Monday, March 15, 2010

G-d’s hiding place: 'Yedias HaMetzius'

In my last article, we discussed the idea that G-d has hid himself from us using the divine power known as Tzimtzum. The Doctrine of Tzimtzum is invoked by the Jewish Sages to resolve many theological riddles, such as the mystery of simultaneous human free choice and G-d’s omnipotence. Today I would like to address, to the best of my knowledge, exactly where G-d is hidden.
To address this question, let us first make a distinction between two general ways we can have knowledge of a thing’s existence. These two manners of knowledge are known in Chassidic terminology as ‘yedias hamehus,’ or essential knowledge, and ‘yedias hametzius,’ or existential knowledge. Yedias hamehus means that we can observe an entity directly with one of our five senses. For instance, we know that, say, an apple exists because we can see it, touch it, taste it, and smell it. This category of knowledge is very basic, and therefore some theorists believe that young children only believe in the existence of things that they can see. That is why children are so entertained by the ‘pick-a-boo’ game, because it plays with their sense of existence: one moment, you see your parent’s face, the next you do not, and the next you see it again. To a child’s young mind, it is as though your parent is jumping in and out of existence right before their very eyes. The second, more subtle type, of knowledge, ‘yedias hamehus,’ means that we know a thing exists only because we see the effects of the thing but not the thing itself. An example of this is gravity: no one has ever seen ‘gravity’ directly; we only see its effect upon objects: namely, the tendency of things to fall to the earth. Even though we have no direct evidence of gravity, in the sense that we cannot touch or see ‘gravity,’ nevertheless, we know that something must be causing things to fall to the Earth. If one accepts that all things have a cause, then one is forced to accept that gravity does indeed exist, in spite of the fact that we cannot see it. Though these two manners of knowledge are quite different from each other, they both enable us to know that something exists. Furthermore, yedias hamehus is a more advanced level of knowledge than yedias hamehus.
With this distinction in mind we can begin to unravel the mystery of where G-d is hiding from us. Though we do not have direct knowledge, yedias hamehus, of G-d’s existence, we do have yedias hametzius that He exists. In other words, we cannot sense G-d’s existence directly with one of our five senses. We do not see G-d with our eyes, nor can we touch him with our hands. Nevertheless, we can still ascertain G-d’s existence on account of His effects on the world. And because it is more intellectually challenging to understand something’s existence without direct, sensual knowledge, this is referred to as G-d’s self ‘concealment.’ Perhaps this is why we have been commanded to pray so often: it is difficult to know something when you cannot see it, and to fully appreciate the effects of G-d in the world may take a lifetime of intense prayer and meditation. Nevertheless, we shall attempt to cover the basics.
Firstly, all things must have a cause. Just as we reason that gravity must exist because things fall, so too must there be a Creator and ‘Master of this house.’ This argument applies not only to living things, but even to inanimate matter, such as dirt and rocks. Chassidus teaches that even a simple rock is dependent upon the Creator for its moment to moment existence. Were it not for this ever-present life force, the rock would revert back to the naught and nothingness as it was before it was created. Nothing is to be taken for granted. In my next article, I will showcase how life itself provides even more evidence for the existence of Hashem.
Finally, in the days of Moshiach, we will actually perceive G-d with our very senses! As the verse says, ‘all flesh shall see that the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ Our very flesh will be able to sense Godliness directly. May we merit to Moshiach now.

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