Thursday, March 4, 2010

Where is G-d? The doctrine of Tzimtzum.

Most people contemplate, at one time or another in life, why things are they way they are? In particular, many ask, ‘If G-d truly does exist, then why don’t we see him openly? Why don’t we see miracles all the time, for instance?’ Seemingly, the real force behind this line of questioning comes from a simple idea: if G-d is all-powerful, then how can there be any space for us and our free will? In other words, if G-d is in control, then how can we have free choice? In order to answer such questions the famous Kabbalist, the Ari Zal, introduced a concept known as the Doctrine of Tzimtzum.
Tzimtzum means concealment. The Kabbalists explain that in addition to G-d’s divine power to create from naught, he also has the power to conceal Himself from the created. As G-d says in the verse, ‘On that day I shall surely conceal Myself.’ Think of it as a kind of Divine self-restraint. G-d ‘holds himself back’ from revealing his presence, thus giving us space to have our own sense of self. This should answer the questions mentioned above. Even though G-d exists, it does not immediately follow that His existence should be readily apparent to us, since He concealed himself using the power of the Tzimtzum. Upon closer inspection, however, it seems that the essence of the question still remains. The question now becomes, ‘Why did G-d conceal Himself?’ To answer this one, we shall need to resort to analogy.
The Rebbe Rashab gave a famous tale to illustrate G-d’s concealment: There once was a father and a son. The father wanted to arouse the son’s inherit love for his father, but so long as the father was around and openly close to the son, the son could not fully appreciate his father. So the father decided to conceal himself from his son. At first the son was bewildered: ‘Where is my father?’ The son set out in search of his father. He traversed down all the paths his father used to frequent in order to find him. All the time, the son’s certainty that his father loved him never wavered. This certainty helped him to search more, and though he could not see his father, he knew that he was right on his trail, as though his father had just disappeared beyond the horizon.
The father is G-d, and his son is us, his creations. At first, the father openly loves his son, which signifies how our souls stood besides G-d in heaven before the creation of the universe. G-d concealed himself in order that we should love him that much more when He finally reveals himself to us. Thus the Jewish sages state that, ‘One is required to say, ‘for my benefit and pleasure did G-d conceal himself from us.’’ The paths that the son travels in his search are the Torah and Commandments, which are called ‘the paths of G-d.’ Just as the son was certain that his father loved him, so to we must be absolutely certain that all things come from G-d and everything is for the good. We may not yet comprehend the good, but good it is. In Chassidic circles, serving G-d with joy is of utmost importance. Finally, though G-d is concealed from direct observation by our five senses, we can arrive at knowledge of his existence though careful contemplation. Thus it is as though our ‘father’ has just disappeared beyond the horizion; though we cannot see him directly, we are certain he is there.
One more thing: the above quoted verse, ‘On that day I shall surely conceal Myself,’ is citied by the sages as proof that the story of Ester has a source in the written law. They draw this conclusion from the fact that the name ‘Ester’ and the word for conceal, ‘Aster,’ share the same root letters. The Purim story of Ester has great relevance for our time. It is unique in that, of all the books of the Torah, G-d’s name is never mentioned in Ester. In fact, there are no revealed miracles in the entire story. This represents the great concealment that G-d has wrought in Ester’s time and ours. Yet it is known that, of all the books of the prophets and writings, only the book of Ester will not be annulled after the Moshiach comes. This is because it is specifically through the concealment, or Tzimtzum, that we come to experience the ultimate revelation: G-d’s Essence. Happy searching!


Dovid Chaim said...

Nu Benny, where is G-d Almighty after all?

Benyomin Aaron Patzik said...

So maybe, after shabbos I'YH i'll do a follow up post on just where, exactly, G-d is hiding.

Dovid Chaim said...

Sounds good to me. A gut Voch.