With the approach of Rosh Hashanah, often referred to as the “Birthday of the World”, I’d like to return to further delve into the study of cosmology and creation, in midrash.
Incidentally, as an aside, the source for the idea that the holiday we call Rosh Hashanah is the “birthday” of the World derives from this except from the Talmud, b. Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a. But note that there’s actually a difference of opinion on the matter!
תניא רבי אליעזר אומר בתשרי נברא העולם בתשרי נולדו אבות בתשרי מתו אבות בפסח נולד יצחק בראש השנה נפקדה שרה רחל וחנה בראש השנה יצא יוסף מבית האסורין
דף יא,א גמרא בר”ה בטלה עבודה מאבותינו במצרים בניסן נגאלו בתשרי עתידין ליגאל ר’ יהושע אומר בניסן נברא העולם בניסן נולדו אבות בניסן מתו אבות בפסח נולד יצחק בר”ה נפקדה שרה רחל וחנה בר”ה יצא יוסף מבית האסורין בר”ה בטלה עבודה מאבותינו במצרים בניסן נגאלו בניסן עתידין ליגאל
תניא ר”א אומר מנין שבתשרי נברא העולם שנאמר (בראשית א) ויאמר אלהים תדשא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע עץ פרי איזהו חדש שהארץ מוציאה דשאים ואילן מלא פירות הוי אומר זה תשרי
It has been taught: R. Eliezer says: In Tishri the world was created; in Tishri the Patriarchs were born; in Tishri the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year Joseph went forth from prison; on New Year the bondage of our ancestors in Egypt ceased; (11a) in Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan they will be redeemed in the time to come. R. Joshua says: In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; in Nisan the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year Joseph went forth from prison; on New Year the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nisan they will be redeemed in time to come.
It has been taught: ‘R. Eliezer says: Whence do we know that the world was created in Tishri? Because it says, And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree. Which is the month in which the earth puts forth grass and the trees are full of fruit? You must say that this is Tishri.
Now, here is a passage from Kohelet Rabbah, the Midrash on Ecclesiastes, that I would like to discuss:
קהלת רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג ד”ה א [יא] את
א [יא] את הכל עשה יפה בעתו, א”ר תנחומא בעונתו נברא העולם לא היה ראוי להבראות קודם לכן אלא לשעתו נברא שנא’ את הכל עשה יפה בעתו, א”ר אבהו מכאן שהיה הקב”ה בונה עולמות ומחריבן בורא עולמות ומחריבן עד שברא את אלו ואמר דין הניין לי יתהון לא הניין לי
Kohelet Rabbah (Vilna) 3, 1  “Et“
“He made every thing beautiful in its time” [Ecclesiastes 3:11] R. Tanchuma said the world was created in its proper time; it was not fit to be created sooner than this, but it was created in its time, as it says “He made every thing beautiful in its time”. R. Abahu said, from here [we learn] that The Holy One Blessed be He was building worlds and destroying them, creating worlds and destroying them, until He created these and said “this pleases me, those did not please me.”
( Ecclesiastes 3:11: He made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has set the [mystery of the] world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work which G-d has made from the beginning to the end.)
What does it mean that God “was building worlds and destroying them, creating worlds and destroying them, until he created these and said ‘this pleases me, those did not please me’”?
What was “wrong” with those other worlds? Why did they not please God?
Further, what does it mean that the World “was not fit to be created sooner than this, but it was created in its time, as it says ‘He made every thing beautiful in its time’”?
Can’t God do anything anytime? Why could He not have created this world sooner than “in its time”? What made it the right time, sooner than which, the World “was not fit to be created”?
Astronomy has an answer! And it’s a pretty amazing one at that!
When the Universe began with the Big Bang, some 13+ billion years ago and then subsequently began to cool down to the point where atomic nuclei could form, it consisted almost entirely of the elements hydrogen and some helium (with a tiny tiny fraction of lithium…) These are the lightest and simplest atomic nuclei: hydrogen is simply a single proton, helium has 2 protons and 2 neutrons.
In the present, we know, there are a far greater number of atomic species out there and in here – we are all made of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. We drink water (H2O) and breathe oxygen (O2). The Earth contains iron, minerals, etc. So where did they all these elements heavier than helium – which astronomers lump all together and call “metals” – come from?
The elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are the products of nuclear fusion that occurs in the center of stars. Fusion is the nuclear process where smaller atomic nuclei fuse together to form larger ones, thus increasing the number of protons (and neutrons) in the product atoms and so creating heavier elements out of lighter ones.
The fusion process only occurs naturally in the centers of stars where the pressure of gravity crushing the atomic nuclei of gas together is strong enough and the temperature high enough to overcome the repulsion between nuclei due to the electromagnetic force (which pushes things apart if they both have the same charge, which atomic nuclei do – all positive.) The energy produced by nuclear fusion also pushes back against gravity thus keeping the star in balance, preventing from crushing itself due to gravity.
This process is taking place right now and provides us on Earth with all the energy we receive from the Sun which “powers” life on Earth. The same is happening in other stars as well.
In our Sun right now, and other smaller stars, the fusion process occurring is the called the proton-proton chain.
In more massive stars, the CNO cycle produces helium from hydrogen using carbon, nitrogen and oxygen as catalysts. This is only possible in stars where the catalysts have already been created and where the star’s mass is great enough for gravity to overcome the greater repulsive force of larger nuclei.
Both of these have the net effect of fusing hydrogen into helium. When stars deplete the hydrogen to fuse in their cores, the core contracts but the outside layers expand and they become red giant stars. After that they start fusion of the helium in the core into carbon, with a”shell” of hydrogen around the core also ”burning”.
In stars roughly the size of the Sun, the carbon accumulating in the core cannot fuse and the helium and hydrogen “burning” will only last a few million years. During this time, carbon may be churned up from the core to the exterior layers. These “carbon stars” have stellar winds that carry some of the carbon off into space, where some of it forms dust particles.
At the end of its life a star of roughly the Sun’s mass will blow away its outer layers into a ”planetary nebula” (a misnomer; it has nothing to do with planets…) and leave the inert carbon core behind as a white dwarf.
In more massive stars, similar more energetic fusion processes take place in subsequent stages and multiple shells as they get older and eventually produce all the elements up to iron on the periodic table.
When a massive star uses up the “fuel” for fusion in its core, it can no longer resist gravitational collapse, and it collapses very rapidly on itself, only to then bounce back violently in a supernova explosion, which is anthropomorphically called the “death” of the star. (A significant fraction of the core often remains as a neutron star or black hole, if a star was massive enough to begin with.)
All the elements heavier than iron are produced by even more powerful fusion reactions in supernovae in fractions of a second as this extremely energetic collapse and explosion happens.
This explosion spreads the heavy elements that were created in the core during the lifetime and death of the star out into space. Eventually, they are part of the clouds of interstellar gas and dust from which will form new stars, thus stars today are composed of “recycled” material from earlier generations of stars. Planets – and everything on them, including us – also form along with stars from the same molecular clouds using the same ”recycled” elements.
Since the Big Bang, there have been three broad generational categories of stars, Population 1, Population 2 and Population 3 stars, numbered in reverse of their antiquity (but in order of their discovery.). Population 1 stars are our Sun’s contemporaries with roughly the same percentages of metals vs. hydrogen – known as “metalicity” – as the Sun. Population 2 stars have lower metalicity than the Sun and Population 3 stars – not (yet) actually observed – have (almost) no metals at all, having formed first after the Big Bang, when there were no metals to be included.
Thus almost all the elements in our world and our bodies come from this repeated process of generations of stars forming, creating heavier elements and then exploding. As the famous astronomer Carl Sagan (I think…) said “we are all made of star stuff.”
Assuming that God wanted to create the universe by means of the laws of physics, which He also created, then the path from the Big Bang to planets with life and humans had to go through population 3, and population 2 stars to produce all the metals which are an essential part of the Earth and plants, animals and people.
Thus, before this world was created, God was creating earlier worlds – earlier generations of stars – and destroying them, to produce the elements necessary to make this world the way He wanted it to be. This was His plan and design from the start.
This world was not fit, or able, to be created before its proper time – because the elements of which it is composed didn’t exist in sufficient abundance in the universe to make this world.
The world in which God made people had to be preceded by God creating and destroying other previous worlds – generations of stars – in order to provide the material for this world, the world God wanted to make, and about which He said “this pleases me.”