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Infinite Light Made Simple

Infinite Light Made Simple

The Power of Is

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People the world over have different ways to talk about G‑d. At some point, the Kabbalists began calling G‑d “The Infinite Light.” For example:

Know that before the emanations were emanated and the creations were created, there was a supernal, simple light filling all of existence. There was no vacant space . . . rather, all was filled with that simple, endless light. There was no beginning and no end; rather, all was one simple light, with a single equivalence. This is what is called the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite Light).1

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was to discuss G‑d as beyond infinite, and certainly beyond light. Beyond infinite is something like saying “beyond beyond.” In a later article, G‑d willing, we’ll explore that very important idea. But to know what is beyond beyond, we must first have some idea of what is before beyond. Infinite Light is a very mystifying term. Let’s engage our minds to touch just a little of the awe that phrase should ignite.

First, we’ll put aside the infinite for a minute, and start with the light. Let’s get super-analytical about the above passage: How could there be light before there is anything at all? What would it illuminate, if nothing yet exists? Where would it radiate, if space is yet to be invented? What is its frequency, considering that time has yet to begin?

Obviously, we’re not speaking of light as something shiny that allows you to see objects, or as a spectrum of radiant electromagnetic energy. We’re speaking of the original, primal energy. That from which all energy, including physical energy, eventually results.

Read light as “the capacity for isness

Energy means the capacity for something new to come about. The primal energy would be the capacity for any at all to come about. Read light as “the capacity for isness.”

Yes, isness. I don’t have a better term in English, so I had to make up that word from the word is. Being or Existence just confuse matters. In Hebrew, there are much better words—which basically translate as . . . well, isness.

Meditation on Infinite Isness

Right now, open your mind and think of the isness of everything. Everything is, but here we’re not talking about the thingness of everything; we’re talking about the isness of it all. Meaning, not the way anything is, not anything particular about any of them, just that it all is. The Infinite Light is that which makes it possible that anything at all is.

Now, open your mind as wide as possible, and think of an unlimited capacity for this isness. Isness of absolutely anything. Not just everything that actually is, not just plants and animals, not just earth, water, wind and fire, not just negative and positive energy, matter and antimatter, not just time and as many dimensions of space as physicists may determine—but anything.

Anything would include an infinite number of alternatives to time and space, each with infinite dimensions. An infinite number of alternatives to the laws and patterns of nature as we know it—along with the possibility for no laws and patterns whatsoever, infinite versions of chaos.

Having infinite possibilities is like turning the contrast all the way down on your display.

An infinite spectrum of isness stretches beyond alternatives to anything we know of. When all is equally possible, then all possibilities are equivalent. There is no higher or lower, before or after, more or less, up or down. There are no boundaries, nothing to distinguish one possibility from another. Rather, all exists as a perfectly homogeneous whole. Having infinite possibilities is something like turning the contrast all the way down on your computer display. At zero contrast, all distinction of meaning disappears.

If so, rather than a set of anything, the Infinite Light may better be described as the ultimate nothing. Not nothing in the sense of being a null set, but quite the opposite: Nothing as no things. Within the Infinite Light, within the boundless capacity for the isness of all things, distinct things cannot emerge. All is one.

No Vacancy

By now you may have realized that the anythingness or isness of the Infinite Light is beyond the capacity of the human imagination to conceive, no matter how wide you open your mind. After all, within it, even reason does not have to be.

One thing we can understand, however, is that the Infinite Light does not provide a stage for our reality to be real. Where anything is possible, nothing has meaning. That’s what the Zohar means when it says that before the Infinite Light, all is considered null.2

Our world inside the Infinite Light would play out something like a light show in broad daylight, or better, inside the orb of the sun itself. Like a fleeting thought within a heart pounding with emotion. Like a momentary fantasy forgotten within the sea of an endless daydream. Yet, much less than any of that—because those are all relations of finite qualities. Here, we are speaking of the infinite.

Infinity provides no stage for a finite drama.

Infinity provides no stage for a finite drama. For that, there had to be a tsimtsum. Which you can read about in What Is Tsimtsum? Basically, tsimtsum is how the Infinite Light is hidden as far as the created beings are concerned, while remaining present—everywhere, encompassing and pervading all that is—as far as the Infinite Light itself is concerned.

Which means that we truly are a light show within the sun.

What Do You Call a G‑d Who Is Everything?

What you may well be asking is: If this is so fundamental to our understanding of reality, why isn’t it everywhere throughout Jewish texts?

Well it is. Everywhere. In the two names of G‑d.

G‑d has many names, some considered more sacred than others. But there are two that are used most consistently, and of those two, only one is truly a name. One is Elo-him. I put a dash in there because it is a sacred name, so we don’t spell it out the way it’s pronounced in anything that might be discarded in the trash. You might want to print out this article, and many other Chabad.org articles, and eventually you might need to make some space in your home by discarding some of them. So we throw in a dash, just to be careful.

We also don’t pronounce this name casually. When not praying or reading from the Torah, we generally say “Elokim,” substituting a “k” for the “h.”

Elokim is not really a name; it is a title. It means “one that is mighty.” Mighty people, or angels, are also given the title elohim—and then it can be pronounced at any time. But as it applies to G‑d, it means the One Who Is Almighty, because He is the master of all powers that be.3

Then there is the four-letter name that we do not pronounce, even in prayer. It was uttered only in the ancient Temple, in the daily priestly blessing. Once a year, when the high priest would perform the Yom Kippur service, he would also pronounce this name, and all the people who heard would fall to the ground and prostrate themselves.

In prayer and in Torah reading, we substitute the name Ado-nai—but, like Elokim, we don’t pronounce that name when not necessary. Generally, we refer to this name simply as Hashem—which means “the name.” Here, I will use the standard convention of Kabbalists and call this name by a transposition of its letters, Havayeh, which actually carries some of the meaning of this name.

Havayeh is a name, not a title. It can never refer to anyone other than the one it refers to, and does not accept a possessive suffix (as in “my Havayeh” or “your Havayeh”). It is called “the essential name.”4

G‑d’s name is a conjugation of the verb to be.

Which is fascinating. Because Havayeh is a conjugation of the verb “to be.”

The Code of Jewish Law tells us that when reading this name we are to understand it as “was, is, will be” wrapped up in a single word.5 We’re also told that it can be read as “causing to be.”6 In the language we have adopted here, we are talking about the Infinite Light, the boundless capacity for isness. Indeed, the word Havayeh that we substitute for the actual pronunciation means “existence,” “being”—or better, “isness.”

Which is why I emphasized that this is a name and not a title. Because if it were a title, the meaning would be “the One who was, is and will be,” or “the One who is causing being.” Since it is a name, that reading is incorrect. He is not the One who is. He is is. The absolute Is and the capacity for all isness. The Infinite Light.

Impossible to Not Believe

Gil Locks was once known as the guru of Central Park. He wore long robes, had a dedicated following, and sat in meditation for 23 hours a day. Today, and just about any day, you can find him at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, chatting with tourists and convincing them to wrap tefillin, the black leather boxes which Jewish males wrap on their heads and arms at the time of prayer.

You can’t find anyone better than Gil at what he does. Once, when he approached one group of tourists and asked them to wrap tefillin, the puzzled travelers turned to their Israeli tour guide for explanation. “You can do it if you like,” he told them coldly, “but I won’t, because I do not believe there is a G‑d.”

Anyone else would just let that roll, but not Gil. He turned to the guide and said, “That’s not true. You’re not making any sense. I can prove to you that you believe there is a G‑d.”

The guide was indignant. “How can you do that?” he responded.

“You know that we use the word Havayeh to mean G‑d,” Gil answered. “Now say to me in Hebrew that Havayeh does not exist!”

The tour guide, of course, was flummoxed. Because it makes no sense to say that existence does not exist.

So next time you are in one of those existential moods, pondering what existence is all about, remind yourself that according to the Hebrew language you are pondering G‑d. And it could be a long pondering, because the power of isness is infinite.

Footnotes
1.
Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chayim, opening chapter.
2.
Zohar 1:11a.
3.
See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 5.
4.
See, among numerous others: Maimonides, Guide For the Perplexed 1:61; Rabbi Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim 19:1.
5.
Shulchan Aruch, ibid.
6.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Shaar Ha-Yichud Veha-Emunah, chapter 4. See also Zohar 3:257b; Rabbi Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim 1:9.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous Falls Village September 5, 2014

ein sof or infinite light? hey rabbi tzvi. i have a question if it is not to much to ask. what is the difference between ein sof (without end) and the infinite light? are they the same thing but just two different ways of calling it or did the infinite light come out of the ein sof? also does this infinite light contain darkness? as it says in isaiah 45:7 "i form light and create darkness". hakadosh baruch hu forms this infinite light into a way that we can handle lest we be totally obliterated by it and then creates darkness, so was there any trace of darkness in ein sof or in the infinite light? thank you for your time

craig auerbacher Reply

JonathannJacob Bergman September 3, 2013

"Existence does not exist..." A Brilliant exposition for a non believer Thank you so much for this marvellous explanation Reply

Anonymous USA July 2, 2013

Infinite Light Made Simple Dear Rabbi Freeman, on the sixth paragraph of this article you write that in Hebrew there are better words that translate the "is"-ness. Would you be so kind as to give me a couple of words in Hebrew that translate/describe the "is"? I am trying to learn Hebrew, which is becoming very difficult since I am alone. But nothing is impossible when Hashem, blessed be He, is helping. I looked into the Chumash, from Art Scroll Mesorah, and read: "Bereishit bera Elohim et Hashimym, continue in English-when the earth was astonishingly empty. With darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Presence of the Divine hovered upon the surface of the waters. G-d said, Let there be light, and there was light, and G-d saw the light that it was good, and G-d separated bet. the light and bet.the darkness. It seems that G-d had created the light. And He saw it was good. It means that that energy gives the capacity to see darkness within. Like opening the eyes of the soul. While darkness conceals. Opposite Reply

Darin Atlanta July 1, 2013

Speed of Light Fascinating article on the nature of "Light". Consider what happens to matter if it travels at the speed of light. Mass becomes infinite and time compresses to one moment. So matter, at the speed of light, is everywhere and outside of the passage of time. Hmmmm... Reply

Douglas Schulek-Miller May 7, 2013

Reductionism, of sorts. Rabbi Freeman,

I love it! Thank you.

Being a reductionist I came to the personal understanding of "He being everything" in thinking that string theory, as you noted or implied earlier, may describe Him as the energy underneath everything. Every time I try to comprehend Him in that level of complexity I am both awestruck and benumbed of mind. I am of far too small an intellect to encompass that imagination, but I find it absolutely fascinating and will continue in my understanding in this way. Why? Because while He is incomprehensible, the "reduced" form part of Him takes to create and be seems logical to be as an energy state amongst everything we believe that physically is.

Then again, I can be (and am often) wrong.

Thank you for something I understand and to which I can relate, though. Reply

Rosina Panama April 27, 2013

ISNESS?!!! LOVE IT!!! Thanks for creating this wonderful New definition That helps me see,see, see!!! like been handed a pair of spiritual eye glasses Wow!!! IF you promise to keep teaching...I promise to Open my mind up, to keep up!!! Reply

Anonymous Arizona, USA April 26, 2013

Infinite Light Made Simple My dear Rabbi Freeman, I read this article of yours and find it is great. Also the definition of Tsimtsum, as well the video. Wonderful explanation. But i would like to ask you one question: What would you call a person who does not see all these complicated definition of what our King of Kings is, but just know that He exist and IS? That actually knows His presence is there, here, and everywhere? Who, not only have felt His presence but, believe, has seen Him in visions and dreams, as well has been given His four letter words Name in Hebrew? Do you believe this could happen to someone? I am just a simple person. Not very smart. Not poetic,like some of the commentators in this blog. I would like to know how you feel concerning this situation. Our Loving, Father, Creator, King of King, and L-rd of L-rd, i believe, wants us to just believe, and love Him. Just because He IS. We are His making. Reply

Theron (Mayir) Compton Ecuador April 25, 2013

Wow! Rabbi, thank you for the isness discussion. I always heard the translation as meaning I AM which for me has connotations of separateness. I like the term you invented, Isness. For me, this word allows me to become more unseparated from the Oneness of Infinite Intent. Reply

Anonymous Florida April 25, 2013

G-d's name We know that G-d tells us his name in the texts almost 7,000 times & our forefathers regularly applied it in both worship & in Psalms so why do we not apply it today? Reply

Anonymous Mexico April 25, 2013

Love and the Infinite Light How can a person aspire to the love of this Infinite Light, being only a minimal assembly of dust on the surface of some planet? Reply

Anonymous April 25, 2013

First the story with Gil Locks makes no sense. Hebrew like any language is a convention, a de facto agreement between people to give names to objects i.e. orange is called orange (or Tapuz in Hebrew). As Hebrew is a language intimately tied with Judaic law, the name HAVAYEH is the attributes people decided to convey about G-D. If you do NOT believe in the existence of G-D, as the tour guide claims, you still have to speak Hebrew (in Israel) to communicate, make a living etc. However, speaking the language and accepting its Judaic/Kabbalistic meanings are not necessarily the same.

As well, while its true that HAVAYEH is a name (with the meaning of was,is and will be) wrapped into one, there is at least one Biblical Hebrew word which is a derivative of HAVAYEH and is a verb...the word is "Hoyah" (הוֹיָה) as in:

הִנֵּה יַד ה' הוֹיָה בְּמִקְנְךָ : שמות ט׳ – פסוק ג׳
Exodus 9:3 is a terrible translation since the word “Hoyah” is untranslatable

Nevertheless is it a verb, derived from “HAVAYEH” Reply

Debby NC March 17, 2013

Incredibly Written Explanation I believe everyone must read this particular article to open their mind to the infinite possibilities, even though this concept cannot possibly be grasped with the mind. Beyond Beyond goes way far out there, further than the mind or eye can see. Blessings Reply

LIL GIGI GEORGIA, USA March 16, 2013

THE LIGHT I have read several books and most of them talk about the light. the light is so bright that no-one can look into it. it is above all the heavens and is the place of the "god " above all gods. Is this the thought? Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem March 13, 2013

In Hebrew You wrote, "isness, I don't have a better term in English......in Hebrew there are much better words." Could you please tell me what those words are?
Thank you. Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2013

Beautiful! Reply

Bernie Siegel, MD Woodbridge, CT March 12, 2013

God is God is intelligent. loving, conscious energy Reply

Anonymous March 11, 2013

I loved that line at the end. It's very true. When God is properly defined as Being Itself (as Aquinas would say), Above-Being (as the Orthodox Christians would say), or as Havayeh (as Moses said), it makes no sense to say God does not exist.

I guess the tougher question would be demonstrating that "isness" has a personal character, or a will (or the closest thing we can approximate to will, looking at it apophatically).

G-d bless your work. Reply

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