His knowledge, however, which is united with His essence and being—

אַךְ יְדִיעָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ –

for “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known,

כִּי "הוּא הַמַּדָּע וְהוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַיָּדוּעַ,

It has been previously explained (in ch. 2) that G-d’s knowledge and intellect are totally different from man’s. When a mortal being knows something, three distinct identities are involved: (a) the “knower”—the person in possession of the knowledge; (b) the “knowledge”—the intellectual faculty which enables him to know; and (c) the “known”—the particular item of knowledge which he knows. G-d, however, “…is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.” He that knows, and the vehicle through which He knows, and that which He knows—are all Himself. Thus, His knowledge is wholly united, wholly identified, with His essence.

and knowing Himself, as it were, He knows all created beings,

וּבִידִיעַת עַצְמוֹ כִּבְיָכוֹל יוֹדֵעַ כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים,

though not with a knowledge that is external to Himself, like the knowledge of a human being,

וְלֹא בִּידִיעָה שֶׁחוּץ מִמֶּנּוּ כִּידִיעַת הָאָדָם,

Human knowledge requires getting to know something which is external to the knower himself. Not so G-d’s knowledge: it comes from His knowing Himself,

for all of [the created beings] are derived from His true reality,

כִּי כּוּלָּם נִמְצָאִים מֵאֲמִיתָּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

G-d’s true reality and existence is the source of all created beings. By knowing Himself, therefore, as mentioned just above, He knows all of creation.

and this thing is not within the power of human beings to comprehend clearly, and so on”

וְדָבָר זֶה אֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת הָאָדָם לְהַשִּׂיגוֹ עַל בּוּרְיוֹ וְכוּ'"

The human mind cannot possibly grasp the concept of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known” all being one and the same. For whatever matter a man may desire to comprehend, he imagines how it exists within himself—bearing in mind, of course, that when the matter at hand is the knowledge of G-dliness, it is to be conceived on a more exalted and abstract plane than that of simple human existence. Since G-d’s manner of knowledge is totally dissimilar from man’s, it is thus impossible for him to picture it at all. It must forever remain beyond his ken.

“He is the Knowledge, the Knower…” and so on, is a quotation from Rambam (Maimonides). There are prominent sages who take issue with this view, among them Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loew) of Prague.

In the introduction to his Gevurot Hashem, Maharal raises a number of objections to the thesis of Rambam. One of his most telling arguments: The descriptive term “knowledge” or “intellect” is one of limitation. By terming something as being “intellect,” we are thereby saying that it is not anything other than intellect—such as feelings, action, or whatever. Yet how can we possibly say that G-d is limited in any way? For He is the ultimate in indivisible simplicity, not a complex amalgamation of distinct, limited attributes.

Even if we posit that G-d’s knowledge and man’s are totally dissimilar, and that man is incapable of comprehending how G-d is both simultaneously “Knowledge, Knower, and Known,” yet the fact still remains that knowledge is a specific attribute: we are speaking of knowledge, to the exclusion of all else. This cannot possibly serve as a description of G-d’s essence.

Maharal goes on to point out that the Sages of the Talmud refer to G-d as “the Holy One, blessed be He,” not as “the intellect, blessed be He.” For “holy” means separate and apart—utterly transcending anything that is within the realm of description. And it is specifically because He is above everything and beyond all description that everything derives from Him. For He is limited in no respect that might preclude the existence of anything.

Intellect, Maharal teaches, is merely one of G-d’s creations. Seen in this light, “And G-d knew” is no different from “And G-d said” or “And G-d made.” Just as G-d’s speech and action are not His essence but faculties which He brought into being, so, too, with regard to knowledge—the attributes of knowledge and intellect are His creations.

The Alter Rebbe explains in this note that the scholars of the Kabbalah subscribed to the view of Rambam that Divine knowledge ought to be considered in terms of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, they specify, this only applies after the light of the Ein Sof contracted into the ten sefirot of Atzilutchochmah, binah, daat (wisdom, knowledge and understanding), and so on, i.e., after the “clothing of the light in vessels.” Only after the light of chochmah clothed itself in the vessel of chochmah, the light of binah in the vessel of binah, and so forth—i.e., only after these entities already exist—is it possible to say that this knowledge and intellect is totally at one with G-d. However, before the contraction within these sefirot, G-d supremely transcends intellect and wisdom, even as they exist in their most abstract and rarefied form.

According to the teachings of Chasidut, following along the lines of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria’s interpretation of the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), the views of both Rambam and Maharal are correct.

G-d’s essential existence and being, before any contraction of G-dliness, is as described by Maharal—an existence of unqualified simplicity beyond the pale of knowledge and intellect in whatever form they may take, even so subtle a form as “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, once the contraction took place and the sefirot came into being, then His vestiture in them may properly be described by saying, in the words of Rambam, that “He is the Knowledge….”

This is because the sefirot are emanations of G-dliness rather than created beings. As such, they are wholly united with G-d. This is expressed in the statement of Tikkunei Zohar: “He and His life-giving emanations (i.e., the orot, the “lights” of the ten sefirot of the World of Atzilut) are one; He and His causations (i.e., the kelim, the “vessels” of the ten sefirot of Atzilut) are one….” That is to say, the Ein Sof-light is one with the lights and vessels of Atzilut. This is exactly the same as saying “He is the Knowledge…,” for the knowledge of the sefirot is truly one with G-d (and not a created being), as Maharal insists.

For the view of Maharal, too, is fraught with difficulties. Firstly, we note that Scripture does ascribe knowledge to G-d Himself as in the verse, “…and His understanding is beyond reckoning.”5 Furthermore, it appears unreasonable to argue that G-d’s knowledge is dependent on a created entity.

According to the explanation of Chasidut, then, all these difficulties—both those in the view of Maharal and those in the view of Rambam—are satisfactorily resolved: G-d’s essence is indeed beyond description, yet He is still the “Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known” as He unites Himself with the sefirot of Atzilut after their having come into being through the medium of “contraction.”

In the words of the Alter Rebbe:

As Rambam, of blessed memory, has written—that G-d is “Knowledge, Knower, and Known”—

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה,

and the scholars of the Kabbalah have agreed with his views as is stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, of blessed memory.

וְהִסְכִּימוּ ﬠִמּוֹ חַכְמֵי הַקַּבָּלָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּפַּרְדֵּ"ס מֵהָרְמַ"ק זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה.

This is also in accord with the Kabbalah of our master, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory,

וְכֵן הוּא לְפִי קַבָּלַת הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה,

It was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, who first revealed the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), which taught that G-d’s exalted essence is even more removed from the sefirot than was thought before then. It would thus be logical to assume that since he stresses this infinite distance from the sefirot (the sefirah of chochmah, for example), he would be unable to accept the statement that “He is the Knowledge….” Nevertheless, this teaching holds true even according to him—but with the proviso:

in the mystery i.e., the doctrine of “contraction” and the clothing of the lights [of the sefirot] in the vessels [of the sefirot], as has been explained previously, in ch. 2.

בְּסוֹד הַצִּמְצוּמִים וְהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת אוֹרוֹת בַּכֵּלִים, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְﬠֵיל פֶּרֶק ב':

The unity of G-d with the Divine sefirot is so absolute that even according to Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, one may safely say of this unity, “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.”

Before the above note, the Alter Rebbe stated that G-d’s knowledge is united with His essence and being; since He is infinite, His knowledge is infinite as well. It is therefore impossible for this knowledge to pervade the earth, and it must encompass it. This is true, of course, not only of G-d’s knowledge of the earth but of creation as a whole.

this knowledge, then, since it is of an infinite order, is not described as clothing itself in the orb of the earth, which is finite and limited, while G-d’s knowledge is limitless but as encircling and encompassing it,

– הֲרֵי יְדִיעָה זוֹ, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהִיא בִּבְחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף, אֵינָהּ נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּכַדּוּר הָאָרֶץ שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית, אֶלָּא מַקֶּפֶת וְסוֹבֶבֶת.

even though this knowledge embraces its entire thickness and interior in actual reality,

אַף שֶׁיְּדִיעָה זוֹ כּוֹלֶלֶת כָּל עָבְיוֹ וְתוֹכוֹ בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ,

Unlike the knowledge of a human being, which encompasses only the image of an object and not its reality, G-d’s knowledge embraces the object in actual reality,

thereby giving it existence ex nihilo,

וּמְהַוָּוה אוֹתוֹ עַל יְדֵי זֶה מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

Creation does not come about from the minute glimmer of G-dliness found within the object, which sustains it only at the inanimate and vegetative level, but from the supernal knowledge that encompasses and encircles it. And although this knowledge is responsible for the object’s existence, it is still described as encompassing. For inasmuch as the knowledge is infinite while the created being is finite, this knowledge is unable to clothe itself within the created being.

as is explained elsewhere—that creation ex nihilo can take place only as a result of the “encompassing light.”

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר: