I discovered in the first verses of the Torah the concealed codes for creating spiritual and virtual metaverses that had been hidden for 3,500 years. They were revealed by my creative reading of Genesis in Hebrew, the original language of the Torah.
Discovering the Spiritual Metaverse in Genesis
My first steps to accessing the spiritual metaverse occurred when I was sitting on the counter of my grandfather’s Hebrew bookstore on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn while he was teaching me to read Hebrew. I was five years old. Today, I live in Israel where I speak Hebrew with my grandchildren, friends, and neighbors, teach my university students in Hebrew, and am author of the book Dialogic Art in a Digital World written in Hebrew.
The common English translation of the first verse of the Torah is: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) It leaves out the hidden code word ET that is repeated twice in the Hebrew verse that reads as: “In the beginning God created ET the heaven and ET the earth.”
ET represents media systems for creating the heaven and the earth. In translations, ET drops out since it is a Hebrew grammatical form linking a verb to a noun that has no equivalent in English.
“ET the Heaven” gives rise to the spiritual metaverse. ET is spelled with the Hebrew letters aleph and tav, the first and last letters spanning the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. The ET that creates the heaven is a media system made up of these letters as an expression of multiple pathways linking ten divine attributes that create the foundation of a spiritual metaverse.
Entering the Virtual Metaverse at NYU
“ET the Earth” gives rise to both the virtual metaverse of bits and bytes, and the rest of the universe of atoms and molecules. The seeds for a virtual metaverse were planted with “God separating between light and darkness.” (Genesis 1:4) Light and darkness describes on and off, 1 and 0, the binary system that creates a virtual metaverse, from the Internet, NFTs, artificial intelligence, to Web4.
My entry into the virtual world occurred when I was a doctoral student at New York University in the 1960s. I became excited about the artistic possibilities of digital technologies when the first computer plotter arrived at NYU. As a scientist in the process of metamorphosis into an artist, I was not unfamiliar with the world of computers.
I developed a way for children to create a simple computer for learning the binary system that I described in my 1964 paper “The Binary System and Computers” published in the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children, now with my other papers in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. I worked as science supervisor for Long Island schools and test center coordinator for the American Association for the Advancement for Science (AAAS) curriculum project “Science: A Process Approach.”
I recognized the importance of humanizing digital technologies at a time when science fiction writers and TV producers were frightening people into believing that computers would take over the world and enslave them. When I asked Prof. Morris Shamos, sponsor of my doctoral thesis and president of the American Academy of Sciences, “Is there a better way to put a human face on computers than to have them make art?” he arranged for me to have free reign at the computer center.
I programmed instructions for the computer to plot geometric pictures on rolls of paper. My cold, calculated computer-generated drawings in black on white seemed to invite a warm, sensuous, colorful, high touch response. The ancient technique of encaustic painting with colorful molten waxes appeared to me to be a most appropriate high touch partner for high tech digital drawings. My digital computer generated painting “Noise Control” was the cover of the April 1966 issue of International Science and Technology. This was the beginning of more than half a century of my exploring digital art described at Grandfather of NFTs and at Wikipedia.
The first word of the Bible b’resheet is translated into English as “In the beginning.” An alternative reading of b’resheet using the word b’reshet can be translated as “in the network.” The translation of the first verse in the Bible can then be read as: “In the network of all networks God created media systems for the creation of spiritual and virtual metaverses and then the rest of the universe.”
The virtual metaverse is defined by the Pew Research Center as the realm of computer-generated, networked extended reality, or XR, an acronym that embraces all aspects of augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality (AR, MR and VR). It is the definition used by the Research Center when it asked more than 600 technology experts to share their insights on the Metaverse in 2040.
The Most Important Story in the World
After creating the spiritual metaverse and the virtual metaverse as reveled in the beginning of the biblical book of Genesis, the rest of the universe was created in five phases. For all life to exist on Planet Earth, the creations of the third and fourth days take center stage: “The earth should send forth vegetation” (Genesis 1:11) and “There should be lights in the heavenly sky.” (Genesis 1:14)
Plants draw water up through their roots, take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and with energy from sunlight transform them into sugar and oxygen. 6CO2 + 6H2O + sunlight ——> C6H12O6 + 6O2 is the chemical formula that describes this process of photosynthesis. These few symbols tell the most important story in the world. There would be no life on our planet without it!
The image above is my painting of the cellular structure a pine leaf cross-section enlarged 600x from the photograph I made through a microscope.at the New York Botanical Gardens and was exhibited at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.
The fifth and six days of the creation narrative describes the creation of all living creatures from those in the sea, those flying over the land, to animals on land. The process of God’s creation culminates with creating human beings. “God created the human in His Image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27).
On the sixth day, heaven and earth and all their components, from the spiritual and virtual metaverses to the entire universe from subatomic particles to the largest galaxies were completed. A research presentation “Universal Mass Function and its Application to Organic Molecules” at the 2023 “Crossroads of Chemistry” meeting of the American Chemical Society links organic chemistry to astrophysics that explores small planetary objects to the largest galaxy clusters. (Disclosure: the scientist making this presentation is Dr. Carmit Alexenberg, married to my son and mother of five of my grandchildren.)
Human Creativity Shapes Spiritual and Virtual Metaverses
“God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for it was on this day that God rested on from all the work that He had created to do,” (Genesis 2:3) It makes sense that a period should go after the word “created” that finishes the thought; “to do” seems out of place. To do what after God’s creation was finished? It is an invitation to humanity to become God’s partner in the continuing creation. We are created in the image of God to be God-like by renewing the creation in all that we do from the spiritual metaverse to the virtual metaverse to the rest of the universe.
“If a man wishes to attain the rank of holiness, he must become a creator of worlds. If a man never creates, never brings into being anything new, anything original, then he cannot be holy unto his God.” The creative process as the core of a spiritual metaverse can be derived from these words of Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) who was head of the rabbinical college at Yeshiva University in New York where he ordained close to 2,000 rabbis over the course of almost half a century. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on metaphysics and epistemology.
The biblical model of human creativity is the building of the Tabernacle. The artists creating the Tabernacle covered it with two large tapestries each having fifty loops parallel to each other linked together with gold fasteners (Exodus 26:5 and Exodus 36:12). One tapestry symbolizing divine creation is linked to the second one that symbolizes human creativity. Since these two creative processes are parallel, we can discover spiritual secrets of God’s creation of the universe through gaining insight into our own creative process. The Hebrew word for parallel in these two verses from Exodus is maKBiL. It shares the same KBL root as the word KaBbaLah, the down-to-earth spiritual system of Judaism that explores the parallels between human and divine creativity.
Human creativity shapes both spiritual and virtual metaverses as it has in the pre-web3 thoughts of creative thinkers in poetic and scientific realms. Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), a poet and down-to-earth mystic who served as chief rabbi of the Land of Israel during the first part of the 20th century, teaches:
“Whoever is endowed with the soul of a creator must create works of imagination and thought, for the flame of the soul rises by itself and one cannot impede it on its course. […] The creative individual brings vital, new light from the higher source where originality emanates to the place where it has not previously been manifest, from the place that ‘no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen.” (Job 28:7), “that no man has passed nor has any person dwelt.’” (Jeremiah 2:6).
Albert Einstein (1879-1986) echoes the words of Rabbi Kook with whom he would exchange ideas during their walks together when Einstein visited Israel. In his book The World as I See It, Einstein poetically describes the essence of biblical consciousness in the soul of a creative individual from the spiritual viewpoint of a scientist:
“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer feel amazement is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. But the Jewish tradition also contains something else, something which finds splendid expression in many of the Psalms – namely, a sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world, of which man can just form a faint notion. It is the feeling from which true scientific research draws its spiritual sustenance, but which also seems to find expression in the song of birds.”
The Garden of Eden is In Your Kitchen
“Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created, on the day God completed earth and heaven.” (Genesis 2:4) This verse ends one narrative and begins a second one. In the first, the exalted human is created in the image of God and in the following narrative the lowly human is formed from the humus of the earth. “And God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and He placed there the human He had formed.” (Genesis 2:8)
To enter the authentic Garden of Eden necessitates moving out of both spiritual and virtual metaverses into another part of the universe that we experience in our everyday world. The biblical narrative finds the patriarch Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. Looking up, he saw three men (angels in disguise) standing near him. “Abraham rushed to the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Hurry! Take three measures of the finest flour! Kneed it and make rolls!’ Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf.” (Genesis 18:6, 7)
Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave that he discovered was the burial place of Adam and Eve. At the far end of the cave, he saw intense light emanating from an opening. When he came close to the opening, he found himself standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. About to enter the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent. What should he do? Should he trade paradise for a barbeque?
The Torah tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making a meal for their three guests. Abraham realized that paradise is what we create with our spouse at home. Other visions of paradise are either mirages or lies. “Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the days of your life.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
My wife Miriam and I created our Bible Blog Your Life project documenting our life together as a reflection of the weekly Bible portion. It is presented as an invitation to all people to enrich their lives by documenting them. I wrote a how to do it book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media.
Art is a Computer Angel Inspired by Rembrandt
I discovered that art is a computer angel listening to the Hebrew words of the weekly Torah portion while translating them into English in my mind. They described how the master artist Bezalel collaborated with artistically talented Israelites in creating the Tabernacle that traveled with them on their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Land of Israel.
The Hebrew term for “visual art” in the Torah is MeLekHet MakHSheVeT, a feminine term meaning “thoughtful craft.” I transformed it into its masculine form MaLakH MakHSheV, literally “computer angel.” I rushed to tell my wife Miriam that I had discovered that my role as a male artist is to create computer angels. “You need to create what?” she responded incredulously.
I was well equipped to create computer angels since I was research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies and head of the art department at Pratt Institute where I taught the first course on creating art with computers. A few weeks earlier, my son Ron had sent me an article of an interview with Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who explained that the light in Rembrandt’s paintings was the hidden light of the first day of Creation.
Sitting with Miriam at a large mahogany table in the print room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we were handed original Rembrandt drawings and etchings and selected angel images to digitize. They illustrated the biblical verse: “A ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached up toward heaven, and angels were going up and down on it” (Genesis 28:12).
I launched a cyberangel on a circumglobal flight to honor Rembrandt on the 320th anniversary of his death on October 4, 1989. This AT&T sponsored art event used its telecommunication technologies to fly my cyberangel from New York to the Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, University of the Arts in Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, returning to New York five hours later.
The image above shows me dressed as Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel in Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam sending the cyberangel to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
When it passed through Tokyo, it was already the morning of October 5th. When it arrived in Los Angeles, it was still October 4th. Cyberangels can not only fly around the globe, they can fly into tomorrow and back into yesterday. Millions throughout North America watched the cyberangel return from its circumglobal flight over the major TV networks’ broadcasts from New York. It was featured in sixty newspapers and the AT&T annual report. This event and my continuing cyberangel flights are documented at Global Tribute to Rembrandt.
Cyberangels in my experimental fine art prints in the collections of thirty museums worldwide for more than three decades are coming alive today taking digital flights that cross the boundaries between spiritual and virtual worlds. Angels in spiritual realms can be viewed as packets of information about thoughts, emotions, or actions that can be transformed into cyberangels in virtual realms created by artificial intelligence and activated from their dwelling places in NFTs.
Metaverses Born in Ancient Israel and India
I have written here about spiritual and virtual metaverses from my viewpoint as a Jewish American- Israeli, an experimental artist, and author of the books The Future of Art in a Postdigital World: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and in Hebrew Dialogic Art in a Digital World.
The most influential Jewish leader of the twentieth century The Lubavicher Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson (1902-1994) created a network of over 5,000 educational centers in more than more than 100 countries that bring an ancient spirituality into the 21st century. He teaches:
“The sweeping technological changes we are experiencing today were predicted some two thousand years ago in the Zohar, the classic text of kabbalah. The Zohar describes how the outburst in scientific knowledge and technological advancement would be paralleled by an increase in sublime wisdom and spirituality. Integrating the wisdom of the mind and the wisdom of the soul can begin to usher true unity into the world.”
When I read Rohit Adlakha’s insightful article Metaverse and its Parallel for Spirituality from the viewpoint of a Hindu Indian, I was so happy to have had found a kindred spirit. I realized that spiritual experiences derived from ancient traditions can create spiritual metaverses to enrich parallel virtual metaverses. Rohit identifies himself as an AI and digital revolutionary whose spiritual heritage enriches his hi-tech expertise. Here are some of his insightful thoughts:
“Spirituality and Metaverse are like the Old soul in a new spirit! Ancient roots from the beginning of time defining the future as humankind takes a leap into the unknown, from the physical world to a virtual realm!”
“Spirituality, much like the metaverse today, is a broad concept with many different interpretations. Largely, spirituality is about our sense of connection with others or something much bigger than ourselves. It attempts to draw on universal human experiences to make sense of our world and our role in it. It is also often occupied with a search for meaning in life, a sense of higher purpose that one is working towards.”
“There are many lessons from ancient scriptures that are relevant to modern times. Bhagavad Gita is a prime example of one such scripture that consolidates many timeless and profound teachings about human nature and instructions on how to traverse life’s many trials and tribulations. It guides one to focus on the spiritual growth of their mind without falling prey to temporary allurements and ailments of the material world.”
Above is my daughter Iyrit visiting India from her home in Ashdod, Israel, where her husband Dr. Yehiel Lasry is the mayor.
I feel a special relationship to India through two of my influential teachers:
Prof. Prabha Sahastrabudhe was the chairman of my doctoral thesis research at New York University. I created a unitary model of creative process in art and science based upon analysis of my interviews of prominent artists and scientists. It was published as my book Aesthetic Experience in Creative Process. Earning a Fulbright Scholarship brought Prabha from India to New York where he earned his Ph.D. in art education at NYU. In 1961, he returned to India at the prompting of Indira Gandhi to be Director of a National Children’s Museum in New Delhi for four years after which he came back to NYU where he was my teacher.
Rabbi Yisrael Avi’hai is the head of the Beit El Kabbalist Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City with whom I studied kabbalah, the spiritual structure of Judaism. The Khariker family from Domri Village in the State of Maharashtra moved to Israel in 1955 where Yisrael was born. Yisrael and my son Ron became close friends as teenagers in a B’nai Akiva youth group and later studied at Merkaz Harav rabbinical college in Jerusalem. Both Yisrael and Ron became rabbis. Rabbi Avi’hai became head of the most renowned college of kabbalah and Ron became a molecular biologist who teaches interrelationships between science and Judaism.
The Hebrew name for India is “Hodu” meaning “gratitude.”
Prevent Metaverse Addiction: Pull the Plug
Rapidly evolving virtual Metaverse culture, like the smartphone culture before it, present a paradox that they are both freeing and enslaving. Smartphones offer links to the whole world on a 2D screen in the palm of your hand while the Metaverse absorbs you into a persistent and interconnected network of 3D virtual worlds that you sense that you inhabit with your whole self.
The overwhelming nature of the virtual Metaverse is defined by Matthew Ball in his encyclopedic book The Metaverse And How It Will Revolutionize Everything: “A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of prescience, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”
Living in the Metaverse can pull you into an overwhelming virtual world far more powerful that the world experienced through iPhones. The fear and anxiety of being cut off from the world experienced with a smartphone will probably be magnified by overwhelming virtual Metaverse experiences.
Scientific papers in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, and other journals of psychology and public health claim that smartphones are possibly the biggest non-drug addiction of the 21st century. I created a blog to address this addiction Bible Cure for Smartphone Addiction. What will transpire in a ubiquitous virtual Metaverse?
The biblical roots of the spiritual Metaverse offers a solution tested for millennia that can be realized in the postdigital age by turning off, tuning out, and unplugging once a week. This concept of a Sabbath day that was unprecedented in the ancient world with the exception of the Israelite slaves in Egypt who gained their freedom from bondage. Adopt the biblical formula for a day of rest to free you from the being enslaved by the ubiquitous digital technologies that too often rule all our waking hours.
The fourth of the Ten Commandments enjoins us to remember what it was to be a slave who never had a break from the repetitive sameness of everyday life (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Make every seventh day different from the other six days of the week. Make it an Ecology Day by leaving the world the way we got it. Make it a Non-art Day when we honor God’s creations rather than ours.
Observance of the Sabbath is in tune with Wikipedia’s definition of postdigital as “an attitude that is more concerned with being human, than with being digital.” Just tune into God’s creations, enjoy family and friends, walk in the forest and fields, watch the sunrise and sunset, and play with your children.