Understanding Tohu vaVohu: physics implications of grammar in Bereishis

A close reading of the subtle change between the words used for the difference between light and darkness vs the difference between water and water, similar to the difference between cohesion and adhesion,may provide some insight into how to understand Tohu vaVohu, according to the rules of physics.

In short, the “canopy” separating between the upper and lower waters was put in place before the instruction to the lower waters to congeal.Taking into account a few extraneous physics facts this leads to anadditional understanding of what might be the state of the upper waters, and more so the Tohu vaVohu state at the start of Creation.For background, we shall digress into 5 extraneous physics facts, then 2 passuk examples of subtle wording changes for naming something which is a new creation, vs naming something which was pre-existing, and then returnto this Torah theme tied to passukim citations.

1) minute gas impurity detection
2) water solution or suspension
3) gravity, magnetism, and molecular bonds
4) density within an infinite space
5) nuclear physics strong force holding protons together

Torah naming
6) call to light day
7) call dark night

Torah differentiation
8) bein “or” uvein “choshech”
9) bein mayim lamayim

Torah congealing
10) gathering waters



1) minute gas impurity detection

Matter has 3 states; solid, liquid, and gas. In general a gas expands to fill its surroundings, and depending on how much gaseous matter, there is a vapor pressure to the gas. If one gas is mixed with another gas, for example a maloderous gas such as a leak detector in a flamable propane gas becoming mixed with the breathable air inside a house, even a minute amount, can nearly immediately be detected by smell, or in other cases, by fine instrument, usually
specified by measuring parts per billion.We see a similar behavior in liquids when mixing a coloring into a pool of clear water as it disspitates, but this is a slower process, and the water itself does not expand out to fill the space of its container.

2) water solution or suspension

In chemistry we learn the difference between a solution and a suspension.Sand can be suspended in water, which is not too different from water held within sand. When slowly adding sand to water one can make a super-saturated suspension such that a minor tap onto the container will cause all the sand to suddenly drop to the bottom.

Salt in water however is a solution, and a different type of process is needed to separate them. Or perhaps salt is not always a solution, but there exist solutions. The chemistry specifics are not critical.

Salt and water can be separated by boiling out the water, collecting the steam to condense back to pure water, and leaving behind the salt and any other impurities from within the water.

3) gravity, magnetism, and molecular bonds

We have a gravitational pull toward the center of the earth which gives weight to our mass. The moon orbits the earth, and the earth orbits the sun, in accordance with the laws of gravity, where the force decreases according to increase in distance.

Magnets attract (or oppose) each other also according to a law by a force which decreases (more quickly) to increase in distance.

Within molecules, we have atomic bonds, and between molecules we have molecular bonds.

We also have bonds due to adhesion (different substances, like water vapor on a mirror) and cohesion (water forming droplets).

4) density within an infinite space

A gas will expand to fill its container. The atmosphere around theearth however is contained by gravity to the earth such that due togravity, outer space is perceived to be an infinite vacuum with pockets of solid material that are the stars and planets, and atleast in the case of the earth, a bounded gaseous atmosphere.

Whether the sun or any other star is gaseous or solid at its core is not critical, but gravity can keep a gas contained even within an infinite space.

5) nuclear physics strong force holding protons together

Protons with their natural repulsion are held very close together within the nucleus of an atom. The force holding them together is called the Strong Force. This Strong Force also holds together neutrons, and other subatomic particles.

The Strong Force is also related to the famous E=MC^2 formula based upon a Uranium atom being bombarded by neutrons, and giving up some protons which are broken free of its Strong Force bond. The result ends up being less mass. And the loss of mass from losing some of this Strong Force is related to the conversion between mass and energy.


Torah naming

6) call light day

Passuk Bereishis 1:5 – ויקרא אלקים לאור יום

Hashem called to the light: “Day” Light was a new creation, and was discernable from what pre-existed, and thus it was called to, and not just called.

The key difference here is that the verb of calling precedes the object of the calling.

7) call dark night

Passuk Bereishis 1:2 – וחשך על פני תיום

and darkness over the surface… Darkness pre-existed the new creation of light.

Passuk Bereishis 1:5 – ולחשך קרא לילה

and to the darkness He called: “Night” The key difference here is that the verb of calling comes after the object of the calling.

Rabbi Chaim Goldberger has explained this particular point more effectively. Our purpose here is to bring up the subtle wording change and expound that it has significance.

Torah differentiation


8) bein “or” uvein “choshech”

Passuk Bereishis 1:4 – bein ho’or uvein hachoshech – between the light and the darkness

9) bein mayim lamayim

Passuk Bereishis 1:6 – יהי רקיע

let there be a firmament

Passuk Bereishis 1:6 – בין מים למים

between water and water

As noted above, there is a difference between adhesion (different things sticking together) and cohesion (things of the same type sticking together), which, at some level could apply to separating light from darkness vs separating water from itself.

At this point lets look at the 2 “bein” words when describing the differentiation between different items, vs the 1 “bein” when one item (water) is separated from itself.

Since light and dark are different, the difference (between light and between darkness) already existed. However for the case of water, the separation did not already exist, and thus the firmament is a new creation which divides between two arbitrarily divided waters.

If we were to surgically cut out the light from the darkness, if wanted to include all the light, we might include a small margin of darkness within what we cut out. The margin itself would be part of the darkness. And from the perspective of the light, the margin would be a margin of darkness. And once removed from the region of darkness, the separated light, with the margin of darkness, would have the margin as a distinct entity of darkness within the separated region of light.

Passuk Bereishis 1:7 –

בין המים אשר מתחת לרקיע ובין המים אשר מעל לרקיע

between the waters beneath the firmament and [between] the waters above the firmament.

Passuk 7 describes a separation between the upper and lower waters.

For our purposes let us consider the rakiya a container for the lower waters, and consider the upper waters to be not constrained to any container, just kept out of the container of the lower waters.

If we fill a clear balloon with clear water and drop it into a pool of clear water we will similarly have contained water and water outside the container. And the same thing works with air within the earth’s atmosphere.

If instead of a balloon we were to somehow freeze water into a shell spherical hollow of ice, such that the balloon were formed from the same water which it was creating a separation within, this might be more accurate an analogy.

“Rakiya” is also translated as canopy, or sky, or heaven, or later on, canopy of heaven.

From our perspective, within the lower waters, the canopy itself is all we can see of the upper waters, so this helps us to be comfortable calling the canopy itself heaven, and also refering to “shamayim” as heaven.

Torah congealing

10) gathering waters

Passuk Bereishis 1:9 –

ויאמר אלקים יקוו המים מתחת השמים אל מקום אחד ותראה היבשה

G-d said “Let the waters be gathered beneath the heavens into one area, and let the dry land appear.”

We have two very significant points here.

Firstly, this command for the waters to congeal was given only to the lower waters.

Secondly, once there was a congealing, the sand type substance suspended within the lower waters congealed, and just like a super-saturated suspension could well have just dropped down, now that there were forces of congealing, including gravity.

Exactly what would happen if a super-saturated suspension of sand within water in an environment without gravity were tapped, is left to the imagination. Without gravity, its hard to discern any difference between a mixture of marbles and a suspension of marbles in a jar of water.

Similarly difference between a solution and a suspension may only be significant where there is energy to the chemical bonds of a solution, and no energy to the mixture of a a suspension.

Thus the separation between opposite poles of a magnet, or positive and negative charged particles, is a form of energy, as is the keeping together of positively charged subatomic particles into the nucleus of an atom.

And the congealing here in this passuk is the application of energy to matter.

Main discussion


We’re going to gain insight into this phrase:

tohu vavohu

Passuk Bereishis 1:2 – תהו ובהו

bewilderment and void

Some translate it unformed and empty. Unformed can mean without form.

This term cannot really be understood by us; We live in a 3 dimensional physical universe, and tohu vavohu is what preceded the creation of our universe, and does not exist within our universe.

Along the spectrum of solid – liquid – gas, suppose there is something less formed than gas, and perhaps something even more congealed than a solid. If a black hole is the latter, something so dense that its gravitational pull is so strong that light energy cannot escape, perhaps tohu vavohu substance is less congealed than gas, and truly fills the unconstrained infinite expanse of heaven.

It has been said that Hashem is infinitely infinite.

Mathematically we have different orders of infinity.

Our 3-dimensional physical universe could well be infinite in 3 dimensions, yet contained within an infinite space of more than 3 dimensions which is thus more infinite.

The upper waters which are shamayim or heaven could well be within the same pre-creation state of tohu vavohu which was never given any congealing force.
The subatomic particles which we have found within our universe could well be the same particles which make up the upper waters of shamayim.
And the strong force which binds subatomic particles together to form the nucleus of an atom, or atoms themselves, could well be the congealing force which Hashem created in verse 9.

Since this congealing force was only created after the upper and lower waters were divided, and the lower waters contained within the firmament (canopy of heaven), the congealing force only makes sense within our physical universe of 3 dimensions.

And our tohu vavohu term can thus refer to the state of matter which is subatomic particles that are not bound to each other by any congealing force, and thus can readily expand out to fill its infinite space that is more infinite than our infinite 3 dimensional universe, yet with no forces of congealing.

For example, water has a chemical makeup of H2O, which means that a water molecule is formed from 2 hydrogen atoms bonded together with 1 oxygen atom. If we lose the molecular bonding between the H and the O we have simply a mixture of hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. In our universe, such a mixture would naturaly join, and the the joining would release a lot of energy, which we would perceive to be an explosion, or the very fast burning (oxygenating) of the hydrogen.

Hydrogen is the simplest of all elements, just one proton and one electron. Yet without subatomic bonding forces, even it would not exist. In the tohu vavohu universe subatomic particles exist not even formed as atoms of the elements of our universe.

Furthermore, in the tohu vavohu universe just like its not limited to our 3 dimensions, it is not limited to having time, and thus it takes no time for any information to travel from one end of the expanse of heaven to the other. No constraint by the speed of light to such communication of information or passing of energy.

Perhaps there is even no energy at all in the universe of the upper waters – shamayim.
And thus the energy in our bounded and time-limited universe could well come from the matter of our universe before the water-water division and the initiation of congealing. Some of our waters’ subatomic particles remains mass, and some became energy.

Our areas of universe with less mass we perceive as outer space, which is a vacuum, and our areas of universe with dense mass we perceive as stars, planets, moons, etc, some with gaseous atmosphere.

If through the rules of atomic energy and nuclear physics we find that there is a process for conversion between energy and matter, perhaps there is an even freer conversion between energy and matter in shamayim.

And thus it is possible for spiritual beings, such as angels, to exist in shamayim with individual identities of sorts yet with a unified method of instaneous communication with each other through the rules (or lack thereof) of physics in their universe.

And to make our timed universe from within their timeless universe involved creating the rule for congealing matter, and a canopy to keep them out, at this time.