Friday, March 6, 2009

put on your thinking caps - it is the real fake world.

                                         So what does the name of this blog mean anyways??

       While I was in Yeshiva, I used to frequent the 'tzmanim charts,' the chart that has all the times for the day that are needed to be a frum Jew:  What is the latest time to say the Shma, when is the earliest you can daven shacharis, when does shabbos start and end?  I was at first suprised by all of the different opinions- there are 2 or 3 opinions for every legal time.  One of the more famous times is 'Rabbeinu Tam's' Shabbos, which many chassidishe folk follow and end up keeping shabbos much longer than the rest of us.
      Anyways, I was surprised to see that many of the opinions there are labeled 'Gra and the Baal HaTanya.' - meaning to say that the Gra, the Vilna Goan, and the Alter Rebbe, also known as the Baal HaTanya, share the same opinion on, say, how late you can say the Shma in the morning.  I was struck back, because I thought that those two Jewish Sages disagreed on many points in Judaism.  In fact, my Litvishe friend told me that they actually do agree on many legal points, though we shall see that they differ from one extreme to the other on a major concept in Kabbalah.  
     The Ari Zal revealed to us the doctrine of the "Tzimtzum."  The disciples of the Ari Zal disagreed on what the tzimtzum actually was, and this dispute continued through to the days of the Alter Rebbe and the Vilna Gaon, the Gra.  In general, the tzumtzum means that G-d removed Himself from this world, His creation.  There are two main fundamental points of the tzimtzum that are matters of dispute:  1.Whether or not to take the words of the Ari Zal literally.  In other words: did Hashem remove Himself from our world entirely, or did He just conceal His presence from our human eyes, when in fact He is still here.  Secondly, does this tzimtzum apply to G-ds  essence, or just his 'light.'  Thus it comes out that there are 4 possible ways of understanding the Ari Zal's 'Tzimtzum':  1. Hashem removed his essence from the world 2.Hashem removed his light from the world 3. Hashem concealed his essence from the world 4. Hashem concealed his light from the world.
     Now we see how the Alter Rebbe and the Vilna Gaon disagree from one extreme to the other:  The Gaon holds that Hashem removed his essence from our world, while the Alter Rebbe holds that Hashem didn't remove anything, he just concealed.  And furthermore, He only concealed His 'light,' and not His essence.  In a famous saying, the Alter Rebbe proclaims that, "The Illuminator is revealed, and therefore even children know Hashem."
     [I always found it very intriguing that Judaism allows for different viewpoints, and perhaps at a later time I can elaborate on this fascinating concept, with Hashem's help.]
      Now, the Gaon's point of view, that Hashem removed His essence entirely from this world, actually does go a long way towards answering common difficulties with the faith.  For instance, why do bad things happen to good people?  How can there be multiplicity in a world that comes from a perfectly One G-d?  Or, perhaps more fundamentally, how can anything happen contrary to Hashem's will?  The Torah itself seems to indicate that just such tings happen, as it delineates scores of laws that Hashem wants humans to follow, and yet even the Torah itself recounts many occurrences of people transgressing Hashem's laws and will.  All of this would imply a lacking in Hashem's omnipotence only IF Hashem is right here in this world, the place of transgression. But, with the Gaon's approach, there really is no difficulty at all, because Hashem removed his essence from this world.  Indeed, the world is a place where spiritual transgression is possible, but this has nothing to do with Hashem.  Hashem looks upon it much the same way that a King would gaze out from his palace window at a dumpster.  The King, Himself, however, is totally unaffected.
       Oh, and if you were wondering how the Vilna Gaon would explain the statements of the Zohar that "Now place is empty of G-d," the Gaon would simply say that the above statement refers to Hashem's providence, ie, that Hashem's providence and influence permeates all.
       On the other hand, the Alter Rebbe's view would have a problem: how can things happen contrary to Hashem's will if He is to be found right here in the apparent 'trash can' that is our world?  Now, the full answer is beyond the scope of this particular blog, but there are two fundamental points to answer the above question: 1. Hashem creates those things that are against His will in an entirely different fashion that the way He creates the rest of the world.  True, He does, ultimately, create them, but He does so in the same way one would feed a captured enemy: by throwing the food over your back in disgust.  This means to say that Hashem is not truly found in those places and things on Earth that go against His will.  Secondly:  We are forced to invoke the doctrine known as "The Mystery of the Exile of the Shechinah.'  Even Rashi mentions this seemingly very kabbalistic concept in his very straight-forward commentary on the Torah.  Rashi claims that a particular verse is to be read as follows: "And The L-rd will return with the Jewish people [out of exile.]"  Furthermore, Rashi even goes on to say that Hashem needed to write a verse of redemption for Himself in the Torah.  In other words, Hashem does get 'stuck', so to speak, in exile when someone goes against His will.  Or, at least what is known as the Shechinah gets stuck.  To sum up with the words of the Alter Rebbe in Tanya:  'When one sins, you take the Head of the King and shove it in the toilet."
    And all of the above does not contradict Hashem's Will, ultimately, because even sins themselves can be converted into merits [in line with G-d's will] with the incredible power of Teshuvah, "repentance, Jewish Style.'  And the Rambam ensures that 'That Torah promises that ALL Israel will eventually do Teshuvah.'  -Whether in this reincarnation or another.   Furthermore, G-d desired Teshuvah from the outset of Creation, thus the power of Teshuvah will bring all those things that were against His will back in line, eventually.  
    Before we go further, I just want to note what it says in HaYom Yom, and to paraphrase:  The Alter Rebbe is a legal authority whose rulings will follow in lieu of other opinions in both both revealed, purley legal, dimension of Torah AND in Kabbalistic doctrine, as well.  So from here on out, we will focus on his version of the Tzimtzum....
    So, to return to the origional question:  What does 'RealFake world' mean, after all?
    The answer lies in the manner in which the world is created.  To preface:  as noted above, the Vilna Gaon's view on the Tzimtzum answers a lot of questions one might have regarding G-d's omnipotence and man's free-will, and the apparent contradiction these two ideas tend to pose.  Now, the Alter Rebbe learns out from the Ball Shem Tov's famous saying regarding the verse from Psalms:  'Forever, oh L-rd, your word stands firm in the firmament[or heaven.]"  "The utterance, 'Let there be a firmament in the Heavens...' that very saying and those divine 'words' stand firm in the heavens to create the firmament and the rest of the world continuously.'  For, as the Alter Rebbe explains, " ... were the letters that created the world to depart for even a moment, the world would return to naught and nothingness, the way it was before Hashem created the world from nothingness."
     In other words, we Jews know and believe that Hashem created the world.  That means to say that the world used to be nothing, and now it exists.  It went through a very fundamental change.  Just like someone may say to a former friend, 'I made you who you are, kid.  Without me, you'd be nothing!'  So too, Hashem can say, "I literally made you.  Without Me, you'd be literally nothing!"  Now, the Alter Rebbe's view that Hashem did not make the creation as a separate entity implies that the world is still dependent on Hashem to retain its existence and not revert back to its natural state of nothingness, much the same way a light bulb goes dark the moment the electricity is turned off.
    Ok, now, since we are being brought into existence continuously, and our whole existence is dependant on Hashem, the question arises:  how do we feel ourselves to exist as separate, individual, identities?  For example- have you ever wondered why it is embarrassing to have to accept charity in public?  Or have you ever felt uneasy when asking your parents for money?  Implicit in existing is to exist as your own, unique, separate self; not being dependent on others for your sustenance and well being.  Having to be totally dependent on someone else for one's sustenance or pleasure detracts from our sense of self, and that's why it hurts.  In fact, the best way to give charity in Jewish Law is when the one who is giving does not know to whom he or she is giving charity to, and the recipient does not know from whom he is receiving the charity.
   We can now restate the question as follows:  If G-d is creating us at every moment out of nothingness, and 'were the eye permitted to see, we would not perceive the created world at all, but rather we would only see the 'word of the L-rd' that enlivens and creates the world continuously... then how do we feel ourselves and the whole world to truly exist??  [ as a side point- I've got a feeling that the law of charity and the way Hashem enliven the world are actually intrinsically related, and perhaps I will share my humble ideas on the matter in a later letter, with Hashem's help]
   The analogy for this is the ray of light from the sun, that is perceived by all to exist here on Earth beneath the sky.  Now, if the sun can illuminate so far away, how much more so must it be illuminating in the very place of the sun-globe itself.  Therefore, the ray of light must be there, in the very local of the sun itself, except that there, in the sun, the ray of light cannot be said to exist on its own, because the existence of the sun, the ray's source, overpowers the ray of light itself.  Only the sun can be truly said to exist in the space occupied by the sun, whereas the ray of light there is secondary and null before its source.  Only here on Earth, outside of the Sun, can the ray of light be said to exist as an entity unto itself.
   The creation is compared to the ray of light from the Sun, and Hashem, the Creator, to the Sun itself, which creates the ray of light.  Our physical eyes and brains do not comprehend Hashem directly, and we thus fail to see the source of our being.  Our course bodies will not allow us to readily perceive Hashem.  That being so, we perceive our selves and the world around us to exist, just like we see the ray of light existing down here on Earth.  
    Nevertheless, here the analogy starts to fail, for the ray of light does not truly exist in the actual place of the Sun.  [Because only the Sun is there, and furthermore, the sun is the source of the ray, and, perhaps even more so, the ray is infinitesimally small when compared to the sun.]  However, we and the world are 'in the Sun,' so to speak.  As explained above, Hashem is right here with us, in the physical world.  True, we do not comprehend His presence overtly, but the fact remains:  we are as naught before our Creator, Who is to be found right here on Earth.  We are like the ray of light within the Sun itself, so how do we, ultimately, feel our own separate existence?
    To answer this, the Alter Rebbe brings down the verse from Psalms which proclaims that "Hashem, G-d, is a Sun and a Shield."  Just like we cannot comprehend how Hashem creates from nothingness, i.e. how Hashem acts like a Sun, so too we cannot comprehend how He hides Himself from us, to allow our own existence.  In other words, we are like the ray of the sun within the sun itself, so seemingly we should not feel our own separate existence.  However, imagine that the Sun has a futuristic cloaking device from Star Trek to make itself invisible.  Or maybe the Sun is wearing a 'ring of invisibility' from the Lord of the Rings.  Now the ray can exist, because its source is not there, and the ray can feel its own, separate identity, much the same way a teenager feels independent upon moving to college away from overbearing, controlling parents.  
     [Hang on now, because we are close to explaining the Real Fake World name:]
     So too with our world:  we ARE 'in the sun'- Hashem is right here with us and in us bringing us into existence at every moment.  So we really would not feel our own separate identities were it not for Hashem's divine power of concealment.  In other words, G-d has divine powers we cannot comprehend.  One of these is the power to conceal the source of our lives from us.  G-d acts as a shield for our fragile sense of self.  He shields our existence from Himself, in order that we should feel ourselves and have the free choice to voluntarily and willingly annul our existence to Hashem.  [Or in the language of Chabad Chassidus, 'Hashem creates something from nothing, and we take a something and turn it back into nothing.]  
    Now we can imagine two contrasting ways in which the 'sun' can be concealed from the ray of light.  1.)  The Sun could go buy a magical 'ring of invisibility' off of eBay.  The Sun would really be there, you just couldn't see it.  Alternatively, the Sun could wear a special Sci-Fi force shield:  this shield would really, truly, shield the existence of the ray from the overbearing control freak Jewish Mother that is the Sun.  If the Sun just wore a magical ring of invisibility, the ray would feel its own existence, even in the very place of the Sun, but the ray's existence would just be an illusion.  The Sun is really there, you just can't see it because of the magic ring.  The sun is there, it is just invisible.  On the other hand, were the Sun to wield the Sci-Fi force shield, the rays existence would be true, and not just an illusion.  Because that is what this special shield does- it guards the existence of the ray from the sun!  
   It turns out that this special shield is the Tzimtzum.  The Tzimtzum is just like that very special shield, who's job it is to shield the world's existence from Hashem's overpowering presence.  Therefore, the world really does exist, from our point of view.  Perhaps with this we can comprehend a famous conclusion in Chabad Chassidus that, 'The world exists and is not an illusion.'  Hence, the world is 'real.'  In fact, is is real in the ultimate sense of the word, because G-dliness is 'in' the world, and G-d is the most real of all.  
   On the other hand, from Hashem's point of view, the shield does not actually hide the world from Him.  The tzimtzum seems to act like a one-way mirror:  we look and see ourselves, but Hashem sees right through it, and right through our existence.  So it comes out that, from Hashem's point of view, the world does not exist as a separate entity unto itself.  So now we can understand the name RealFake World:  it is real from our point of view, and 'fake' from Hashem's point of view.  But isn't Hashem's point of view the only thing that matters?  It turns out that there verse praises Hashem by saying "G-d is the L-rd of Opinions."  Hashem is not like those guys you see arguing all the time, intolerant of another's view on politics and what not.  He can see and validate both our and His point of view with regard to the existence of the world.  The world is both real and fake, so to speak.  
   There is a lesson to be learned from this all:  Often times, and especially when talking about Judaism, one can get a little intolerant of another Jew's viewpoint on Jewish Law or philosophy.  Amazingly enough, orthodox Judaism does allow for great legal disagreement, all within the umbrella of 'Orthodox Judaism.'  [I am obliged to make a distinction between a 'dispute for the sake of heaven', like the great legal battles of the Sages Hillel and Shamai, and 'disputes that are not for the sake of heaven.'  I'm talking here about the disputes that still fall under the umbrella of Orthodox Judaism, like the many opinions marked on the Time Charts.]  One may feel so passionate about his point of view that he may want to forcefully show his fellow Jew 'the real truth.'  In fact, it is known that Rebbe Akiva's students perished because they did not accord honor to their fellow's opinion.  Rebbe Akiva was on an infinitely higher plane than his students, and thus his disciples had differing interpretations of his teachings.  But how can REBBE AKIVA's students have a problem with loving there fellow Jew?  Isn't Rebbe Akiva the one who said, "Love your fellow as yourself-- this is the Great General Principle of the Torah!"?!  It turns out that his disciples wanted to force their interpretation of Rebbe Akiva's words onto their fellow out of love!  After all, one might think, I just must show my fellow the real true interpretation of the Rebbe's words, how can I let my friend go on with a false interpretation?  The answer is that G-d is in us all, and just like G-d tolerates different, even opposite viewpoints on reality, so too we must respect our fellow Jew's viewpoints [when it falls within the pale of Orthodox Judaism.]  Furthermore, just like G-d holds back His great Light, placing it on the side so that we may feel our own existence, so too one must give a fellow Jew his 'space.'  Even when you think you are going to force your opinion on another out of love, you must hold back and 'that which you dislike, do not do unto your fellow.  The rest of the Torah is just an explanation of this great principle.'- Hillel

writen and sent in by Benyomin Patzik!

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