Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Divine Attributes (middot)


In my essay “The Anthropic Principle: Consciousness Creates the Cosmos,” I pondered the possibility that it is human consciousness that creates the cosmos. In this piece, I suggest that human consciousness is a manifestation or emanation of divine consciousness. As such, we humans are responsible for manifesting the divine ethical attributes of love, mercy, graciousness and forgiveness, not as imitations of God’s attributes, but as the immediate manifestations of these divine attributes.

Full text:

In my essay “The Anthropic Principle: Consciousness Creates the Cosmos,” I pondered the possibility that it is human consciousness that creates the cosmos. The cosmos is what it is—operates the way it operates—simply as a result of our consciousness of it and our perception of the way it operates. The cosmos evolves as our perception and understanding of it evolves.

I’m not yet fully convinced of this argument; the implication is that there is no reality beyond human consciousness, and I fear the ontological abyss that such a thought implies. On the other hand, I am more comfortable with the notion that human consciousness is a piece of, or a manifestation of the divine consciousness. While I’m no expert, I am attracted to the Hindu notion that atman, the human life force, is one with brahman, the universal life force.

While I noted in “The Anthropic Principle” the emerging confluence of science and theology, in the realm of cosmology, science generally understands the origins and evolution of the cosmos in terms of immutable, impersonal, unconscious mechanical laws. Religion, on the other hand, “ensouls” the cosmos, anthropomorphizes the cosmos by ascribing human consciousness to it in the form of divinity. In the field of ethics, we generally look to this divine consciousness as the source for determining proper human behavior.

The Jewish tradition points to a passage in the Hebrew Bible in which God’s 13 middot, “attributes,” are enumerated (Exodus 34:6-7): mercy, love, graciousness, forgiveness, etc. The Rabbinic tradition picks this up in a midrashic (homiletic) commentary to the Book of Deuteronomy, which then makes its way into the daily prayer book of the Conservative Movement. In Deuteronomy 11:22, we are told to “walk in all of [God’] ways.” The midrash understands that we are to imitate God’s middot, the 13 attributes enumerated in Exodus 34. “This means that just as God is gracious and compassionate, you too must be gracious and compassionate” (Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 19).

I would like to suggest however, that while God’s consciousness is the source of cosmology—or, put in kabbalistic terms, the cosmos consists of divine emanations—God is not ethical. God does not manifest or emanate ethical attributes, at least not directly. Rather, it is we humans, divine emanations imbued with the divine consciousness, who are responsible for the immediate manifestion of the middot. In a sense, God has outsourced ethics to us. We can’t look to God for a cosmos manifesting mercy, love, graciousness and forgiveness; those become our responsibility. If we want to live in a merciful, loving, gracious and forgiving world, we must be merciful, loving, gracious and forgiving; otherwise, there is no mercy, love, graciousness, or forgiveness in the cosmos.


  1. Your hypotheses is hardly tenable, as our universe existed long before the human consciousness came to be.

  2. Ahhh... but it is only our consciousness of a 14 billion year old universe that makes it so!