Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Differing Views on Tzimtzum

L'Iluyi Nishmat Maras Menya bas Hertzel

Last time I introduced the concept of tzimtzum as a way of reconciling the differing views of the Rishonim. However, there are differing views about the meaning of tzimtzum as well. It is my contention that these are not only abstract philosophical differences, but that they can lead to differences in education, relationship with G-d and others, and how we see our role in the world.

Yosher Levav claims that tzimtzum is to be understood literally - that the essence of G-d is not in the world. This view is criticised by the chasidim as both dangerous, and bordering on heretical.

The Vilna Gaon claims that tzimtzum was literal in terms of G-d's Essence, but that His Will never left the world, and through this we can connect to him (because ultimately His Essence and His Will are One).

The Baal HaTanya attacks this appraoch, and presents the view which has perhaps become the most widespread today - that tzimtzum is essentially an illusion from our vantage point. From G-d's viewpoint nothing has changed, He never left the world, and we don't really exist. The goal of existence is to understand that "there is nothing apart from Him" and that we ourselves do not really exist.

The implications of these differing views lead to many practical differences (though most people will find a middle path, or actually do both):
Do we shttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifee cause and effect as real, or illusory? When a tragedy happens in the community, do we try to take practical steps to prevent it happening again, or do we say it is the Will of G-d and recite Tehillim? Do we teach our chidren to perceive G-d through science and the world, or is G-d to be found primarily through Torah? Do we require a Rebbe or Torah scholar to tell us how to think, or can we make decisions for ourselves?

Many of these ideas are developed further in an article I wrote for Reshimu entitled "The Perception of Reality: Contrasting Views of the Nature of Existence"

Here is the shiur. I welcome your views and comments.

Or if you prefer to download it here is the link:
Differing Views on Tzimtzum (right click and 'save as')

and here are the source sheets to go with it
Download Source Sheets

If you are interested in sponsoring a shiur please contact me by e-mail.


  1. I am not a fan of the Lub Rebbe's formulation (quoted in our host's Reshimu article) because he forces both sides of the machloqes into his own terminology. This focus on Ein Sof vs Or Ein Sof is from the Tanya, and placing it at the center of the Gra's position on tzimtzum will perforce distort it.

    That said, the LR's general point is that we can distinguish along two axis -- the verb and the noun. At this level of vagueness, I think we have a wide enough umbrella for discussion, and I believe a tool for understanding the Gra's shitah.

    Second, as I wrote in a comment to the previous post, I do not believe that the Gra could possibly have understood tzimtzum as speaking in terms of Hashem's Essence. It would violate the very first words of the first of the Gaon's Asarah Kelalim.

    A major rule in the Torah is that everything the Qabbalists and all of the Torah in its entirety speak about is G-d in His Will (blessed be it) and His Providence and His Actions, and they did not speak about His Essence at all, ch"v.

    (Aside: note the association between Qabbalah and G-d's actions, as per my comment on the previous post.)

    So, the Gra can only be saying that tzimtzum is not about Divine Essence. When the Gra asserts that the verb literally applies, not "just" a metaphor or a description of how things look to us, his noun isn't the Ein Sof.

    It would also be suspicious that two of the Gra's student would take a different position on something as central to their worldview -- and to the Gra's anti-chassidic writings -- without even spending space justifying this shift. But in any case, both students left the Gra's position and end up in the same place? Improbable.

    R' Chaim Volozhiner's definition of tzimtzum could also be about the literal removal of something other than Hashem's Essence, which then occludes that essence.

    So, whereas I would see the Gra's position as being one of literal tzimtzum of something other than the Ein Sof, RCV doesn't so much leave that but note that by consequence, there is a non-literal tzimtzum of His Essence.

    Note also that R' Tzadoq, when he takes exception with those who say literal tzimtzum of the Ein Sof, does not mention the arch misnaged. Also suggesting he didn't see the Gra as sharing this position.

  2. thank you for the shiur. at the beginning of the audio, you mention a previous shiur with the different views of the rishonim. do you have an mp3 of that one also?