It is well known that the Torah uses different names to refer to God at different points in the narrative so as to convey different aspects of God’s manifestation and interaction with the world. Each name is specifically chosen in each context, and each has its own unique meaning. This is all quite a topic unto itself — especially given modern Biblical scholarship — and we shall thusly save it for another time. Nonetheless, herein we shall focus on one of the Divine names in particular and discover something truly astonishing.
In last week’s parsha, Shemos, we are introduced to the Divine name of YHVH in the form of God stating to Moshe “אֶֽהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶֽהְיֶה”1, which very loosely translates to something along the lines of “I am that I am”. This Divine name, also known as the Tetragrammaton, represents the infinite God, outside of space and time. In the opening few verses of this week’s parsha, Va’eira, God informs Moshe that the Avos were not privy to experiencing this particular name/manifestation of God. They never experienced the God that “exists” outside of space and time, the God that could make a promise in one generation and fulfill it hundreds of years later. The Avos certainly heard the promise, but they were never truly able to experience the God that controls all of time as they never lived to see that promise fulfilled. Instead, God informs Moshe, the Avos only ever knew Him in the form of “Shaddai”2; and with that God introduces for the first time the Divine name of “Shaddai.”
What Does It Mean?
The question that now faces us, of course, is what does the name “Shaddai” mean and represent? God explained, somewhat, what the Tetragrammaton meant when He stated “אֶֽהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶֽהְיֶה”, implying a level of infinitude. When it comes to the name of “Shaddai”, however, we are not given anything explicitly in the text of the Torah.
Luckily, we are not on our own. As always, one would best look to Chazal first when it comes to explaining odd words in Tanach. Indeed, Chazal have what to say about the Divine name of “Shaddai”. Chazal viewed this name of God as an acronym of sorts for the words “שאמרתי לעולם די”, or “that God said to the world, ‘enough’”3. While this is certainly a viable first step, we are now faced with the challenge of interpreting and understand what Chazal meant by this statement.
From the simple reading of the Gemara it would seem as if the gist of the statement was that God, at certain points during the creation of the universe, halted the continued evolution of the world so as to hold it back from its full, chaotic potential. In other words, had God not been there to reign the world in, so to speak, things would have gotten out of hand.
Back To The Very Beginning
With the advances in modern science, this idea of Chazal has come into new, breathtaking light, as explained by Rabbi David Fohrman. In order to understand how and why, we must journey back to the very beginning of all time and space.
First, there was nothingness. In fact, there was not even nothingness, for nothingness is itself a thing. Then, a cataclysmic explosion, and something from nothing. Science is not yet able to say what happened before this “Big Bang”, and very well might not ever be able to, for the very concept of “before the ‘Big Bang’” is a contradiction in terms; there was no “before” as there was yet no time.
From the precise point of this massive explosion, subatomic particles raced out in all directions. After some time, these particles cooled from the heat of the explosion to a point at which their radiance was visible; and in that instant, light was brought into existence: “וַֽיְהִי־אוֹר”. Then, over time, gravity pulled these particles closer to one another until they formed Hydrogen atoms, and this continued until the little clouds were formed. At that point, friction kicked in and ignited these clouds via a thermonuclear reaction. We call these clouds stars.
Over billions of years these stars eventually collapsed into themselves creating tremendous explosions, or Supernovas. In these explosions all sorts of atoms needed to form planets were created: Carbon, Aluminum, and so forth. Gravity then pulled these atoms together to form planets; and from planets, solar systems; from solar systems, galaxies; and, eventually, planet Earth.
What is utterly perplexing about our current understanding of the creation of the universe is that all of this order came from a chaotic explosion. Generally when a bomb goes off the results are anything but orderly. On an infinitely bigger scale we would expect the disarray to be even more apparent. Yet, much to the contrary, from this tremendous explosion came not only order, but eventually life.
In the instances immediately following the Big Bang, what would have happened if those subatomic particles were traveling just a little bit faster or slower? If they were going any faster, gravity would not have been strong enough to act upon them and draw them back together; in short, no universe. On the other hand, if the particles were moving any slower, the gravitational force would have been too strong, and the particles would have collapsed into themselves; in short, once again, no universe4. Those subatomic particles, however, moved at precisely the right speed for the emergence of a universe.
Atheist or not, this state of affairs has troubled scientists for years. The fact of the matter is that the initial few moments of the emergence of the universe had to be so perfect, so calibrated, so seemingly “finely-tuned”, that even the slightest deviation would have resulted in no universe being formed at all.
Just how perfect did things really have to be, though? Surely, one would be impressed if he or she was to discover that if the initial subatomic particles were moving faster or slower by even 1% there would be no universe. This would mean, effectively, that there was a 1/100 chance for the universe to have been formed, and luck played out in our favor. Certainly, one would be even more impressed if the odds were 1/1,000 or 1/1,000,000. Cosmologists estimate, though, that even a change in either direction as slight as 1/10^54 would not have resulted in a universe being formed. If the initial subatomic particles moved faster or slower by even 1/10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000% no universe would have formed. Ponder that for a moment; that is a 10 followed by 54 zeros. As Rabbi Forhman points out, to give some sense of scale, it is estimated that all the leaves, on all the trees, in all the forests of North America would total about 10^24. 10 times all those leaves would give you 10^25. We also now think that all the atoms in the observable universe total about 10^81. Thus, somewhere between one part in all the leaves in North America, and all the atoms in the universe, would be the level of change needed for our universe not to have come into existence. A 1 in 1/10^54 shot was the chance in those few initial moments of space and time for our universe to exist.
There are a number of other factors as well, though. Cosmologists also speak about the “Smoothness Problem”; if the subatomic particles were just a bit too close together, or just a bit too spread out, no universe would have been formed — with a margin of error of just 1/10^10,123. Believe your eyes — that is a 10 followed by 10,123 zeros. Even that is not all, however. The strength of the four major forces of the universe had to be perfect, too. If there was just a bit too much electromagnetism, or if gravity was a bit too weak, no universe would have formed, and so on.
There are over a dozen other problems like this that continue to trouble cosmologists.
Back To God
Without question, the existence of our universe was extremely improbable. The messy initial explosion thusly needed quite a bit of reigning in, organization, and order. It most certainly required an instruction of “enough”.
Was this exactly what Chazal had in mind when they said that the Divine name “Shaddai” means “that God said to the world, ‘enough’”? It’s hard to argue that. Nonetheless, I think that this is a beautiful example of the eternal words of our great Sages — a way in which, as time goes on, we are able to see new beauty and new depth to the same eternal truths, as well as new beauty and depths to our incredible universe — a universe that seemingly should not have been had there not been something to say to it, in its stages of infancy, “enough”.