People the world over have different ways to talk about G‑d. At some point, the Kabbalists began calling G‑d “The Infinite Light.” For example:

Know that before the emanations were emanated and the creations were created, there was a supernal, simple light filling all of existence. There was no vacant space . . . rather, all was filled with that simple, endless light. There was no beginning and no end; rather, all was one simple light, with a single equivalence. This is what is called the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite Light).1

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was to discuss G‑d as beyond infinite, and certainly beyond light. Beyond infinite is something like saying “beyond beyond.” In a later article, G‑d willing, we’ll explore that very important idea. But to know what is beyond beyond, we must first have some idea of what is before beyond. Infinite Light is a very mystifying term. Let’s engage our minds to touch just a little of the awe that phrase should ignite.

First, we’ll put aside the infinite for a minute, and start with the light. Let’s get super-analytical about the above passage: How could there be light before there is anything at all? What would it illuminate, if nothing yet exists? Where would it radiate, if space is yet to be invented? What is its frequency, considering that time has yet to begin?

Obviously, we’re not speaking of light as something shiny that allows you to see objects, or as a spectrum of radiant electromagnetic energy. We’re speaking of the original, primal energy. That from which all energy, including physical energy, eventually results.

Read light as “the capacity for isness

Energy means the capacity for something new to come about. The primal energy would be the capacity for any at all to come about. Read light as “the capacity for isness.”

Yes, isness. I don’t have a better term in English, so I had to make up that word from the word is. Being or Existence just confuse matters. In Hebrew, there are much better words—which basically translate as . . . well, isness.

Meditation on Infinite Isness

Right now, open your mind and think of the isness of everything. Everything is, but here we’re not talking about the thingness of everything; we’re talking about the isness of it all. Meaning, not the way anything is, not anything particular about any of them, just that it all is. The Infinite Light is that which makes it possible that anything at all is.

Now, open your mind as wide as possible, and think of an unlimited capacity for this isness. Isness of absolutely anything. Not just everything that actually is, not just plants and animals, not just earth, water, wind and fire, not just negative and positive energy, matter and antimatter, not just time and as many dimensions of space as physicists may determine—but anything.

Anything would include an infinite number of alternatives to time and space, each with infinite dimensions. An infinite number of alternatives to the laws and patterns of nature as we know it—along with the possibility for no laws and patterns whatsoever, infinite versions of chaos.

Having infinite possibilities is like turning the contrast all the way down on your display.

An infinite spectrum of isness stretches beyond alternatives to anything we know of. When all is equally possible, then all possibilities are equivalent. There is no higher or lower, before or after, more or less, up or down. There are no boundaries, nothing to distinguish one possibility from another. Rather, all exists as a perfectly homogeneous whole. Having infinite possibilities is something like turning the contrast all the way down on your computer display. At zero contrast, all distinction of meaning disappears.

If so, rather than a set of anything, the Infinite Light may better be described as the ultimate nothing. Not nothing in the sense of being a null set, but quite the opposite: Nothing as no things. Within the Infinite Light, within the boundless capacity for the isness of all things, distinct things cannot emerge. All is one.

No Vacancy

By now you may have realized that the anythingness or isness of the Infinite Light is beyond the capacity of the human imagination to conceive, no matter how wide you open your mind. After all, within it, even reason does not have to be.

One thing we can understand, however, is that the Infinite Light does not provide a stage for our reality to be real. Where anything is possible, nothing has meaning. That’s what the Zohar means when it says that before the Infinite Light, all is considered null.2

Our world inside the Infinite Light would play out something like a light show in broad daylight, or better, inside the orb of the sun itself. Like a fleeting thought within a heart pounding with emotion. Like a momentary fantasy forgotten within the sea of an endless daydream. Yet, much less than any of that—because those are all relations of finite qualities. Here, we are speaking of the infinite.

Infinity provides no stage for a finite drama.

Infinity provides no stage for a finite drama. For that, there had to be a tsimtsum. Which you can read about in What Is Tsimtsum? Basically, tsimtsum is how the Infinite Light is hidden as far as the created beings are concerned, while remaining present—everywhere, encompassing and pervading all that is—as far as the Infinite Light itself is concerned.

Which means that we truly are a light show within the sun.

What Do You Call a G‑d Who Is Everything?

What you may well be asking is: If this is so fundamental to our understanding of reality, why isn’t it everywhere throughout Jewish texts?

Well it is. Everywhere. In the two names of G‑d.

G‑d has many names, some considered more sacred than others. But there are two that are used most consistently, and of those two, only one is truly a name. One is Elo-him. I put a dash in there because it is a sacred name, so we don’t spell it out the way it’s pronounced in anything that might be discarded in the trash. You might want to print out this article, and many other articles, and eventually you might need to make some space in your home by discarding some of them. So we throw in a dash, just to be careful.

We also don’t pronounce this name casually. When not praying or reading from the Torah, we generally say “Elokim,” substituting a “k” for the “h.”

Elokim is not really a name; it is a title. It means “one that is mighty.” Mighty people, or angels, are also given the title elohim—and then it can be pronounced at any time. But as it applies to G‑d, it means the One Who Is Almighty, because He is the master of all powers that be.3

Then there is the four-letter name that we do not pronounce, even in prayer. It was uttered only in the ancient Temple, in the daily priestly blessing. Once a year, when the high priest would perform the Yom Kippur service, he would also pronounce this name, and all the people who heard would fall to the ground and prostrate themselves.

In prayer and in Torah reading, we substitute the name Ado-nai—but, like Elokim, we don’t pronounce that name when not necessary. Generally, we refer to this name simply as Hashem—which means “the name.” Here, I will use the standard convention of Kabbalists and call this name by a transposition of its letters, Havayeh, which actually carries some of the meaning of this name.

Havayeh is a name, not a title. It can never refer to anyone other than the one it refers to, and does not accept a possessive suffix (as in “my Havayeh” or “your Havayeh”). It is called “the essential name.”4

G‑d’s name is a conjugation of the verb to be.

Which is fascinating. Because Havayeh is a conjugation of the verb “to be.”

The Code of Jewish Law tells us that when reading this name we are to understand it as “was, is, will be” wrapped up in a single word.5 We’re also told that it can be read as “causing to be.”6 In the language we have adopted here, we are talking about the Infinite Light, the boundless capacity for isness. Indeed, the word Havayeh that we substitute for the actual pronunciation means “existence,” “being”—or better, “isness.”

Which is why I emphasized that this is a name and not a title. Because if it were a title, the meaning would be “the One who was, is and will be,” or “the One who is causing being.” Since it is a name, that reading is incorrect. He is not the One who is. He is is. The absolute Is and the capacity for all isness. The Infinite Light.

Impossible to Not Believe

Gil Locks was once known as the guru of Central Park. He wore long robes, had a dedicated following, and sat in meditation for 23 hours a day. Today, and just about any day, you can find him at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, chatting with tourists and convincing them to wrap tefillin, the black leather boxes which Jewish males wrap on their heads and arms at the time of prayer.

You can’t find anyone better than Gil at what he does. Once, when he approached one group of tourists and asked them to wrap tefillin, the puzzled travelers turned to their Israeli tour guide for explanation. “You can do it if you like,” he told them coldly, “but I won’t, because I do not believe there is a G‑d.”

Anyone else would just let that roll, but not Gil. He turned to the guide and said, “That’s not true. You’re not making any sense. I can prove to you that you believe there is a G‑d.”

The guide was indignant. “How can you do that?” he responded.

“You know that we use the word Havayeh to mean G‑d,” Gil answered. “Now say to me in Hebrew that Havayeh does not exist!”

The tour guide, of course, was flummoxed. Because it makes no sense to say that existence does not exist.

So next time you are in one of those existential moods, pondering what existence is all about, remind yourself that according to the Hebrew language you are pondering G‑d. And it could be a long pondering, because the power of isness is infinite.