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How Is Chassidic Thought Distinct from Pantheism?

How Is Chassidic Thought Distinct from Pantheism?

G‑d and G‑dliness

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Question:

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman,
I have read many of your articles about soul matters. You often explain that G‑d is somehow “divided” into “sparks,” and those “sparks” are present in everything, including non-animated objects such as sand. How can this idea be reconciled with G‑d’s absolute unity? And what then is the difference between this way of thought and pantheism?

Answer:

To answer this, it’s first very important that we distinguish between “G‑d” and “that which is G‑dly” (G‑dliness). Everything that exists is sustained by G‑d and has no true reality without Him—as we say, “there is nothing else but Him”—yet not all that exists is G‑dly.

Let me explain G‑dliness: All of the creation is sustained by G‑d’s will and wisdom. However, in our world, 99.99% of the time, it is in a very disguised and hidden fashion. Often it comes to the point that one of those beings continually sustained by G‑dly light will deny the very G‑d who sustains it! How this is possible is beyond the scope of what I am writing here. The Kabbalah describes a process of tzimtzum, contraction of light, in addition to concealment and encoding of the information that light carries—comparable, perhaps, to the way an e‑mail or an image might be encrypted and encoded when sent over the Internet.

What is relevant to our issue is that in some instances, that concealment does not occur. The signal may be weak, but the source of light shines through nonetheless. These are the instances within creation we call kedushah (“holiness”)—or “G‑dly”; instances that point to their Creator and communicate to us His will and wisdom: Torah, mitzvahs, the tzaddikim (enlightened individuals), and any person who is carrying out G‑d’s will on earth.

The doctrine of hidden sparks simply states that, in fact, every creation must contain some glimmer of holiness—or else it could simply not exist. Our mission on earth is to reveal that spark within each thing. In many cases, we do that by using it for a mitzvah. In other cases that is not possible, and the only way to reveal that spark is by withstanding the challenges this article of creation may pose. Each spark has its particular path to be revealed, which corresponds to the path of the soul that comes to earth to live in a human body and to find that spark and reveal it.

For further elucidation on these points, see Fallen Sparks.

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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Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA November 23, 2012

This is also so poetic! It is soothing to even read the article and all the ideas of the people answering. Reply

suzy handler November 23, 2012

The soul is divided into many sparks was so intriguing to me and inspirational. Thank you for explaining about holiness and tzaddikim. Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma April 27, 2012

sparks We can die by fire but we also enjoy the warmth and beauty. When we examine life as we experience it we do find a bipolarity that exists. A magnet has a north and south pole regardless of where it is cut apart.

Evil backwards is live and this is curious. We do know we cannot condone horrific evil acts but it does seem life exists on a continuum that moves towards the extremes of positive and negative wherever we look.

I am personally not wanting to enter the darkest places when it comes to horrific acts of man but it does seem many do analyze the lives of some who are unconscionably brutal and find at times they themselves were warped by life and circumstance. And there are people called psychopaths with no conscience. We also speak about 'the bad seed'.

Evil does exist & so if all is G-d then I would say we must fight evil wherever it emerges. I think that this is what is wholly what we must do. It can be an exercise in futility to second guess G-d. We must act to stop evil. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman April 27, 2012

Re: Holy Sparks and Hitler Everything needs a spark to continue its existence. But a spark has this inexplicable ability to imprison itself within that which it sustains (a modality with which many of us can identify).

At that point, the spark becomes irrecoverable through any direct means. These are all the things that the Torah forbids. Reply

Anonymous Matawan, NJ/USA April 27, 2012

Holy Sparks and Hitler Rabbi,
Let me rephrase the question. Were you saying in your article that Holy Sparks are in ALL things and people, and does G-d forbid, even Hitler? Do you believe that some people like Hitler can loose (perhaps forever) any spark of holiness they were born with, and end up in a space/place of total darkness or total annihilation? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 25, 2012

the sacred and the profane On a profound level, it could be said, life is about merger, on all levels. What is sub merged is what is not conscious, what is below the surface, what is beneath earth itself, and we use the word unearth to reference secrets, discovery, new insights. Now it could be said these always exist, as in an Aha! moment when suddenly we perceive what was previously hid. So when scientists look for a particular cure, the underlying assumption has to be, it exists, and this will be found, in its time. And often, it does.

It could be said All scrolls are Torah, even of the bathroom variety, and I say this in a reverent way. It could be the underpinnings of all life, have symbolic significance, and they do reverberate, in mirroring ways, throughout Creation. I see this.

Now it is not necessary to understand "holy" and the above statement is beautiful in its purity of expression. But when we strive to understand we also get answers, because to seek is also to find. A bipolarity of locks and keys Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman April 24, 2012

Re: Holy Sparks and Hitler What does holy have to do with understand? Reply

Rick Asensio Leura, New South Wales, Australia April 24, 2012

To Daisey Fish A heart and spirit that has so coldly rejected the warmth of our G-d, which expresses itself in a love, a care, a respect and a responsibility for all creation can become a vessel where evil may dwell.
That person that was raped or that child that was molested is G-d.
This is why G-d commanded us to love HIM. In this way our love transcends all physical boundaries and prejudices and is all-together pure. We can start to be free of the constaints of this physical world.
We Jews are then able to begin to prepare a place that is fit for G-d to dwell in or as my Buddhist friends say ...be on the path to enlightenment.
May G-d bless you always. Reply

Anonymous Matawan, NJ?USA April 24, 2012

Holy Sparks and Hitler IF there are holy sparks in everything in the universe, how do we understand Hitler? Reply

ruth housmam marshfield hills, ma April 24, 2012

those who do evil it's very hard, if not impossible to see these people as sparks of what is Divine. All I know is this: and that is, they make us move forward with compassion, for the child who is hurt, and yes, to the embers, the dual way of perceiving fire. Fire that consumes, and fire that is only consuming in that it is love, as in "ember' ace. Embrace. There is a duality here that is unmistakeable. I follow the path of humanity, which is to care for those who are hurt, sick, fallen. I cannot answer the question that asks why. We know sensitivity as being burned by life, often makes us more compassionate but not always. Of course no humane being could condone the pain, the awful in life. So there is this intense ongoing paradox. And it will remain. Life has this undeniable bipolarity. We need to climb in compassion. Somehow it all folds together, and yes, it is a Dance. Maybe it's not over, when, it's over. Maybe the merci or thanks in this is Divine Mercy, in some other place of Soul itself. Reply

Daisey Fish LaPorte, TX USA April 23, 2012

Fallen Sparks Child Molestors A rapist and child molestor (verbal) cannot be a spark from G_d. The only thing that allows that ember to rage is prison! Reply

Anonymous marshfield hills, ma April 22, 2012

Vineyard Haven We are vines in the vineyard. I picked up a book "at random" about past lives and it opened to a page describing souls as grapes strung together in the after life. I often think of this imagery, and for me, surely, there IS within the word DIvine the word VINE We are woven together as vines, and we pour wine in sanctity at our tables during our festivals.

I know we're all part of what's Divine, and to divine this, a word meaning realize, is to see that what Rick so beautifully wrote about is a deep, profound truth, and to feel it is a gift.

thou shall bind it for frontlets between thine eyes. Reply

Rick Asensio Leura, New South Wales, Australia April 21, 2012

All existence is G-d The thought of me drawing my next breath without the presence and direction of G-d, for me cannot exist. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / U.S.A. April 19, 2012

Pantheism + Deism = Panentheism (I think) G-d is too infinite, lofty, and transcendent a concept for me to wrap my puny, finite, mortal mind around all at once. Therefore, I find myself contemplating G-d from so many different angles -- all useful, yet all incomplete and imperfect for sure. One minute I'm thinking like an Atheist, the next minute like a Deist, the next minute like a Pantheist. Of course, all this exhilarating meditation makes me dizzy, confused, and Agnostic. I think that when I combine the Deism with the Pantheism, then I get Panentheism, and that does seem like a Jewish way of seeing the Holy One, Blessed be He (and Blessed be His Name), as infinite, unknowable, and infinitely unknowable as Hashem is. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 18, 2012

when many write about Nature they adopt deeply spiritual language as it seems Nature does evoke religious feeling. That Spinoza found G-d in Nature is not saying Nature IS G-d but rather the All is a manifestation of the Divine and we see this everywhere when we make the leap.

I can easily use the metaphors and language of the outdoors to describe our lives as the metaphoric connect is fluid and mirroring. In fact most poetry does exactly this and what is difficult to explicate in science is often made clear through analogy and metaphor. The why we can is deeply a function of the unity within all creation, call this Unified Field Theory. I see it. All poets do this consciously and unconsciously. Art is also an explication of evolving one ness that provokes the aha! moment of suddenly seeing something new but reflective of this unity. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 18, 2012

Ah. Panentheism. A new word. Love it! Thank you!! I love to learn new words and ideas. Rabbi Tzvi, this is an esoteric idea which totally lends itself to contemplation!!! Great article, and great explanation by Yehuda! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 17, 2012

The significance of sparks & what is sparked LOVE for ALL CREATION is the true spark: just look at someone who is passionate about something positive they do, how this spreads more sparks, how an enthusiastic teacher sparks us, how a smile sparkles making us happy, how music makes us dance. That is how we raise the sparks. The ARC created, as in electricity, is that flow.

Curiously, I came to this series of articles and the beautiful introduction
about 8 just AFTER I wrote this AM about seeing huite on a van and this sparked me to perceive HUIT and WHEAT are aurally same, and the number in French, huit, of course, means 8. Eight is a profound number. What is more profound is the connection with "wheat" aurally, to the wheat inThe Book of Ruth, a pivotal story about friendship and love, and also Messianic, given what is written within of lineage. Now it's all about gleaning, and sorting the wheat from the chaff in all that we do. G_d teaches through story. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA July 19, 2011

For people not familiar with these terms, Pantheism is the idea G-d IS the universe and the universe is G-d. So, in Pantheism, God is identical with the universe In PanENTHEISM God is infinitely more than the universe. So, I think Judaism is more like Panentheism than Pantheism. Reply

Tzvi Freeman (Author) June 1, 2007

Panentheism Yehuda is correct that chassidus--or rather, normative Judaism, meaning standard Jewish theology, meaning the Kabbalah--is not pantheistic, but panentheistic. It's a shame Krause, who coined the term in 1828, didn't recognize this. Neither, it seems, do most theologians. The concept of immanence and transcendence at once is a recurrent theme in the Zohar, especially in the oft-quoted passage of Patach Eliyahu in the Tikunim. Reply

yehuda May 4, 2007

To equate pantheism with Chasidus and Judaism is a misunderstanding of what pantheism is, for pantheism equates god with the universe\ nature and vise versa, or to be more precise, that "God is all" and "all is God" , and while Chasidus might agree (in a certain sense) that “god is all” (or in all) it most definitely does NOT agree that “All is god”, for to say so would mean that nature IS god (as Spinoza held), rather, according to Chasidus god is much higher and greater than nature.

If anything, it would be more accurate to equate Chasidic philosophy with Panentheism which is not the same as pantheism in the sense that, while it holds that god is within or animates all creation it also holds that god transcends the universe\ nature.

Of course this is all overly simplistic but it will have to do. Reply

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