Having previously explained that G‑d showed his love for the Jewish people by taking them out of the physical servitude of Egypt, the Alter Rebbe concluded ch. 47 by describing the love G‑d shows His people by releasing them from a spiritual dimension of Egyptian bondage. This spiritual Exodus is daily manifest within all Jewish souls. It is natural, therefore, that Jews should reciprocate with love—like the water that mirrors the face of the beholder—and thereby strive to overcome all obstacles that hinder their service of G‑d.

Contemplating the greatness of the blessed Ein Sof, the thinking person [will come to the realization] that as His Name indicates, so is He—there is no end or limit or finitude at all to the light and vitality that diffuse from His simple will (“simple” in the sense that it has no cause nor is it subject to the limitations inherent in mortal will),

וְהִנֵּה, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִתְבּוֹנֵן הַמַּשְׂכִּיל בִּגְדוּלַּת אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, כִּי כִּשְׁמוֹ כֵּן הוּא – אֵין־סוֹף וְאֵין קֵץ וְתַכְלִית כְּלָל, לְאוֹר וְחַיּוּת הַמִּתְפַּשֵּׁט מִמֶּנּוּ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּרְצוֹנוֹ הַפָּשׁוּט

and which is united with His essence and being in perfect unity.

וּמְיוּחָד בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בְּתַכְלִית הַיִּחוּד.

The light and vitality that emanate from G‑d in order that He create and animate finite Worlds are in no way similar to light and vitality as they are found within created beings.

Light that emanates from a created being is not limited by the capacity of the recipient; on the other hand, the luminary has no control over its power of illumination: having been created as a luminary, it has no choice but to illumine. Divine light, however, while possessing all the positive qualities of illumination as found in created luminaries, shares none of its deficiencies: light emanates from the Luminary only when the Luminary desires that it do so. The will of created beings likewise has strengths and weaknesses. Though it chooses freely, it is by its very nature limited and restrictive. G‑d’s will, by contrast, while maintaining the positive attributes of mortal will, is encumbered by none of its limitations; His will (to illumine, for example) is unbounded, just as He Himself is without limitation.

Being infinite, G‑d’s light “cannot” give rise to created and finite beings unless it first undergoes the series of self-limiting, self-concealing contractions known as tzimtzumim, as is now stated.

Had the worlds descended from the light of the blessed Ein Sof without “contractions” but according to a gradual descent from grade to grade by means of cause and effect, the loftier level being the direct cause for the manifestation of the level immediately following it—

וְאִילּוּ הָיְתָה הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת הָעוֹלָמוֹת מֵאוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בְּלִי צִמְצוּמִים, רַק כְּסֵדֶר הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת מִמַּדְרֵגָה לְמַדְרֵגָה בְּדֶרֶךְ עִלָּה וְעָלוּל –

Such is the case with regard to thought and speech. That which a person speaks is first found within his thought; thought is the cause, and speech is the effect. Though thought is more spiritual than speech, the two levels stand in a certain proportion to each other in that (for example) both are composed of letters that form words. And so with every cause-and-effect relationship, the effect must partake of the characteristics of its cause; it would be impossible for a “cause” to bring into existence an “effect” which is infinitely removed from it.

Since the light and vitality—the creative power—that emanates from G‑d is infinite while created beings are finite, it goes without saying that they could not possibly have come into being in a manner of cause and effect. For if this were the case,

this world and all it contains would not have been created in its present form, in a finite and limited order: “From the earth to the firmament is a distance of five hundred years,”1 five hundred years’ journey being a finite dimension,

לֹא הָיָה הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה נִבְרָא כְּלָל כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא עַתָּה בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית, "מֵהָאָרֶץ לָרָקִיעַ מַהֲלַךְ תּ"ק שָׁנָה",

and similarly [limited is] the distance between one firmament and the next, and so also the radial extent of each firmament is a distance of five hundred years. And all the above applies to this world.

וְכֵן בֵּין כָּל רָקִיעַ לְרָקִיעַ, וְכֵן עוֹבִי כָּל רָקִיעַ וְרָקִיעַ.

Even the World to Come and the higher level of Gan Eden—the abode of the souls of the great tzaddikim—and the souls themselves, and needless to add, the angels, are all in the realm of bounds and limitation,

וַאֲפִילוּ עוֹלָם הַבָּא וְגַן עֵדֶן הָעֶלְיוֹן, מְדוֹר נִשְׁמוֹת הַצַּדִּיקִים הַגְּדוֹלִים וְהַנְּשָׁמוֹת עַצְמָן, וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר הַמַּלְאָכִים – הֵן בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית,

The Rebbe notes: Although it was indicated early in ch. 39 that souls delight in G‑d and derive pleasure from and comprehend the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, this poses no difficulty:

for there is a limit to their apprehension of the light of the blessed Ein Sof, which shines upon them through being clothed in ChaBaD, and so on,

כִּי יֵשׁ גְּבוּל לְהַשָּׂגָתָן בְּאוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא הַמֵּאִיר עֲלֵיהֶן בְּהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת חָכְמָה־בִּינָה־דַּעַת כוּ'.

Souls and angels, which people, in these worlds, comprehend G‑dliness as a result of its vestiture in the ChaBaD of those worlds. Though lofty, their comprehension is nonetheless limited.

hence, there is also a limit to the enjoyment that they derive from the rays of the Shechinah and to their pleasure in the light of G‑d,

וְלָכֵן יֵשׁ גְּבוּל לַהֲנָאָתָן שֶׁנֶּהֱנִין מִזִּיו הַשְּׁכִינָה וּמִתְעַנְּגִין בְּאוֹר ה',

for they are incapable of deriving enjoyment and delight of an infinite order without being nullified out of their existence and returning to their source.

כִּי אֵין יְכוֹלִין לְקַבֵּל הֲנָאָה וְתַעֲנוּג בִּבְחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף מַמָּשׁ, שֶׁלֹּא יִתְבַּטְּלוּ מִמְּצִיאוּתָן וְיַחְזְרוּ לִמְקוֹרָן.

Thus, even the creatures of the highest spiritual worlds are finite beings, and in order for them to be created in a finite manner, the process of “contraction” must be invoked. Being finite, they are totally dissimilar to their source—the infinite G‑dly light that exists prior to “contraction.”

Now, as for the intricate details of the “contractions,” how they achieve their effect and what they actually are—this is not the place for their explanation.

וְהִנֵּה, פְּרָטִיּוּת הַצִּמְצוּמִים, אֵיךְ וּמָה – אֵין כָּאן מְקוֹם בֵּיאוּרָם.

But in general, they are something in the nature of an obscuring and concealment of the flow of light and vitality,

אַךְ דֶּרֶךְ כְּלָל, הֵן הֵם בְּחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר וְהֶעְלֵם הַמְשָׁכַת הָאוֹר וְהַחַיּוּת,

so that [the light and vitality] should illumine and reach the lower creatures in a revealed manner, pervading them and acting in them and animating them in such a way that they exist ex nihilo,

שֶׁלֹּא יָאִיר וְיוּמְשַׁךְ לַתַּחְתּוֹנִים בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי, לְהִתְלַבֵּשׁ וּלְהַשְׁפִּיעַ בָּהֶן וּלְהַחֲיוֹתָם לִהְיוֹת יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן –

in only an extremely minute measure so that they be in a state of finitude and limitation.

כִּי אִם, מְעַט מִזְּעֵר אוֹר וְחַיּוּת, בִּכְדֵי שֶׁיִּהְיוּ בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית,

Were their life-force to be revealed within them, they would be infinite. “Contraction” ensures that the light and vitality which is their life-force remains concealed from them; all that is revealed is but a minute degree of light and vitality.

This light and vitality that is revealed within them after the “contraction” constitutes an infinitesimal illumination and is truly considered as naught when compared with the quality of the limitless and infinite illumination, and there is no proportion or relationship between them,

שֶׁהִיא הֶאָרָה מוּעֶטֶת מְאֹד וּמַמָּשׁ כְּלָא חֲשִׁיבֵי לְגַבֵּי בְּחִינַת הֶאָרָה בְּלִי גְבוּל וְתַכְלִית, וְאֵין בֵּינֵיהֶם עֵרֶךְ וְיַחַס כְּלָל,

I.e., they are not quantitatively different, not even immensely different in quantity, but of a wholly different and incomparable quality.

as the term “proportion” is understood in number values, where the number one stands in a certain ratio to the number one million, for it is a one-millionth part of it,

כַּנּוֹדָע פֵּירוּשׁ מִלַּת ‘עֵרֶךְ' בְּמִסְפָּרִים, שֶׁאֶחָד בְּמִסְפָּר, יֵשׁ לוֹ עֵרֶךְ לְגַבֵּי מִסְפָּר אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים, שֶׁהוּא חֵלֶק אֶחָד מִנִּי אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים,

The sum of one million is merely the sum of one million ones; subtract but one, and the million ceases to exist—a clear demonstration of the relation that subsists between one and a million.

but as regards a thing which transcends finitude and numeration, there is no number—however great—that can be relative to it,

אֲבָל לְגַבֵּי דָּבָר שֶׁהוּא בִּבְחִינַת בְּלִי גְבוּל וּמִסְפָּר כְּלָל – אֵין כְּנֶגְדּוֹ שׁוּם עֵרֶךְ בְּמִסְפָּרִים,

for a billion and a trillion2 when compared to infinity do not even attain the relevancy of the value of one in comparison with a billion or a trillion,

שֶׁאֲפִילוּ אֶלֶף אַלְפֵי אֲלָפִים וְרִיבּוֹא רְבָבוֹת, אֵינָן אֲפִילוּ כְּעֵרֶךְ מִסְפָּר אֶחָד לְגַבֵּי אֶלֶף אַלְפֵי אֲלָפִים וְרִבּוֹא רְבָבוֹת,

for the sum of one retains some degree of relevance even when compared to a trillion—it is, in fact, one trillionth of it—while even a sum as large as a trillion has no relevance at all when compared to the realm of the infinite but is veritably accounted as nothing.

אֶלָּא כְּלָא מַמָּשׁ חֲשִׁיבֵי.

So, indeed, is the utterly insignificant quality of this minute illumination—after the “contraction”—which clothes itself in the higher and lower worlds in order to provide them with sustenance and life,

וְכָכָה מַמָּשׁ הִיא בְּחִינַת הַהֶאָרָה מוּעֶטֶת זוֹ, הַמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּעוֹלָמוֹת עֶלְיוֹנִים וְתַחְתּוֹנִים לְהַשְׁפִּיעַ בָּהֶם לְהַחֲיוֹתָם,

when compared with the quality of the hidden and concealed light that is of an infinite order,

לְגַבֵּי עֵרֶךְ אוֹר הַגָּנוּז וְנֶעְלָם, שֶׁהוּא בִּבְחִינַת "אֵין־סוֹף",

and does not clothe itself or exercise its influence in the worlds in a revealed manner, providing them with life, but encompasses them from above—i.e., it exerts its influence while remaining on its own level—and is called sovev kol almin (lit., “encompassing all worlds”).

וְאֵינוֹ מִתְלַבֵּשׁ וּמַשְׁפִּיעַ בָּעוֹלָמוֹת בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי לְהַחֲיוֹתָם, אֶלָּא מַקִּיף עֲלֵיהֶם מִלְמַעְלָה, וְנִקְרָא – "סוֹבֵב כָּל עָלְמִין".

Unlike the light that pervades all worlds (memalei kol almin), which permeates and vests itself within them (just as the soul vests itself in the body), the encompassing light remains aloof from the worlds.

The meaning of this is not that it encircles and encompasses from above spatially, G‑d forbid, for in spiritual matters, the category of space is in no way applicable,

וְאֵין הַפֵּירוּשׁ סוֹבֵב וּמַקִּיף מִלְמַעְלָה בִּבְחִינַת מָקוֹם חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, כִּי לֹא שַׁיָּיךְ כְּלָל בְּחִינַת מָקוֹם בְּרוּחָנִיּוּת.

Physical objects are spatial; they may be said to be found in one place or the other. Spirituality, however, is nonspatial; the terms “encompassing” and “encircling” are never to be understood in their literal, physical sense,

but the meaning is that it “encircles and encompasses from above” insofar as the revelation of this influence is concerned,

אֶלָּא רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר, סוֹבֵב וּמַקִּיף מִלְמַעְלָה לְעִנְיַן בְּחִינַת גִּילּוּי הַשְׁפָּעָה,

for influence, which is in the category of “revelation” in the worlds, is referred to as “investiture,” being “clothed” within the worlds, for the influence that they receive is clothed and comprehended by them, i.e., they are able to comprehend and internalize it,

כִּי הַהַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁהוּא בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי בָּעוֹלָמוֹת – נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם "הַלְבָּשָׁה", שֶׁמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בָּעוֹלָמוֹת, כִּי הֵם מַלְבִּישִׁים וּמַשִּׂיגִים הַהַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁמְּקַבְּלִים,

whereas the influence which does not come within the category of “revelation” but remains obscured and concealed and is not apprehended by the worlds is not described as being “invested” in them but as “encircling and encompassing” [them].

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן הַהַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁאֵינָהּ בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי אֶלָּא בְּהֶסְתֵּר וְהֶעְלֵם, וְאֵין הָעוֹלָמוֹת מַשִּׂיגִים אוֹתָהּ – אֵינָהּ נִקְרֵאת "מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת" אֶלָּא מַקֶּפֶת וְסוֹבֶבֶת.

Therefore, since the worlds belong in the order of the finite and limited,

הִלְכָּךְ, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהָעוֹלָמוֹת הֵם בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית –

it follows that only an extremely minute and contracted reflection of the flow of the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof clothes and manifests itself in them in a revealed form,

נִמְצָא שֶׁאֵין הַשְׁפָּעַת אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף מִתְלַבֵּשׁ וּמִתְגַּלָּה בָּהֶם בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי, רַק מְעַט מִזְּעֵר, הֶאָרָה מוּעֶטֶת מְצוּמְצֶמֶת מְאֹד מְאֹד,

and this only to animate them in a finite and revealed state.

וְהִיא רַק כְּדֵי לְהַחֲיוֹתָם בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית.

In order for creation to come about, there must necessarily be at least some glimmer of G‑dly illumination, albeit in an extremely limited form, for this enables creation to be finite and bounded.

But the principal light that is without contraction to such an extent is called makif (“encircler”) and sovev (“encompasser”) since its influence is not revealed within [the worlds] inasmuch as they belong in the order of the finite and the limited.

אֲבָל עִיקַּר הָאוֹר בְּלִי צִמְצוּם כָּל כָּךְ נִקְרָא "מַקִּיף" וְ"סוֹבֵב", מֵאַחַר שֶׁאֵין הַשְׁפָּעָתוֹ מִתְגַּלֵּית בְּתוֹכָם, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵם בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית.

By way of illustration, the Alter Rebbe will now draw an analogy from the physical earth, which is composed of the inanimate and vegetable worlds. These two categories are the least significant of the four categories—man, animal, the vegetative, and the inanimate—and the divine life-force found within them is contracted to a greater degree than the life-force found within animal and man. Nevertheless, Scripture attests that the whole world is full of G‑d’s glory, because it encompasses these two categories and does not pervade them.

To illustrate this point, consider this material world. Even though “The whole world is full of His glory,”

וְהַמָּשָׁל בָּזֶה, הִנֵּה הָאָרֶץ הַלֵּזוּ הַגַּשְׁמִיּוּת, אַף שֶׁ"מְּלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ",

namely, not only with a minute glimmer of G‑dliness but with the [infinite] light of the blessed Ein Sof, as it is written, “‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the L-rd,”3

וְהַיְינוּ אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "הֲלֹא אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲנִי מָלֵא, נְאֻם ה'".

nevertheless, only very limited vitality, of no more than the category of what is revealed in the inanimate and vegetable worlds, is clothed within [this world] in the form of “revealed” influence,

אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן, אֵין מִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּתוֹכָהּ בִּבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי הַהַשְׁפָּעָה, רַק חַיּוּת מְעַט מִזְּעֵר, בְּחִינוֹת דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ לְבַד.

while all the light of the blessed Ein Sof which fills the world itself in a concealed manner is described as “encompassing” it, even though it actually pervades it,

וְכָל אוֹר־אֵין־סוֹף בָּרוּךְ־הוּא נִקְרָא סוֹבֵב עָלֶיהָ, אַף שֶׁהוּא בְּתוֹכָהּ מַמָּשׁ.

since its influence is no more revealed in it than it is revealed within the inanimate and vegetable worlds but affects it in a hidden and concealed manner,

מֵאַחַר שֶׁאֵין הַשְׁפָּעָתוֹ מִתְגַּלֵּית בָּהּ יוֹתֵר, רַק מַשְׁפִּיעַ בָּהּ בִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר וְהֶעְלֵם,

and any influence of a concealed nature is referred to as “encircling from above,”

וְכָל הַשְׁפָּעָה שֶׁבִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר, נִקְרָא מַקִּיף מִלְמַעְלָה,

for alma d’itkasya, the “hidden world,” is on a higher plane than alma d’itgalya, the “revealed world.”

כִּי, "עָלְמָא דְאִתְכַּסְיָא" הוּא לְמַעְלָה בְּמַדְרֵגָה מֵ"עָלְמָא דְאִתְגַּלְיָא".

G‑dliness drawn down in a concealed manner (“from the hidden world”) is on a higher plane than that which is drawn down in a revealed manner (“from the revealed world”). Emanating as it does from a higher level, this mode of divine influence is said to be “encircling from above.”

Let us make this more intelligible by means of an example.

וּלְקָרֵב אֶל הַשֵּׂכֶל יוֹתֵר, הוּא בְּדֶרֶךְ מָשָׁל:

A further example is needed in order to clarify this paradox—how G‑dliness simultaneously pervades the world and yet remains aloof from it, encircling and encompassing it (as it were) from above and not being revealed within it.

When a person forms an image in his mind of something that he has seen or sees,

כְּמוֹ הָאָדָם שֶׁמְּצַיֵּיר בְּדַעְתּוֹ אֵיזֶה דָבָר שֶׁרָאָה אוֹ שֶׁרוֹאֶה,

even though the entire body and essence of that thing, both its exterior and interior and its very core, are completely mirrored in his mind and thought, for he has seen it or is seeing it in its entirety,

הִנֵּה אַף שֶׁכָּל גּוּף עֶצֶם הַדָּבָר הַהוּא וְגַבּוֹ וְתוֹכוֹ וְתוֹךְ תּוֹכוֹ, כּוּלּוֹ מְצוּיָּיר בְּדַעְתּוֹ וּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרָאָהוּ כוּלּוֹ אוֹ שֶׁרוֹאֵהוּ,

this is expressed by saying that his mind encompasses that object completely, and, just as in the mind’s frame of reference, so, too, regarding the perspective of the visualized object,

הִנֵּה נִקְרֵאת דַּעְתּוֹ מַקֶּפֶת הַדָּבָר הַהוּא כּוּלּוֹ.

and that thing is enveloped by his mind and thought.

וְהַדָּבָר הַהוּא מוּקָּף בְּדַעְתּוֹ וּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ,

But it is not encompassed in actual fact, only in the imagination of the man’s thought and mind.

רַק, שֶׁאֵינוֹ מוּקָּף בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ – רַק בְּדִמְיוֹן מַחֲשֶׁבֶת הָאָדָם וְדַעְתּוֹ.

Since man’s thought is limited, he cannot actually encompass the object itself; he only encompasses its image as it exists within his mind.

G‑d, however, of Whom it is written: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts…,”4 so that it is utterly impossible for us to grasp His thought process,

אֲבָל הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא דִּכְתִיב בֵּיהּ: "כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם כוּ'",

His Thoughts and His Mind, which knows all created beings, encompasses each and every created thing, from its head i.e., from its highest level to its end i.e., to its lowest level, and its inside and very core, all in actual reality and not as with the thought of mortal man.

הֲרֵי מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וְדַעְתּוֹ שֶׁיּוֹדֵעַ כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים, מַקֶּפֶת כָּל נִבְרָא וְנִבְרָא מֵרֹאשׁוֹ וְעַד תַּחְתִּיתוֹ, וְתוֹכוֹ וְתוֹךְ תּוֹכוֹ, הַכֹּל בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ.

The Alter Rebbe now gives an example of G‑d’s thought and knowledge encompassing a specific object.

For example, in the case of the orb of this earth, His knowledge encompasses the entire diameter of the globe of the earth, together with all that is in it and its deepest interior to its lowest depths, all in actual reality,

לְמָשָׁל, כַּדּוּר הָאָרֶץ הַלֵּזוּ, הֲרֵי יְדִיעָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ מַקֶּפֶת כָּל עוֹבִי כַּדּוּר הָאָרֶץ וְכָל אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹכוֹ וְתוֹךְ תּוֹכוֹ עַד תַּחְתִּיתוֹ, הַכֹּל בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ,

for this knowledge constitutes the vitality of the whole spherical thickness of the earth and its creation ex nihilo.

שֶׁהֲרֵי, יְדִיעָה זוֹ, הִיא חַיּוּת כָּל עוֹבִי כַּדּוּר הָאָרֶץ כּוּלּוֹ, וְהִתְהַוּוּתוֹ מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ.

The whole earth was originally created and continues to be created ex nihilo as a result of G‑d’s knowledge of it.

However, it would not have come into being as it is now, as a finite and limited thing with an exceedingly minute degree of vitality sufficient for the categories of inorganic matter and vegetation,

רַק שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה מִתְהַוֶּה כְּמוֹת שֶׁהוּא עַתָּה, בַּעַל גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית וְחַיּוּת מוּעֶטֶת מְאֹד, כְּדֵי בְּחִינוֹת דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ.

were it not for the world being created through the many powerful contractions which have condensed the light and vitality that is clothed in the orb of the earth,

אִם לֹא, עַל יְדֵי צִמְצוּמִים רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים, שֶׁצִּמְצְמוּ הָאוֹר וְהַחַיּוּת שֶׁנִּתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּכַדּוּר הָאָרֶץ

so as to animate it and sustain it in its finite and limited status and in the categories of inorganic and vegetable matter alone.

לְהַחֲיוֹתוֹ וּלְקַיְּימוֹ בִּבְחִינַת גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית, וּבִבְחִינוֹת דּוֹמֵם וְצוֹמֵחַ בִּלְבָד.

Thus, the minute degree of illumination which results from the tzimtzumim enables the earth to exist in a finite manner and only in the finitude of inorganic and vegetable matter. G‑d’s knowledge, however, as shall presently be explained, encircles the earth from above. For since His knowledge is infinite while the world is finite, it is impossible for this knowledge to pervade the earth, even though this knowledge constitutes the earth’s very creation and existence.

His knowledge, however, which is united with His essence and being—

אַךְ יְדִיעָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַמְיוּחֶדֶת בְּמַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ –

for “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known,

כִּי "הוּא הַמַּדָּע וְהוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַיָּדוּעַ,

It has been previously explained (in ch. 2) that G‑d’s knowledge and intellect are totally different from man’s. When a mortal being knows something, three distinct identities are involved: (a) the “knower”—the person in possession of the knowledge; (b) the “knowledge”—the intellectual faculty which enables him to know; and (c) the “known”—the particular item of knowledge which he knows. G‑d, however, “…is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.” He that knows, and the vehicle through which He knows, and that which He knows—are all Himself. Thus, His knowledge is wholly united, wholly identified, with His essence.

and knowing Himself, as it were, He knows all created beings,

וּבִידִיעַת עַצְמוֹ כִּבְיָכוֹל יוֹדֵעַ כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים,

though not with a knowledge that is external to Himself, like the knowledge of a human being,

וְלֹא בִּידִיעָה שֶׁחוּץ מִמֶּנּוּ כִּידִיעַת הָאָדָם,

Human knowledge requires getting to know something which is external to the knower himself. Not so G‑d’s knowledge: it comes from His knowing Himself,

for all of [the created beings] are derived from His true reality,

כִּי כּוּלָּם נִמְצָאִים מֵאֲמִיתָּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

G‑d’s true reality and existence is the source of all created beings. By knowing Himself, therefore, as mentioned just above, He knows all of creation.

and this thing is not within the power of human beings to comprehend clearly, and so on”

וְדָבָר זֶה אֵין בִּיכוֹלֶת הָאָדָם לְהַשִּׂיגוֹ עַל בּוּרְיוֹ וְכוּ'"

The human mind cannot possibly grasp the concept of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known” all being one and the same. For whatever matter a man may desire to comprehend, he imagines how it exists within himself—bearing in mind, of course, that when the matter at hand is the knowledge of G‑dliness, it is to be conceived on a more exalted and abstract plane than that of simple human existence. Since G‑d’s manner of knowledge is totally dissimilar from man’s, it is thus impossible for him to picture it at all. It must forever remain beyond his ken.

“He is the Knowledge, the Knower…” and so on, is a quotation from Rambam (Maimonides). There are prominent sages who take issue with this view, among them Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loew) of Prague.

In the introduction to his Gevurot Hashem, Maharal raises a number of objections to the thesis of Rambam. One of his most telling arguments: The descriptive term “knowledge” or “intellect” is one of limitation. By terming something as being “intellect,” we are thereby saying that it is not anything other than intellect—such as feelings, action, or whatever. Yet how can we possibly say that G‑d is limited in any way? For He is the ultimate in indivisible simplicity, not a complex amalgamation of distinct, limited attributes.

Even if we posit that G‑d’s knowledge and man’s are totally dissimilar, and that man is incapable of comprehending how G‑d is both simultaneously “Knowledge, Knower, and Known,” yet the fact still remains that knowledge is a specific attribute: we are speaking of knowledge, to the exclusion of all else. This cannot possibly serve as a description of G‑d’s essence.

Maharal goes on to point out that the Sages of the Talmud refer to G‑d as “the Holy One, blessed be He,” not as “the intellect, blessed be He.” For “holy” means separate and apart—utterly transcending anything that is within the realm of description. And it is specifically because He is above everything and beyond all description that everything derives from Him. For He is limited in no respect that might preclude the existence of anything.

Intellect, Maharal teaches, is merely one of G‑d’s creations. Seen in this light, “And G‑d knew” is no different from “And G‑d said” or “And G‑d made.” Just as G‑d’s speech and action are not His essence but faculties which He brought into being, so, too, with regard to knowledge—the attributes of knowledge and intellect are His creations.

The Alter Rebbe explains in this note that the scholars of the Kabbalah subscribed to the view of Rambam that Divine knowledge ought to be considered in terms of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, they specify, this only applies after the light of the Ein Sof contracted into the ten sefirot of Atzilutchochmah, binah, daat (wisdom, knowledge and understanding), and so on, i.e., after the “clothing of the light in vessels.” Only after the light of chochmah clothed itself in the vessel of chochmah, the light of binah in the vessel of binah, and so forth—i.e., only after these entities already exist—is it possible to say that this knowledge and intellect is totally at one with G‑d? However, before the contraction within these sefirot, G‑d supremely transcends intellect and wisdom, even as they exist in their most abstract and rarefied form.

According to the teachings of Chasidut, following along the lines of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria’s interpretation of the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), the views of both Rambam and Maharal are correct.

G‑d’s essential existence and being, before any contraction of G‑dliness, is as described by Maharal—an existence of unqualified simplicity beyond the pale of knowledge and intellect in whatever form they may take, even so subtle a form as “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, once the contraction took place and the sefirot came into being, then His vestiture in them may properly be described by saying, in the words of Rambam, that “He is the Knowledge….”

This is because the sefirot are emanations of G‑dliness rather than created beings. As such, they are wholly united with G‑d. This is expressed in the statement of Tikkunei Zohar: “He and His life-giving emanations (i.e., the orot, the “lights” of the ten sefirot of the World of Atzilut) are one; He and His causations (i.e., the kelim, the “vessels” of the ten sefirot of Atzilut) are one….” That is to say, the Ein Sof-light is one with the lights and vessels of Atzilut. This is exactly the same as saying “He is the Knowledge…,” for the knowledge of the sefirot is truly one with G‑d (and not a created being), as Maharal insists.

For the view of Maharal, too, is fraught with difficulties. Firstly, we note that Scripture does ascribe knowledge to G‑d Himself as in the verse, “…and His understanding is beyond reckoning.”5 Furthermore, it appears unreasonable to argue that G‑d’s knowledge is dependent on a created entity.

According to the explanation of Chasidut, then, all these difficulties—both those in the view of Maharal and those in the view of Rambam—are satisfactorily resolved: G‑d’s essence is indeed beyond description, yet He is still the “Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known” as He unites Himself with the sefirot of Atzilut after their having come into being through the medium of “contraction.”

In the words of the Alter Rebbe:

As Rambam, of blessed memory, has written—that G‑d is “Knowledge, Knower, and Known”—

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה,

and the scholars of the Kabbalah have agreed with his views as is stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, of blessed memory.

וְהִסְכִּימוּ ﬠִמּוֹ חַכְמֵי הַקַּבָּלָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּפַּרְדֵּ"ס מֵהָרְמַ"ק זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה.

This is also in accord with the Kabbalah of our master, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory,

וְכֵן הוּא לְפִי קַבָּלַת הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה,

It was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, who first revealed the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), which taught that G‑d’s exalted essence is even more removed from the sefirot than was thought before then. It would thus be logical to assume that since he stresses this infinite distance from the sefirot (the sefirah of chochmah, for example), he would be unable to accept the statement that “He is the Knowledge….” Nevertheless, this teaching holds true even according to him—but with the proviso:

in the mystery i.e., the doctrine of “contraction” and the clothing of the lights [of the sefirot] in the vessels [of the sefirot], as has been explained previously, in ch. 2.

בְּסוֹד הַצִּמְצוּמִים וְהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת אוֹרוֹת בַּכֵּלִים, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְﬠֵיל פֶּרֶק ב':

The unity of G‑d with the Divine sefirot is so absolute that even according to Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, one may safely say of this unity, “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.”

Before the above note, the Alter Rebbe stated that G‑d’s knowledge is united with His essence and being; since He is infinite, His knowledge is infinite as well. It is therefore impossible for this knowledge to pervade the earth, and it must encompass it. This is true, of course, not only of G‑d’s knowledge of the earth but of creation as a whole.

this knowledge, then, since it is of an infinite order, is not described as clothing itself in the orb of the earth, which is finite and limited, while G‑d’s knowledge is limitless but as encircling and encompassing it,

– הֲרֵי יְדִיעָה זוֹ, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהִיא בִּבְחִינַת אֵין־סוֹף, אֵינָהּ נִקְרֵאת בְּשֵׁם מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּכַדּוּר הָאָרֶץ שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל גְּבוּל וְתַכְלִית, אֶלָּא מַקֶּפֶת וְסוֹבֶבֶת.

even though this knowledge embraces its entire thickness and interior in actual reality,

אַף שֶׁיְּדִיעָה זוֹ כּוֹלֶלֶת כָּל עָבְיוֹ וְתוֹכוֹ בְּפוֹעַל מַמָּשׁ,

Unlike the knowledge of a human being, which encompasses only the image of an object and not its reality, G‑d’s knowledge embraces the object in actual reality,

thereby giving it existence ex nihilo,

וּמְהַוָּוה אוֹתוֹ עַל יְדֵי זֶה מֵאַיִן לְיֵשׁ,

Creation does not come about from the minute glimmer of G‑dliness found within the object, which sustains it only at the inanimate and vegetative level, but from the supernal knowledge that encompasses and encircles it. And although this knowledge is responsible for the object’s existence, it is still described as encompassing. For inasmuch as the knowledge is infinite while the created being is finite, this knowledge is unable to clothe itself within the created being.

as is explained elsewhere—that creation ex nihilo can take place only as a result of the “encompassing light.”

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר: