“In the network of all networks, God created media systems for creating heaven and for creating earth. When the earth was absolutely empty and a dark void, God created light and separated between light and darkness.” (Genesis 1:1-4)
Above is my digital age translation of the first verses of Genesis from the original Hebrew. It is a translation that evolved from my teaching design of natural systems as a professor at Columbia University, creativity for the electronic age at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and Jewish thought and education at Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities in Israel.
I have explored creative ways of reading the Bible from digital age perspectives in my books: Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media, The Future of Art in Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, and in Hebrew Dialogic Art in a Digital Age: Judaism in Contemporary Art.
God’s First Creation is את Alef-Tav
Let’s start with the common English translation of the first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
In the Bible’s original Hebrew, a two-letter word spelled alef-tav, the first and last letters of the alphabet (like A-Z in English) that appears before “heaven” and again before “earth.” Alef-tav is pronounced as ET. Read the first words of the Bible as: “In the beginning God created ET the heaven and ET the earth.” Since English has no equivalent for the word ET that links a verb to a noun, it drops out in translations.
ET is God’s first creation before heaven. Spanning the full set of 22 Hebrew letters, ET that appears before “heaven” symbolizes a spiritual media system. The ancient Hebrew alphabet is a prototype of media systems for creating spiritual systems like the Bible itself.
The second ET before “earth” encompasses digital and material media systems. The digital media system is a binary system of 1-0, on-off, light-darkness. “God separated between the light and darkness.” (Genesis 1:4) All that we experience through computers and smartphones are written with an alphabet of just two letters, 1 and 0. Bits and bytes are basic elements of digital media systems. Every website, blog, video, song, and text that you access through your computer or smartphone is written with the binary system of the first day of Creation.
The basic elements of material media systems are subatomic particles like protons and electronics that form atoms. Atoms can form supersized molecules like DNA contain the code of all life forms written with two pairs of two letters, A-T, T-A and C-G, G-C, that represent nucleotides on the wrongs on a spiral ladder.
Rapidly evolving scientific and technological developments offer creative options for exploring the vibrant interface between spiritual, digital and material media systems.
Surfing the “The Cloud”
The first word of the Bible B’resheet is translated from Hebrew as “In the beginning.” The digital age invites us to explore the contemporary significance of reading it as B’reshet, “in the network.” The living network of networks of networks blanketing our planet is called “The Cloud.”
The Cloud is a digital age term that describes a vast number of computers interconnected through a real-time communication network such as the Internet. The Cloud embodies a peer-to-peer distributed architecture without the need for central coordination. Residents of The Cloud act as both suppliers and consumers of information. The Cloud appears to be cloudy because it is unpredictable which paths data packets will take when transmitted across a packet-switched network that links your smartphone, computer, and tablet to every other one in the world.
When you post your images on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, BlogSpot, or other sites in The Cloud, you distribute them worldwide, sharing them with all who enter into The Cloud. I am writing this article in Dropbox, situated somewhere in The Cloud unknown to me.
The Cloud is a thought-provoking metaphor for an invisible God everyplace that can be revealed to us anyplace that we invite Divine light to illuminate our retinal screen. One of the Hebrew names of God is Hamakom, “The Place,” the place where everything is happening. It is the One and only master network of all interlinking networks.
That you can see nothing at all looking at the motherboard or memory of your computer with the most powerful microscope is extended to every other digital device in The Cloud. However, the screen on your smartphone, computer, or tablet can reveal every photo, video and text on a growing global organism called The Cloud.
In his book Judaism: A Way of Being, distinguished Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter explores the paradox that God coexists as an abstract, indescribable, and invisible transcendence and an intimate presence close to us everyplace we are. He proposes a veil between God and man to reconcile two verses from the same chapter of the Bible: “No man can see Me and live” (Exodus 33:30) and “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his neighbor” (Exodus 33:11).
Perhaps the metaphor of a veil made of a misty cloud can resolve the passages from the traditional biblical commentary: “Let the soul praise God whose place nobody knows” and “In every place where you find a trace of human footprints, there am I before you.” God can be intimately close while not visible through the veiling cloud.
Educated as a scientist, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Lubavicher Rebbe, the 20th century’s great Jewish leader, recognized the spiritual power of The Cloud early on. Each of the thousands of husband-wife emissary teams who established Chabad Houses from Miami and Tasmania to Mumbai and Katmandu have created websites. The children of these emissaries learn together through digital technologies. A class in The Cloud is made of groups of children learning together in real time while they sit in a hundred different countries. The emissaries’ annual conferences can be viewed live via Internet simulcast with a running Twitter commentary.
The Rebbe teaches: “The Divine purpose of the present information revolution, which gives an individual unprecedented power and opportunity, is to allow us to share knowledge – spiritual knowledge – with each other, empowering and unifying individuals everywhere. We need to use today’s interactive technology not just for business or leisure but to interlink as people – to create a welcome environment for the interaction of our souls, our hearts, our visions.”