Summa II: pp. 50-73


by Daniel N. Khalil


Jewish philosophy is often resigned to the assumption that fundamental descriptions of God and the universe are beyond the grasp of the human intellect. Questions of Jewish philosophy are generally posed in the context of a mysterious framework that is rarely examined per se. Such a mindset is often more concerned with man’s place, role, and duties in the world, than it is with the contours of the universe and the latter’s relationship to the Eternal:

“[The reason of Jewish philosophy] is the reason that we find in chess...Chess offers the greatest possible scope for calculation...But all this takes place in accordance with a set of rules that determine which moves are permitted and which are not and how the pieces are set up. The rules themselves are the limits of reason in chess. They are not questioned nor need they be justified because the rationality of chess begins after the rules have been set down...This is Jewish intelligence...[it] has a sense of limit, of the vanity involved in hurling questions at the limits...”

– Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith I, 3.
[italics mine]

Of course, there have been noteworthy attempts to defy this generalization. Maimonides is perhaps the most prominent example of a Jewish philosopher who would analyze – if not challenge – Judaism’s fundamental suppositions. In his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides describes a Judaism that dovetails seamlessly with an understanding of the universe as established primarily by Aristotle. As Maimonides holds Judaism to the light of Aristotle’s logic, he finds concordance on all topics, with merely one exception: the question of eternalism.

Aristotle is the ‘eternalist,’ believing that the universe is eternal and that God comes into existence at some point in time. Maimonides asserts the converse: that God is eternal and that the universe is actively brought into being. It is striking that Maimonides, who accepts Aristotle’s position on an array of topics, including the essence of both God and man, cannot find agreement with Aristotle on the relationship between God and the cosmos. It is even more astounding that neither Maimonides nor Aristotle claim to prove their respective positions vis-à-vis God’s relation to the cosmos. It is as if both men probe to the depths of metaphysics together in complete accord, only to resign, quite openly, to their respective presuppositions at the end of the journey.

Both sides appear to be missing tools that are essential to complete this journey. And both sides admit their respective unpreparedness by abandoning the very thought-process that brought them to this point:

“As for the matters concerning which we have no argument or that are too great in our opinion, it is difficult for us to say: why is this so? For instance, when we say: Is the world eternal or not?”
– Aristotle, Topica I, 11

“The eternity of the world or its creation in time becomes an open question, it should in my opinion be accepted without proof... it is not in the power of speculation to accede.”

– Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, II, 16

It is at this juncture that David Birnbaum enters the forum. He does so by delineating the relationship between God and eternity in the context of a unified metaphysics that concurrently addresses the relationship of God to the cosmos and the cosmos to eternity.

Such is the philosophy expounded in his first work, God and Evil. It is this simultaneous solution that lays the foundation for the work’s understanding of the existence of gross evil in the world. Birnbaum’s is a solution that has been left almost entirely unchallenged in the eighteen years since its publication in 1988. In the current work, God and Good, Birnbaum has looked further into the implications of this metaphysics and found the individual to be central. Here the individual is revealed as the engine of cosmic evolution. The relationship of man to God, man to the cosmos, and man to eternity thus become the focus of this work.

Birnbaum feels no compulsion to obey the rules that his intellectual predecessors followed. Building on the foundation of ancient Jewish principles, particularly Kabbalistic ones, he is not afraid to draw on Eastern principles of temporal circularity, concepts from biology and physics that have yet to be applied to metaphysical issues, or insights from other scientific and humanistic disciplines that have been left untapped in philosophy.

Asserting that previous attempts to characterize the essence of the cosmos have fallen short for their lack of an adequate conceptual arsenal, as exemplified by Maimonides’ and Aristotle’s impasse, he consolidates these eclectic influences into a defined set of metaphysical ‘tools.’ Birnbaum presents these tools at the outset of God and Good. He then uses them to build a model that is applicable to all the arenas from which its influences were initially derived.

The implications of Birnbaum’s original – markedly straightforward – doctrine therefore, range from the most general to the most specific. The doctrine is unified by the central thesis that unbounded potentiality pulls both the individual and the cosmos towards a Divine ideal. Potential is universal. Potential is the nexus:

“One of the great afflictions of man’s spiritual world is that every discipline of knowledge, every feeling, impedes the emergence of the other...This defect cannot continue permanently. Man’s nobler future is destined to come, when he will develop to a sound spiritual state so that instead of each discipline negating the other, all knowledge, all feeling will be envisioned from any branch of it...No spiritual phenomenon can stand independently. Each is interpenetrated by all.”

– Abraham Isaac Kook, Lights of Holiness, I, p. 22

Interestingly, in spite of its novelty, the paradigm elaborated by Birnbaum is no less firmly anchored in Biblical and Talmudic concepts than the previous Jewish perspectives that were restrained by these same influences. For instance, God’s self-identification as “I will be that which I will be” (Exodus 3:14) is perhaps the single best articulation of God and Good’s description of potentiality’s association with God.

In his first work, Birnbaum meticulously dissects Adam’s Garden of Eden dilemma (Genesis 2:17), understanding it as humankind’s choice between potential/infinite growth and bliss/limited growth. Birnbaum then goes on, throughout God and Evil and now God and Good, to reveal the theme of potential in traditional Jewish narratives and even Judaism’s specific commandments.
At the outset of God and Evil Birnbaum boldly asserts that he aims to provide an integrated and novel solution to the problem of (1) the origins of the cosmos, (2) the nature, as it were, of God, and (3) the presence of gross evil in a world governed by an omnipotent God. At this point, the expectation, at least for this reader, is for a complex, convoluted theory too abstract to be considered objectively. The result, however, a “potentiality model,” is just the opposite: profoundly discrete, yet overarching enough to satisfy the three initial aims.

With the presentation of the second book, this model now has four distinct dimensions. First, in God and Evil, it is thoroughly rooted in Biblical and academic theology. Second, in part one of God and Good, the metaphysical implications of the model are described. Third, in part two of God and Good, the model is presented in the form of 120 mythical Angels, adding texture to the metaphysics and drawing it into the realm of daily human reality. And finally, in the third section of God and Good, the ‘potentiality model’ is translated into a practical template for self-actualization.

It is difficult to recall a metaphysics as unified, yet as widely applicable, as the one presented here. The model’s foundation is concrete, while its implications are personal and thus varied. Each reader, therefore, will glean that which augments his or her own spiritual sensibility. As an Orthodox Jew, I find much in Birnbaum’s two works that bolsters my understanding of traditional Judaism.

No less sui generis than the scope of Birnbaum’s work, is its relentless appeal to profound innate human understandings that cannot be adequately explicated in standard prose. Birnbaum employs a linguistic ensemble that at times resembles the water-tight, nitty-gritty reasoning of God and Evil, while at other times feels like terse jolts to the psyche. The author has turned away from the prevalent style of philosophy that so fervently analyzes metaphysical mysteries only to expose its own limitations. In breaking from convention, Birnbaum has taken a risk. He has gambled acceptance by refusing to succumb to a more traditional framework that would inevitably fail to fully represent the depth of ideas presented here.

The test lies in the heart of the reader. For all of its details and implications, the core of this work is unabashedly simple: potential drives existence. Does this concept seem foreign? or does it feel natural? If Birnbaum is successful, the reader will detect that the idea has an inherent organic power. This power can be explained in certain general contexts using standard language, but in others – particularly in the context of the individual – traditional explanations do not suffice.

Birnbaum posits that the force driving the cosmos pulsates within the soul of each individual, and so only a visceral response from the reader can fully reflect its impact. Is this achieved? Do the grand, general, cosmic principles yield to an understanding of the self? Does this awareness, in and of itself, have meaningful and practical implications for daily life? If it does, then Birnbaum has achieved something utterly unique. He has raised a preciously simple metaphysical centerpiece and enshrined it through its intrinsic affinity for the mind and the heart of the reader.

“I will cause a new utterance to be heard in the land:
Peace peace to the far and near, said the Lord.”
Isaiah 57:19

Daniel Khalil
Cold Spring Harbor
New York

Dr. Daniel Khalil is a scientist with the National Institute of Health.
He teaches Jewish Philosophy at Long Island University.

A “Subtle Dynamic”

When I was ~11 years old, (in the early 1960s), I was a sixth grade student at (scholastically demanding Modern Orthodox) Yeshiva Dov Revel in Forest Hills,  (in Queens, NY of tennis championship fame). About  a third of my fellow students were children of Holocaust survivors, or of 1930s emigrés from Europe. The evils  of the Holocaust were raw – and it was not at all clear that the theology could handle it.

The philosophical situation was not much better for more general philosophical or general inter-related scientific questions, like: How did this universe come to be? If God existed, where did this all-powerful God come from? If God did not exist, what drove the universe? Why was there anything at all?

Thus, we were in sixth grade in a top Jewish Day School, and the fundamental and core philosophical, theological, and scientific questions remained thoroughly unanswered – at home, at shul (synagogue), and at school.

I intuitively felt that out there, there was one elegant yet subtle dynamic – a potentially relatively simple idea – which everyone was just missing – which, if uncovered, would, indeed, “crack-the-cosmic-code,” and perhaps the bulk of these issues simultaneously. I felt that it was at the very edge of human awareness. Waiting to be discerned. However, it was clear that discerning it might take years...

At the same time, I was frankly not all-that-sure that Orthodox Judaism or Judaism or monotheism would survive the “code breaking.” My gut-feeling was that it would be a close-call.

I determined to learn what I could learn about the world – and observe what I could observe – and, as an aside to my life, try to uncover that elusive ‘code-cracking’ dynamic. I embarked on an informal odyssey seeking this philosophical and theological “Holy Grail”: the “highest common denominator”.

In January 1982, ~two decades later – on the beach in the Barbados of all places, “matters crystallized.” The elusive “simultaneous solution.” The precise moment is ingrained in my psyche, of course, freeze-framed.

The dynamic which I discerned may have been “subtle,” but it was certainly not without power. I was now more than quite fully “psyched-up.”

First, I had to get back to NY, to a library, a big library. This was pre-GOOGLE, and then we really needed big libraries for potentially “original concepts.”

I did two reality-checks, the first with my Yeshiva University High School comrade, intellectual consigliere, and close friend-to-this-day Steven Gross (of NY and Jerusalem) 30 days into the project. He was a GO.

The second reality-check was at the ~6 month mark, with my Great Neck neighbor (who I had never actually met prior) and soon-to-be quite world-renowned, Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Jewish History at NYU, and budding Dead Sea Scrolls expert’s expert. He too was a GO – and admonished me to maintain total secrecy until the book was actually out. He would, in due course, unilaterally volunteer to personally Copy Edit the manuscript start-to-finish – TWICE – Draft #1 (in 1985) and Draft #2 (in 1986) – to maintain its total confidentiality, and prep-it for submission to the putative publisher in due course. Schiffman valiantly moved to vigilantly protect and advance the project and insure the manuscript’s power and viability. Once-in-a-while in life, one encounters a truly extraordinary individual, dedicated to his craft and to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. The Dead Sea Scrolls – and the Discovery Channel – would have to wait just a touch more....

A solitary five years of work after that epiphanous ‘moment’ on the beach in the Barbados, the manuscript for God and Evil was completed in time for the birth of my first child, Rafaella, January 1986. The editors at KTAV Publishing, who accepted the book for publication later in 1986, cautioned me that if one comma was out-of-place on my erstwhile revolutionary thesis, I would be crucified – by the Jews. And they did not want to be party to a crucifixion. I frankly thought they were a little overwrought, but in any event, the book was micro-edited over the course of 1987, and then published and released in November 1988.

At first there were “sounds of silence.” But then matters began to roll. The work would go through Five Printings between 1988 and 2000.

The primary editor, scholar-extraordinaire Yaacov Elman of Yeshiva University did a fastidious job with his plodding hyper-perfectionism. Word by word of the text, then the 600+ footnotes, footnote by footnote. No word of the text or related has been changed in any of the printings, including the printing incorporated now into the 2-book Summa Metaphysica series.

Before the Jewish journals got around to reviewing the book, in their own good time, to our astonishment the major Jesuit publications around the world, in-short-order – reviewed it – in-depth and enthusiastically. Theological Studies Journal (then at Georgetown University) led the charge – juxtaposing the concepts of the work against those of Aquinas very specifically. Sounded good to me...

Simultaneously, Brandeis University started assigning the work as a Required Text – Masters Degree graduate Term Papers and all – in Advanced Religious Philosophy. In the early 1990s, Hebrew University (Jerusalem), Yeshiva University, Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary (Christian) and, later, Emory, started assigning the work in Philosophy and/or Jewish Thought. Other universities in the USA and around-the-world would follow.

It sounds like a simple enough journey. But it was a very, very solitary and hi-risk endeavor.

I believe the hypothesis is on-the-mark. Its core inherent power gave me the motivation to embark on the project.




To the reader -

My (previously) agnostic SOHO WebSite designer,  after reading the text said I should add the following alert at the very beginning of the book,  so here-it-goes…
“Hey you – potential Reader – THIS, all this, applies to YOU, don’t go away, read this!  It isn’t over your head;
it IS your head… This book about GOD is a transcendent work… Read this work and enter an extraordinary realm”

From: Dena Crowder
Silicon Valley, CA
Conceptual Solutions for Fortune 500 companies

“Birnbaum is asking people to dream/vision/think beyond the metaphysical “box” they’ve been trapped in for centuries.

Birnbaum’s paradigm has the “think different” flavor of the Apple campaign of a couple of years ago.

Summa’s system is as much a solution, as it is an opening to a new conversation, and an invitation to an entirely new discourse.”

“God is, as well, both in the nucleus of the cell
and in the stardust of the distant nebula”

– Rabbi Allen Schwartz
rabbi, Congregation Ohab Zedek

New York, NY

Shabbat sermon

November 5, 2005
Parshat Noach

also see sub-section
Extension or Separate ?
in the introduction to this book

“Adoshem Echad, u-Shemo Echad” *

– Zechariah 14:10

at the finalé of the iconic liturgical prayer Aleinu,

which itself is generally at the service finalé




possible translation #1:
“God is One, and His name is One”

possible translation #2:
“God is a Singularity, and His name is a Singularity”

possible translation #3
“God is One Dynamic, and His name is One Dynamic”

Extension or Separate ?
Is the universe an extension of God
- or separate from God ?

“If you don’t see God everywhere,

you don’t see him anywhere”

– the Kotzke Rebbe
(1787 - 1859)

Jewish Encyclopedia Online, (accessed October 5, 2009)

(“The Besht”)

“The foundation-stone of Hasidism as laid by Besht is a strongly marked pantheistic conception of God. He declared the whole universe, mind and matter, to be a manifestation of the Divine Being; that this manifestation is not an emanation from God, as is the conception of the Kabbalah, for nothing can be separated from God: all things are rather forms in which He reveals Himself…”

As noted in Encyclopaedia Judaica on Baal Shem Tov {1997} [CD-ROM]

Creator and Universe

“‘The hasidic leader R. Menahem Mendel of Lubavich observes (Derekh Mitzvotekha (1911), 123) that the disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov gave the “very profound” turn to the doctrine of the oneness of God so that it means not alone that He is unique, as the medieval thinkers said, but that He is all that is:…there is no other existence whatsoever apart from His existence, blessed be He. This is true unification…just as there was no existence apart from Him before the world was created so it is even now.” …as a corollary of hasidic pantheism (more correctly, panentheism)…’”

(author’s note: there are no extant writings of the Besht)

(see also Appendix F1: Hasidic v. Kabbalistic)


God and Good, this companion–work and sequel to God and Evil (1988)

is composed of
3 inter–related works:

Part I: The Cosmic Womb of Potential

An original proposed metaphysics.

It dovetails with the metaphysics explicated in the first book of the series, God and Evil

Part II: God’s 120 Guardian Angels

A quasi–mythical work of quasi–poetry which
is used as a vehicle to explicate and flesh-out
“Quest for Potential∞” from a different angle.

Part III: The Lost Manual

This work plays with applicability of the metaphysics noted in the prior sections, but on an INDIVIDUAL level.


    The work maintains that Quest for Potential∞ drives not only the COSMOS as well as the DIVINE but also, the INDIVIDUAL, all in 1:1 parallel to one another.

    .....and that “enlightened Self-Actualization” is front– and–center in human development.

    The Lost Manual is a self–actualization guide as well as a 21st century (alleged) “Wisdom Book” along with several other treats.


Q4P = Quest for Potential∞

Q4F = Quest for Fulfillment

Author’s note

Metaphysics is ultimately about the questions that
5-year-olds ask.

for example,

Why is there anything ?

Where is everything headed ?

Where is God ?

Therefore, to write Metaphysics one must be at least
as smart – and as ‘open’ as – a 5-year-old

That is not necessarily as easy as it sounds

This work attempts to advance our understanding of
the cosmos.

This work attempts to get us where others have not… into the very “throne room” of metaphysics…

But, the infinitely evolving, morphing and expanding cosmos does not yield its secrets easily

We will need to peel-it-away layer-by-layer

Approach by approach. Theme by theme.
Conjecture by conjecture. Hypothesis by hypothesis.

With no significant mistakes at any level

– as that would throw-off the expeditionary journey

Please note that, respectfully, I only write one treatise / lifetime – and this is it. There are no philosophy books  before – or after.

Be assured that I have endeavored to be very, very careful with what I commit to paper.

* * *
Oh, one last thing......

To understand the infinite cosmos, one truly need not spend-a-life-time peering through large telescopes or fathoming hyper-complex physics equations or wading-
through dozens of esoteric writings.....Indeed, respectfully, they will not advance you beyond, say, “second base.” One needs, however, to attempt to listen very carefully to the very core of one’s soul.*

David Birnbaum

*a little poetic license taken here

David Birnbaum Summa Metaphysica philosophy treatise proposes an original philosophical theory unifying science and religion. See also David Birnbaum Quest for Potential, Theory of Everything, unified metaphysics philosophy.The David Birnbaum metaphysics/cosmology unifies science, spirituality and philosophy.

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