Harry: What’s green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?
Stanley: I don’t know. What’s green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?
Harry: A herring.
Stanley: But … a herring isn’t green!
Harry: Nu, so you could paint it green.
Stanley: But a herring doesn’t hang on the wall!
Harry: Nu, so you could hang it on the wall.
Stanley: But a herring doesn’t whistle!
Harry: Ok, so it doesn’t whistle.
God, the Creator of the universe, is limitless, formless, all-knowing and all-present. Although God has no specific gender, we refer to God as “He,” because that is how the neutral gender is rendered in Hebrew, the language of the Torah. To reinforce God’s genderlessness, there is a feminine aspect of God called Shechinah, which comes from the root word “to dwell” and denotes God’s transcendent presence as it dwells in the physical world.
God is, was and always will be. He is known as the Ein Sof – “Never-Ending One” – and is also called, “The Primary Being” of the world according to Kabbalah, the body of Jewish mystical thought. In fact, “God is all there is.”
According to the famous Kabbalist, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the “Tzemach Tzedek”) (b. 1789-d. 1866), God’s existence alone has no beginning. All other existence, in contrast, is comprised of new creations that did not exist before they were brought into being by Him. God is not time-bound; He alone existed, before time was created.
When He created the world, He also created time. To say that God has “always” existed would limit the expression of God, because “always” is an aspect of time. God exists independent of time, above the entire framework of chronology. “Time” is relevant only to created beings.
I told you all that hoping you would ask what our herring joke has to do with God, or even if it is a joke.
Whether you think it’s a joke or not, if you delve into the words a little deeper, you will discover a parallel with how God created the world, according to Kabbalah.
God looked to see what He wanted to create, and then He created the thing He desired from nothing, from no previous existence.
Just as Harry, the joke-teller above, could set up his punch line any way he wanted – while Stanley tried to poke holes in the logic of it – so too, God is not limited by a linear or logical way of thinking.
We may not understand God’s ways, but that doesn’t invalidate them. All it means is that we are limited in our ability to grasp. But in His great mercy and love for us, God patiently allows for and invites our questions.
Benjy was asked by his mother what he had learned in Hebrew School.
“Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
“When he got to the Red Sea he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge, and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent F-16s to blow up the bridge and save the Israelites.”
“Now, Benjy, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his mother questioned.
“Well, no, Mom, “said Benjy, “but if I told you what she really said, you’d never believe it.”
Can God fit an elephant through the eye of a needle? This is a famous riddle posed by the Talmud. The answer is yes! But how? Would He make the elephant smaller? Would He make the eye of the needle bigger?
He would do neither. The elephant would remain unchanged, as would the eye of the needle. And under that exact set of circumstances, God would fit the elephant through the eye of the needle. If you say this makes no sense, you are right, but having created that set of rules called “logic,” the Master of the Universe is certainly entitled to ignore them.