והנה כמו שמדה זו היא שבחו של הקב״ה לבדו

Now, this attribute of “HaGadol”, the attribute of Chesed that spreads forth His life-force into all the worlds so as to create them ex nihilo, is exclusively the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He,

שאין ביכולת שום נברא לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו

for no created thing can create a being out of nothing and give it life.

Creatio ex nihilo is utterly beyond the realm of created beings. In the words of the Midrash:1 “Even if all mankind were to gather together they would not be able to create even the wing of a gnat and animate it.”

וגם מדה זו היא למעלה מהשכלת כל הברואים והשגתם

This attribute of benevolence, whereby G‑d creates ex nihilo, is also beyond the cognition of all creatures and their understanding,

שאין כח בשכל שום נברא להשכיל ולהשיג מדה זו ויכלתה לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו

for it is not within the power of the intellect of any creature to comprehend through the faculty of Chochmah or understand through the faculty of Binah this attribute and its ability to create a being out of nothing and vivify it.

כי הבריאה יש מאין היא דבר שלמעלה משכל הנבראים, כי היא ממדת גדולתו של הקב״ה

For creatio ex nihilo is a matter which transcends the intellect of all creatures, inasmuch as it stems from the Divine attribute of Gedulah.

והקב״ה ומדותיו אחדות פשוט, כדאיתא בזהר הקדוש: דאיהו וגרמוהי חד

Now the Holy One, blessed be He, and His attributes are a perfect unity, as the holy Zohar states,2 “He and His causations i.e., His attributes are One,”

וכשם שאין ביכולת שום שכל נברא להשיג בוראו, כך אינו יכול להשיג מדותיו

and just as it is impossible for the mind of any creature to comprehend its Creator, so is it impossible for it to comprehend His attributes, for they are One with Him.

Until now we have been speaking of the specific attribute of Gedulah, or Chesed. The Alter Rebbe will now say that just as this attribute, which is responsible for creation, is unfathomable, so too with regard to the attribute of Gevurah, or “contraction”. The function of this attribute is to conceal from created beings the activating force within them, enabling them to exist as tangible entities, instead of being utterly nullified within their source.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

וכמו שאין ביכולת שום שכל נברא להשיג מדת גדולתו, שהיא היכולת לברוא יש מאין ולהחיותו, כדכתיב: עולם חסד יבנה

And just as it is impossible for the mind of any creature to apprehend His attribute of Gedulah, which is the ability to create a being out of nothing and give it life, as it is written,3 “The world is built by i.e., created through the attribute of kindness,”

כך ממש אין ביכלתו להשיג מדת גבורתו של הקב״ה, שהיא מדת הצמצום ומניעת התפשטות החיות מגדולתו

exactly so is it impossible for it to apprehend the Divine attribute of Gevurah (“might,” “restraint”), which is the faculty of tzimtzum (“condensation,” “contraction,”), restraining the spreading forth of the life-force from His attribute of Gedulah,

מלירד ולהתגלות על הנבראים, להחיותם ולקיימם בגילוי, כי אם בהסתר פנים

preventing it from descending upon and manifesting itself to the creatures, and providing them with life and existence in a revealed manner, but rather with His Countenance concealed; i.e., the Divine activating force is at work within creation in a concealed manner.

Thus, it is the attribute of Gevurah and tzimtzum that enables the life-force to be concealed from the very creature it is creating.

שהחיות מסתתר בגוף הנברא, וכאילו גוף הנברא הוא דבר בפני עצמו

For the life-force conceals itself in the body of the created being, [making it appear] as if the body of the created being had independent existence,

ואינו התפשטות החיות והרוחניות כהתפשטות הזיו והאור מהשמש, אלא הוא דבר בפני עצמו

and [making it appear as though] the created being was not [merely] an extension of the life-force and the spirituality that creates it — just like the diffusion of the radiance and light of the sun — but an independently existing entity.

ואף שבאמת אינו דבר בפני עצמו, אלא כמו התפשטות האור מהשמש

Although, in reality, [the created being] has no independent existence, and is only like the diffusion of the light from the sun,

Just as the sun’s rays are merely a diffusion from the sun, so, too, all of creation is but a diffusion of G‑d’s activating force. Since, however, created beings are continuously found within their source (unlike the sun’s rays which do leave their source), their Divine source should cause them to be completely nullified within it, just as the light of the sun is in a state of complete nullification when found within the sun.

מכל מקום הן הן גבורותיו של הקב״ה, אשר כל יכול

nevertheless, this nullification is not felt by created beings even though they are but a diffusion of G‑d’s activating force, for this [capacity for self-concealment] is the very restraining power of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is Omnipotent,

G‑d’s omnipotence expresses itself not only in His ability to bring forth light and bestow life, but also in His ability to conceal this same light and life from the beings He creates.

לצמצם החיות והרוחניות הנשפע מרוח פיו ולהסתירו

[and hence able] to condense the life-force and spirituality which issues from the “breath of His mouth” and to conceal it,

שלא יבטל גוף הנברא במציאות

so that the body of the created being shall not become nullified out of existence, and hence, notwithstanding the fact that the created being is but a diffusion of the rays of its source, it is thus enabled to perceive itself to be an independently existing entity.

וזה אין בשכל שום נברא להשיג מהות הצמצום וההסתר

It is beyond the scope of the mind of any creature to comprehend the essential nature of the tzimtzum and concealment,

-ושיהיה אף על פי כן גוף הנברא נברא מאין ליש

and [to comprehend] that nonetheless — the tzimtzum notwithstanding — the creature itself be created ex nihilo.

But since creation is an act of revelation rather than concealment, creatio ex nihilo should surely consist of the revelation of the Divine life-force within the created being. How, then, do both these things manifest themselves at one and the same time? On the one hand, the revelation of the Divine life-force; on the other, the condensation and concealment of this life-force, so that created beings will be unaware of it and consider themselves to be independently existing entities, and not utterly nullified within their source.

Indeed, the paradox of tzimtzum defies the comprehension of mere created beings, —

כמו שאין יכולת בשכל שום נברא להשיג מהות הבריאה מאין ליש

just as it is not within the capacity of the mind of any creature to comprehend the essential nature of the creation of being out of nothing.

Since the capacity for tzimtzum emanates from the Divine attribute of Gevurah, one might erroneously infer that it actually serves to create an independently existing entity; i.e., not only does the created being regard itself as such, but the Creator views it so as well.

For inasmuch as G‑d causes this concealment, and His attribute of Gevurah, the ability to conceal, is as real and as effective as His attribute of Gedulah, His ability to reveal, we may mistakenly liken creation to the sun’s rays insofar as they exist beyond the confines of the sun-globe.

Forestalling this possible error, the Alter Rebbe now explains that G‑d’s power to reveal and His power to conceal are truly one and the same. For revelation and concealment are respectively “light” (or) and its “vessels” (kelim), which are fused in complete and total unity. Moreover, in the state in which they exist in their supernal source, they are not only united: they are one and the same.

Now it is axiomatic that “No entity can conceal itself from itself.”

An illustration of this concept is found in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, where it is stated that covering one’s head with one’s hand does not serve as a valid head-covering, because head and hand are part of the selfsame individual; the hand cannot be said to conceal that which the head itself reveals.

The same is true here too: Since the power to reveal and the power to conceal are essentially one and the same power, which is a manifestation of G‑d’s limitless ability, it is impossible for tzimtzum to bring about a real concealment that will be so regarded when viewed from the Divine perspective. Tzimtzum only enables created beings to perceive themselves as independently existing entities; G‑d does not view them this way at all.