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G-d Without Purpose

G-d Without Purpose

Just how dangerous can the G‑d idea get?


G‑d, in the wrong hands, is a very dangerous idea. Especially a single, omnipotent and perfect G‑d.

If G‑d is omnipotent, then we are powerless, our world is insignificant, and that which does not fulfill its purpose is better off eliminated.

If G‑d is perfect, He needs nothing, and we have no purpose to begin with.

If G‑d is the all-consuming very ground of existence, then we are less than dust; we have no meaning at all.

In that case, ultimately, nothing matters—other than, perhaps, our own self-obliteration within the perfect, infinite oneness of non-being.

And what of a G‑d that cannot be called a being, not even a supreme being, but rather hovers beyond existence, choosing whether existence should be or not be? Within that context, we and all of existence are but an arbitrary whim, a fleeting fiction, a nothingness. In that case, ultimately, nothing matters, nothing has real meaning—other than, perhaps, our own self-obliteration within the perfect, infinite oneness of non-being.

Which is very dangerous.

It is dangerous because it expunges the seeker of enlightenment who has experienced this epiphany from any responsibility to better the world in which he or she lives, so that the people who could make the most difference are not to be found. Enoch, it is said, walked with G‑d and was no more. In the meantime, his world fell into decadence and corruption.

And it is very dangerous because it provides those who claim to know G‑d and truth with an excuse for every form of exploitation. It was Balaam’s excuse to act as a mercenary, Haman’s excuse to attempt genocide. Because, ultimately, all is equal, nothing really matters.

If G‑d is not to be a dangerous idea, G‑d must be good. But that would seem to be a small G‑d, a defined G‑d, limited by the parameters of goodness. How can we believe in a G‑d that contains all of existence and yet believe that His goodness is real and absolute?

There is only one solution, but it is a very strange and radical solution: If the idea of G‑d is not to result (G‑d forbid) in some sort of acosmic nihilism, the idea of purpose must lie even before is-and-not-is. There must first be meaning, and then the context of that meaning. There must first be love, and only then that which is loved. There must first be a story, and only then an existence to provide its stage.

There must first be a story, and only then an existence to provide its stage.

That which lies beyond existence must co-exist with the burning meaning of my existence this moment here on earth in a perfect oneness, as a singularity. But for that to make some sort of sense, everything must be turned upside down.

Memories of the Future

The Rebbe pointed to the Great Maggid, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, heir to the Baal Shem Tov, for the keys to this radical solution.

“Imagine a father,” said the Maggid, “who has a child. And the child grows up and leaves him. Others have left him before, and their memory is imprinted in his mind as ink upon parchment. But a child is different. The image of a child is not printed, but engraved within his mind, entirely one with him, so that the memory and the father are a single being—just as the stone and the letters engraved within the stone are a single entity.”

“This is true of a human father, for whom memory begins only once there is a child and the child has parted from him. But the Creator of all things is the creator of time as well. And so, for Him, the image of the child is one with Him even before time begins.”

“This is what is meant,” the Maggid concluded, “when we are told that G‑d created the human being in His image. Which image? In that image which He conceived before time began, and from which all time was initiated.”

Everything the chassidic masters said has an earlier source, usually in Talmud or Midrash. And here too:

“Before the Creator created,” ask the Talmudic sages, “with whom did He consult?” And they answer, “With the souls of the righteous.”

The sages often couch their teachings in poetic allegory, so that the fool who is not fit to know them will dismiss them as nonsense, while the seeker will strip past the poetry to discover the secret within:

If the Creator is consulting, the Rebbe points out, that could only mean that nothing has yet been decided. Nothing—not even whether anything at all should be or not be. For that, too, is deliberate—there is nothing that has to be. We are speaking then, of that point where existence itself, so to speak, is still on the table. A point that stands within every moment of time—because for every moment, that decision must be made again.

What is the spark that ignites existence? It is the memory of a story that has yet to be told.

What is the spark that ignites existence? It is the memory of a story that has yet to be told.

That is the human soul that G‑d consulted—that story: That a child will go away from its father, and from there return. And in doing so, the child shall fix up an entire world. That story is our purpose and the meaning of all that is. It is our soul at its very root and core.

Our meaning and purpose, then, precedes all is-ness, precedes the very origin of isness, and lies at the core of every detail that is, from the very first emanation of divine light, to the harshest darkness of this world that is left for us to transform.

No, we do not create ourselves. But as paradoxical as it sounds, we are the instigators of our own conception.

Not Being, and Being I

Another midrash, again stripped of its outer garb:

When Adam arose from the dust as a breathing, living being, he beheld about him a ready-made world of trees and plants, birds and fish, beasts of prey and beasts of burden. He said, “All of them were only created to serve me, and I was only created to serve my Creator.”

That’s how it translates into proper English. Translated word for word, it reads, “All of them were not created except to serve me. And I was not created, except to serve my Creator.”

Do you see the difference? “I was not created”—that statement stands on its own. I, as a being to myself, am a fiction, nothing more than a fantasy flickering in and out of existence at a finite point along an infinite continuum of time. My very sense of “I” is a fabrication, a lie. I am not. Except to serve my Creator, to play out that story from which all originates, that precedes the origin of time itself—only then do I exist. Truly exist. Because that purpose of mine is rooted in the original “I,” the only true “I”—the ”I am that which I am." The only I that is absolute.

And if so, what of this world? It is the background of the story in which I play my part, the pieces of a puzzle left for me to put together. And so, it too now exists.

Engravings in the Sky

All along, the question begs itself: What is a story, or a soul, or a purpose when there is not yet space or time, or even the concept of such? How could anything exist before existence? The entire proposal seems an oxymoron.

Maimonides writes in his Guide to the Perplexed: with existence begins duality—is and is not; exist and not exist. Before existence, there is only One. In the words of the Tikunei Zohar, “One, but not a numerical one”—because there is no possibility for a number two. If there is anything else but the One, existence has already begun.

To which we answer that the story, before it unfolds, cannot be said to exist. It is not even an idea. It is one with the perfect singularity that precedes existence.

And the Maggid is telling us that the story of our souls begins there, within that absolute oneness. For their story is not printed, as ink upon parchment. They are engraved, as letters that are one with the stone into which they are engraved. Or let me use the imagery of the Zohar: they are like “engravings upon the bright, clear sky.”

Call it G‑d’s subconscious—a very deep subconscious. Because not only is consciousness yet to be created, there is not yet anything of which to be conscious. It is a memory of time from a place that is utterly beyond the bounds of time, where past, present and future collapse into an indivisible One.

Which means that when something meaningful does occur, when the child actually turns around and returns to the essence from which he came, when the story plays itself out within time and space, it is not simply some hidden potential emerging into actuality—it is something entirely new, something that has appeared out of nowhere and nothingness.

We are acting out G‑d’s subconscious, and with that capacity creating something from nothing.

The cosmic order, the stage upon which all this plays, that is all the effect of a cause, an outcome, a result, an emergence from potential into actual. But the story itself is that from which all emerges. In acting it out, we reach, so to speak, into G‑d’s subconscious, and with the capacity of that place create something from nothing.

Begin Here

Admittedly, the concepts lie at the extreme edge of abstraction. But their thrust is concrete and vital: Not only does existence have meaning, but meaning creates existence. When you or I or any human being plays out his or her part and gets it right—meaning, when one of us decides to turn around in the right direction, and turn our entire world around along with us—at that point we are creating reality.

The Mishnah teaches, “Know that which is above you."

The Maggid reads that as “Know that which is above comes from you."

His pupil, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, extended that to “Know that which is above exists from you."

And the Rebbe explained, “Know that all of time, from the very first emergence of existence, begins with you, now."

Effectively, the Rebbe set the entire cosmic order into a spin: Where does creation begin? At whichever point you cause it to begin—by making real that part of the story that is left for you alone. That point and the G‑d-point form a singularity, two halves of a perfect whole.

G‑d, it turns out, is a very empowering idea.

Maamar Chayav Inish Libsumei B'Puria 5718, s'if 6. Maamar Mayim Rabim 5738, s'if 5. Maamar Padah B'Shalom 5738, s'if 3. Maamar B'Sha'ah Sh'alah Moshe Lamarom 5725, s'if 6. Maamar Chai Elul 5731. See footnotes and references in all the above.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, 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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A.K.A. dry land December 16, 2014

We believe that we are what we think We theorize that nihilism exists as a theory and as a 'paradigme' ... and thus we create that static 'night'. Stuck without movement, stasis, without "anastasis"; we 'forget' the day, the new creation, even the (re) creation, even, as they did in the time before moses, (pro)creation. Thus we give that destructive power 'voice' and energy that it otherwise would not have ...

When anger and loss and sadness & wanting are acknowledged, & we open a window and allow Light to come in, then where does our belief in nihilism go?

If nihilism exists it has fear as a best friend and ego as his 'trusty' side-kick.
If Infinity is possible, then it's time humanity learned how to 'tread water'. Reply

Yudul Los Angeles December 11, 2014

Thank You Thomas M. Gras Marx wrote, in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. Reply

Lois Jones December 11, 2014

I am new but want to answer Thomas, just as the mind is not tangible in the brain,
so is G_d in our lives. This is not complicated. The more we worship him, the more of our heart mind and souls he permeates.. Just like our minds. Thus he is an idea and also a reality. I have to keep it simple as I am 75 years old and have
just found the true G_d. Reply

Anonymous December 11, 2014

Existance I knew that G_D was alive in my mind. The limits and growth were there. This validates that. Never has this and other wisdom, unspoken, till I started studying the Jewish Nation. I now know who I am, and what my purpose for living is. I am
so thankful for, my teacher. A saying I have heard before, says that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. I am so ready for all of the teachings that are offered here. I just started in July by observing the Shabbat. My eyes are open, my mind is stronger, and my life will be lived as a Jew, where
I should have been all my existance. Thanks for the substance I can share while making my tiny part of this world a better place. Reply

Thomas M. Gras December 7, 2014

Hegel Made you understand God?
My oh my, Hegel is the most important philosopher
for the total elimination of God as transcendent and for the conception of the divine as totally immanent. Also from these ideas
modern antisemitism was born.
Hegel was antisemite and his disciple Heidegger
was violently pronazi and antisemitic
because the Jewish People is "per se transcendent".
Rabbi, I have always read you with great pleasure
but this turn is dangerous, give me a word please Reply

SKM UK December 2, 2014

I think the true meaning of life is to fulfill our potential to find Hashem, to find Him even in the nothingness that precedes existence. It is not so much that Hashem is concealed, it is that we haven't fully risen to our full potential to find Him. He is the true Ivri, Hebrew 'One from beyond', beyond all we know, all we see, all we comprehend, but still waiting to be found by those who dare to seek.
Sometimes the more we imagine how far away and beyond He is, the closer He actually feels.
That is why learning Torah is such a delight for a hungry soul, you feel you find Hashem and realise He is not as far away as He can sometimes appear, but very near indeed. In finding Him, we find part of ourselves that is made in His very image, something of our own soul reflects back at us as we strive to reach our capacity to find Him, even when we simply believe we can find Him.
Why does He desire to be found? Perhaps because He is blind to Himself and needs us to tell Him what He looks like. Reply

mushky December 1, 2014

awsome amazing articel! beutifuly written Reply

peter sundwall sweden December 1, 2014

purpose tzvi.....the whole article can be as your ending words that G-d is very empowering.
The very essence of G-d is concealment. It is all there is. Wether we are there or not.
The very thing with being the chosen people that we the people of Israel has received and accepted the torah challenges us in a very particular way. Not only does it set us in a particular place and time. But as created in His image we are creators too. Reply

Paul Bourgeois November 29, 2014

The Rebbe explained, “Know that all of time, from the very first emergence of existence, begins with you, now." Reply

Paul Bourgeois November 29, 2014

"The world was built with chesed" (Psalms 89:3).

Chesed = Love Reply

Thomas m. Gras Englewood November 29, 2014

It seems as if G-d had to create us ("instigated"):
but again if G-d was forced or influenced that means that He is not free or that He is not G-d.
Here G-d looks like a "transcendental a priori",
the mystery before existence,
a "demythologized" concept,
and we have lost the " esse ipsum", the "I am who I am":
He is an apriori without existence,
The creation is not "ex nihilo"
but creation exists only insofar as it is the coming into meaning,
0the becoming of the absolute spirit, the rising to a higher degree of consciousness ...
From Kant, via Hegel until Heidegger Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) November 28, 2014

Re: Hegel Thanks, Michael. I think you got it. There is no existence without meaning. Even for G‑d. Otherwise, all is meaningless. Reply

Orit Nissan Greenfield Los Angeles November 28, 2014

It is when I read Hegel that I began to understand
Contradiction is at the essence
But it will not interfere with our work if we are able
to stay in the הוה meaning climbing up leaving the
head and entering the heart.
הרב צבי פרימן ,כל מילה בסלע תודה לך Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA November 28, 2014

The Power to Create Freewill I’m finding it very difficult to get into Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s head this time. For instance Rabbi Tzvi Freeman writes, “If G d is omnipotent, then we are powerless, our world is insignificant, and that which does not fulfill its purpose is better off eliminated.” Quite contrarily, freewill is Gd's greatest gift, and a marvelous sign of complete omnipotent power! Freewill is such a mysterious and glorious attribute that we should think its existence can only be possible because Hashem constantly creates it from nothing, sustaining it. The miracle of the creation and sustenance of freewill adds to the signs of Hashem's power. It does not subtract anything at all. Reply

Michael Kigel Vienna November 28, 2014

What Hegel--and the German Idealist tradition in general, all the way up to the Postmoderns in their own way--understood quiet well is that "reality" cannot be dissociated from meaning. (In the language of the Phenomenology of Spirit: "Substance is Subject.") The notion of a surd "reality" prior to meaning is ... well ... meaningless. If I am not mistaken, what Rabbi Freeman is articulating is the priority of the medium of meaning in general. As the Sefer Yetzirah says: G~d makes reality out of Hebrew letters. The narrative that precedes Creation is not a human one (e.g. a la Feuerbach) but precisely a Divine narrative--what is called the Torah. Reply

Deborah Texas November 28, 2014

You broke my brain with that one! Reply

Thomas M. Gras Englewood ,NJ November 27, 2014

Your explanation sounds beautiful but it does have an Hegelian taste.
In order to solve the contradictions of the concept of God , do we give meaning to reality?
Is God an idea or is he a reality? Reply

K. November 27, 2014

Brilliant. Thank you. May the souls of the righteous not be forgotten. Reply

Paul Bourgeois November 27, 2014

Without Love, Life has no Meaning Reply

A growing collection of essays on motifs of Chabad thought as they relate to today's world.