Sources: the series of maamarim entitled
BeShaah SheHikdimu 5672, Vol. II, p. 934ff;
Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, p. 828;
the maamarim entitled ViNigleh Kivod
and Vayihi BaYom HaShemini, 5715,
the maamar entitled Machar Chodesh, 5724

One hot Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1991, an elderly lady was patiently waiting her turn in the long line of Jewish women and girls who were preparing to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe.

When the woman’s turn came, she told the Rebbe in simple Yiddish: “I’ve been standing here for only an hour and I’m exhausted. You’ve been standing for hours and hours and yet….”

The Rebbe smiled gently and answered: “When you’re counting diamonds, you don’t get tired.”

There are two ways to approach our life experience: man’s perspective and G‑d’s. We have the choice to adopt either of these outlooks and structure our lives accordingly.

What Is Something and What Is nothing?

When describing creation, Jewish thought uses the term yesh me’ayin, “something from nothing.” Chassidus,1 however, questions that expression, noting that it is inappropriate to call G‑d, the source of creation, ayin, “nothing.” On the contrary, He and He alone is true existence, the yesh amiti.

Nor is it proper for us to refer to our own existence as yesh, “something.” For before creation, the entire framework of material existence2 did not exist, and even at present, it exists only by virtue of His will and desire. In and of itself, it is nothing, ayin. And so, the opposite is true: we should speak of a creation, ayin me’yesh, “nothing from something.”

When interpreting the verse:3 “For the L-rd is a G‑d of knowledge,” Kabbalah and Chassidus4 notes that the word דעות , translated as “knowledge,” is plural. Literally, the phrase means “the L-rd is a G‑d of perspectives,” i.e., from G‑d’s own perspective, the world is nothing, a ray of His energy. On the other hand, He also appreciates the perspective of the created beings and understands the way a mortal conceives of his existence.

Shifts of Focus

Transitions and intermediate phases between these conceptions exist on all levels of the spiritual cosmos. Indeed, this is precisely what produces distinctions within the spiritual cosmos. What distinguishes one spiritual level from another? How closely it identifies with G‑d’s perspective that He is true existence or how much it feels its own existence and is oblivious to its source.

For example, the World of Beriah differs from the World of Yetzirah in that the created beings of the World of Beriah feel powerfully the Divine energy that brings them into being. Indeed, their perception is so strong that they consume themselves in burning love for Him5 to the extent that they lose consciousness of their own selves. The created beings of Yetzirah, by contrast, possess an awareness of G‑d, but their perception is not direct, and they ask: “Where is the place of His glory?”6 This the difference between direct and indirect perception of G‑dliness is what separates these spiritual worlds from each other.

Him or Me?

In particular, however, there is a more basic distinction: “Do these entities have a sense of self or not?” To refer again to the seraphim of the World of Beriah: Although they are consumed with a burning love for G‑d, they see themselves as separate entities. Indeed, it is their awareness of this separation that spurs their powerful feelings of love. In Atzilus, by contrast, the different entities have no awareness of self at all. They are expressions of G‑dliness: His attributes and His qualities.

In Beriah, love is love for G‑d, the created beings reaching out to Him. In Atzilus, by contrast, love is G‑dly love; He reaches out to His creations.

This is a far different and greater transition than those that exist between all the other worlds above and below Atzilus. In the realms above Atzilus, the transitions are between one refined G‑dly rung and a slightly less refined G‑dly rung. In the realms below Atzilus, the transitions are from a level where the self is felt less powerfully to one where it is felt more powerfully. Between Atzilus and Beriah, the transition is between G‑dliness and self.

When I Wake Up in the Morning, What Do I Feel?

In explanation of these two stages of awareness, Chassidus7 uses the expressions: Elokus bipeshitus veolamos bihischadshus and olamos bipeshitus veElokus bihischadshus. Peshitus means our simple, natural perception, the way a person or in this context, an angel or a sefirah looks at the world without thinking and without trying to teach himself that it exists in a particular way. It’s the natural way he sees existence.

Hischadshus means something new, something taught; your natural perspective has been augmented to include something that you would ordinarily not be aware of.

In Atzilus, Elokus is bipeshitus; the ordinary, natural approach is to appreciate G‑dliness. Olamos, the perception of “worlds,” i.e., existence other than G‑d, comes bihischadshus; it is something new that has to be taught.

Below Atzilus, olamos are bipeshitus; the ordinary, natural approach is to appreciate separate, personal existence. Elokus comes bihischadshus; it is not the natural way those created beings look at their existence. It has to be taught to them.

More Subtle Distinctions

On a more refined level, this distinction exists on even higher spiritual planes.8 It is explained that before the tzimtzum G‑d’s withdrawal of His light Elokus is bipeshitus and olamos are bihischadshus and after the tzimtzum, olamos are bipeshitus and Elokus is bihischadshus.

Why this further distinction? Although in Atzilus, all existence feels one with Him and identifies with Him totally, seeing itself as His wisdom and His love, the attributes are still distinct entities. Wisdom is wisdom; love is love. Though they are both expressions of Him, one is different from the other and is aware of that difference. And to the extent that they are aware of their own quality we cannot say that Elokus is bipeshitus. For Elokus as He is for Himself is totally undefined without any sense of particular definition. Feeling themselves as defined qualities even G‑dly qualities prevents them from identifying with Him in a complete way.

Where is Elokus bipeshitus? Before the tzimtzum, where there is no concept of distinct existence whatsoever.

Anchored in Worldliness

Parallels to these concepts also exist with regard to souls and their relationship to G‑d. Indeed it is on this level that these concepts are most relevant. Most of us follow the pattern of olamos bipeshitus veElokus bihischadshus, i.e., even a person who follows the Torah’s requirements to the most minute detail can be living a worldly existence. Where is the focus of his attention and what attracts his interest? Worldly things. Yes, he knows about G‑dliness and will even adapt his conduct to conform to G‑d’s desires, but these are afterthoughts. This is not his natural, inherent reaction. For him, G‑d and His desires are a new, learned matter. What is bipeshitus? What is his natural, spontaneous approach? Worldliness.

On a higher level, the Rambam9 describes at length the prophetic experience, explaining how a prophet is overcome by spiritual reality.10 At the time of prophecy, he loses all physical consciousness and is totally encompassed by his spiritual perception. Nevertheless, even this level cannot be described as Elokus bipeshitus, for the prophets did not prophesy at all times and there were times indeed, this represents the majority of their conscious experience when they did not function on this level of awareness, but instead perceived existence in the same manner as other mortals.

To focus on a more refined example: Our Sages relate that Avraham recognized his Creator at the age of three. From that time onward, he lived a life of devoted awareness of Him. Nevertheless, the fact that until three, he was not aware implies that the awareness came bihischadshus, as a new development, changing his previous frame of reference.

A Different Type of Soul

There are, however, select souls among those cited are Yosef and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that operate from a different perspective. They look at the world the way G‑d does. It is His world and every entity it contains is a manifestation of Him.

The uniqueness of this perspective is reflected in the Biblical narrative of the meeting between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef recognized them, but they did not recognize him. Why not? He was wearing Egyptian clothes and had already grown a beard. Nevertheless, they had lived together for 17 years and the brothers were looking for him. Why couldn’t they recognize him?

It is explained that their difficulty stemmed not from a lack of memory, but from the limitations of their spiritual awareness. They could not conceive how Yosef could possibly be involved in the manifold details of Egyptian court economics and still maintain his connection to G‑d. They and even their ancestors, the Patriarchs had eschewed involvement in business and chosen the quiet, peaceful occupation of shepherding so that worldly experience would not infringe upon their meditative bond with G‑d. They knew Yosef was spiritually oriented. Hence, they could not conceive how he would forfeit a connection with G‑dliness and occupy himself in material affairs.11

For Yosef, however, there was no contradiction. Why should worldly things disturb his connection to G‑d? Are they separate from Him? Do they have any independent existence? What for us are points of faith were for Yosef overtly perceived realities. Elokus was bipeshitus.

Living Faith

It’s true that we do not share the actual perception of these truths. But does the fact that we do not perceive them overtly make them any less true? Just as within the context of our everyday experience, 2+2=4 whether we acknowledge it or not; so, too, whether or not we perceive these truths of faith, they govern our experience.

As we identify intellectually with these truths, understanding them and internalizing them, we develop unshakable integrity. For everything breaks against the rock of truth. Although it is not our physical perception, our understanding is that Elokus is bipeshitus; that we are living in G‑d’s world. As we lead our lives in this fashion, expressing the oneness of G‑d in all aspects of our conduct, we prepare the world for the era when this awareness will spread throughout all experience, with the coming of Mashiach.