G‑d, in the wrong hands, is a very dangerous idea. Especially a single, omnipotent and perfect G‑d.

If G‑d is omnipotent, then we are powerless, our world is insignificant, and that which does not fulfill its purpose is better off eliminated.

If G‑d is perfect, He needs nothing, and we have no purpose to begin with.

If G‑d is the all-consuming very ground of existence, then we are less than dust; we have no meaning at all.

In that case, ultimately, nothing matters—other than, perhaps, our own self-obliteration within the perfect, infinite oneness of non-being.

And what of a G‑d that cannot be called a being, not even a supreme being, but rather hovers beyond existence, choosing whether existence should be or not be? Within that context, we and all of existence are but an arbitrary whim, a fleeting fiction, a nothingness. In that case, ultimately, nothing matters, nothing has real meaning—other than, perhaps, our own self-obliteration within the perfect, infinite oneness of non-being.

Which is very dangerous.

It is dangerous because it expunges the seeker of enlightenment who has experienced this epiphany from any responsibility to better the world in which he or she lives, so that the people who could make the most difference are not to be found. Enoch, it is said, walked with G‑d and was no more. In the meantime, his world fell into decadence and corruption.

And it is very dangerous because it provides those who claim to know G‑d and truth with an excuse for every form of exploitation. It was Balaam’s excuse to act as a mercenary, Haman’s excuse to attempt genocide. Because, ultimately, all is equal, nothing really matters.

If G‑d is not to be a dangerous idea, G‑d must be good. But that would seem to be a small G‑d, a defined G‑d, limited by the parameters of goodness. How can we believe in a G‑d that contains all of existence and yet believe that His goodness is real and absolute?

There is only one solution, but it is a very strange and radical solution: If the idea of G‑d is not to result (G‑d forbid) in some sort of acosmic nihilism, the idea of purpose must lie even before is-and-not-is. There must first be meaning, and then the context of that meaning. There must first be love, and only then that which is loved. There must first be a story, and only then an existence to provide its stage.

There must first be a story, and only then an existence to provide its stage.

That which lies beyond existence must co-exist with the burning meaning of my existence this moment here on earth in a perfect oneness, as a singularity. But for that to make some sort of sense, everything must be turned upside down.

Memories of the Future

The Rebbe pointed to the Great Maggid, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, heir to the Baal Shem Tov, for the keys to this radical solution.

“Imagine a father,” said the Maggid, “who has a child. And the child grows up and leaves him. Others have left him before, and their memory is imprinted in his mind as ink upon parchment. But a child is different. The image of a child is not printed, but engraved within his mind, entirely one with him, so that the memory and the father are a single being—just as the stone and the letters engraved within the stone are a single entity.”

“This is true of a human father, for whom memory begins only once there is a child and the child has parted from him. But the Creator of all things is the creator of time as well. And so, for Him, the image of the child is one with Him even before time begins.”

“This is what is meant,” the Maggid concluded, “when we are told that G‑d created the human being in His image. Which image? In that image which He conceived before time began, and from which all time was initiated.”

Everything the chassidic masters said has an earlier source, usually in Talmud or Midrash. And here too:

“Before the Creator created,” ask the Talmudic sages, “with whom did He consult?” And they answer, “With the souls of the righteous.”

The sages often couch their teachings in poetic allegory, so that the fool who is not fit to know them will dismiss them as nonsense, while the seeker will strip past the poetry to discover the secret within:

If the Creator is consulting, the Rebbe points out, that could only mean that nothing has yet been decided. Nothing—not even whether anything at all should be or not be. For that, too, is deliberate—there is nothing that has to be. We are speaking then, of that point where existence itself, so to speak, is still on the table. A point that stands within every moment of time—because for every moment, that decision must be made again.

What is the spark that ignites existence? It is the memory of a story that has yet to be told.

What is the spark that ignites existence? It is the memory of a story that has yet to be told.

That is the human soul that G‑d consulted—that story: That a child will go away from its father, and from there return. And in doing so, the child shall fix up an entire world. That story is our purpose and the meaning of all that is. It is our soul at its very root and core.

Our meaning and purpose, then, precedes all is-ness, precedes the very origin of isness, and lies at the core of every detail that is, from the very first emanation of divine light, to the harshest darkness of this world that is left for us to transform.

No, we do not create ourselves. But as paradoxical as it sounds, we are the instigators of our own conception.

Not Being, and Being I

Another midrash, again stripped of its outer garb:

When Adam arose from the dust as a breathing, living being, he beheld about him a ready-made world of trees and plants, birds and fish, beasts of prey and beasts of burden. He said, “All of them were only created to serve me, and I was only created to serve my Creator.”

That’s how it translates into proper English. Translated word for word, it reads, “All of them were not created except to serve me. And I was not created, except to serve my Creator.”

Do you see the difference? “I was not created”—that statement stands on its own. I, as a being to myself, am a fiction, nothing more than a fantasy flickering in and out of existence at a finite point along an infinite continuum of time. My very sense of “I” is a fabrication, a lie. I am not. Except to serve my Creator, to play out that story from which all originates, that precedes the origin of time itself—only then do I exist. Truly exist. Because that purpose of mine is rooted in the original “I,” the only true “I”—the ”I am that which I am." The only I that is absolute.

And if so, what of this world? It is the background of the story in which I play my part, the pieces of a puzzle left for me to put together. And so, it too now exists.

Engravings in the Sky

All along, the question begs itself: What is a story, or a soul, or a purpose when there is not yet space or time, or even the concept of such? How could anything exist before existence? The entire proposal seems an oxymoron.

Maimonides writes in his Guide to the Perplexed: with existence begins duality—is and is not; exist and not exist. Before existence, there is only One. In the words of the Tikunei Zohar, “One, but not a numerical one”—because there is no possibility for a number two. If there is anything else but the One, existence has already begun.

To which we answer that the story, before it unfolds, cannot be said to exist. It is not even an idea. It is one with the perfect singularity that precedes existence.

And the Maggid is telling us that the story of our souls begins there, within that absolute oneness. For their story is not printed, as ink upon parchment. They are engraved, as letters that are one with the stone into which they are engraved. Or let me use the imagery of the Zohar: they are like “engravings upon the bright, clear sky.”

Call it G‑d’s subconscious—a very deep subconscious. Because not only is consciousness yet to be created, there is not yet anything of which to be conscious. It is a memory of time from a place that is utterly beyond the bounds of time, where past, present and future collapse into an indivisible One.

Which means that when something meaningful does occur, when the child actually turns around and returns to the essence from which he came, when the story plays itself out within time and space, it is not simply some hidden potential emerging into actuality—it is something entirely new, something that has appeared out of nowhere and nothingness.

We are acting out G‑d’s subconscious, and with that capacity creating something from nothing.

The cosmic order, the stage upon which all this plays, that is all the effect of a cause, an outcome, a result, an emergence from potential into actual. But the story itself is that from which all emerges. In acting it out, we reach, so to speak, into G‑d’s subconscious, and with the capacity of that place create something from nothing.

Begin Here

Admittedly, the concepts lie at the extreme edge of abstraction. But their thrust is concrete and vital: Not only does existence have meaning, but meaning creates existence. When you or I or any human being plays out his or her part and gets it right—meaning, when one of us decides to turn around in the right direction, and turn our entire world around along with us—at that point we are creating reality.

The Mishnah teaches, “Know that which is above you."

The Maggid reads that as “Know that which is above comes from you."

His pupil, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, extended that to “Know that which is above exists from you."

And the Rebbe explained, “Know that all of time, from the very first emergence of existence, begins with you, now."

Effectively, the Rebbe set the entire cosmic order into a spin: Where does creation begin? At whichever point you cause it to begin—by making real that part of the story that is left for you alone. That point and the G‑d-point form a singularity, two halves of a perfect whole.

G‑d, it turns out, is a very empowering idea.

Maamar Chayav Inish Libsumei B'Puria 5718, s'if 6. Maamar Mayim Rabim 5738, s'if 5. Maamar Padah B'Shalom 5738, s'if 3. Maamar B'Sha'ah Sh'alah Moshe Lamarom 5725, s'if 6. Maamar Chai Elul 5731. See footnotes and references in all the above.