Sefer Tanya

All Tanya all the time, without Chabad: the sefer itself from an outsider's perspective. I'll be calling this work “Nearly Everybody”: The Inner Life and Struggles of the Jewish Soul

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Appendix: The Love and Fear of G-d

“Nearly Everybody”: The Inner Life and Struggles of the Jewish Soul

(Based on “Tanya: Collected Discourses of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi”)

by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Appendix: The Love and Fear of G-d


“My sole objective” as a rebbe and teacher, RSZ remarked to his son and successor Rabbi Dov Baer on countless occasions, was to allow for “a revelation of G-d’s Presence” -- a clear and oftentimes ecstatic sense of His immanence -- “in (my adherents’) souls” (Kuntress HaHitpa’alut, Introduction).

As such, one of the hallmarks of Chabad Chassidut has always been its stress on such an experience, which they maintained could only come about by arousing a sense of love and fear of G-d in one’s being through reflecting upon His true Being.

For, starting with RSZ, all Chabad leaders have emphasized the idea that each one of us can and indeed *should* be moved to the love and fear of G-d, and are to cleave unto Him as a result (see Likutei Torah, V’Etchanan, p. 7). They especially favored doing that when reciting the Sh’ma (“Hear, O Israel, G-d our L-rd alone is G-d” [Deuteronomy 6:4]) and when articulating the Sh’mone Esrei prayer, since those were the most propitious moments for doing that. They also adjured their followers to see beyond the outward form of things and to sense the Divinity hidden in each and everything in order to experience His presence.

But reflecting on G-d’s Oneness, catching sight of Him everywhere, and reacting to it in love and fear actually goes far beyond those phenomena alone, and touches upon the nature of reality, and on the fact that only G-d exists, nothing else.

This obviously calls for some explanation, which is rooted in the following.


While others understood G-d’s Oneness, belief in which is fundamental to the Jewish faith, to only mean that G-d is the one and only Deity, RSZ wasn't satisfied with that, and based on several esoteric sources including the Zohar and the writings of the Ari and the Ba’al Shem Tov, he stressed that G-d’s Oneness not only implies that G-d is the one and only Deity but also that He is the only actual entity.

After all, didn’t He Himself adjure, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24), with the implication that He does so to the exclusion of everything else; didn’t the prophet say “The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3), with much the same implication? Along the same lines, didn’t the Talmud point out that “Just as the soul fills the body so does G-d fill the universe” (Berachot 10A); and didn’t the Zohar declare that “there is no place devoid of G-d” (Tikkunei Zohar 57, p. 91B)? RSZ’s suggestion is that all of that’s indeed true, but that we’re too blind to G-d’s presence to catch sight of that (though for certain purposeful and specific reasons that are beyond the scope of the subject at hand).

But to fully understand this we’ll need to explain something of the Kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum.


There’s something quite vexing about the whole idea of creation. For how could finite entities -- and even spiritual ones such as angels and the like -- have derived from G-d’s infinite, Divine Being? There had to have been a break in the connection between His Being and our own, a synapse along the way, if you will (see Likutei Torah 46C) in order for things other than G-d to come from Him. And therein lies the conceptual rationale behind the phenomenon of tzimtzum.

The term “tzimtzum” itself implies either a contraction of sorts or a concealment (Aruch). The first definition alludes to the notion that G-d pulled His Presence to the side, if you will, to allow for finitetude, and it’s a satisfying solution to the problem of the finite deriving from the Infinite. The second definition, a concealment, was the one that RZV preferred, though. It alludes to a series of obscurings of the Divine Light that had to have occurred for finitetude to appear (see Zohar 1, 15A and Zohar Chadash, Va’Etchanan 57A; Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar HaHakdamot; as well as Tanya’s Ch’s 21-22 and 48-49, and most especially RSZ’s Sha’ar HaYichud cited below).

The point is that rather than “pull Himself to the side” if you will in order to allow for the existence of things other than Himself, RSV understood that G-d stayed in place in fact, but that He hid Himself to allow for things other than He to shine and not be overshadowed (actually, over-shone) by His Being. (The depiction of G-d stepping aside to allow for other entities also raises a problem, in that it implies a change in G-d’s Being when He Himself said that “I, G-d, have never changed” [Malachi 3:6], and we declare daily that He was “the same before the world was created, and [has always] been [and will always be] the same” [Schacharit service, based on Yalkut Shimoni, V’Etchanan 835].)

And so as far as RSZ was concerned, tzimtzum wasn’t something that actually occurred to G-d; it merely appeared to have. As such, reality as we know it only exists thanks to a series of blockings-off of the Divine Light so it doesn’t exist so much as seems to exist. In fact, the only things that truly exists is G-d (see Shaar HaYichud Ch’s 3 and 7). As we’re taught, “There is no place devoid of Him” and Him alone, “neither in the upper or the lower worlds” (Tikkunei Zohar 57), and that He ”fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds” (Zohar 3, p. 225a).

That’s not to say, though, that reality doesn’t in fact exist, since we know it does. It’s only to say that it’s real -- very real -- for us, but no further. That’s to say that we do exist, of course, but as it’s put classically we’re like “a tiny candle in the face of a mighty torch”, or “a single sunbeam in the face of the sun itself” (see Tanya Ch. 33; also see Shaar HaYichud Ch’s 3 and 7).

There are needless to say *all sorts of* profound and recondite implications to all that, but that’s beside our point here. We’re to take heart from the fact though that “all this is beyond the power of speech to express, the ability of the ear to hear, and the human heart to (truly) comprehend”, and that we’d do best to simply accept it in full faith (Shaar HaYichud Ch. 7).

Nevertheless, we’re charged to dwell on this principle as best as we can, and to apply it to our meditations and our lives. For as RSZ would have us understand it (Shaar HaYichud Ch. 6), we’re implored to, “Know this day and lay it upon your heart that G-d is (not only) the L-rd in the heavens above and on the earth below, (it’s also true that) there is no other (entity other than He)” (Deuteronomy 4:39). That’s to say that we’re to not only “know” about that intellectually, we’re to also “lay it upon (our) heart”, i.e., meditate upon it and internalize it as much as we can.

For by doing that we come to be profoundly moved by -- that is, we come to fully love and fear of -- G-d, and thus experience “a revelation of G-d’s Presence” as RSZ would like us to. Since, what most especially rouses love and fear of G-d “is a genuine and faithful belief in His unity and oneness” (Chinuch HaKattan) as RSZ explains it.

(c) 2007 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued and can be ordered from here
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled
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