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Tzimtzum: A Kabbalistic Theory of Creation by Dr. Sanford Drob
Tzimtzum: A Kabbalistic Theory of Creation by Dr. Sanford Drob

Volume 3 , Issue 5

An article in a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report begins with what would seem at first to be a rather odd question for one of our nation's major news weeklies. ?How,? the article asks, ?did the universe begin?? and it proceeds to provide the following by way of an answer:

?In the beginning, there was no time, no matter, not even space. Then in some unfathomable way, a universe emerged from a dimensionless point of pure energy (U.S. News and World Report, March 26, 1990).?

This, the article assures us, is as close to a description of ?the beginning? as science can currently provide, and it is to probe deeper into the questions of cosmic origins that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans, on April 12, 1990, to place the 1.5 billion dollar Hubble Space Telescope into earth orbit on the most sophisticated scientific sattelite ever constructed.

As I pondered the news weekly's description of creation, I was struck by what appears to be at least a superficial similarity to the account of creation provided in the Kabbalah. Indeed, the description reads almost as if it were a translation from a passage in the opening pages of Chayim Vital's Sefer Etz Chayyim, the classic exposition of the Kabbalah of ?the Ari,? Rabbi Isaac Luria. Rabbi Luria, starting from completely different assumptions and operating in a universe of discourse which is, to use an unusually precise metaphor, ?light years away? from the Hubble telescope, arrived at the very same conclusion: that the universe emerged from a dimensionless point which gave rise to a world of matter, space, and time. Only, for the kabbalists, that dimensionless point is not so much an impenetrable beginning, but is rather the end result of a process occurring within God Himself. This process, known as tzimtzum (divine contraction or concealment) is, according to the Lurianic scheme, the very essence of creation; it is the means by which an infinite unified God ?makes room,? so to speak, for a finite, pluralistic world. Through an understanding of the doctrine of tzimtzum we may, without ever turning our gaze upon the astronomical heavens, gain some genuine insight into how a universe of matter, space and time could emerge from a single point in a metaphysical void.

The kabbalistic account of creation is, to the uninitiated, a very strange, difficult and perhaps even disturbing notion. However, it is a notion which gives expression to a series of paradoxical, but deeply profound ideas. Amongst them is the notion that the universe as we know it is the result of a cosmic negation. The world, according to Lurianic kabbalah, is not so much a something which has been created from nothing, but rather a genre of nothingness resulting from a contraction or concealment of the only true reality, which is God. A closely related notion is the idea that it is the very unfathomability and unknowability of God and His ways which is the sine qua non of creation itself. Creation, the doctrine of tzimtzum implies, is, in its very essence, ?that which does not know.?

One cannot be expected to understand or accept such notions without some significant and serious explanation. In this essay I offer a philosophical exposition, commentary, and in some respects, elaboration of the concept of tzimtzum as it appears in the kabbalistic system of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534‑1572) and his disciples such as Rabbi Chayim Vital and later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi. In addition, I offer an idealist and rationalist philosophical context in which these ideas can, I believe, be best understood. My approach is unusual, however, inasmuch as the kabbalah is rarely understood as a system of rational or philosophical thought. Most often the kabbalah is understood as an esoteric, quasi‑mythological doctrine which speaks of the inner nature of God in decidedly non‑rational terms. The kabbalists, with few exceptions, contrasted their own views with those of ?the philosophers? and even today the kabbalah is frequently regarded as being opposed to the rational tradition in Judaism. Nevertheless, a philosophically minded student of Jewish mysticism cannot fail to observe that philosophical ideas (specifically, idealist and rationalist notions) underlie the basic categories of kabbalistic thought. Indeed, one might even contend that when aspects of the kabbalah are provided a thoroughgoing philosophical interpretation they constitute the basis for a comprehensive theology, cosmology and rational mysticism1, which can be justified in the light of reason and experience, and serve as the basis for an intellectually defensible faith in the God of Judaism. It is hoped that this discussion will, at a minimum, provide a vehicle through which tzimtzum and related kabbalistic notions, such as the sefirot and Adam Kadmon (primordial man} can be meaningfully understood by the contemporary reader.

The Doctrine of Tzimtzum

The notion of tzimtzum2 is hinted at in an early midrash where we learn that when God descended to inhabit the holy mishkan or tabernacle, he ?restricted his shekhinah [the divine `presence'] to the square of an ell? (Shemoth Rabbah 34:l). While in this midrash God contracts himself in order to occupy a particular place, we here have the germ of the idea that a tzimtzum, or contraction, is necessary in order for God to be manifest in the world. The kabbalists, who held that the world itself was a manifestation of the infinite God, reinterpreted this midrashic notion and elevated it to the principle of creation itself.

This is evident, for example, in a very early source from Iyyun which is quoted by the Kabbalist Shemtov ben Shemtov:

How did he produce and Create His World? Like a man who holds his breath and contracts (mezamzem) himself in order that the little may contain the many.3

The Ramban (Nachmanides) held that the beginning of creation involved the emergence of divine wisdom (chockhmah) as a result of a tzimtzum or limitation of the divine light or will. However, it was Isaac Luria and his disciples (most notably Chayim Vital and Joseph Ibn Tabul) who made tzimtzum the central focus of their cosmology. According to Vital's Sefer Etz Chayzim:

?before the emanated things were emanated and the created things were created, the pure, divine light filled all existence ... There was neither beginning nor end. There was just one simple light, static, in equanimity. It was called the light of Ein Sof. God's simple will was moved to create worlds ... Then Ein Sof contracted (concealed) Himself into a central point with His light in the middle. He contracted (concealed) this light and then removed Himself to the sides encircling the point at the center. This left an empty place, an ether, and a vacuum around the point at the center. (Sefer Etz Chayim, 11b)4

It is this contraction and the resulting metaphysical (not spatial) void which provides, according to the Lurianic scheme, the foundation for all of God's creation.

Two theological problems, the first engendered by God's presumed omnipresence and the second by His presumed unchangeability prompted Luria to introduce ?contraction? and ?concealment? as the basis for the creation of a finite world. The first of these problems arises because God is assumed to be infinite and omnipresent. As such, He originally fills the whole of Being and without an act of contraction or self‑limitation there would simply be no ?place? for a world to exist. The second of these problems arises because God is thought of as complete, self‑sufficient and unchangeable. He, therefore, cannot be said to create a world which in any way adds to or alters His essential being. The notion of tzimtzum, which has the dual meaning of ?contraction? and ?concealment? is introduced to resolve each of these problems. God or Ein‑Sof (literally, without end) contracts to provide a ?place? for the world5, and the very existence of a finite world is predicated not on a metaphysical addition to, or alteration in, an infinite God, but rather upon a partial concealment of God's ?light? or manifestation. As the sun is not changed or diminished by a concealment of its light, the infinite God is unchanged as a result of creation.

Mystical Metaphors

The discussion of tzimtzum in terms of a physical or spatial contraction, as well as the notion of a concealment of God's ?light,? is, on the view of most kabbalists, purely metaphorical in nature. God or ?Ein‑Sof? does not exist within space and time; indeed, as will shortly become clear, it is only through the original tzimtzum that space, time, matter and light come into being at all. The tzimtzum itself cannot, therefore, occur in a spatio‑temporal frame. It is most simply a self‑limitation within the plenum of Absolute Being. This limitation (as Rabbi Immanuel Schochet points out) gives rise to an ontological region or point which ultimately comprises all the levels of spriritual and material existence of the world as we know it. The purpose of tzimtzum is thus to create an ontological region in which finite beings are able to exist without being dissolved in God.6

According to Luria, the original tzimtzum results from a differentiation or ?gathering? of forces within the Godhead, specifically the forces of judgment (din). ?Prior? to this gathering, all the divine forces or traits exist perfectly commingled within God. Thus the original act which leads to the creation of the finite world is one in which God's attributes (midot) become distinguished from each other. Judgment (din) is separated from mercy (rachamim). This paves the way for a pure act of judgment resulting in self‑limitation and ultimately in the creation of a finite world. ?There was now,? says Vital, ?place for emanations, creations, formations and actions?; in short a place for the creation of the `worlds' (Etz Chayim llb).

It is only subsequent to the original tzimtzum or concealment that a positive act of creation, an emanation of divine ?light? into the place resulting from God's withdrawal, can occur. The place into which the divine light emanates is referred to as the tehiru or chalal. It is the primordial space or original void. However, because even a void cannot subsist independently from God, even this tehiru has some residue (reshimu) of divine presence which serves as a vessel (keli) or container for subsequent emanations. Thus, for Luria, creation is a dialectical process in which a series of negations or concealments alternate with a complementary series of emanations or divine revelations. However, even these emanations (the specific nature of which will be discussed below) are not always conceived of in terms of a light shining forth from a source, but rather as a hitnotzetnut, or ?flaring up? of the primordial point after God's light has been withdrawn. It is as if the nothingness of the metaphysical void itself flares up, i.e., rushes out from itself, and carves contours and details in the residue of divine light remaining after the tzimtzum.

The Sefirot

For the kabbalists, this emanation or ?flaring up? occurs in degrees and stages, and it is only quite late in the creative process that the material world as we know it comes into being. The specific details and order of creation are important topics in themselves. Here, however, it will suffice to point out that creation has two original aspects: the formation of an archetypical or Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon) and the formation of a series of realms or dimensions which are spoken of as the sefirot. Adam Kadmon is indeed the first being to emerge after the original tzimtzum and serves as a created, albeit very abstract and ethereal, representation of the divine midot or traits which are ultimately reflected in man. Similarly, the sefirot are ten in number and correspond to the divine attributes of chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding), da'at (knowledge), chesed (kindness, grace, benevolence), gevurah or din (might, power, prevalence, or judgment) tiferet (beauty), netzach (endurance, victory), hod (splendor, majesty) yesod (foundation) and malchut (sovereignty or kingship). The sefirot, interestingly, are understood as themselves emerging from Primordial Man.

Our brief review of the Lurianic doctrine of tzimtzum has made several points clear:

(1) God or ?Ein Sof? is the totality of being. There is nothing, not even an emptiness or void which exists outside of God. God is both the creator and the ?material? furnished for creation. It is only because of God's self‑limitation or concealment that a finite created world can appear to have a measure of independence from Him. God remains essentially unchanged with the creation of a finite world: the latter exists only because an aspect of the deity's ?light? is refracted or concealed.

(2) To the extent that it is even possible to speak of the divine essence, it can be said that in His first fathomable form God is a Unity, within which exists an undifferentiated commingling of divine traits. These traits, which become differentiated in Adam Kadmon and the Sefirot, are intellectual, ethical and aesthetic values. It can thus be said that the essential ?substance? of the universe is value, and the infinite divine being embodies in its unity the perfect realization of all values and can therefore be regarded as the absolute Good.

(3) The process of creation is one in which values, concepts and ultimately matter, are differentiated and coalesce out of the divine unity. Creation is the result of tzimtzum, the withdrawal, contraction and concealment of God, from which originates the space, time and matter comprising our finite world.

Idealism and Rationalism

The ideas I have outlined regarding tzimtzum can best be understood against the background of philosophical idealism and rationalism. Contemporary scholarship has indeed discovered an affinity between Lurianic Kabbalah and the thought of modern idealist philosophers such as Schelling, Hegel and Whitehead. This should come as no surprise, for a number of Kabbalists themselves realized that the basic notions of Jewish mysticism paralleled Platonic, Neoplatonic and other ancient idealistic systems of thought.7

In order to gain philosophical insight into the Kabbalah, it will be useful to contrast the basic idealist and rationalist assumptions implicit in such notions as tzimtzum, the Sefirot, and Adam Kadmon, with the materialism and naturalism which has come to be taken as common (?scientific?) sense in our day. We shall see that in every instance the kabbalistic notions are the inverse of corresponding materialist ideas. Once this is clear, it will be important to indicate how our own pre‑theological experience provides a justification for the idealist/rationalist point of view.

The universe, as we ordinarily think of it, is regarded as a vast assemblage of material forces and objects in motion within an infinite space and time. Space, time, matter and energy are thought of as the primordial givens, and it is only through a slow causal process that matter evolves to the point that a biological creature, man, introduces concepts and values into the world. Values, on this view, far from being the constituent core of reality, are actually rather late additions to it, or, more to the point, ways in which reality is viewed or colored by individual people.

Kabbalistic thought completely reverses this order in the chain of Being. For Kabbalah, the supreme reality, ?being as such,? is not an undifferentiated mass of matter and energy, but rather an ineffable perfection which unifies within itself, all spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic and moral values. The material world is regarded as a secondary development which arises as a result of an intellective process through which the divine perfection comes to instantiate particular concepts and values in the objects of a finite world. It is only on the lowest of levels, and as we shall see, at the end of a logical series, that the most highly differentiated ideas are imperfectly represented in material objects.

Kabbalah is thus an idealistic (as opposed to materialistic) system of thought because for it the most fundamental reality is mind, value or idea. It is also a rationalistic system of thought because within it, the main impetus to development, progression and creation is intellectual or logical as opposed to natural or causal.

What reason do we have to believe that the world is essentially a world of idea and value as opposed to one of objects and matter? The most fundamental cause for this belief is the very general observation that no thing or material object can be perceived, described or even said to exist except under the aegis of some general concept or idea. Even the notion of ?material object? is itself an idea, a concept, and our experience of such objects is completely determined by the existence of this idea‑category. We cannot help but see or conceive of each thing we encounter as an instance of some concept or type. What we see before us at any given time is immediately categorized as a table, a pen, a mountain, a cloud, a bird, the sky, etc. This is no accident of our human predicament, but is rather a logical truth about reality itself; things are inconceivable except as instances of some concept or kind. Furthermore, things constantly appear as good or poor examples of what they are, as if (or rather because) there were some ideal type of ?round,? ?red,? ?gold,? ?person,? ?act of kindness,? etc., which the things of experience only approximate.

The world is, as it were, shot through and through with concepts and values. Value and idea, far from being supervening on reality, are actually logically embedded within it. It is easy to see how the conception arises that the original, most fundamental, nature of the universe is purely undifferentiated thought and value as such. This, of course, is close to the kabbalistic understanding of God.

Computers and Creation

The case for rationalism and idealism can perhaps be made clearer through an analogy with the world of computers. The function of any computer is dependent upon two major components: a software package or program which instructs the hardware or actual machine on how to produce the desired analysis or results. The software package can be understood as a set of ideas and logical relations, expressed in a (computer) language and designed to serve some interest or end. The hardware can be understood as a set of material components and causal connections which instantiate the computer program (the software) and enable it to run. It takes but little reflection to realize that the software package is the essence of the computer operation. The hardware is, in fact, a purely accidental, exchangable aspect of the system (the same software can be run on any compatible machine). A man with the software controlling the operations of a particular structure or organization has in his hands the essence of that organization; not the man who happens to possess the organization's computer. And so it is with the world. The software package can be understood as the ideas, logic, values and language which idealist philosophy (and Kabbalah) regards as the world's essential structure. The hardware, with its purely mechanical operations, is equivalent to the material, natural, world, a world which functions only on the direction of a program from outside itself. It is interesting to note that from within a computer's electronic hardware, it would appear that the computer's operation was purely material and causal in nature. It is only from our broader perspective that we realize that the casually connected electronic events are occurring according to a rational pattern.

We are now in a position to deepen our understanding of the kabbalistic metaphors. Adam Kadmon and the sefirot, representing what appear to be gross anthropomorphisims, can now be understood as expressing the higher truth that the entire universe is garbed in meaning and value. Values are reflected in the human soul, but also form the most fundamental core of reality as well.

While we have thus far come to see creation as a conceptual, valuational act, we are still far from having uncovered its inner logic, a logic which is embodied in the dynamics of tzimtzum. Explicating precisely what tzimtzum is and does is our task in the following sections. As we proceed in our task we will come to understand tzimtzum as a process of Self‑negation, and then on a deeper level, as a process of epistemic limitation (limitation in knowledge).)

Creation As Self‑Negation

The concept of ?negation? plays a pivotal role in many idealistic and mystical systems of philosophy. Tzimtzum can, in fact, be understood as the introduction of a negation within the heart of the single, unitary and perfect plenum which is Ein Sof, the infinite God. A negation, as paradoxical as this sounds, is then seen to be the foundation of all created things. That this should be the case follows with the force of logical necessity, for it is clear that in order for anything to be precisely something, it must be itself and not another thing. The world is what it is in all of its particulars because consciousness or mind introduces a negation within it. This is what is meant by R. Luria's view that creation began with the gathering of the forces of judgment or din. This gathering provided pure judgment with the capacity to ?say? that a given created idea, value or being is what it is and not another thing. The sefirot and other levels of finite existence crystallize as a result of the tzimtzum or negation within the infinite Ein Sof.

Creation as Epistemic Limitation (Limitation in knowledge)

As we have seen, one of the problems the kabbalists faced was the question of how God could limit Himself, withdraw His presence from a point in the plenum of Being, become ?plural? and instantiated and yet remain perfect and unchanged. The kabbalists attempted to solve this problem through an analogy with the sun's rays, which can be obscured in certain areas of the world without in any way diminishing the light of the sun itself. We can deepen our understanding of this metaphor, and at the same time increase our understanding of tzimtzum itself, by explicating the metaphor in purely epistemological terms, i.e., in terms of God's and man's knowledge. According to R. Schneur Zalman (who follows Maimonides) God's knowledge is perfect knowledge. For God, unlike for man, there is no distinction between the knower and the known. God is, to play on the Aristotelean metaphor, the perfection of all virtues knowing itself. This self‑knowledge, unlike human knowledge, is complete and instantaneous. In God, and, to a lesser extent, in mystical states of knowledge in which man approaches God, there is the immediate apprehension that all which appears as a plurality is indeed One.

Our understanding of this idea can be clarified through an analogy from the world of mathematics. An infinite perfect mind sees immediately that the arithmetical expressions 21/3, 126/18, 6.72 + .28, etc, etc. are all equivalents of the number 7: it is only from the point of view of a limited intellect that these expressions appear to represent different mathematical ideas. Indeed, as the mathematical philosophers Russell and Whitehead painstakingly demonstrated, all of mathematics is predicated on the simplest of logical principles, and an infinite mind would in an instant intuit the entire world of higher mathematics as an elaboration of the simplest of ideas. So it is with the world. From the point of view of God, the whole world is subsumable under the simple concept of the One; it is only from our limited point of view that there appears to be a plurality of virtues, concepts and instantial things. Creation does not involve a limitation in the divine being, which remains completely intact, but rather a limitation in knowledge of the Divine: an estrangement of certain points within the ?world? from the knowledge that all is One. God does not change in His being, it is rather that His presence is obscured. He is not completely known in a certain region of Being, and that region of Being becomes our world.

As Schneur Zalman puts it:

The reason that all things created and activated appear to us as existing and tangible is that we do not comprehend nor see with our physical eyes the power of God and the ?Breath of His Mouth? which is in the created thing.

The Alter Rebbe continues that if we were ever permitted to see this Power or Breath of God in created things ?then the materiality, grossness and tangibility of the creature would not be seen by our eyes at all, for it is completely nullified in relation to the life force and the sprituality which is within it; since without the spirituality, it would be nought and absolute nothingness, exactly as before the Six Days of Creation.? (Shaar Hayichud, Ch. 3)

Illusion and Revelation

While, according to Schneur Zalman, ?it is not within the scope of the intellect of any creature to comprehend the essential nature of the tzimtzum,? (Shaar Hayichud, ch. 5), as far as one can do so, the essence of tzimtzum, the essence of creation itself, is a partial concealment of the divine unity which brings about an illusion of individuality, plurality and materiality. This explains why it is that God is not completely manifest in the world. It is essential to the concept of creation, to the existence of the world itself that He be partially Hidden. If God were completely manifest, it would be as if an infinite array of mathematical equivalents were to collapse in an instantaneous apprehension of their utter unity: the world itself would collapse into the perfect unity of Ein Sof. This, we might say, is why even the greatest of God's prophets, Moses, could only fathom the ?back? of God; for according to the Torah no man can see God's full countenance and yet live (Exodus, 15;23). We can now repeat with understanding what seemed so enigmatic when we began: God's unfathomability is the sine qua non of a finite, created, world.

While from a certain point of view creation is an illusion of plurality, from another perspective it is a magnificient revelation; for it is a spelling out in all particulars and details of the perfection of intellect and value which is the essence of the Divine Being. To make a human analogy: we may understand instantaneously and completely that a certain man is utterly righteous or brilliant, but it is, nonetheless, a wonderful revelation to hear or read of the details of each of his righteous words and deeds (See Igeret Hakodesh, ch. 19). The ?spelling out? of the divine essence is thus the positive or emanative complement to tzimtzum.

The Origin of Space, Time and Matter

Space, time and matter as well as individual personal existence can now be understood as the logical consequents of tzimtzum as concealment or epistemic limitation. For each of these ?categories? serve as a vehicle through which conceptual knowledge is limited. That which is remote in space or time, that which is concealed in or by material objects, and that which belongs to another person or self is in principle, unknown or only partially known. As philosophers since Kant have understood so well, the concept of a world requires the existence of the categories of space, time, matter and personal identity to provide the principles for differentiating finite experienced things. Similarly, the concept of concealment or limitation in knowledge can have no meaning without such categories: space, time, matter and personality are the logical prerequisites for creation, the very principles through which an undifferentiated divine ?All? is concealed and hence, paradoxically, manifest as finite, particular things. This interpretation of space, time, matter and individual existence helps explain how it can be that the more the world is known in its particular aspects (scientifically) the less it is known as a whole (ontologically): for particular things are in essence a concealment of the unified ?One.? It follows that unless a science of particular things is guided by a mystical, philosophical vision, it remains simply an inquiry into the devices of God's self‑concealment.

As we have emphasized, tzimtzum is essentially an epistemological category, a concealment or limitation in knowledge. By understanding tzimtzum in this way, we can avoid all the problems inherent in understanding tzimtzum as a contraction within an already pre‑existing space and time. While tzimtzum does carry the additional connotation of contraction, what this connotation reveals is that tzimtzum is to be understood not only epistemologically, but metaphysically as well. On the deepest level, as we have begun to see, the distinction between knowledge and reality completely breaks down. This is because, for Kabbalah, the basic category of knowledge (idea) is the basic category of metaphysics (reality) as well.

Still, we may be troubled by the apparent leap from a world of ideas and concepts to a world of matter and things. We are troubled by this transition if only because it seems an unalterable principle of human experience that ideas do not become realized as material objects except through the agency of other material events. Our question, in short, is how it is that the kabbalist‑rationalist accounts for the existence of physical bodies. It is in response to this issue that the kabbalist is most tempted to posit a leap (dilug), a radical act of divine will which brings matter into the universe. While we cannot, as Schneur Zalman warns us (Igeret Hakodesh ch. 20), completely circumvent the necessity for such a leap, we can provide a hint of how it is that as knowledge is progressively limited, ideas ultimately coalesce into a material form.

Again, a mathematical analogy will be useful. As we have seen,all of mathematics can be understood as being implicit in one or several principles of logic. A perfect mind sees this at once. A less perfect mind, for whom mathematical knowledge is not self knowledge, must see and understand the truth of each mathematical operation one by one. An even less perfect mind, the mind of a child for example, can only understand numbers as they are instantiated in things (five fingers, six apples, etc.). For such a limited mind, the abstract concept of number as such makes no sense. As mind dissolves to a vanishing point, the concept of number can have no reality whatsoever except as it is manifest and ultimately exists in concrete things. Without a perceiving mind, there are still, for example, six trees in the forest, but that is all, no abstract notion of six and no sense of six as part of a greater unity. Thus we can see in mathematics that as mind is limited, as knowledge is concealed, concepts progressively take on instantial, material form. Conversely, as mind is expanded and knowledge progresses, concepts are freed from their material instants and become objects of pure thought.

The same is true for the ideas and values which comprise the material world. A material object is, almost by definition, a concept that is imperfectly manifest or known. A material object is what it is by virtue of the fact that it shows only some of its aspects at any given time (its surface as opposed to its depths, one or at most two of its sides, its shape, but not its weight) etc. If it were known perfectly and instantly, it would become a pure conception and hence cease to exist in its material form. A material object is thus always an imperfectly known concept.

The Mystical Ascent

It thus becomes clear that as God conceals Himself or limits knowledge of His indivisible and complete Unity, it is logical and inevitable that this concealment would proceed in stages ultimately leading to a material world. First there would be a division of the One into a series of differentiated values, and then into a series of differentiated concepts exhibiting those values, and finally into a series of material objects imperfectly and incompletely instantiating these concepts.

The One Kindness, Judgement, Beauty, Splendor Concepts of kind, beautiful, splendorous things Instantial, material objects

If we reverse the process of tzimtzum, if we reverse the process of creation via God's concealment, it can readily be seen that the ascent to God is one in which the material universe is transcended in favor of more conceptual, supernal realms, and ultimately, in meditation or prophecy, to a kind of thought in which there are no distinct concepts at all. This, it can be now understood, is why the kabbalistic mystic, through a concentration on sheer ?nothingness,?8 is able to transcend the world of material objects, wants and desires and approach a most glorious sense of union with the absolute Ein Sof or infinite God. For those who are not so adept, a glimpse of this union can be provided, if not by the light of distant galaxies, then, perhaps, through the light of human reason.


                   On rational mysticism see J. N. Findlay, The Discipline of The Cave (New York: Humanities Press, 1966) and The Transcendence of The Cave (New York: Humanities Press, 1967). According to Findlay, the rational mystic uses the methods of reason and (dialectical) logic to arrive at conclusions which the ordinary mystic arrives at intuitively.

2.                   On the doctrine of tzimtzum, the reader is referred to J. Schochet, ?Mystical Concepts in Chasidism? which is appended to the Hebrew‑English edition of S. Zalman, Likutei‑Amarim‑Tanya (Brooklyn: Kehot, l98l); G. Scholem, Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter, l974): and G. Scholem, Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism, rev. ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1946), Lecture 7.

3.                   G. Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press, l987) p. 449.

4.                   Translated by D. Ariel in The Mystic Quest (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, l988) pp. l65 ff.7.

5.                   According to some, including Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, it is the Or Ein Sof, God's light which is the subject of tzimtzum, Ein Sof remaining completely unchanged.

                   J. Schochet, ?Mystical Concepts? p. 828.

                   For example, the Spanish kabbalist, Abraham Cohen Herrera.

                   By concentrating on nothing the mystic is able to achieve a glimpse of the absolute ?All,? a condition in which ?no thing,? in the sense of differentiated finite objects of experience, exists. See A. Kaplan, Jewish Meditation (New York: Schocken, 1985) pp. 83‑91. On meditations derived from Lurianic Kabbalah in general see A. Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1982) pp. 199‑260.



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