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The G-d-World Relationship

The G-d-World Relationship


Metaphysicians throughout the ages have labored to define the relationship between G‑d and reality. Not the issue of G‑d creating this reality and communicating with it, nor the question of how humans ought to relate to G‑d, utilizing our reality in a manner appealing to Him. But a more profound matter: What are the respective parameters of G‑d and reality? Are they two distinct entities, or do they in some mysterious way partake of each other; are they even one and the same? We are already aware that Chasidic writings , and particularly Dirah Betachtonim, maintain that reality is in fact fused in unity with G‑d. But let us now step back and see how this issue is treated in earlier Jewish writings, and subsequently return to elaborate upon the perspectives of Chasidut and, in turn, Dirah Betachtonim with new insight.

The G‑d-World Relationship in Earlier Writings

Upon a cursory reading of biblical and rabbinical literature it may well be assumed that G‑d is one distinct being, and reality another. Doubtless, there is a relationship between these two beings, there is give and take; a flow moving between them. But yet, G‑d and the world remain two distinct entities in a relationship. In this respect it is much like human relationships: two beings, of distinct and exclusive parameters, interact. A similar position will emerge from an initial reading of some of the great medieval Jewish philosophical works.

In Kabbalistic and Chasidic literature, however, the borders between G‑d and His Creation blur. The point at which G‑d ends and reality begins is no longer distinct. As noted, and despite our strong intuition to the contrary, the mystical literature maintains that in fact all of reality is nothing but G‑d; all the variety that we perceive in our world, indeed, the very notion of a world distinct from G‑d, is nothing but a mirage—for nothing, but G‑d, exists.

Now in an earlier chapter1 we pointed out that classic Chasidic texts emphasize the G‑dly character of higher realities and the mundane nature of our own (and that it is specifically Dirah Betachtonim that teaches us to become aware of the G‑dliness of our own reality). This could have been misconstrued to mean that according to the earlier texts our own world is not G‑dly at all. In truth, however, as since noted, according to those writings too, not only the upper worlds which reflect G‑dly qualities, but even this world—even whilst regarded in Kabbalistic and Chasidic writings as lowly and apparently unG‑dly, even whilst unredeemed as yet by the Dirah Betachtonim system—is fused in a mystical union with G‑d. To return to our earlier analogies, earlier Chasidic writings also emphasize that all of reality can be viewed in terms of the unified subatomic substratum or of universal mathematical truths. The difference is merely that according to the earlier Chasidic writings, the substratum remains distinct from the naive outer shell, whereas in Dirah Betachtonim the naive arena too—of tables and chairs, of color and of music—are part of the universal unified reality. But both views agree that when looking beneath the surface this reality, too, is G‑dly, that in fact all of reality is nothing but G‑d.

To understand all of this clearer, let us look at a futuristic analogy. Entering a room, you are convinced that you see a person walking, gesturing with his hands—in short, a person as any other. Suddenly he disappears. Further investigation reveals that what you saw was in fact not a human person but a three dimensional hologram consisting of colored light suspended in midair, produced by skillfully arranged laser lights cleverly hidden from view. It now makes perfect sense to you that “he” could disappear—simply, the switch was turned off.

Let us understand the principle, why is it in fact that the apparition totally disappeared when the switch was turned off? Why in fact do laser holograms not merely decompose when their energy supply gives up, as real humans do—but completely disappear, leaving no residue behind, no clue that they were ever there? The answer is simple: such holograms are fashioned from no raw materials; thus, no materials are available to linger once the human form departs. Not only the hologram’s form is produced by light, but also its matter, its very substance. The light stops, the apparition ceases.

Chasidic literature maintains that the relationship of reality to the Creative “light” of G‑d is similar. This reality, despite its seeming rigidity, despite all its apparent physical, finite properties and its seemingly unG‑dly nature, is nothing but a manifestation of G‑d. For with regard to reality too, there were no raw materials prior to Creation. Not even time and space. G‑d not only formed the cosmos, but provided its matter as well. We humans have not been let into this truth and hence we perceive of this reality as of its own parameters. But if the coverings that cleverly hide the Creative mechanism were removed and the total system were to be seen, it would become evident that the very substance of reality is but a product of the Creative light. And therefore—continues Chasidic thought—though reality appears hard and fast and seems as though it could never disappear, it remains in truth thoroughly dependent on G‑d for its very being—in fact, were the Creative energy to be switched off, all would cease to be.

Note, with regard to our analogy, when it is learned that the apparent human figure is only a hologram, this does not merely enable coming to terms with a person doing a disappearing trick, but rather, one’s entire conception changes. Had one been previously asked how many people are in the room, one would have no doubt included the apparition. But now it is no longer a human being, but a thing; no longer “he disappeared,” but “it disappeared.” Indeed, if the switch was now turned back on and only it were in the room, one would say: there are no humans in the room: there is only light. As it were, a light-meter would register a presence but a “human-meter” would register zero.

So, whilst the figure when turned on again will continue to possess apparent human characteristics in their undiminished fullness—those self-same human traits such as hands and legs, gesture and movement, that initially convinced you that it was in fact human—it has nevertheless lost all of its humanity. It is now nothing but light.

(In mathematical terms: In an equation x + y = z, let x be the contribution of raw materials, y the laser light, and z the end product. Since x = 0, z = y; no less, no more. The laser apparition is nothing but light.)

Similarly, maintains Chasidic thought, with regard to reality. Normally, when we “count” we acknowledge the existence of this reality; when asked does this world exist, we answer in the affirmative. But it is merely because we do not see the total system that we ascribe to it value and indeed an être, a being. Were we, however, to be privy to the total mechanism, were that which obscures the “light” that provides the form as well as the substance of reality to be removed, we would not merely realize that reality is dependent on G‑d, but reality would no longer count. As it were, a “reality-meter” would register zero, only a “G‑dmeter” would register a presence. When asked what there is in the room, the answer would be: only G‑d, nothing else. For reality is nothing but G‑d.

(In an equation x + y = z, let x be the contribution of raw materials, y the Divine “light,” and z the end product of reality. If x = 0, then z = y. Apart from G‑d, nothing exists; reality = G‑d.)

This, in fact, is the essence of the Chasidic interpretation of “Hashem echad2,” G‑d is one: Whilst reality continues to exist unchanged before our eyes, possessing all its natural traits in their undiminished fullness—in truth, “in the heavens above and on the earth below there is nothing else3,” literally, but G‑d.

Two Unities

The notion that reality is fused with G‑d along the lines we have just outlined is known in the mystical literature as the Supernal Unity, that is, the ideal unity that exists between G‑d and reality. But that literature refers also to another, lesser form of unity between G‑d and reality, known as the Lower Unity. Put simply, the Lower Unity represents the conventional notion of unity with G‑d: mystical oneness apart, the human conducts his life and utilizes his surroundings in a manner pleasing to G‑d.

To place the Lower Unity in the context of our current discussion: We humans do not behold the inherent dissolution of reality in G‑d described above (the Supernal Unity). At the end of the day, we do perceive of this reality as something very distinct from and different to G‑d. Our imperfect perceptions of naive reality do exist. In fact, the very mirage itself, these imperfect perceptions themselves, were called into being by G‑d in the Creative process. And in this frame of reference of ours, G‑d and reality are two distinct beings, each with its own distinct and exclusive parameters and character: ours—finite, mundane, physical; His—infinite, holy, spiritual.

Within this frame of reference of our a-priori perceptions the Lower Unity occurs. For the fact that reality and G‑d are two distinct entities in this frame of reference does not, of course, mean that there can be no mutuality, no communication and community between them. Individual humans, for example—though they retain their own identities and distinctiveness—relate to each other and often work together towards a common goal, even as one. Ontologically distinct, but one in spirit. The same is true with regard to man vis-à-vis G‑d. Even whilst retaining his frame of reference, even whilst retaining his a-priori sensation of distinctiveness, regarding himself as human and his surroundings as mundane, the human can still approach G‑d with respect and interest, or even make G‑d the focus of his life. He can indeed be possessed of G‑d, merging with Him in heart, mind and action—up to the limits possible for two distinct beings. Similarly, he can rally all with which he comes into contact into the service of G‑d. Man and reality, though retaining their distinctiveness and diversity, can harmonize in a symphonic chorus, as it were, offering praise to G‑d. But all of this would still be the Lower Unity—for man and his reality would still be something distinct from G‑d, albeit in perfect accord with Him.

In summary, as described in the mystical literature prior to Dirah Betachtonim, unity with G‑d exists on two levels: ontological unity, and unity in deed and attitude. Or, a Supernal Unity within G‑d’s true frame of reference, wherein all separateness and distinctions are transcended and all is but G‑d; and a Lower Unity occurring within man’s imperfect frame of reference, wherein distinctiveness from G‑d prevails—but with no antipathy, friction or discord, but rather with mutuality; ontologically distinct but one in spirit.

Dirah Betachtonim / The Unities United

The system of Dirah Betachtonim takes Unity, the oneness of G‑d and reality, further. As it were, to borrow terms from contemporary physics, the two forces to which all has been reduced are now, from a new, more profound vantage point merged in the ultimate unifying force. Dirah Betachtonim achieves unity between the Supernal Unity and the Lower Unity, fusing both frames of reference into one, removing even this last barrier to total metaphysical oneness.

To appreciate this, let us first underscore two of the features of the Unities prior to Dirah Betachtonim. First, the two Unities are regarded as not merely different but by their very nature mutually exclusive, irreconcilable. The premises upon which each Unity operates are exclusive of the premises of the other. Where the Upper Unity prevails—from G‑d’s point of view, as it were, or in the higher spiritual worlds—the a-priori notion of a finite, mundane, secular world is non-existent; rather, a-priori oneness of G‑d is manifest. Where the Lower Unity prevails—in reality as we know it—natural human notions prevail a-priori; a-priori G‑d-awareness does not. The two cannot be reconciled. Second, prior to Dirah Betachtonim it is the Supernal Unity that is regarded as the true, unadulterated, undistorted picture—untainted by the illusions of finitude, distinctiveness and mundaneness that afflict the Lower Unity.

But all of this is true only until Dirah Betachtonim. In Dirah Betachtonim the a-priori human frame of reference itself is redeemed and the two Unities are united. For in this system, the true frame of reference, the perception of reality from G‑d’s side, does not preclude finitude and physicality. And thus, the finite and physical, too, are incorporated into the true oneness, from G‑d’s point of view.

So long as one is concerned with manifestations of G‑d, and hence with spiritual meaning and significance—then indeed, the significance of the spiritual must be seen as exclusive of the meaning of the physical, and the meaning of the infinite can only be the opposite to the meaning of finitude; and it is the spiritual and infinite that will be regarded as of metaphysical prominence and preference. But Dirah Betachtonim is concerned with essence—and the finite too shares in essence. Though our reality might not manifest particular Divine qualities, its very essence, as we have noted, relates to the Essence of G‑d. In fact, as noted, specifically because it is not tainted with superimpositions of Divine qualities—the being of our reality relates uniquely to the being of G‑d. Thus, this reality too, in terms of its own frame of reference, whilst remaining mundane and finite as we perceive it, is in unity with the Essence of G‑d.

Partaking of the Essence

The discussion earlier in this chapter about reality being nothing but the creative Divine energy, enables us to update and appreciate more deeply and clearly the relationship between the essence of our reality and the Essence of G‑d. We can now put it this way: this reality in particular partakes of the Essence of G‑d, is indeed co-essential with G‑d.

As we have seen, all of existence is provided only and exclusively by, from, and of G‑d, for prior to creation there was nothing but G‑d and the process of Creation involved no-one but G‑d, and no raw materials. And since there is nothing but G‑d—for if not for Him there is non-existence—Creation cannot be something else that arises due to G‑d, but is rather something that shares in the existence of G‑d (much like the hologram is solely laser light). It follows, that no matter what can be said in favor of higher realities, in terms of the fundamental relationship with G‑d occurring in the Creative process, our reality cannot be deficient. This reality too, no less than the higher worlds where G‑dliness is manifest and evidently all-pervasive, owes its existence to that Creative process—it too, then, partakes in existence which is aught but G‑d.

So as a first step, from the Dirah Betachtonim vantage point—from which we consider the notions of not being and being, and are therefore concerned not merely with meaning and significance but with ontology, with being, with the essence of reality and the Essence of G‑d—we realize that the physical relates to G‑d no less than anything else, for it too is: It too partakes in the existence of G‑d. Indeed, the very physical and finite features of reality themselves as naively perceived, partake in this deepest dimension of G‑d, for their existence too has been provided by G‑d—is G‑d. The essence, the being (that “part” of it which puts it into contradistinction with not being) of this reality, too, and all it involves is—the Essence of G‑d.

Furthermore, when concerned with mere existence, with essence, our world enjoys unique status. For, as we have noted earlier, essence is at the fore particularly in the absence of the disguises of religious meaning and significance—particularly in our indifferent reality rather than in higher spiritual realities, specifically through its singular absence of Divine features. Higher realities are something rather than just are, whereas in our reality there is but pure, unadulterated, naked, essence.

Thus, recognizing that all of Creation not merely comes from G‑d or relates to Him, but is indeed one with him, we update our view of the unique relationship of this reality with G‑d: this reality is transparent to its true being—the essence of this reality is nothing but the Essence of G‑d.

And it is thus that in Dirah Betachtonim the Supernal Unity and the Lower Unity are united—the perspectives of both simultaneously maintained. Of the Lower Unity, the perceptions of finitude are retained, not superseded; the frame of reference remains the one with which we identify a-priori. But this does not frustrate the Supernal Unity, the ultimate perceptual frame of reference in which there is nothing but G‑d. For from the perspective of Dirah Betachtonim which is concerned with G‑d’s Essence, these two frames of reference are not mutually exclusive, but are indeed fused into one. And it is this all-encompassing unity that is the true picture: the frame of reference of reality as we know it merged with the frame of reference of the Essence of G‑d.

And thus, we return once again to our remarks in the previous chapter with new insight. Kabbalah and classic Chasidic texts teach that beneath the myriad diverse entities that meet the eye lies one unifying cosmic reality. Chairs and tables, fields and meadows, oceans and mountains, animals and stars, are in essence one. But the unity of multifaceted reality in the Dirah Betachtonim system is more far reaching than any described previously.

Prior to this system, even within the Unity described by Chasidut, there exists a plane that is beyond the total unity, a plane the true reality of which is not the One—namely, the realm of the mirage of finitude and indifference to G‑d. For where that mirage (which was in fact achieved at Creation) prevails, absolute unity with G‑d does not. Post creation, within our frame of reference, on its own terms, the nature of reality is not G‑d. Circumscribed finite entities are not G‑d; physicality is not G‑d. True, according to classic Chasidic texts, were our eyes to be cured and were we to be enabled to assume the true perspective, we would become aware that the finite contours and physical texture of the countless entities we encounter are simply not there, for reality is nothing but G‑d; that as it were there is no color and sound but numbers. But, according to those teachings, as long as we do not shed our human perceptions, nothing more than the Lower—imperfect—Unity can be possibly manifest, in a reality which is ontologically distinct, disparate and diverse. The Supernal Unity can be manifest only by the rejection of reality as it presents to our a-priori perceptions—thus, the external multiplicity is not one in G‑d. But in Dirah Betachtonim, finitude itself, physicality itself, are one with G‑d and, hence, correspondingly, G‑d is all encompassing, nothing remaining outside His unity. For from this profoundest of Torah perspectives the essence of this lowly, finite and diverse reality is co-essential with the unadulterated Essence of G‑d.

In Cosmology / A Hierarchy of Realities.
Deuteronomy 4,6; recited daily in the Shema prayer, and the foundation for the second Principle of Faith.
Deuteronomy 4, 39.
Rabbi Faitel Levin, author of Halacha, Medical Science and Technology and founding editor of The Australian Journal of Torah Thought, is Australia's most sought after lecturer on Halachic issues. Presently, Rabbi Levin is rabbi of the Brighton Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne.
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