, fire, air, water, and dust. See also Torath
8 Ramban on Genesis 1:3. Also see Kuzari 4:25 (44a). Cf. Midrash Tehillim
9 Bereshith Rabbah 12:10, 4:7.
10 Minachoth 29b; Rashi on Genesis 2:4. See also Etz Yosef
on Bereshith Rabbah 12:10.
11 Ramban loc. cit., Moreh Nevukhim 1:66.
12 Magid Devarav LeYaakov 102.
13 Cf. Jeremiah 51:15.
14 Ramban on Genesis 1:1, Thirteen Principles of Faith #1, Yad,Teshuvah 3:7.
15 See Targum ad loc.
16 See Malbim, Metzudoth ad loc.
17 Yerushalmi Berakhoth 1:5 (9b); VaYikra Rabbah 26:1.
See Rashi, Radak ad loc.; Yad, Yesodey HaTorah
18 Shabbath 55a.
19 See also Psalm 10:16, 29:10, 146:10.
20 Chovoth HaLevavoth 1:10 (Warsaw 5635) p. 40a; Moreh
1:58; Kuzari 2:2; Ikkarim
21 Midrash Tehillim 103:4, according to reading and
interpretation of Shomer Emunim (HaKadmon) 2:9-11. For other
versions and readings, see Berakhoth 10a; VaYikra Rabbah
4:8; Devarim Rabbah
2:26; Pirkey DeRabbi Eliezer 34; Tikuney
Zohar 13 (28a). See also Derech HaShem #1.
22 See Iyun Yaakov on Berakhoth 10a (in Eyn Yaakov #50).