7. Primal Existence
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7. Primal Existence

7. Primal Existence

Understanding G-d's independence.

by

1:1:3
Section 1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 1: The Creator
Point 3

It is also necessary to know that G-d's existence is imperative. It is absolutely impossible that He should cease to exist.

The Ramchal's first line (1.1.1) was that G-d is a "first existence, primal and eternal." The Ramchal is now going to deepen our understanding of what "primal" is.

A primal existence is the backdrop by which everything else can come into existence. In fact, even to say a simple statement like "G-d exists" suggests a certain weakness. Things "exist" because someone or something led to their existence. You exist because your parents created you. A table exists because someone decided to make it. The moon exists because a large rock developed out of a cosmic explosion.1

When we say that something exists, what we really mean is that right now, it happens to be around. In that sense, saying that G-d "exists" sounds too casual, too weak.2 Calling G-d primal connotes a deeper unquestionable type of existence. Again, not as a leap of faith, but as a natural consequence of what infinite existence must be. Since infinite is not part of the cycle of cause and effect, i.e. it was never created, therefore nothing brought infinite into being. Nothing "else" outside of infinite is responsible for its existence. Since nothing can cause or have any effect on G-d's existence, G-d's existence is not contingent on anything – so G-d can't "not be."

In this sense, we're also defining G-d as something completely separate from the world that He created. G-d had complete existence before anything else, anything finite, was brought into existence. As Maimonides states:3 "One could postulate G-d existing without a world; one cannot postulate the world existing without G-d."

This definition, which is a natural logical extension of the idea of infinite, refutes any notion of pantheism – that G-d is the sum total of all of existence, or that G-d is nature, or that G-d is the spirit within mankind. There are many new-age philosophies that tend to use this type of terminology to describe G-d. Phrases like "G-d is love," "G-d is the collective unconscious of mankind," and "G-d is goodness," are popular ways of describing G-d, mainly because it makes the notion of G-d so much more graspable. But ultimately, any of these definitions violates the very essence of a primal infinite being.

So let's take a step back and see what we've accomplished so far. We now have a clear rational reason to believe in an infinite source to creation. We also know that, the more we try to grasp exactly what this "thing" is, the more we realize how unimaginable it is. The last few points of our discussion have been rather difficult, and we're not done yet! So let's get back in touch with our goal here:

The Ramchal wrote The Way of G-d to provide an understanding of all the fundamental issues of Torah and of human existence. His method is to build a structure – a precise, conceptually-integrated structure – that not only provides definitions and explanations, but does so in a very systematic way. The Ramchal names Section 1 of his book "The Fundamentals of Existence," and he dedicates all of chapter 1 to a discussion of G-d's infinite nature. The Ramchal must be telling us that a deep understanding of G-d as an infinite source to creation is the foundation of understanding all the ensuing details. One cannot truly understand the Torah's approach to human suffering, spirituality, afterlife, the purpose of creation, etc. without first understanding the source of it all and the animating force that underlies all of creation.

Let's now continue on to the Ramchal's next point:

1:1:4 (part 1)
Section1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 1: The Creator
Point 4

It is furthermore necessary to know that G-d's existence does not depend on anything else at all. His existence is intrinsically imperative.

This point sounds similar to the last one, but in fact, it's a dramatic paradigm shift in our understanding not only of G-d, but of our own finite existence.

Here, we are talking about G-d's independence. And again, we find ourselves faced with the difficulty of trying to imagine the unimaginable. Everything we've ever come across in our experience of life involves dependencies. Everything is part of an ongoing cycle of cause and effect. When we imagine the idea of G-d creating, we think of it much like the idea of an artist creating a painting.

But we know that there's something deeper going on. Why? In the Ramchal's opening line, he described G-d not only as the one who "brought all things into existence," like the painter, but also "continues to sustain them." When an artist makes his painting, once he's finished and stepped back, there's now a new thing in existence – the painting – which has its own independence. Whereas the painting needed the painter to come into existence, it no longer needs the painter to continue existing. In fact, one day the painter will die. At that point, what will happen to the painting (aside from being worth a lot more money!)? The painting won't start to fade away or disappear. It will just keep on existing. This sounds obvious, but let's explore the dynamics of what makes it so.

Believe it or not, before the painter arrived on the scene, the painting already existed – just not in its current form. It existed in the form of tubes of paint sitting in an art supply shop, and a canvas sitting in the painter's attic, and as an idea in the artist's mind. In fact, the artist didn't create the painting at all! All he really did was take those raw materials and put them together on the canvas. To be technical about it, we would say that the artist didn't create the painting; instead, he formed it out of pre-existing materials. All forms of "creation" that we've ever experienced in life are of a very specific type, which we could label as "something from something."

Are there any examples in real life of creating something, literally out of nothing? Even the creation of a new life, a baby, is part of a larger biological process. The baby didn't come from nothing; the baby came from cells, which went through mitosis. And those cells came from an egg cell that became fertilized...

By contrast when we try to describe G-d creating, we run into a problem. Where are the raw materials that G-d uses to create? There are none! G-d is creating something out of nothing. We want to imagine the very first act of creation, at a point where there is no finite existence – no time, no space, no energy, no molecules, no laws of nature, nothing! So if the first thing that G-d created was light (or radiant energy, as scientists might prefer), how do we imagine that "light" coming into existence? There are no raw materials. There are no shops in the galaxies to go and buy some photons to start assembling them into rays of light. And if there are such shops, it's because G-d created those, too!

Questions to Think About

  • If we can't really know anything about what G-d/infinite is, then how can we really believe in it?
  • How can we know that G-d is independent of His creation?
  • What does it mean that all of creation is totally "dependent" on Him?

  1. This may explain why the first of the Ten Commandments, commanding us to believe in G-d, doesn’t say “Believe in the Lord your G-d.” It simply states “I am the Lord your G-d.” In other words, it’s not a commandment to believe; it is a statement of an undeniable fact.
  2. In fact, the Christian theologian Father Copleston, in his famous BBC radio debate with the preeminent atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, made this point in his opening argument by saying that he cannot prove that G-d "exists." G-d doesn't "exist"; G-d just "is"!
  3. Mishneh Torah (Yesodei HaTorah 1:3

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7. Primal Existence

Published: February 12, 2014


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