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Chapter Six: Avoiding Errors

Chapter Six: Avoiding Errors

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Sources:
Likkutei Torah,
Shir HaShirim
, p. 36b ff.;
the maamar entitled VeYadaata, 5657;
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 883, Vol. XIV, p. 123

On one of the occasions that the Previous Rebbe was being interrogated by the Communist authorities, his examiner brandished a gun with bravado. “This little toy has made stronger men than you talk,” he told the Rebbe.

“That toy is effective,” the Rebbe replied, “only when a man has one world and many gods. I have one G‑d and two worlds.”1

A Primitive Mistake

The Rambam includes the prohibition against serving other divinities as the fourth of his Thirteen Principles of Faith, stating that aside from Him: “No entity has authority or choice; these are the sole province of G‑d, blessed be He. Neither should these entities be considered as intermediaries through which one can reach G‑d. Instead, we should direct our thoughts to Him alone, disregarding any other entity.”

Now in previous generations, this concept was understood simply: the Torah and hence the Rambam was warning against paganism. Primitive people had worshipped idols and stars. As the Rambam writes,2 originally, there was no thought of serving other entities as deities. Everyone recognized that G‑d was the Creator. They thought, however, that He: “created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants that minister before Him. Accordingly, [the misconception continues,] it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor.”

What was the source of their error? They felt that G‑d was too elevated and lofty to involve Himself in material affairs. Such matters, they construed, He delegated to other lesser powers. He was “the G‑d of gods,”3 the ultimate source of influence, but He entrusted that influence to the stars and the spheres with the intent that they convey it to our material world.

Making a Distinction

What is wrong with their conception? In what way does it differ from our own? We also believe that there is a Seder HaHishtalshelus, a downward progression of spiritual realms through which influence is conveyed from G‑d and conferred to our material realm. What distinguishes our approach from theirs?

The pagans’ conception compromises on G‑d’s uniqueness, for it implies that His greatness is relative. He is too great to be manifest on the physical plane, but can be manifest in the spiritual realms. That implies that He shares a certain commonality with those spiritual beings. They are not as great as He, but they are great enough to relate to Him and are worthy of His honor, as it were.

It also compromises on the connection between G‑d and the world, for it implies that there is no direct connection between G‑d and material existence. “G‑d has forsaken the earth,”4 heaven forbid. He bestows influence upon the world, but does not relate to it directly. Instead, He has charged others the stars and spheres with caring for the world for Him. According to the pagans’ misconception, G‑d needs the intermediaries for that purpose. Although He is the source of influence, He requires delegates for that influence to reach our material world. There is no way He could extend His influence to this lowly plane without them.

At the base of these misconceptions lies a fundamental error. They view G‑d’s greatness as relative and are unaware of how His existence utterly transcends that of any other entity. In truth, every material or spiritual entity is a created being that He brings into existence, while G‑d is the Creator, above the set of creation entirely. No created beings not even the loftiest angels or spheres can have any perception of Him as He is for Himself.

Similarly, G‑d is concerned and involved with our world. He is one with it in all of its particulars, relating even to its most material dimensions.

How is that possible? Because He is utterly unbounded and above all limitations. He is equally distant from spiritual and physical existence and equally able to manifest Himself in both.

To explain the concept through a mathematical analogy: one, one hundred thousand, and one million all share a numerical relationship. Now one million is much closer to one hundred thousand than to one. Although they are far apart, it can be said that one is inconsequential in relation to a million, while the relation between one hundred thousand and a million is significant. But in relation to infinity, one, one hundred thousand, a million, and indeed, all numbers share the same distance. There is no equation whatsoever. The difference between one and a million, though great, is calculable. The difference between any number and infinity, by contrast, has no scale.5

Similarly, in the spiritual analogue, when an entity’s greatness is measurable, it is appropriate to say that it can relate to one entity, for that is within its range, but cannot relate to another, because it is lower than it. G‑d, by contrast, is utterly unlimited beyond the scope, not only of material existence, but of spiritual reality. There is no entity that shares a commonality with Him. Simultaneously, because “All the beings of the heavens and the earth… came into existence solely from the truth of His being,”6 no entity spiritual or material is separate from Him. Since there are absolutely no limits to His power, He can manifest Himself in material as easily as in spiritual existence.

Point and Counterpoint

In this vein, the first psalm of the Hallel prayers can be interpreted7 as a dialogue between the Jews and the pagans. The pagans say:8 “G‑d is high above all nations; His glory is upon the heavens,” i.e., because of His greatness, He is too sublime to manifest Himself among the nations. It is only in the heavens, in the spiritual realms, that His glory can be manifest.

The Jews respond:9 “Who is like G‑d our L-rd who dwells on high?” i.e., whose greatness is sublime, above all comprehension by other beings no matter how lofty; therefore “He lowers Himself to look upon” not only “the heavens” but also “the earth.”

So That He May Be Known

If, however, G‑d relates to our material world and does not need the spiritual realms above it to give influence to it, why did He create them? Why did He bring the world into being as the last stage of the sequence of a descending progression of spiritual realms (Seder HaHishtalshelus)? Why didn’t He create the world from His essence without any intermediaries? In this manner, there would be no possibility of erring and thinking that there is any deity other than Him.

In resolution, it is explained10 that G‑d could have created the world in such a manner. Would He have done so, however, man on his own initiative would not be able to be aware of Him. As the spiritual cosmos presently exists, there is the potential to appreciate that our existence is brought into being from a spiritual source. For indeed, the immediate source for our existence, i.e., the lowest level of spiritual existence, is not indescribably above us, and indeed, extends itself toward us. Moreover, since our existence comes from that source, we each possess a natural desire to become conscious of it. The search for a reality that transcends his own ultimately will lead man to seek out G‑d.

Were, by contrast, there to be no intermediate levels, there would be no bridge between G‑d in His transcendent infinity and our material world. For the two planes of existence would be in direct contrast to each other. The only way man could perceive G‑dliness would be through unnatural Divine intervention, the performance of a miracle that intrudes upon our ordinary material frame of reference.

To give man a link to a reality above his own, G‑d brings these planes of spiritual existence into being and conveys His influence through them. By perceiving their existence, we become conscious of a Higher Existence above them. Nevertheless, this does not give us justification to worship or honor them even as conveyors of influence. For they have no independent power or will, they are merely “an ax in the hand of a chopper.”11 Would one ever look at an exquisite piece of carpentry and exclaim: “See what the ax has made!”? Instead, all the esteem for the craft is conveyed upon the carpenter. Certainly, his tools are important, but it is his creative energy, wisdom, and spirit that warrant our appreciation.

Of Contemporary Relevance

One might ask: What bearing does the above have on our lives today? It is centuries since man has worshipped stars.

The above concepts are not, however, merely ancient history. There are other intermediaries not only spiritual ones that convey G‑d’s influence. Indeed, the primary concern in negating the philosophical underpinnings for the worship of these spiritual intermediaries is so we should appreciate how to extrapolate and apply these concepts to our own lives.

When a person thinks his health, livelihood, or family is dependent on any factors other than G‑d, it is as if he is worshipping false divinities. Even in the present age, our livelihood is “manna from heaven,”12 coming from His “open, holy, and generous hand.”13 In this material world, and particularly, in the era of exile, this is not evident. On the contrary, it appears that there are various contingencies our jobs and our businesses that control our income. These, however, are merely external factors. In truth, our livelihood is coming directly from G‑d and these factors are no more than the mediums He uses to convey it to us. Attaching importance to them is the same as attaching importance to the stars and constellations worshipped by the pagans.

In this vein, we can appreciate our Sages’ statement14 that when a person lives in the Diaspora, it is as if he serves idols in purity. In Eretz Yisrael , G‑d’s providence is manifest to a far greater degree than in the Diaspora, and it is evident that our livelihood comes from Him. In the Diaspora, by contrast, where there is greater spiritual concealment, a person tends to think that his livelihood is dependent on external factors, and he adapts his lifestyle accordingly. And these external factors take control of his thoughts: day in, day out, even in the midst of his prayer and study, his mind is on his business. Doesn’t this resemble the worship of another deity?15

Instead, we have to appreciate that “G‑d will bless you in all that you do.”16 Certainly, effort is necessary; there must be a medium through which G‑d’s blessing can be expressed. It is, however, only a medium; the source for our success and well-being is G‑d’s blessing. “He grants you the strength to prosper.”17 And He alone is worthy of our worship and devotion.

Footnotes
1.
Igros Kodesh, of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. VIII, p. 61ff.
2.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim, ch. 1.
3.
The conclusion of tractate Menachos.
4.
Cf. Yechezkel 9:9.
5.
Tanya, ch. 48 (p. 67b).
6.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 1:1.
7.
Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim, p. 36b.
8.
Tehillim 113:4.
9.
Ibid. :5-6.
10.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIV, p. 123.
11.
Cf. Yeshayahu 10:15.
12.
Sefer HaMaamarim 5651, p. 196.
13.
The wording of the Grace After Meals.
14.
Avodah Zarah 8a.
15.

Our Sages, however, describe this as “the worship of false deities in purity. ” For to a certain extent, since the very makeup of the world encourages this misconception, a person is not totally responsible for making such an error (the maamar entitled VeYadaata).Indeed, on this basis, we can appreciate why we need a command forbidding the worship of false deities. Seemingly, we can logically understand that doing so is wrong. Living in this material world, however. man is not always controlled by his logic. There are times when the natural framework of reference that prevails within this world takes control of our minds and we begin to think like other men. For this reason, G‑d commanded that we not worship false deities, forcing us to adopt a higher conception of our reality at all times (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, pp. 23-24).

16.
Devarim 15:18.
17.
Ibid., 30:20.
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Anonymous Saint Petersburg, florida March 1, 2007

what we believe...footnote #15 This is perhaps, the most beautiful expression in teaching of Old Testament and new Testament information, combined, I, have ever read.
It is true, relevant, and needed badly by all of us with any faith (or even without) as it adequately describes our daily struggles between what G d desires of us and the difficulty we have "in the natural world framework that begins to take control of our minds". This one sentence reached my heart and mind, reminding me of all the time I have made excuses for doing the "worldly things" because, after all, "I am only human". Reply

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