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The Drama of Creation

The Drama of Creation


היש הנברא הוא ממש יש האמיתי1

To gain greater insight to all of the above, we will in this chapter learn a central Kabbalistic and Chasidic concept concerning the drama of Creation, and note the relevant shift of emphasis in Dirah Betachtonim. But before moving on, let us restate in a nutshell two of the salient new perspectives of Dirah Betachtonim concerning Unity we learned in the previous chapters: First, our reality, too, is now incorporated in the all embracing Unity of G‑d. Second, our reality relates to the Essence in a way unique to it alone, as the absence of religious characteristics and meaning—the absence of being something, merely being—is indicative of the nature of the Essence which transcends characteristics, manifestations, and solely is. To better understand this second point—as well as the first point in a more technical but more complete way—we introduce a new key concept from Kabbalistic and Chasidic cosmology: tzimtzum.

Tzimtzum / The Concept

The concept tzimtzum—literally, contraction; metaphorically, a “quantum leap”—was introduced by the illustrious sixteenth century Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, to resolve a fundamental theological problem concerning Creation2. G‑d is spiritual whereas this reality is physical; G‑d is infinite whereas this reality is finite. What method could have been used to effect the dramatic transition from spiritual to physical in the energy flowing from G‑d at Creation? It would appear that a spiritual force, no matter how many times diminished, could never result in a physical reality. To resolve this problem the Arizal introduced the concept of tzimtzum. Creation was not a process that proceeded along a continuum, he maintained. Rather, it involved a “quantum leap.” Beyond this leap, where the infinity and spirituality of G‑d are no longer manifest, our finite reality could emerge. In the picturesque, metaphorical language of the Kabbalistic classic Etz Chaim3:

Know that before the emanated beings were emanated and the created beings were created, an undifferentiated supernal light filled all of existence and there was no empty space... but all was filled with that undifferentiated infinite light... And when it arose in His undifferentiated Will to create the worlds and emanate the emanated beings... He contracted Himself at the central point… and then was left an empty space....

And after the aforementioned contraction (tzimtzum), whereby there was left the space... there was already space where the emanated beings and created beings... could be there... And in that space He emanated and created and fashioned and made all the worlds....

In conventional Kabbalistic and Chasidic thought, the introduction of tzimtzum into the Creation process has served to increase and accentuate the chasm that separates G‑d from this world, emphasizing the total lack of Divinity in all that is finite. In typical mystical texts, tzimtzum underscores the notion that the Divine presence, when and where present in this lowest of worlds, suffers an abysmal exile. After all, in our reality the original infinite Divine “light” has been withdrawn; our world exists post the gulf of tzimtzum, in an entirely “empty space.” Similarly, in didactic terms, the notion of tzimtzum has served to impress upon man that his mission is—through the fulfillment of his religious obligations—to aim to transcend the tzimtzum, as much as is humanly possible; to aid in the restoration of reality and the Divine presence—back to the primordial, pre-tzimtzum, undifferentiated infinite expansiveness of G‑d.

(This might appear contradictory to the Kabbalistic and Chasidic emphasis described in previous chapters, not on the distance between reality and G‑d but on the precise reverse—their oneness. But in truth, the mystical texts paradoxically underscore both the total unity of reality with G‑d as well as the great gulf that divides them.

A rather simple way of understanding this complex matter can be gained by returning to our previous analogy of the laser apparition. Two notions are simultaneously applicable: one, the apparition is in truth nothing but light; two, it appears to be totally human. One can highlight the first idea, the inherent oneness of the apparition with light; or alternatively, one can underscore the drastic change that has occurred from the usual condition of light, how the light has—to the uninitiated onlooker—assumed solidity, form and movement. Similarly with regard to reality and G‑d, Kabbalah and Chasidut emphasize both points: the inherent oneness of reality with G‑d (the Supernal Unity), as well as the drastic change from G‑dliness that has arisen in the apparent nature of reality (the frame of reference of the Lower Unity).

The point relevant to our current discussion is the difference between apparent reality, finite and physical as we know it, and the nature of G‑d. The mystical literature emphasizes that this difference is not merely—as some philosophers might have it—one of degree, but the product of a tzimtzum, a “quantum gap,” an absolute chasm.)

Tzimtzum in Dirah Betachtonim

Now tzimtzum too has not been spared the reorientation of Dirah Betachtonim. To appreciate the Dirah Betachtonim attitude to tzimtzum, let us first note that the tzimtzum was a deliberate act of G‑d. As such, it too was a positive act, giving expression to some Divine power and dimension. Prior to tzimtzum, as we saw, G‑d’s “light” filled all, or, in other words, there was infinite manifestation of G‑d—whereas tzimtzum represented a changeover to the rationing out, as it were, of restricted Divine energies that would in turn create finite entities. This can be put in different words: G‑d, being Omnipotent, can produce both that which is infinite as well as, paradoxically, that which is finite4 — and the drama of tzimtzum represented the bringing of G‑d’s capacity for producing the finite to the forefront.

But nevertheless, though infinity receded and a finite arena emerged, Dirah Betachtonim maintains that tzimtzum should not be seen as a degeneration, as a diminishing of the Divine energy. Dirah Betachtonim in fact points out that G‑d’s creating the finite roots deeper in the Divine Essence than the infinite—and thus, ultimately, tzimtzum represents no deterioration at all.

To explain, we must raise our sights, up towards the very core of the G‑dhead, to G‑d as He is on His own, as it were—above all the worlds and realities that emerged from Him, prior to and above both the finite as well as the infinite, above both tzimtzum as well as the primordial infinite light that preceded it. This will, in turn, enable us to evaluate more correctly the true values of all Divine dimensions that emerged from that core.

At the very core, G‑d has, as it were, two options: He has the choice either to create or not to create, to do something or to do nothing at all. In other words, as described in Chasidic texts, at this level there are two Divine latencies: “to illuminate,” that is, to reach out, to manifest G‑dliness; and “not to illuminate,” to remain in Himself.

Now, which of these two potentialities is closer to the very self, to the Essence of G‑d? The answer, surprisingly: the potential “not to illuminate.” For the character of essence is—to exist as, and to remain, in and of itself, merely to be; unlike “illumination” or manifestation, reaching out, being something. At the very core of the G‑dhead, then, the potential “not to illuminate” is tied in to G‑d’s very Essence, whereas the potential “to illuminate” is a later, lower dimension.

When we return to study both the primordial pre-tzimtzum infinite illumination as well as tzimtzum in this light, different, deeper meanings and respective values emerge. Prior to tzimtzum, it was G‑d in action, as it were—that is, surprisingly, the actualization of the lower potential, the potential “to illuminate,” whereby the infinite “light” shone unrestricted. Whereas tzimtzum, the restriction and constriction of the “light,” is now seen to represent the actualization of the deeper trend within G‑d: the passive, restricted-in-the-self dimension of G‑dliness; the potential “not to illuminate,” tied in with the very Essence. No longer is the potential “to illuminate”—i.e. to create, to reach out and relate, to be manifest, to be something—in focus; but the ability to be, in and of itself, as in the very Essence of G‑d. Thus interpreted, tzimtzum is no degeneration at all but a return to the primordial mode of essence.

An important consequence of this change of perspective from the general Kabbalistic and even Chasidic view on the Creation process is the significant shift of emphasis in Dirah Betachtonim concerning the cosmic purpose of existence and the goal of human endeavor. As noted earlier, according to Kabbalah and many Chasidic texts the general aim of existence and the thrust of spiritual endeavor is to transcend tzimtzum, to restore the world to the original all-encompassing pristine “light,” to the infinity that preceded tzimtzum. But Dirah Betachtonim is concerned with redeeming the world from even the primordial infinity—which is after all merely a manifestation, a reaching out, a relationship, “illumination”—back to the Essence of G‑d. Dirah Betachtonim seeks to transcend “light” in all its forms, whatever its purity and expanse—harking back to the dark Essence.

The UnG‑dly Characteristics of Reality

If it is essence, the ultimate in G‑dliness, that is to be sought by religious man, then the channel that leads him towards the Essence is in fact precisely via tzimtzum—and via the finitude that emerged from it. Accordingly, when man seeks the truly primordial G‑dly state, he ought not try to penetrate the surface of his world, to achieve the dissolution of hard and fast reality, reaching for the underlying infinite substratum. On the contrary, he ought to seek this reality, in fact seek finitude itself. For that which is not expansive but finite, not fluid but hard and fast, that which is totally silent of any declaration of G‑dliness—is in fact the non-expansive, restricted-in-itself, not telling but silent nature of Essence, that has become manifest via tzimtzum.

Thus we return once more to our earlier remarks concerning the attitude of Dirah Betachtonim; that the very naive plane of this reality, not merely its underlying substratum, is G‑dly. From a more total perspective, tzimtzum does not represent a cosmic tragedy resulting in a cover-up of G‑dliness—and the finite contours of natural reality as we naturally perceive it, that emerged from tzimtzum, are not something that must be overcome and transcended to permit G‑dliness to come through. They are not an unredeemable vantage point that must be shed: they represent in fact the deepest aspect of the Divine. For tzimtzum was a positive act of G‑d, providing man with finite, restrictive reality—an avenue to the deepest recess, to the restricted in-itself of the Divine.

Let us return now to the two salient features of Dirah Betachtonim identified at the beginning of the chapter and restate them afresh. First, our naive reality is united with G‑d since it too exists, that is, owes its existence to G‑d, partaking of the Essence, sharing in the Being of G‑d. Second, the absence of G‑dly features in this world is particularly suited to a relationship with G‑d. We now understand this second point to mean not only that finite unG‑dly reality enjoys a special relationship because its character represents the absence of superimpositions that cover the essence. But moreover: the unG‑dly features of this reality—finitude, being hard and fast—themselves manifest the in-itself character of essence: the character of the Essence of G‑d which their being truly is.

Dirah Betachtonim has thus once again, by probing Kabbalistic and Chasidic concepts deeper, achieved a striking reversal from commonly held metaphysical attitudes. In addition to its view that our reality is not metaphysically distinct, outside the Supernal Unity as commonly held, but is rather united with G‑d in equal measure to the unity of higher realities—Dirah Betachtonim claims that our reality does not in truth display unG‑dly features as usually maintained. Indeed, the very self-same nature of the very unG‑dly qualities of this reality usually highlighted to downgrade our reality, those very traits which superficially suggest that this reality is G‑d-forsaken, and the very presentation of these qualities—are redeemed by this system, transformed rather than transcended, as from this profoundest of perspectives they reflect and root in the Essence of G‑d.


Having learned that appearances can be deceiving, that the very traits which superficially bespeak the absence of G‑d are in truth the manifestation of Essence, let us now consider what is usually deemed the most obnoxious trait of this reality from a religious point of view, namely the apparent self-substantiality and independence of this reality.

Our world appears self-sufficient, independent; it belies its creative Source, parading as a thing in and of itself. All higher realities represent some aspect of the Divine, manifest some Divine quality, or in other words, exist tellingly in a relationship with G‑d—overtly dependent upon their Source. Indeed, it would appear that naturally, as it were, the sensation of dependence must occur throughout all realities, for, after all, they are all systems that are in fact dependent upon G‑d. This reality therefore commonly stands condemned for appearing to deny its origins, for having somehow totally divorced itself from its Source, even to the point of rebellion. Dirah Betachtonim maintains, however, that correctly interpreted this characteristic, too, arises due to the distinction of this world.

To understand this we ask: If all ultimately comes from G‑d, how in fact can this world not manifest its source? How can it apparently sever its umbilical cord, its very lifeline? The answer must be, paradoxically, that this reality has been endowed with some special power that permits it to achieve this denial. For having learned that the totality of reality emerges but from the one G‑d—for without G‑d there is non-existence, it follows that apparent shortcomings of reality, too, must come from G‑d; for if not, whence did they come? Let us, then, attempt to trace the specific source of this unusual endowment: where, as it were, within the G‑dhead does the notion of independence root? No G‑dly attribute or manifestation can provide this trait. For as we have just noted, throughout all that emerges from G‑d, even—nay, especially—at the highest levels of G‑dly emanations, dependence on G‑d prevails. It is only in G‑d’s Essence that independence lies. G‑d’s very Essence is independent; self-sufficient and self-substantial. He exists in and of Himself, due to nothing outside of Himself. (This of course is central to the very notion of G‑d.) And it is of this quality, maintains Dirah Betachtonim, that our reality partakes.

To summarize this and the previous two chapters: It is in Dirah Betachtonim that the notion of cosmic unity reaches its climax. All of the many, apparently diverse facets of the “laser hologram,” as it were, the arms as well as the legs, the eyes as the toes, are all one: they are all “light.” Even the very naive dimensions and perceptions of this reality themselves, are part of the great unity that permeates all existence. Indeed, when correctly interpreted, the very traits that apparently bespeak rebellion and indifference to G‑d are manifestations of the unity of all in—specifically—the Essence of G‑d.

Of the two types of realms, the higher worlds with their ambience of dependence upon G‑d and this lowest of worlds with its atmosphere of independence, the latter paradoxically roots deeper in the Divine. Our reality specifically, naked as it is of all superimpositions, is transparent to the core: it partakes of the unadulterated Essence of G‑d—the character of which is in fact in-itself, hard and fast and independent. Thus, maintains Dirah Betachtonim, specifically this, “this lowly world, beneath which there is no lower,” is the arena for the deepest relationship with G‑d.

“The created something is verily the True Something”; a most significant phrase in Dirah Betachtonim. See Biurei Hazohar by Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, Beshalach, page 43, column 3.
As indicated in the previous chapter, according to Chasidic teachings Creation is a perpetual process, not a one-time event in the past: If the ‘laser lights’ would not perpetually produce reality, all of reality would automatically revert back to the primordial nonexistence. I nevertheless use the past tense in the discussion of Creation in this chapter and in most of the book in order to facilitate presentation.
Hechal 1, Shaar 1, Chapter 2.
This paradox will be addressed in detail in "The Nature of G‑d"
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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