Chochmah – the Blueprint of Creation
by Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Wisdom, Chochmah in Hebrew, is the first of God’s manifestations and the means by which creation happens.
I am the deep grain of creation, the subtle current of life.
God fashioned me before all things; I am the blueprint of creation.
I was there from the beginning, from before there was a beginning.
I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.
I was before depth was conceived, before springs bubbled with water,
before the shaping of mountains and hills,
before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,
before the first dust settled on the land.
When God prepared the heavens, I was there.
When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep,
I was there.
When the stars and planets soared into their orbit,
when the deepest oceans found their level and the dry land established the shores,
I was there.
I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.
My nature is joy, and I gave God constant delight.
Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.
I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.
She is, to borrow from the Latin of Baruch Spinoza, both natura naturans, the creativity implicit in the very nature of reality, and natura naturata, the results of that creativity – creation itself. Or, to borrow from Chinese Taoism, she is tzu-jan, that which of itself is so. Chochmah is what is, and how what is is what is. Chochma “pervades and penetrates” all things (Wisdom of Solomon 7:24). As natura naturans, Wisdom is “intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, active, incisive, pure, lucid, invulnerable, gracious, keen, irresistible, loyal, trustworthy, all-powerful, all-pervading, and all-penetrating,” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-23 NRSV). As natura naturata, Wisdom is …
the structure of the world and
the activity of the elements;
the beginning and end and middle of times,
the alternations of the solstices and
the changes of the seasons,
the cycles of the year and
the constellations of the stars,
the natures of animals and
the tempers of wild animals,
the powers of spirits and
the thoughts of human beings,
the varieties of plants and
the virtues of roots; …
all that is manifest and all that is hidden.
(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 18–21)
Jewish Wisdom teachings are fundamentally humanistic. One is not asked to worship Wisdom or to follow the commandments of God found in the Hebrew Bible. The goal is simply right action:
Do not hold back from helping others;
share what you have without reservation.
Do not say to the needy:
Ask me again tomorrow,
when you can do something today.
Do not sow seeds of evil nor betray those who trust you.
Do not quarrel even with those
that do not have your best interests at heart.
Do not envy the violent nor imitate them,
for one who strays from the path of peace
turns away from all that is holy;
only the upright are intimate with God.
The houses of the wicked are condemned,
but the homes of the just are blessed.
Do not underestimate the power of association:
align yourself with scoffers and you will scoff;
practice humility and you will be appreciated.
The wise inherit honor, the legacy of the fool is disgrace.
Where do these obligations come from? Are they prefaced by, “Thus spoke the Lord God”? No. There is no need to reference God as the author of Wisdom. There is no sense that these teachings are good and right because God ordains them as such. On the contrary, they are good and right because any wise examination of life will reveal them to be good and right. There is no focus on observing mitzvot (divine commandments), or conforming to ritual norms. Wisdom is gleaned from life experience rather than ritual observance.
How do you become wise?
Search for Her and seek Her out, and She will reveal Herself to you. When you lay hold of Her do not let Her go. Take your rest with Her at last, and She will become ecstasy for you,.. (Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, 6:27-28 NRSV).
Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru. She is not hard to find, nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of her. Rather she “stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways” (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise. Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to her.
The way of Wisdom is study, observation, and clear perception. What you study, observe, and perceive is Wisdom as well, for she is both the Way to and the Way of. Wisdom “knows and understands all things,” (Wisdom of Solomon 9:10) because she is the creative energy through which all things arise. To know her is to know the Way of all things. But you cannot study Chochma in the abstract, for there is no abstract with her. You study Chochma by studying life and the myriad living beings that comprise life.
The ultimate gift of Wisdom is overcoming the existential sense of alienation Judaism posits as the core human dilemma. In the parable of the Garden of Eden God sees that humanity, having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (essentially the Tree of Duality), has become achad mimenu (Genesis 3:22), usually translated as “like one among us.” The Hebrew, however, literally means “unique from us,” or “one separate from us.” Becoming achad means that humanity can no longer see itself as a part of the divine whole. Instead, humanity imagines itself to be apart from rather than a part of both God and nature.
This is what Albert Einstein called “optical delusion”:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
God expels Adam from the Garden because God fears Adam would eat from the Tree of Life and would in this way be forever locked into this optical delusion.
Chochma is the cure for the disease of achad (alienation) and the optical delusion that supports it. Seeing through the illusory duality that is achad (imagined alienation from the whole), we awake to echad, the unity of all things in, with, and as the nondual Reality Judaism calls God, YHVH, the Happening is all happening. Embracing Wisdom is one way Judaism offers to achieve this goal.