Monday, May 29, 2006

More on Tzimtzum

From an Avodah post by RRJB:

From: YGB

> I do believe tzimtzum k'peshuto is heretical (or, at least, close to
> it). I do not think anyone really holds of tzimtzum k'peshuto. To which
> my correspondent just responded:
> but see:

> It is indeed worth looking there - note that the assertion that Misnagdim
> held of tzitmtzum k'peshuto is not sourced. I continue to maintain
> (along with Rav Dessler) that there is no such opinion.

On the other hand, see
where R' Moshe Miller explains the Arizal as holding of tzimtzum kipeshuto
(it's hard to find anyone on the Web explaining such things who isn't
a Lubavitcher, with their biases), and in so doing explicitly rejecting
the earlier ideas of concealment and limitation of the Or. That earlier
idea seems close to the "tzimtzum not kipeshuto" espoused by Chabad.
Looking in the Etz Chayim myself (shaar 1 anaf 2) it does look rather
like tzimtzum kipeshuto - tzimtzem es atzmo Ein Sof. It looks like
there were two phases, 1) removal of atzmo ES, and 2) removal of or ES,
so that the vacuole is empty, hollow air. In that vacuole He created
the universe. Although there is enough ambiguity to support those who
read it eino kipshuto.

As for the Gra, Allan Nadler in "The Faith of the Mithnagdim" maintains
that the Gra held of allegorical tzimtzum, but thought it was sort of
"halacha v'ein morin kein" because of the danger of the uneducated
coming to "worship the twigs and stones" (according to a famous letter).
The piece brought from the Nefesh haChaim also shows R' Chaim Volozhin
holding of allegorical tzimtzum. The Gra's letter of 11 Tishrei 5557
seems to be one of the keys, and it is understood differently by different
writers. Not that it makes very clear what the doctrinal differences are:
"The generation how their poor have been raised up, and repeat words
towards the Cause,: "These are your gods, Israel, every tree and stone"

(Wilensky relates this to Tzavaas HaRivash, 'there is no place in the
world empty of holy sparks, even trees and stones...' Wilensky believes
the Gra had access to preprints of the Tanya, and relates this to the
first chapter of the second part of Tanya) and reveal faces in the Torah
against Halacha in the verse: "Blessed is the glory of Hashem from His
place", (Wilensky relates this to Tanya I:42, how one should meditate
for an hour every day on how Hashem fills every place in the world) and
the verse "You sustain everything." (Wilensky: referring to Tanya II:2,
"read 'give existence to' rather than 'sustain'). Woe to the evil ones
who see this who have looked into their hearts and put in a new law and
a new Torah...

So it seems to me, from superficial review, that the late Rebbe may have
been mistaken in his assertion that the Misnagdim of the Alter Rebbe's
time held of tzimtzum kipeshuto. One hears two such assertions made
by Chasidim, particularly Chabad Chasidim (e.g. the posters here, and
R' Nissan Mindel in his biography of the Alter Rebbe), that a) the Gra
believed in tzimtzum kipeshuto (note the recent comments that the passages
in the Safra D'Tzniusa indicating the Gra held of tzimtzum kipeshuto
may not actually be his), and b) the Gra was misinformed by maskilim
about the activities of the chasidim. Neither seem to be entirely borne
out by reliable second witnesses. However, it seems entirely likely
(other writers have said the same) that the Arizal did hold of tzimtzum
kipeshuto, so to say that "there is no such opinion" may be overreaching.

- jon baker -

From an Avodah post by me:

From what little I know of the Heichal HaBesht, it is malei v'gadush inaccuracy, and this essay is no exception. Tzimtzum in the *Ohr* Ein Sof (OES) is *not* what is commonly known as tzimtzum k'peshuto (TkP). TkP refers to tzimtzum in the *Atzmus* Ein Sof (AES). The essay from Heichal HaBesht erroneously conflates the two. It is the TkP in AES that is heretical. (BTW, IIRC, Chabad refers to its Rebbes as "OES melubash b'guf" - it is the difference between AES and OES that saves that doctrine from being heretical, as our competitor religion, l'havdil elef alfei havdalos, is of the belief that their Saviour was AES melubash b'guf.)

The following website,, cites my Uncle Immanuel without attribution. In his work "Mystical Concepts in Chassidism," p. 53 n. 15 and p. 54 n. 18 (I have marked and inserted these notes in the text below where they appear in the book), he makes it quite clear that the TkP that is at issue is the one in AES, and it is to that position that I refer as heretical.


Jewish - Tzimtzum - creation of the world"ZIMTZUM:

One of the basic theological problems is concerned with the seeming enigma of reconciling Hashem with the universe: how can there be a transition from the Infinite to the finite, from pure Intelligence to matter, from absolute Unity or Oneness to multifariousness? More-over, how do we reconcile the Divine creation or bringing about of the universe and its multifarious parts with the eternal and inviolable absolute perfection of Hashem, of who Scripture affirms "I the Eternal, I have not changed" (Mal. 3:6)? In essence, the concepts and doctrines discussed in this, and the chapters following, all relate to these issues.

Creation is often explained in terms of a theory of emanationism: by means of a progressive chain of successive emanations from "higher" to "lower" the finite evolved from the Infinite and matter evolved from spirit. But this suggestion as it stands is insufficient. to speak of a causal evolutionary process of successive emanations merely begs the question but does not answer it. For regardless of how long this chain of causal evolutions may be, there always remains some relationship, qualitative as well as quantitative, between the effect and its cause. Just as in a material chain the links are interlocked, connected and interrelated retaining a basic relationship between the first link and the last one - so, too, would it be in a gradual process of causal evolution. Thus, since the beginning of the chain of emanations is Hashem, the Infinite, the aspect of infinity is never really cast off:

Had the worlds descended from the light of the Infinite according to a gradual descent from grade to grade by means of cause and effect, this world would not in such a case, have ever been created in its present form - in a finite and limited order - nor, for that matter, even the (spiritual) Olam Habah (World to Come), the supernal Garden of Eden, or the souls themselves.

In a gradual evolution and causal process "The effect is encompassed by the cause, in relation to which it is essentially non-existent... Thus, even numerous contractions will not avail to there being matter as dense as earth by way of an evolution from the spirituality of the abstract intelligences, nor even (that most subtle and diaphanous type of "matter") of the angels." Again: "The creation of the worlds is not by way of development from cause to effect... for even myriads upon myriads of occultations and evolutions from grade to grade in a causal process will not avail the development and coming into being of physical matter - not even the matter of the firmaments - out of an evolution from spririt. Rather, it is the power of the blessed En Sof (Infinite), the Omnipotent, to create... ex nihilo, and this is not by way of a developmental order but by way of a "leap".

Hence, that something non-divine and finite should come about, necessitates there being in the process of emanation a "radical step", a "leap" or "jump" which breaks the gradualism and establishes a radical distinction between cause and effect: a radical act of creation. Only after that has occurred, can we speak of an evolutionary proccess culminating in finite and material entities. And this principle is at the root of the doctrines of tzimtzum and Sefirot introduced by the Kabbalah to solve the problem of creation.

The word tzimtzum has two meanings: (1) contraction; condensation; and (2) concealment; occultation. Though both these meanings apply in our context, the second one does so, perhaps, more than the first. For the doctrine of tzimtzum refers to a refraction and concealment of the radiating emanation from the G-dhead, in a number of stages and in a progressive development of degrees, until finite and physical substances become possible. This intricate theory is first treated in detail by R. Isaac Luria. The basic works of his system all begin with an exposition of tzimtzum. R. Schneur Zalman partly deals with it in Tanya, more extensively in Sha'ar Hayichud Vehaemunah, and above all in Torah Or and Likutei Torah.

Prior to creation there is but Hashem alone. Hashem as He is in Himself is called En Sof: the Infinite; He that Is Without Limit. Of Hashem as En Sof nothing can be postulated except that He is En Sof: "High above all heights and hidden beyond all concealments, no thought can grasp You at all... You have no known name for You fill all Names and You are the perfection of the all."

In a mystical way, rather difficult to explain, there is a manifestation or self-revelation of Hashem qua En Sof even before the act of creation. This manifestation is called Or En Sof (the light of En Sof), and we speak of this Light as equally omnipresent and infinite. This distinction between En Sof and Or En sof is extremely important and must be kept in mind. For when speaking of tzimtzum and the Seirot we relate these to the Or En Sof, the light and radiation, rather than to the Luminary and Radiator (Ma-or), the En Sof.

Now, "when it arose in the Divine Will" to bring about the world and the creatures, the first act in the creative process was to bring about space in which the Divine emanations and, ultimately the evolving, finite world could have a place to exist. This "primordial space" was brought about by a contraction or "withdrawal" and concentration of Divinity into Itself: the omnipresent, infinite Light of the En Sof was "withdrawn" into Himself; that is, it was screened, dimmed, hidden and concealed, and where it was dimmed - where these occultation and concealment of the Light occurred - and "empty" place, a "void" (makom panuy; chalal) evolved into primordial space. This is the act of the first tzimtzum, the radical act of dilug and kefitzah, as it were: an act of Divine Self-Limitation, so to speak, as opposed to revelation.

However, this does not mean that the chalal is literally empty and void of all Divine radiation, that the Divine Presence is literally and totally with-drawn therefrom. Such interpretation [*note #15* in my uncle's book appears here, and reads: "There have been some interpretations of this kind. Their inherent difficulties are dealt with critically in Shomer Emunim II:34ff., and Tanya II:7."] would suggest an illegitimate ascription of spatiality, and hence corporeality, to the Infinite, and violate the principle of omnipresence affirmed in the most literal sense by Scripture and tradition.

The chalal is metaphorically spoken of as a void, in relation to that which is "beyond" or "outside" the chalal: "outside" the chalal there is a full manifestation of the Or En Sof, the Luminary tzimtzum. Tzimtzum relates only to the Light of the En Sof.

Moreover, even in the Light per se there is no real change whatever: it is neither reduced nor removed but merely concealed. Even this concealment and occulation is strictly relative: relative to the void and its subsequent contents, without - strictly speaking - affecting the Light itself in any way Moreover, in relation to the void there is not an absolute and total withdrawal: some residue or vestige (reshimu) of the Light remains in the chalal. [*note #18* in my uncle's book appears here. It is very long. The very end of it reads: "But, as already mentioned, there have been other interpretations of tzimtzum that take a more, or altogether literal view of the doctrine (see supra, note 15). For the four types of interpretations that have been suggested at various times, see Respons of R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, Bitaon Chabad (Kfar Chabad 1970), no. 31, p. 43."]

Despite all these qualifications and the metaphorical interpretation of the withdrawal of the Light, this first act of tzimtzum is a radical "leap" (dilug) that creates the possibility for a gradual process and evolution of emanations to take place and to culminate in the creation of finite and corporeal entities.

The principal purpose of tzimtzum is to create a chalal in which the Divine creatures would be able to exist and subsist as opposed to becoming dissolved in the Divine Omnicity. The infinite radiation of the Divine Light having been dimmed and concealed, as it were, will now no longer consume and nullify the contents of the chalal in the way, for example, that a spark is totally consumed and nullified in the flame itself, or the way the light of a candle would be totally absorbed and nullified in the very intense light of the sun.

In the second phase of the creative process an overt ray or radiation of the Divine Light is made to beam into the primeval space of the chalal. This thin ray or "line" (kav) irradiates the chalal and is the source of the subsequent emanations: it is both the creative and the vivifying force of the creation; it is the immanence of Hashem in creation while the concealed Light is the all-encompassing transcendence of Hashem taking in all creation. However, the kav itself also undergoes a series of numerous, successive contractions and concealments. Each of these contractions and concealments makes it possible for a successively lower stage or creation to take place, ultimately culminating in the lowest stage and creation represented by this finite, material and pluralistic world. It is via this kav that the process of successive emanations and causal development takes place. Unlike the first tzimtzum which was by way of dilug ("leap") this development and evolution can be spoken of as gradual and causal.

To summarize, tzimtzum is "Something in the nature of an ocultation and concealment of the flow of the light and life-force so that only an extremely minute portion of the light and life-force should irradiate and flow forth to the lower beings in a manifest way, as it were, to be vested in them and influence and animate them so that they may receive existence ex nihilo and be in a state of finitude and limitation.

"There is, thus, no change whatever in His blessed Self but only for the created entities which receive their life-force... through a process of gradual descent from cause to effect and a downward gradation by means of numerous and various contractions (tzimtzumim) so that the created entities can receive their life and existence from it without losing their entity.These tzimtzumim are all in the nature of a "veiling of the Countenance" to obscure and conceal the light and life-force... so that it shall not manifest itself in a greater radiance than the lower worlds are capable of receiving.Hence it seems to them as if the light and life-force of the Omnipresent, blessed is He... were something apart from His blessed Self... Yet in regard to the Holy One, blessed is He, there is no tzimtzum, concealment and occultation that would conceal and hide before Him and "the darkness is even as the light" (Psalms 139:12) as it is written "Even the darkness does not obscure from You..." (ibid.). For the tzimtzumim and "garments" are not things distinct from His blessed Self, Heaven forefend, but "like the snail whose garment is part of its very self" (Genesis Rabba 21:5)."


Daniel Eidensohn wrote:

I do believe tzimtzum k'peshuto is heretical (or, at least, close to
it). I do not think anyone really holds of tzimtzum k'peshuto.

The attached is part of an article published in "Heichal HaBesht" [1:1]
- a Chabad magazine published in Monsey.. It also addresses the defense
of Rav Dessler's position by his son in law.


Regarding the Gra - there is fact a dispute what he actually held and
whether the writings ascribed to him are forgeries.

However as the above article points out it is problematic to label a
position held by gedolim as heresy - unless you are yourself a gadol or
are quoting one...

This issue is also discussed in an article by Prof Tamar Ross "Two
Explanations of Tzimtzum : R' Chaim Voloshner & R Shneur Zalman"
Jerusalem Studies (#2 1982 pp 153-169). I have it in pdf but it is a
blemished copy.

Daniel Eidensohn

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