Creation Ex Nihilo
"In the beginning God created heaven and earth." (Genesis 1:1)
In the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim II:13, the Rambam explains that “the opinion of all who believe in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu is that Hashem brought the Universe into existence after the Universe had been purely and absolutely nonexistent.”
As explained earlier, if the Universe was created from any existing material or existing “being”, great doubts would be created as to the validity of monotheism, or else doubts about Hashem’s control over the Universe.
The Rambam also explains in Moreh Nevuchim II:19 that Aristotle's opinion on the creation of the Universe in a cause and effect manner means that the Universe exists solely by necessity and not by purpose. What exists out of necessity can have no purpose, and thus according to Aristotle, the Universe can have no purpose.
In contrast to Aristotle, the Torah viewpoint is that the Universe does not exist out of necessity, but was created in the finite past by Hashem for a purpose.
There appear to be serious conflicts (about fundamental issues) between what the Rishonim (medieval rabbinic authorities) taught and what the later Kabbalists taught.
A few years ago I had a long, interesting discussion with a senior Chareidi rabbi in Lakewood about apparent inconsistencies between certain popularly accepted Kabbalistic concepts and the opinions of earlier rabbinic authorities. This rabbi requested that I not mention his name publicly for various reasons.
One such apparent inconsistency involves the concept of beriyah yesh mi-ayin (creation ex-nihilo). The concept that Hashem created the Universe ex-nihilo seems to be widely accepted by various rabbinic sources such as the Rambam, the Chovot HaLevavot, the Ramchal's Daat Tevunot, and other sources.
The Lakewood rabbi explained to me that the Kabbalists are really teaching that Hashem created the Universe from "part" of Himself, a process that cannot be considered beriyah yesh mi-ayin as the Rambam and many other great rabbis had taught.
Since Chabad's Sefer Tanya is a popular explanation of Kabbalistic principles, I decided to consult it as to the issue of beriyah yesh mi-ayin. In several places in the Shaar HaYichud section of the Tanya, the Tanya does state that the heaven and earth were created yesh mi-ayin. However, the Tanya also explains that as a result of the contraction process the Kabbalists refer to as "tzimtzum", a concealed chiyus (life force) from Hashem enables the continued existence of the Universe.
The Lakewood rabbi I spoke with seems to have a valid point on this problematic issue of beriyah yesh mi-ayin. The concept of beriyah yesh mi-ayin taught by Tanya would seem to be a Universe that Hashem created from "part" of Himself, but it is not a Universe that had been absolutely non-existent before its creation as taught by the Rambam.
The implications of Tanya's concepts may be quite serious. At least some Chabad Chassidim I have spoken to consider the Universe to be an "illusion" as they believe the only thing that exists is Hashem. It is rather questionable as to whether certain radical Kabbalistic concepts can be considered consistent with many non-Kabbalistic rabbinic concepts.
From the viewpoint of Jewish tradition, the Bible was delivered from God to the Jewish prophets and was intended as a book of ethics and law, not as a scientific treatise. The Bible is teaching that the Universe has a purpose, and Man has role and purpose within the Universe. However, science cannot provide any ethics or meaning or purpose to the Universe. The Bible picks up where science leaves off.
The "work of creation" was described obscurely in the first few chapters in Genesis. Those chapters were not read literally by the ancient rabbis. The "work of creation" was considered a great secret. In fact the rabbis prohibited the public teaching of the secrets of the "work of creation". Therefore, a literal reading of the Bible will not reveal the secrets of the "work of creation". The medieval rabbis did teach that space and time were created from nothing in the finite past, and the Universe is not eternal. But the creation ex-nihilo process cannot be understood by man.