In sections 1 and 2, the Tzemach Tzedek explained that the mitzvah of faith involved not merely believing and knowing that G‑d exists, but appreciating His transcendence and relating to Him on that level. In this section, the Tzemach Tzedek initiates a logical process of intellectual development that makes that possible, by defining the principles of faith, and in that way, deepening our understanding of G‑d’s existence.

This section begins by stating the first five of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith and explaining them according to Chassidus. It then focuses on the principle of G‑d’s True Oneness; i.e., that He is not a composite of any powers or attributes, Heaven forbid, but is simple in utter simplicity.

On that basis, questions are raised concerning the different descriptions of G‑d found in the Torah and in the words of our Sages. The Tzemach Tzedek elaborates on the concept that G‑d is described as wise and knowing, quoting the arguments of Rambam and Maharal on this issue.


– III –

וְהִנֵּה הָעִקָּרִים וְהַיְסוֹדוֹת שֶׁצָּרִיךְ כָּל אֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל לְהַאֲמִין וְלֵידַע נֶאֱמָנָה בִּמְצִיאוּת הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ

Behold, the fundamental and basic concepts that every Jew must believe in and truly know with regard to the existence of G‑d

הֵם חֲמִשָּׁה עִקָּרִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים שֶׁבְּי"ג עִקָּרִים שֶׁהֵבִיא הָרַמְבַּ"ם פֶּרֶק י' דְּסַנְהֶדְרִין

are the first five of the Thirteen Principles of Faith mentioned by Rambamin his Commentary to the Mishnah, the introduction to the tenth chapter of the tractate Sanhedrin.

שֶׁהַד' הֵם בֵּאוּר הָעִקָּר הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁהוּא מְצִיאוּת הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ

Of these, the first principle, the existence of G‑d, is of primary importance and the following four are an explanation of it.

(וְלָכֵן מְנָאָם בַּעַל הָעִקָּרִים בְּעִקָּר אֶחָד

(Therefore, the author of Ikkarimincluded them all in his first fundamental principle,

וְאָמַר שֶׁהַד' הֵם שָׁרָשִׁים מִסְתַּעֲפִים מֵעִקָּר הָרִאשׁוֹן

explaining that the other four are general concepts that are outgrowths of the first fundamental principle.

וְהָרַמְבַּ"ם חִלְּקָם לְעִקָּרִים מְיֻחָדִים

Rambamdivided them into separate principles

וְנִמּוּקוֹ עִמּוֹ

and there is a rationale for his distinction.

וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם קָרָא לָעִקָּר הָרִאשׁוֹן יְסוֹד הַיְסוֹדוֹת

Nevertheless, he called1 the first principle “The foundation of all foundations,”

כִּי הוּא עִקָּר דְּעִקָּר

for it is the most essential,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַב יִצְחָק אַבַּרְבַּנְאֵל שָׁם)

as Rav Yitzchak Abarbanel explains inRosh Amanah, loc. cit.).

וּשְׁאָר הַשְּׁמֹנָה עִקָּרִים שֶׁצָּרִיךְ כָּל אֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל לֵידַע

The remaining eight of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith that every Jew has to know do not focus on G‑d and

הֵם בֵּאוּר עִנְיַן תּוֹרָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם וְעִנְיַן שָׂכָר וְעֹנֶשׁ יְעֻיַּן שָׁם,

include the explanations of the concept that the Torah is of Divine origin, and that of reward and punishment. Consult that source.

וַחֲמִשָּׁה אֵלּוּ,

The first five of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles are:

א' שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת

1) that He is mechuyav hametzius,2

דְּהַיְנוּ שֶׁמְּצִיאוּתוֹ מֵעַצְמוּתוֹ

i.e., His existence is from His own Being

וְאֵינוֹ עָלוּל מֵאֵיזוֹ עִלָּה שֶׁקָּדְמָה לוֹ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם,

and is not a result of any prior cause, Heaven forbid;

ב' שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ אֶחָד הָאֱמֶת,

2) that He is True Oneness;

ג' שֶׁאֵינוֹ גוּף וְלֹא כֹּחַ בְּגוּף,

3) that He is not a body, nor any bodily power;

ד' שֶׁאֵין לוֹ הִתָּלוּת בִּזְמַן,

4) that He is not dependent on time; and

ה' שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ יֵשׁ לוֹ יְכֹלֶת בִּלְתִּי בַּעַל תַּכְלִית

5) that He has infinite power,

וְשֶׁפּוֹעֵל בְּרָצוֹן

that He acts willfully,

וּמַנְהִיג הָעוֹלָם בְּעַצְמוֹ

and that He controls the world Himself, rather than having transferred that power to intermediaries,

וְלָכֵן הוּא הָרָאוּי לְעָבְדוֹ

and therefore it is fitting to serve Him;

עַיֵּן שָׁם בְּרֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה פֶּרֶק ז'

see Rosh Amanah,sec. 7.

וּבִכְלַל זֶה מַה שֶּׁהֵבִיא בַּעַל הָעִקָּרִים

Included in the Fifth Principle above is the concept stated by the author of Ikkarim

שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מְסֻלָּק מִן הַחֶסְרוֹנוֹת

that He is faultless and has no deficiencies,

כִּי זֶה הוּא בִּכְלַל בִּלְתִּי בַּעַל גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית

for this is included in the concept that He is infinite and boundless.

שֶׁהוּא הַשְּׁלֵמוּת הָאֲמִתִּי

Implied is that He is True Perfection

וּמִמֵּילָא שֶׁמְּסֻלָּק מִשּׁוּם חִסָּרוֹן חַס וְשָׁלוֹם:

and thus, as a consequence, has no fault or deficiency, Heaven forbid.

וְהִנֵּה בְּבֵאוּר עִנְיַן אֶחָד הָאֱמֶת

To explain the concept that He is True Oneness,

הַיְנוּ שֶׁאֵינוֹ מֻרְכָּב מִשּׁוּם כֹּחָנִיּוּת חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

i.e., that He is not a composite of any powers, Heaven forbid,

אֶלָּא פָּשׁוּט בְּתַכְלִית הַפְּשִׁיטוּת,

but simple in utter simplicity:

The term simplicity as used here refers to transcendence and lack of definition. Every limited entity can be broken up into what it is, for it is a composite of different elements. To speak in physical terms, every element of existence can be broken up into molecules, which are made up of atoms, which in turn are made up of sub-atomic particles, which themselves are composites of even smaller types of existence. An entity that is simple, by contrast, is one undefined whole.

וְלָזֹאת הֻקְשָׁה לְהַפִלְסוֹפִים בְּעִנְיַן הַתֹּאָרִים הַמֻּכְרָחִים לְתָאֵר הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ

The concept of G‑d’s simplicity caused the philosophers3 to raise questions with regard to the titles that we must ascribe to Him,

כְּגוֹן בְּשֶׁהוּא חָכָם וְיוֹדֵעַ

e.g., that He is wise and knowing,

The Tzemach Tzedek uses the term muchrachim, translated as “we must,” because philosophically, we are forced, as it were, to say that G‑d possesses these powers, and indeed is the perfection of them. For otherwise He could not be considered the True Perfection, for there would be positive virtues – i.e., these qualities – that He did not possess.

Moreover, were one to say that He does not possess these powers, that would imply that they exist independently of Him. Such existence would be a contradiction to His Oneness, Heaven forbid.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּמְצָא כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה

and which we find stated in the Torah.

שֶׁאִם כֵּן

For if He possesses such powers, e.g.,

הֲרֵי הַחָכְמָה


הִיא דָבָר נוֹסָף עַל עַצְמוּתוֹ

they are incremental to His Essence.

One could say that seemingly, G‑d has two dimensions: a) His Essence, which is simple and undefined as above; b) His powers: wisdom and the like. This, however, is not an acceptable explanation, because it would also be a contradiction to His Oneness. We must – and this is one of the fundamental thrusts of this maamar – arrive at the understanding of a paradoxical position: that G‑d possesses these powers, and yet their existence is an expression of – rather than a contradiction to – His Oneness.

וּלְתָרֵץ זֶה אָמַר הָרַמְבַּ"ם פֶּרֶק ב' מֵהִלְכוֹת יְסוֹדֵי הַתּוֹרָה וְזֶה לְשׁוֹנוֹ

To resolve this difficulty, Rambam states in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah,ch. 2, halachah 10:

הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַכִּיר אֲמִתּוֹ

The Holy One, blessed be He, knows His truth

וְיוֹדֵעַ אוֹתָהּ כְּמוֹ שֶׁהִיא

and knows it as it is.

וְאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ בְּדֵעָה שֶׁחוּץ מִמֶּנּוּ

He does not know with knowledge that is outside of Him,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָנוּ יוֹדְעִים,

as does our power of knowing,

שֶׁאֵין אָנוּ וְדַעְתֵּנוּ אֶחָד,

for we and our knowledge are not one and the same.

Though knowledge is one of the powers of our soul, a distinction can be made between the soul’s essence and its knowledge, for its essence is a simple, undefined quality, while knowledge has a definition, as will be explained. Moreover, knowledge is outer-directed. We know entities that exist outside ourselves. Thus, three entities are involved: ourselves, our power of knowledge, and the entities that are known. As Rambam proceeds to explain, this does not apply to G‑d.

אֲבָל הַבּוֹרֵא יִתְבָּרֵךְ הוּא וְדַעְתּוֹ וְחַיָּיו אֶחָד מִכָּל צַד וּמִכָּל פִּנָּה וּבְכָל דֶּרֶךְ יִחוּד

With regard to the Creator, by contrast, He, His knowledge, and His life are all one from every side and direction and in every manner of unity.

Generally, we conceive of unity as joining two fundamentally separate objects. Here we are speaking about an inherent oneness.

שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא הָיָה חַי בְּחַיִּים

For were He to be alive with a life-force outside of Him

וְיוֹדֵעַ בְּדֵעָה חוּץ מִמֶּנּוּ

and know with knowledge external to Him,

הָיָה שָׁם אֱלוֹהוֹת הַרְבֵּה

there would be many gods:

הוּא וְחַיָּיו וְדַעְתּוֹ

He, His life, and His knowledge.

וְאֵין הַדָּבָר כֵּן

This is not so.

אֶלָּא אֶחָד מִכָּל צַד וּמִכָּל פִּנָּה וּבְכָל דֶּרֶךְ יִחוּד,

Instead, He is one from every side and direction and in every manner of unity.

נִמְצֵאתָ אַתָּה אוֹמֵר הוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַיָּדוּעַ וְהוּא הַדֵּעָה עַצְמָהּ

Thus, one must say: He is the Knower, He is the Object of Knowledge, and He is the Knowledge itself.

Generally, the term “knowledge” refers to a body of information that a person has comprehended. Rambam – and similarly, the Tzemach Tzedek throughout the text that follows – refers to knowledge as the ability to know, the power Above – or within our souls – to gain knowledge.

הַכֹּל אֶחָד,

It is all one.

וְדָבָר זֶה אֵין כֹּחַ בַּפֶּה לְאָמְרוֹ וְלֹא בָּאֹזֶן לְשָׁמְעוֹ וְלֹא בְּלֵב הָאָדָם לְהַכִּירוֹ עַל בֻּרְיוֹ

There is no power within our mouths to make this statement, nor within our ears to hear it, nor within a mortal heart to comprehend it thoroughly.

The intent is not that this is a very difficult concept which can be understood only after much intellectual effort, but rather it is something that man, by definition, cannot understand. Our very human condition prevents us from ever grasping this concept in its entirety. Nevertheless, although we cannot fully appreciate the principle, we can understand the premises on which it is based.

We exist in the context of an environment separate from ourselves. Even the powers that are granted to us exist before we come into being. Therefore, though man can use his knowledge to conceive of other entities, his connection with the known object, as any bond with an external entity, cannot be complete, and there is no possibility for true oneness. For, as stated above, there will always be a distinction between the knower, the knowledge, and the known object.

G‑d exists in a different manner from all other entities. As explained above, He is mechuyav hametzius, existing in and of Himself. A corollary to that concept is that all being exists within Him, as it were, for He is true existence and all other existence came into being from the truth of His being (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1). Therefore, when knowing other entities, He does not know a separate being: He knows Himself, and thus there is nothing to prevent true unity. Nevertheless, although this is the basis for the idea, the concept in its totality cannot be comprehended by man, because there is no way we can conceive of existence above the framework of creation.

An analogy for the manner in which G‑d knows existence can be taken from our dreams. When we dream, we create within our minds a world that did not exist previously. The existence of that dream-world is totally dependent upon our imagination and exists within it, because all the entities within the dream exist by virtue of our powers of thought alone. As a result, they vanish when our attention becomes focused on something else (see Tanya, ch. 48).

עַד כַּאן לְשׁוֹנוֹ,

This concludes his words.

Concerning these statements, the Alter Rebbe writes:

וְהוֹדוּ לוֹ חַכְמֵי הַקַּבָּלָה גַם כֵּן בָּזֶה

The sages of the Kabbalahacknowledge the truth of Rambam’s statements,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּפַּרְדֵּ"ס מֵהָרְמַ"ק

as Ramak4 writes in his Pardes.

וְגַם לְפִי קַבָּלַת הָאֲרִיזַ"ל יַצִּיבָא מִלְּתָא

Even according to the Kabbalah of the AriZal,Rambam’s view is substantiated,

בְּסוֹד הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת אוֹר אֵין סוֹף בָּרוּךְ הוּא

but applies only with regard to the enclothement of G‑d’s infinite light

עַל יְדֵי צִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים בְּכֵלִים דְּחָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת דַּאֲצִילוּת

through many tzimtzumimin the vessels of ChaBaD of Atzilus,

אַךְ לֹא לְמַעְלָה מֵהָאֲצִילוּת

but not in the realms of spiritual existence above Atzilus.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר שֶׁאֵין סוֹף בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְרוֹמָם וּמִתְנַשֵּׂא רוֹמְמוּת אֵין קֵץ לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִמַּהוּת וּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת

For as explained elsewhere, the Ein Sof5 is infinitely uplifted and exalted above the essence and level of ChaBaD

עַד שֶׁמַּהוּת וּבְחִינַת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת נֶחְשֶׁבֶת כַּעֲשִׂיָּה גוּפָנִית אֶצְלוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ

to the extent that the nature of the attributes of ChaBaDis considered as a physical deed in relation to G‑d,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ (תִּלִּים ק"ד כ"ד)

as (Tehillim104:24) states: “You made them all with Chochmah.

עַד כַּאן לְשׁוֹנוֹ בְּהַגָּ"הּ בְּלִקּוּטֵי אֲמָרִים חֵלֶק א' פֶּרֶק ב'

This concludes the marginal note to Tanya,ch. 2;

וְהֶאֱרִיךְ בְּזֶה שָׁם חֵלֶק ב' פֶּרֶק ט' יְעֻיַּן שָׁם:

see also the elaboration in Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah,ch. 9.

וּבֵאוּר הָעִנְיָן לְהָבִין מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב אַךְ לֹא לְמַעְלָה מֵהָאֲצִילוּת

The concept intimated by the phrase “but not in the realms of spiritual existence above Atzilusrequires explanation:

דְּהַיְנוּ שֶׁשָּׁם לֹא יִתָּכֵן לוֹמַר אֲפִלּוּ הוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַדֵּעָה כוּ'

Implied is that on those levels, it is not even appropriate to say “He is the Knower… He is the Knowledge,”

וְאֶלָּא אֵיךְ הוּא כוּ',

for what He is defies our capacity of explanation entirely.

This concept can be clarified by prefacing with the challenge to Rambam’s statements made by

הִנֵּה הַגָּאוֹן הַמְקֻבָּל רַבִּי יְהוּדָה לִיוָאי בֶּן רַבִּי בְּצַלְאֵל מִפְּרָאג

the Gaonand kabbalist R. Yehudah Loewe ben Betzalel (Maharal) of Prague,6

רַבּוֹ שֶׁל הַתּוֹסְפוֹת יוֹם טוֹב

the mentor of the author of the text Tosfos Yom Tov.7

בְּהַקְדָּמָתוֹ לְסִפְרוֹ גְּבוּרַת ה'

In the second introduction to his text Gevuros HaShem,sec. 3, Maharal

הִשִּׂיג מְאֹד עַל דַּעַת הָאוֹמְרִים וּמְתָאֲרִים אוֹתוֹ שֶׁהוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַדֵּעָה כוּ'

objects strongly to the approach of those who describe G‑d with the expression: “He is the Knower… He is the Knowledge,”

וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב עֲלֵיהֶם מִכֹּל וָכֹל, וְאָמַר וְזֶה לְשׁוֹנוֹ

and elaborates in the utter rebuttal of this idea, saying:

רְאֵה שֶׁהֵם אוֹמְרִים עָלָיו שֶׁעַצְמוּתוֹ שֵׂכֶל מֻפְשָׁט

Behold, they say that G‑d’s essence is pure, abstract knowledge.

וְכָל שֵׂכֶל הוּא שֶׁיּוֹדֵעַ הַדָּבָר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא חוּץ לְנַפְשׁוֹ

Now, every intellectual conceptualization involves knowing an object within one’s soul as it exists outside of one’s soul.

Intellectual understanding involves knowing entities that exist outside of ourselves and bringing them into our consciousness.

וְאִם כֵּן יִהְיֶה הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ נִסְמָךְ אֶל אֲשֶׁר עֲלוּלִים מִמֶּנּוּ

Hence, by describing G‑d as knowledge, one implies that His existence is dependent on the entities that come into being as a result of Him.

Since knowledge involves the objective comprehension of other entities, it needs, as it were, those other entities for its fulfillment. For without them, there would be nothing to know. Hence, it is dependent on those other entities for its fulfillment. This cannot be said about G‑d.

וְיִהְיֶה הֶעָלוּל קֹדֶם הָעִלָּה,

Thus, the effect would come before the Cause, as it were.

I.e., according to this conception, G‑d would need His creations, as it were, to enable Him to reach complete knowledge. Thus, the effect (the created beings who enable G‑d to reach fulfillment) would come before the Cause (G‑d).

וְאִם יֹאמְרוּ שֶׁהוּא מַשִּׂיג עַצְמוֹ

And it is not appropriate to advance the proposition that He comprehends Himself,

and knows the creations through knowing Himself (as Rambam maintains),

שֶׁהוּא סִבָּה לְאֵלּוּ נִבְרָאִים אֲשֶׁר מִמֶּנּוּ נִמְצְאוּ

for He is the reason for the existence of these creations that come into being from Him.

וְיֹאמְרוּ שֶׁהַשֵּׂכֶל וְהַמַּשְׂכִיל וְהַמֻּשְׂכָּל

Therefore, one would be saying that the conceptualization, the one who conceives it, and the concept

(רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם הַדֵּעָה וְהַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהַיָּדוּעַ)

(i.e., a reference to Rambam’sstatement: “He is the Knower, He is the Object of Knowledge, and He is the Knowledge itself”)

דָּבָר אֶחָד

are all one,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁהֶאֱרִיכוּ בַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

as they elaborate with regard to these matters.

וְיִהְיֶה מַה שֶּׁמַּשִּׂיג עַצְמוֹ שֶׁהוּא סִבָּה לַנִּמְצָאִים

According to this view, His comprehension of Himself, which is the reason for the existence of these entities,

הוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ הַמֻּשָּׂג וְהַמֻּשְׂכָּל

will be the concept that is understood by Him and the understanding itself.

הִנֵּה אַחַר כָּל אֵלּוּ הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ הַדָּבָר בָּטֵל וּמְבֻטָּל,

After all these explanations, however, the entire concept is of no value.

וְזֶהוּ כִּי הַשֵּׂכֶל הוּא מְיֻחָד בַּדָּבָר

For intellect has a specific definition:

כְּמוֹ שֶׁאַתָּה אוֹמֵר כִּי עִנְיַן הַשֵּׂכֶל הוּא יְדִיעַת הַדָּבָר כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא

One would say that it is the comprehension of the concept as it is.

וְאֵין אֶל הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ גֶּדֶר כְּלָל שֶׁיֻּגְדַּר,

G‑d, by contrast, has no definition that can describe Him.

וְאִם אַתָּה אוֹמֵר שֶׁעַצְמוּתוֹ שֵׂכֶל הֲרֵי בְּזֶה אַתָּה נוֹתֵן לוֹ גֶּדֶר

Were one to say that His Essence is intellect, he would have given Him a definition.

לְכָךְ אֵין לוֹמַר שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מִתְיַחֵד בַּדָּבָר לוֹמַר עָלָיו שֶׁהוּא דָבָר זֶה מְיֻחָד כוּ'

Therefore, it is not appropriate to say that G‑d becomes one with an entity, i.e., through knowledge, to the extent that He is identified with that specific entity….

To summarize: Rambam and others who followed his approach attempted to explain that wisdom – and similarly, the other powers – do not represent a contradiction to G‑d’s unity because they are one with Him. Maharal disputes that premise, explaining that knowledge in its ordinary sense cannot be identified with G‑d, for knowledge reaches its fulfillment through the objects that are known and that cannot be said with regard to G‑d.

Maharal realizes that Rambam himself had identified that logical inconsistency and had sought to resolve it by stating that with regard to G‑d, “the Knower... and the Knowledge are one.” Thus, His Knowledge transcends ordinary knowledge. Maharal does not accept that resolution, because knowledge – even G‑d’s perfect knowledge – has a specific definition, and hence can never be truly one with G‑d, Who is above all definition.

וּלְפִיכָךְ סָכְלוּ הָאוֹמְרִים שֶׁעַצְמוּתוֹ שֵׂכֶל

Therefore, it was foolish for those individuals to say that His Essence is intellect, even perfect intellect, as Rambam maintains.

אֲבָל הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ לֹא תוּכַל לוֹמַר דָּבָר מְיֻחָד

Instead, G‑d cannot be defined at all….

אֲבָל אָנוּ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁעַצְמוּתוֹ הֲוָיָה פְּשׁוּטָה לֹא יֻגְדַּר בַּמֶּה

Rather, we say that He is a simple8 entity without any definition.

וְאֵין עִנְיָן זֶה שֵׂכֶל

This matter cannot be described as intellect,

וְאֵין אָנוּ יוֹדְעִים הֲוָיָתוֹ וּמַהוּתוֹ,

for we cannot know His Being and His Nature.

וְאוּלַי יֹאמְרוּ אִם אֵין עַצְמוּתוֹ שֵׂכֶל

If one would say that since His Essence cannot be described as intellect,

וְגֶשֶׁם חַס וְשָׁלוֹם לוֹמַר עָלָיו

and Heaven forbid that material existence should be employed as a description of Him,

אִם כֵּן מַהוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ

then what is He?

נָשׁוּב לָהֶם

We can answer them, asking:

וְכִי הַנְּשָׁמָה שֶׁבְּגוּף הָאָדָם יוּכַל לַעֲמוֹד עַל אֲמִתָּתָהּ

Can a person know the true nature of the soul that is enclothed in the body?

כָּל שֶׁכֵּן וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן בּוֹרֵא הַכֹּל שֶׁאֵין לִשְׁאוֹל עָלָיו קֻשְׁיָא זֹאת

How much more so does this apply with regard to the Creator of all things, that concerning Him it is not appropriate to ask such matters,

כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי (שְׁמוֹת ל"ג כ')

for it is written (Shmos 33:20): “No man can see Me and live.”

For the limitations of mortal man prevent him from perceiving G‑d in His infinity.

וְכָל הַדְּבָרִים תּוּכַל לִלְמוֹד מִשְּׁמוֹתָיו הַקְּדוֹשִׁים

All of these matters can be understood from G‑d’s holy names.

כִּי שֵׁם הָעֶצֶם בָּא בִּלְשׁוֹן הֲוָיָה

For His essential name, the name י-ה-ו-ה, is expressed as the term Havayah,which means “being,”

לִלְמוֹד כִּי זֶהוּ עַצְמוּתוֹ

to teach that this is His Essence. I.e., His Essence is undefined being, existence which cannot be described or categorized.

אֲבָל שֵׂכֶל אֵין זֶה הֲוָיָה בִּלְבָד

Intellect, by contrast, is more than just being. I.e., it has a definition that distinguishes it from other qualities.

וְתָבִין אֵלּוּ הַדְּבָרִים מְאֹד

Understand these concepts thoroughly.

עַד כַּאן לְשׁוֹנוֹ

This concludes his words.

וְאָמַר עוֹד

And Maharal also states:9

שֶׁלָּכֵן קָרְאוּ רַזַ"ל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא

For this reason, our Sages called Him “the Holy One, blessed be He,”

וְלֹא נִקְרָא הַשֵּׂכֶל בָּרוּךְ הוּא

and not “the Intellect, blessed be He.”

כִּי אֲמִתַּת עַצְמוֹ לֹא נוֹדַע

For the truth of His Essence cannot be known.

רַק שֶׁהוּא נִבְדָּל מִכָּל גֶּשֶׁם וְגוּף

All that we can know is that He is distinct from all material existence, bodily form,

וּמִכָּל הַנִּמְצָאִים

and all other existence.

וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר קָדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא

This is implied by the term, “the Holy One, blessed be He,”

שֶׁעִנְיַן קָדוֹשׁ נֶאֱמַר עַל מִי שֶׁהוּא נִבְדָּל

for the adjective “holy” is applied to one who is separate.

כִּי הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ פָּשׁוּט בְּתַכְלִית הַפְּשִׁיטוּת

For G‑d is simple in the most absolute of simplicity.

וּמִזֶּה בְּעַצְמוֹ שֶׁהוּא פָּשׁוּט בְּתַכְלִית הַפְּשִׁיטוּת

This very fact that He is absolutely simple logically necessitates

אֵין דָּבָר נִבְדָּל מִמֶּנּוּ

that nothing else is separate from Him.

כִּי הַדָּבָר שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ גֶּדֶר וּמְיֻחָד בִּדְבַר מָה,

For everything that has a specific definition

בִּשְׁבִיל אוֹתוֹ גֶדֶר נִבְדָּל מִמֶּנּוּ דָּבָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ בְּגִדְרוֹ

is, by virtue of that definition, distinct from an entity that does not share that definition.

To refer to the concepts stated above, intellect is defined as the perception of an object as it is. That definition separates it from emotion, which is our subjective feelings about the object, materiality, which is the object’s physical form, etc.

אֲבָל מִפְּנֵי כִּי הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ פָּשׁוּט

Since He is, by contrast, utterly simple

וְאֵין לוֹ גֶדֶר כְּלָל

and has no definition at all,

אֵין דָּבָר נִבְדָּל מִמֶּנּוּ

there is nothing that is separate from Him.

Maharal’s definition of G‑d as simple being has two implications:

a) His being cannot be defined. It is not a specific entity like wisdom or emotion. There is no way to say what He is.

b) There cannot be anything outside of Him. It cannot be said that there is anything that He is not, for saying He is not something also defines Him, not in a positive way, but rather, to borrow a philosophical term, it is a negative definition and thus a limitation, and G‑d can have no definitions whatsoever.

וְאִם כֵּן הוּא יוֹדֵעַ הַכֹּל

If so, He is omniscient

וְהוּא יָכוֹל הַכֹּל

and omnipotent.

וְכָל זֶה מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ גֶדֶר יֻגְדַּר בְּדָבָר מְיֻחָד

All of this is because there is no definition with which He can be categorized.

וּבִשְׁבִיל זֶה הַכֹּל נִמְצָא מֵאִתּוֹ גַם כֵּן כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר

Because of this, everything comes into being from Him, as will be explained.

עַד כַּאן לְשׁוֹנוֹ.

This concludes his words.

וּמַה מְּאֹד צָדְקוּ דְבָרָיו בְּזֶה

Maharal’s statements are truly correct in this regard.

כִּי עַצְמוּתוֹ אֵינוֹ בְּגֶדֶר מַדָּע כְּלָל חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

For G‑d’s Essence is not at all in the category of knowledge, Heaven forbid,

אֶלָּא לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה עִלּוּי רַב עַד אֵין קֵץ,

but exalted far, far – indeed, infinitely higher – above it.

וּבֶאֱמֶת שֶׁדָּבָר זֶה אֵין כֹּחַ בְּלֵב הָאָדָם לְהַכִּירוֹ עַל בֻּרְיוֹ

In truth, this matter is beyond the capacity of the heart of man to comprehend thoroughly.10

כִּי הָאָדָם מְצַיֵּר בְּשִׂכְלוֹ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים שֶׁהֵן בּוֹ

For man conceptualizes in his mind all types of being as they exist within his own self.

וִיצַיֵּר בְּשִׂכְלוֹ מַהוּת הָרָצוֹן אוֹ מַהוּת חָכְמָה אוֹ בִּינָה אוֹ דַעַת אוֹ מַהוּת מִדַּת חֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָהֶן שֶׁהֵן נִמְצָאִים בּוֹ

He thus conceptualizes in his mind the nature of will, the nature of Chochmah, Binah,or Daas or the nature of Chessed, Rachamim,and the like, that exist within him,

וְאַף גַּם זֹאת לֹא יְצַיֵּר אוֹתָן אֶלָּא כְּמוֹת שֶׁהֵן בּוֹ,

but he will conceptualize them only as they exist within him.

The way the parallels to these powers exist within G‑d is beyond mortal conception.

וְהַמַּעֲלָה וּמַדְרֵגָה הָרִאשׁוֹנָה אֵצֶל הַנִּבְרָאִים הִיא הַחָכְמָה

The first and most elevated level and rung among created beings is Chochmah.

Chochmah, “wisdom,” is the loftiest of man’s conscious powers (kochos pnimiim).11 It is defined as man’s loftiest power because it elevates man beyond his subjectivity and enables him to perceive truth as it is.

To elaborate: Our emotions are tied up with our own selves. They reflect our response to things outside of ourselves. Intellect, by contrast, means knowing something else objectively. For example, one knows 2+2=4. Regardless of whether one wants that to be or not, that is the reality. Our feelings cannot change that. Similarly, in all things, intellect is the perception of what the reality is.

Nevertheless, in intellect itself, there are several different thrusts resulting from three different attributes. The sages of Kabbalah and Chassidus have divided them into three fundamental powers: Chochmah, Binah, and Daas.

As explained in Tanya,12the attribute of Daas involves bonding personally with the intellectual concept, developing a connection, and relating to it in a manner that it will affect one’s feelings. This is obviously not man’s most refined intellectual potential, because it is very much connected with his own individual self.

Chochmah and Binah, by contrast, are both abstract, relating to the concept itself, not the person’s connection with it. Nevertheless, there is a difference between them. Binah involves establishing handles through which one can grasp an idea, fleshing it out in terms to which a person can relate based on his previous knowledge.

Chochmah is of an entirely different nature. It is, to borrow popular terminology, a Eureka moment, and produces the Aha! effect, i.e., the person feels a lightening flash of truth, he recognizes an idea in terms that he cannot put into words or even organized thought. But he feels that he knows that idea, indeed, knows it in a far, deeper and more encompassing way than he could through logical thought. Such a realization is the closest man can get to transcendence. Accordingly, it is defined as the loftiest of man’s conscious powers.

שֶׁלָּכֵן נִקְרֵאת רֵאשִׁית

Therefore, it is called “the beginning”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה (מִשְׁלֵי ד' ז'),

as it is written (Mishlei4:7): “Reishis Chochmah – The beginning of Chochmah….”

וְלָכֵן כְּשֶׁיִּרְצֶה לְצַיֵּר מַהוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה מְצֻיָּר בְּדַעְתּוֹ

Therefore, when one will wish to conceptualize His Essence so that it will be envisioned in his mind,

The Tzemach Tzedek is now explaining Rambam’s approach.

אִי אֶפְשָׁר זוּלַת בְּמַהוּת שֶׁיָּכוֹל לְהִצְטַיֵּר

it is impossible for him to do so without relating to an entity that he can conceive of,

וְהִיא הַחָכְמָה

and that is Chochmah.

Since Chochmah is the most refined and abstract of our human potentials, we can use Chochmah is a means to develop some understanding of what G‑d is.

First, it is necessary to comprehend the uniqueness of human chochmah. Afterwards, one must differentiate between that and G‑d’s Chochmah. Man’s chochmah will always have a certain dimension of subjectivity. Since the knower, the knowledge, and the object of knowledge are three separate entities, a human being can never really know something else as it is.


But G‑d’s knowledge is of an entirely different nature, as

שֶׁיֹּאמַר שֶׁהוּא הַמַּדָּע וְהוּא הַיָּדוּעַ

it is postulated: “He is the Knowledge and He is the Knower…”

וְגַם זֶה אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהִצְטַיֵּר בְּדַעַת הָאָדָם

and even this cannot be conceptualized by mortal knowledge

כִּי הָאָדָם לֹא יְצַיֵּר הַחָכְמָה אֶלָּא כְּמוֹ שֶׁהִיא בּוֹ

because man conceives of Chochmahonly as it exists within him.

And for man, there will always be a distinction between the knower, the object of knowledge, and the knowledge itself.

G‑d is obviously above man’s ability of comprehension. What we can do to understand Him is to compare Him to what we know and then differentiate between them. This – what philosophy refers to as “negative knowledge” (yedias hashelilah in Hebrew) – was Rambam’s intent. He spoke of Chochmah, man’s highest attribute, but cited the deficiency mortal Chochmah possesses and the manner in which G‑d’s Chochmah surpasses it.

וְלָכֵן כָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם גַּם כְּפִי דַעְתּוֹ בְּמַהוּת הַבּוֹרֵא

Therefore, Rambamwrites – even according to his conception of the nature of the Creator –

I.e., even Rambam, who defines G‑d as pure knowledge, agrees that man can never know Him.

שֶׁדָּבָר זֶה אֵין כֹּחַ בְּלֵב הָאָדָם לְהַכִּירוֹ כוּ'

that “There is no power… within a mortal heart to comprehend this matter thoroughly.” For His knowledge is of a totally different nature than our knowledge.

אֲבָל בֶּאֱמֶת מַדְרֵגַת הַחָכְמָה הִיא כַּעֲשִׂיָּה גוּפָנִית מַמָּשׁ לְגַבֵּי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא

In truth, however, the level of Chochmah is actually considered as a physical action in relation to the Holy One, blessed be He,13

Here, the Tzemach Tzedek is explaining Maharal’s objection to Rambam’s understanding: Action and Chochmah are obviously very different from each other. Action involves performing physical deeds in this material world, while Chochmah is – as explained above – the most abstract activity that man is capable of. Nevertheless, the gap between Chochmah and action is far less than the gap between man’s Chochmah and G‑d.


for He is

קָדוֹשׁ וּמֻבְדָּל

of an entirely different nature of being, holy and distinct,

וּפָשׁוּט בְּתַכְלִית הַפְּשִׁיטוּת

and simple, in the ultimate of simplicity, and thus utterly beyond the reach of mortal knowledge.

וְנִמְנָע מֵהִצְטַיֵּר בְּדַעַת הָאָדָם כְּשֶׁהוּא חַי

It is impossible for Him to be perceived by man’s knowledge while a person is alive,

לְפִי שֶׁהוּא דָבָר שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל

because this quality, i.e., the utter simplicity of G‑d’s infinity, is something that man does not possess.

I.e., man lives in a world of definition and cannot perceive a type of existence that is not similarly defined.

Rambam explained that our wisdom, though the highest potential we possess, is not a fit analogy for G‑d, because it is imperfect, whereas G‑d is described as perfect wisdom. The Maharal’s approach is that even perfect wisdom is an inadequate analogy to describe Him, for He transcends wisdom entirely.

וְהִנֵּה עַל עִנְיָן זֶה הוּא שֶׁנּוֹפֵל לְשׁוֹן אֱמוּנָה

The potential to relate to G‑d’s simplicity is described by the term emunah,

לְהַאֲמִין בְּמַהוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ

to believe in His Essence,

שֶׁהוּא רָם וְנִשָּׂא רִבְבוֹת מַדְרֵגוֹת אֵין קֵץ מִבְּחִינַת גֶּדֶר חָכְמָה

which is elevated and exalted an infinite number of levels above the level of Chochmah,

שֶׁהִיא הַמַּעֲלָה הָרִאשׁוֹנָה בַּנִּבְרָאִים

which is the most elevated potential possessed by created beings.

הֲגַם שֶׁלֹּא יוּכַל לְצַיֵּר מַהוּת זֶה בְּדַעְתּוֹ

Although a person cannot conceptualize what G‑d is with his knowledge,

אֶלָּא לְהַאֲמִין אֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה קְבוּעָה וַחֲלוּטָה בַּלֵּב שֶׁכֵּן הוּא

he can relate to this level through emunah, believing with perfect and firmly established faith that this is the reality.

וְזֶהוּ שֶׁכָּתוּב אָנֹכִי הֲוָיָ' אֱלֹקֶיךָ (שְׁמוֹת כ' ב')

This is the intent of the verse (Shmos 20:2): “I am G‑d, your L-rd,”

אָנֹכִי מִי שֶׁאָנֹכִי

i.e., the establishment of a bond between the person and Anochi, “I Who I am,”14

שֶׁהוּא מַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ דְּלֵית מַחֲשָׁבָה תְּפִיסָא בֵיהּ

His Being and Essence, which no thought can grasp

לְהַכִּיר מַהוּ אֶלָּא הוּא בִּלְבָד

and recognize what He is, except Him alone.

וְדַי לַמֵּבִין

This is sufficient for a person of understanding.

וְהִיא הִיא הַנִּרְצֶה בְּצִוּוּי הַהַאֲמָנָה:

A connection to this utterly transcendent level is the desired purpose of the commandment of faith.

The Tzemach Tzedek is explaining that it is not only that when our understanding reaches its limits, we are forced to rely on faith, but that faith enables us to connect to a level of G‑dliness that is truly transcendent.


The chapter begins by stating the first five of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith and explaining them according to Chassidus. It then focuses on the principle of G‑d’s True Oneness; i.e., that He is not a composite of any powers or attributes, Heaven forbid, but is simple in utter simplicity.

This leads to a question: Since G‑d is described as possessing particular attributes – wisdom, kindness, mercy, and the like – doesn’t that detract from His Oneness?

This question can be resolved on the basis of Rambam’s statement that G‑d “is the Knower, the Object of Knowledge, and the Knowledge itself. It is all one.” Unlike mortal knowledge in which these exist as three separate entities – for man (the knower) knows with knowledge that exists independent of him and he knows entities and concepts that exist outside of himself – G‑d’s knowledge is perfect oneness. Similarly, G‑d unites with His other attributes – which become manifest in the Sefiros of Atzilus – in perfect oneness.

The Alter Rebbe explains that Rambam’s statement is true with regard to the manner in which the G‑dly light enclothes itself in the Sefiros, but not as He exists above Atzilus.

The Alter Rebbe’s explanation is offered as a response to a challenge to Rambam made by Maharal of Prague who rejects the concept of identifying G‑d with intellect (or any other particular attribute). To quote: “Intellect has a specific definition: it is the comprehension of a concept as it is. G‑d, by contrast, has no definition that can describe Him. Were one to say that His Essence is intellect, he would have given Him a definition.”

Maharal’s objection is justified because G‑d is truly simple and infinite, having no definition whatsoever. The uniqueness of the power of faith is that it develops a connection with G‑d on that level of undefinable oneness.