Ever since science has attempted to determine the age of the universe there has been a fierce intellectual battle between the forces of science and creationism. I tend to believe that the two perspectives don’t have to conflict, especially so fiercely. Today, there are several genuine approaches which can reconcile the two accounts of creation. What I will present here is one particular possibility based on my understanding of what I have learned in Jewish mysticism. While I believe that my approach is correct, I also know that my understanding is limited and has its share of human imperfections. Hence, I leave it to the great Jewish Sages of the generation (especially those initiated into the mysteries) to determine the veracity of what I am about to present.
Though I am a concerned about my worthiness to make this presentation, I am motivated by several considerations:
- I’ve seen many in my generation who are hampered by creation issues from taking Judaism seriously.
- According to many authorities (often Kabbalists themselves) we are already living in a generation that has permission to study the mysteries. Therefore, I am less reluctant to be open.
- In the course of presenting my understanding on the topic, I might be teaching my readers certain key concepts germane to Jewish mysticism, which will help their growth.
May the Creator help me and clarify my way for His own sake and for the sake of the aiding the world’s spiritual growth.
Chapter 1 – The universe and perception
Jewish mysticism has a layered view of the universe. According to this view the universe conceptually depicted as layers of an onion. [i] There is a large outer sphere encompassing a slightly smaller sphere, which in turn encompasses an even slightly smaller sphere. This process of sphere within sphere continues until reaching the center sphere – which is the physical universe we are familiar with. A two dimensional view of this would look like a classical archery target with our universe being the bull’s eye. Each of these spheres is referred to as a “universe”. Hence, there seem to be many universes. The outer universes are more spiritual and the inner ones harden, tending to every more physical – until reaching the most physical of all, our own universe. [ii] Naturally, each universe is inhabited by creatures with match its own spiritual level. Accordingly, angels inhabit outer universes and animals inhabit the innermost level. This establishes a spiritual hierarchy of universes and creatures – a spectrum with those higher up having much less limitation and those closer to the center beginning to feel the crunch of limitation. Freedom verses limitation is a very strong distinguishing between spiritual and physical beings.
In some sense, this multi-universe view might be a metaphor. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi it seems likely that there truthfully is only one universe. [iii] The multitudes of “universes” seem likely to be merely many various creatures perceiving the same universe very differently. When a group of creatures share a largely overlapping perception of the universe, they are considered to be living in the same universe. For example, a human, a dog and a bee are all considered inhabitants of the same universe. Why? They can all perceive each other and pick up many of the same vibes. This does not mean that their perception range is entirely identical; a dog perceives sounds and smells outside the range of human perception. A bee sees ultraviolet light. However, there’s sufficient overlap to allow these creatures to interact. Hence, they share the same “universe”.
In contrast, a human and an angel are considered to be inhabitants of different “universes”. Why? Because the human sees the universe as a physical structure, while the angel sees the same universe as a containing spiritual force. The universe each sees is not different. What’s different is the level of perception each creature was designed for. There are as many “universes” as there are perceptual ranges. Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches that had the eye been allowed to see the spirituality in each creature, it would not appear earthly at all, but rather as a vibrant spiritual force. (Tanya II chapter 3)
Kabbalah teaches that a universe is defined a framework of time, space and life.[iv] Since ultimately there is only one shared universe there is also only one framework of time, space and life. Every single creature lives within this over arching framework which defines the basic parameters of the universe. However, the way each creature experiences time, space and life can vary greatly from the next. The way time is experienced by humans dwelling in an earthly body is not the way time is experienced by a disembodied soul. People who survived near death experiences have shared on interviews that when disembodied their perception of time was vastly different.
It seems like the experience of time can be compared to a sensory perception which varies depending on what vessels of perception the creature was designed with. This notion of time is bolstered by recent research in the field of psychology which discovered through research that the human perception of time as really a “construction of the human mind”.[v] Therefore, there can be many kinds of time perception in the overall universe.
Chapter 2 – The Garden of Eden
One of the most celebrated Kabbalists in all Jewish history was Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory (1534 – 1572). In order to gain perspective on the issue of the age of the universe, it is useful to examine his treatment of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the universe Adam and Eve inhabited was not physical at all. Rather, it was highly spiritual. [vi] For that matter neither was the snake’s realm physical. It too was spiritual, though it was much closer to being physical, as it was spiritually lower. The tree of knowledge served as a tenuous link between where the first couple lived and the snake’s realm. As a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, the two realms mixed together into a single realm becoming the physical universe as we know it today. This is how Adam and Eve were “chased out” of the Garden. [vii] The world around them simply became physical. It was no longer a “garden”. Obviously, Adam and Eve no longer looked the same either. Previously, they were clothed in spiritual light. Now, they were clothed in skin. [viii]
Although I have not seen this written anywhere [ix], it’s my own understanding that the reason why mixing the realms made our universe physical is because Adam’s realm and the snake’s realm were very incompatible with each other. Imagine bringing together two dancers trained in very different styles of dancing to dance with each other. Their tedious efforts to synchronize their movements will slow them down. Similarly, the elements of Adam’s realm and the snake’s realm were so vastly different that they didn’t “dance well together”. Each slowed down the other. The slower the movement the more concrete an entity becomes. For example, solid is harder than liquid, gas or energy because the molecules in solid aren’t moving as freely. As molecules slow down, substances harden, becoming more concrete.
Since Adam and Eve were not initially created physically, but rather as inhabitants of Eden, it logically follows that their experience of time was also very different than own. In our current state, we are incapable of understanding what time was like for them. The very same notion in its own way applies to time in the snake’s realm as well. Their experiences of time there was unique to each of their respective realms.
Upon mixing, the inhabitants of both realms became earthly. Commensurate with their new level, their sensory apparatus now perceived physicality. As a result of their new perceptual range, a brand new experience of time, space and life emerged – one that never existed before either in the Garden of Eden or in the snake’s realm. What existed in both spiritual realms downloaded into this new realm – squash … everything became more constrained into newly introduced limitations brought on by two incompatible realms attempting to work together – resulting in slow motion. Therefore, anything which seems to predate first couple’s entry into the physical realm is really a footprint of something which existed spiritually in a whole other perception of time, which cannot be measured in human terms. This is why the true age of the physical universe cannot be measured. The history of our physical universe began in two realms, each with their own version of immeasurable “spiritual time” and combined 5,771 years ago, continuing onward in “physical time”.
Yet, when all that previous “spiritual time” downloaded physically, it probably translated into about 15 billion earthly years. Upon entry into the physical realm, everything brought along its own previous history. All that spiritual history downloaded into physical constraints, yielding a new kind of history appropriate for a more limited format. This could be comparable to taking a jump drive full of data and trying to transfer all that data onto a batch of old 3.5″ floppy discs. The vast quantity of data which the single jump drive had easily stored will now require many floppy discs, as the data is being translated into a more limited format. What’s lost in quality requires greater quantity to bring about an equal result. Similarly, translating events from high quality spiritual time into the constraints of physical time requires a huge number of units to hold it; possibly, something like 15 billion human years. 15 billion years worth of history downloaded, but, only 5771 years ago.
These ideas accord nicely with the view of the Medieval Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac of Acco (1250 – 1340).
Chapter 3 – Rabbi Isaac of Acco
Rabbi Isaac of Acco, discourse on the age of the universe which combines ideas from the Talmud and Bible was introduced to the English speaking audience by late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory. He has an elaborate essay about Rabbi Isaac of Acco’s discourse in his book “Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View”. He also has a shorter explanation in his translation and commentary to “Sefer Yetzirah” P.186.
Rabbi Kaplan explains that the Talmud cites in a number of places that the universe is supposed to exist for 7,000 years. A variety of Rabbinic sources expand on this teaching and explain that the universe really goes through seven cycles of 7,000 years, totaling 49,000 years. There’s some disagreement on whether we’re in the second cycle or the seventh cycle.
Rabbi Isaac of Acco takes each day in the 49,000 years and multiplies it by 1,000 years – teaching that a “divine day” really equals 1,000 human years. He bases this idea on the Biblical verse (Psalms 90:4) “A thousand years in Your eyes are just like yesterday (i.e. a single day).”
Assuming we are in the last of the seven cycles, we can do a simple calculation: 1,000 years x 365.25 days x 42,000 = 15,340,500,000 human years – that’s 15 billion and 340 million and 500 thousand human years. This equation multiplies the 1,000 year long divine day by 365.25 days in the solar year in order determine the length of a divine year, which is 365,250 “human years”. Then following the approach of those Rabbinic authorities who believe we’re in the seventh cycle, six cycles have already passed by making the world at least 42,000 years old in this context. By multiplying 365,250 “human years” and 42,000 “cycle years”, one yields 15,340,500,000 human years. This is pretty close to some scientific estimates of the age of the universe.
In light of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s teaching, I understand Rabbi Isaac of Acco as conveying that a value of over 15 billion human years has passed since the universe’s inception, but not that the universe was literally more than 15 billion years old. Of course, had Adam and Eve been initially created physical then over 15 billion human years would have actually transpired, but, this was not the case.
Chapter 4 – Seven Days in Physical Time
A contemporary physicist and Torah scholar, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, demonstrates that the seven days of creation can also be calculated in physical time. [x] Even though the first couple spent at least their first hours in spiritual time, I accept Dr. Schroeder’s findings as a confirmation that the seven days of creation had left their imprint even physically. This means that had the universe been physically created, the notion that it was created in seven days would have still been true.
Dr. Schroeder theory attempts to reconcile the Biblical time frame of creation, of seven days, with the scientific age of the universe, which according to some scientists is over 15 billion years old. He argued that seven days from the outer rim of the universe can equal billions of years within the universe. His approach is based on Einstein’s time dilation theory. (If you don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of time dilation then please throw out your GPS. It heavily depends on this theory to work.)
The gist of Dr. Schroeder’s reconciliation goes like this. When the big bang happened the outer rim of the universe ballooned outward with such a tremendous burst of energy that it approached the speed of light. Einstein’s time dilation theory teaches that the faster something travels in space the slower it goes in time. Therefore by reaching such high speeds, time greatly slowed down at the outer rim of the universe when measured relative to clocks within the universe. While the outer rim experienced only seven days, the interior of the universe could have experienced 15 billion years.
According to Dr. Schroeder’s theory, the Creator measured the Biblical seven days from the perspective of the most universal clock, the clock which embraces all clocks; namely, the outer rim of the universe. This makes sense considering that time dilation theory teaches that the experience of time is not only affected by speed, but also by gravity. The stronger gravity is, the slower time moves. So while from the perspective of earth the universe could be about 15 billion years old, from the perspective of Jupiter the universe could be much older. Since there are a vast multitude of gravitational fields within the universe with vastly varying intensities, just for this reason alone there are also a vast number of clocks from which the age of the universe can be gauged – each yielding a different result. Therefore, the over-arching clock on the rim of the universe makes the most sense to use.
Once the framework of a seven day creation has been paradoxically greatly expanded while simultaneously being very literal, there is room to discuss a protracted process of creation, along with what tools might have been in the Creator’s “tool box” to bring this about. Without any knowledge to the contrary, evolution should be as good a tool as any other for the Creator to slowly form the amazing wide variety of species which inhabit our planet.
I’m not personally saying that this is how it happened or that I throw my full support into Dr. Schroeder’s theory, as literally having happened. However, (a) it serves as a neat reconciliation for people who don’t want to get too mystical (b) it demonstrates that the Creator could have worked out a seven day creation even within physical time (c) the very fact all these reconciliations between the Biblical and scientific accounts exist should bring members of both camps to question whether there really needs to be such a heated argument, when one can simultaneously believe in the Creator, science and a literal reading of the Bible without any inner intellectual conflict? Let all sides continue their work peacefully, so we can all grow together towards our fullest potential.
Choni is a freelance writer who writes about a range of topics, but, especially loves to write about Jewish mysticism. Though he’s so far been a student of Jewish mysticsm for about 26-27 years, he still considers himself a beginner. Still, he joyfully shares the little bit he knows in the spirit of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s advice for our spiritually needy era, that if you happen to know “Aleph Bait”, please teach your brothers and sisters “Aleph Bait”.
Content copyrighted by author
[i] A note to those studying Kabbalah: I am only discussing sefirot igulim here – as they are the chambers which are inhabited by beings.
[ii] Sefer Etz Chaim, Shaar Igulim V’Yosher
[iii] Tanya II, Chapter 3
[iv] See “Sefer Yetzirah”, from chapters 3 to 5 the 22 mystical letters of the Hebrew alphabet are described as manifesting in time, space and life – encompassing the entire framework of creation as we know it.
[v] Radio interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman on WHYY broadcast in Philadelphia on August 11, 2011.
[vi] “Shaar HaPesukim”, Siman 2, Discourse 3. Also see “The Knowing Heart”, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Feldheim Publishing’s English translated edition, P. 188 – 189.
[vii] Genesis 3:23
[viii] “Ben Ish Chai” commenting on the Torah portion of Braishit (first year).
[ix] I received oral confirmation for this idea from a known Kabbalist.
[x] See “Genesis and the Big Bang” by Dr. Gerald Schroeder. More about Dr. Schroeder’s theories can be found on his website http://www.geraldschroeder.com