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Rav Nachman Shiur #7: "He Fills All the Worlds

By: Rav Itamar Eldar

 

At the end of the previous shiur, we focused on two basic models for our relationship with Hashem.  The first one was the transcendental model, in which God exists outside of the world, in a loftier and more elevated place, with a wide chasm in between.  Of the many and varied ways of bridging this huge gulf all require the person seeking God to get outside of himself, outside of the world, to somewhere that is light-years away.  Likewise, when God addresses man He must contract Himself, build a bridge and descend from His lofty abode to the lowly creature of this world.

 

The second one was the immanence model, in which God is to be found in all of existence.  No thing and no place is devoid of Divinity because everything is intimately sustained by God.  Obviously, just as no object or place lacks Divinity, so there is no person who lacks Divinity.  This model, too, has many variations, but common to all is the idea that a person who seeks to encounter God need not abandon this world and turn his gaze heavenward.  According to this view - in all its forms - a person must focus on the reality in which he lives; he must scrutinize the depths of his own soul and the everyday situations that he encounters.  In all of this, if he looks properly and ignores the concealing garments, he will find God.

 

These two models of God's relationship to creation are not foreign to kabbalistic-hassidic terminology.  They are represented by two expressions that reflect their general directions: "He Who surrounds all the worlds" and "He Who fills all the worlds."

 

"He Who surrounds" is an expression denoting encirclement.  God is not within the thing itself, but rather all around it.  This definition has significance not only in the spacial dimension, but also on the level of meaning: there is a Primary Cause that has a relationship of "surrounding" with a certain idea and thought.  It is not anchored in them, nor do they necessarily arise from it, but it surrounds them, crowning them, sometimes even influencing them - from without.

 

Something that "fills all the worlds" is internal.  It exists within the thing itself.  Here again, the expression "fills" points to a significance on two levels:  First is the level of space; something that fills another thing exists within it.  Second, the opposite of "filled" or "full" is "empty."  A Primary Cause that fills an idea is in fact what gives it life and content; without it the idea is empty.  The "fills all the worlds" perception, then, sees Divinity as the meaning, the content and the vitality of the world.  The "surrounds all the worlds" view regards Divinity as influencing, overseeing and leading the world.  It is not the meaning and essence of the world, but rather requires of the world that it aspire and attempt to reach it in order, upon reaching it, to acquire meaning.

 

It should be pointed out that the simple literal reading of the Torah supports the view of "surrounding all the worlds": "And you shall know this day and you shall review it to your heart, that Hashem is the God in the heavens above and upon the earth below; there is no other." (Devarim 4:39)

The introduction of the view that God "fills all the worlds" has far-reaching ramifications:

 

One must know that "the entire world is filled with His glory," and "there is no place that is devoid of Him."  He both fills all the worlds and surrounds all the worlds.  And even one who has business dealings with idolators cannot make excuses and claim that he cannot serve Hashem because of the coarseness and materialism that is constantly upon him, because of his constant dealings with them.  For our Sages, of blessed memory, have already taught us that in every material thing, and in every utterance of the idolators, one may find Divinity.  For without Hashem's Divinity they have no vitality or existence at all, as it is written (Nechemiah 9), "And You give life to all."  Except that this vitality and Divinity are there in greatly contracted form and in tiny amounts, only to ensure their vitality and continued existence, and no more.  For the Holy One, Blessed be He, subjects His Divinity to many and diverse contractions, from the First Thought down to the central point of the material world, where the klippot (superficialities) are to be found.  And the more He devolves and contracts Himself downwards, the more garments clothe His Divinity.  And this is what our Sages, of blessed memory, revealed and opened up for us, such that a learned person may know and understand that His Divinity and vitality exists in all material things... (Likutei Moharan Kama, 33,2).

 

It is impossible, contends R. Nachman, for something that contains no Divinity to exist in the world.  For Divinity is what fills things, and when it is absent then the thing is empty, and when the thing is empty it ceases to exist.  Hence everything that exists contains Divinity.  However, R. Nachman does distinguish between the levels of Divinity existing within different things.  The significance of this difference is the number of "garments" - concealments - within which the Divinity is hidden.

 

Divinity, as we have said, is content and meaning, and therefore the more contracted and hidden the Divinity, the less content and meaning the thing contains.  The minimum level necessary is for Divinity to exist within something "only to ensure its vitality and continued existence, and no more."  There is no further evidence of Divinity beyond existence itself in things on such a low level.

 

As is usually the case in the teachings of R. Nachman, this idea does not remain just theory, but rather is applied in the form of practical instruction - and, in this case, in extremely demanding form.

 

The transcendental approach of "surrounds all the worlds" draws a complete distinction between two worlds - the world of holiness and the world that is profane.  To this view, a person who wishes to cleave to holiness has two options: one, as we have noted above, is to abandon the profane world for the world of holiness.  A person eats, sleeps, works, carries out business dealings - all of this is the world of profanity, where he cannot make contact with God, for God is lofty and elevated far above such actions, which are related to man's material existence.  When a person abandons these and engages in Torah study and prayer, he shakes off the "dust" that covers him, becomes elevated and is able to encounter God.

 

The second possibility, developed at length by Rav Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, is the path of the "halakhic man":

"The ideal of the halakhic man is to subjugate reality to the yoke of halakha" (Ish ha-Halakha, p. 35). It is true that eating, sleeping, labor and business dealings belong to the world of profanity; but, when a person eats in the way that God commands him to do so (with the appropriate blessings, ensuring that the food is kosher, taking care not to mix milk and meat, etc.), and when a person conducts his business dealings in accordance with halakhic standards, then he harnesses the profane world and directs it towards Divinity.

 

Here we come back to the fundamental distinction between "surrounding" and "filling."  According to this "surrounding" view, God addresses man - even a man within the profane reality - and instructs him as to how to take this reality and elevate it towards Him.  God does not exist within the reality, but a person (through his actions) may bring the world - as it is, in all its profanity - to God.

 

The halakhic world with God as the Commander is the most fundamental foundation of the transcendental view.  (And, as we have noted, this view is dominant in the Torah, which is a Book of laws and commandments.) Man and his material reality are surrounded by total darkness.  This darkness contains not even the tiniest glow of light.  But from beyond the mountains of darkness God illuminates a small spark for man; a torch that sends out a ray of light: "From afar Hashem appears to me" - and it is to this source of illumination that man aspires.  This spark is the Divine command - the world of halakha.

 

This distinction between the holy and the profane is denied by the immanent view - "He fills all the worlds."  The nullification of the distinction can take us in either of two directions:  The first is represented by Barukh Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher of the mid-17th century (more than a hundred years before R. Nachman lived), who took this view to its furthest possible point, maintaining that nature itself is to be identified with God.  There are those who have regarded his views as atheism - since according to his thinking it is irrelevant to speak of anything beyond the natural world.  But, in the words of Hugo Bergmann, "Spinoza does not lower the concept of God to the concept of nature, but rather elevates nature to the level of God.  His teaching is not atheistic, but rather ecomystic - denying the world as existing outside of God." (The History of Modern Philosophy, S.H. Bergmann, Bialik Institute, p. 263 [Hebrew translation]).

 

This brought Spinoza to a complete denial of the existence of any real dialogue between God and the world.  Dialogue must be what its name denotes; it requires two parties, and if we identify nature and reality as God then anyone who maintains that there is a dialogue is in fact describing God talking to Himself.  The commandments and revelation, which describe God's appeal to man, as well as prayer and religious acts describing man's appeal to God, are only metaphors, and do not describe genuine dialogue.

 

Spinoza denies the validity of religious acts - the commandments and the entire relationship between man and God.  Dialogue is the fruit of separation, of distance, of duality - as in the transcendental view, and when these are absent then dialogue is nullified.

(The above is an extremely general sketch of Spinoza's view, and is discussed only in order to provide a balance and to sharpen our understanding of R. Nachman's view.)

 

In contrast, Divine Immanence leads R. Nachman to the opposite pole.  While Spinoza sought to nullify the dialogue, R. Nachman makes the dialogue absolute and continuous.  (The debate seems to hinge on a differing understanding of Divine Immanence, and on differing levels of the pantheistic perception, but I believe that it is rooted far more inwardly, and touches on the existential experience of the encounter with God which R. Nachman achieved, and which Spinoza, apparently, did not.)

 

A person who is engaged in business, in eating and sleeping, etc., can - and is even obligated - to encounter God even in that place.  True, this is a limited and contracted revelation that is not brimming with content and profound meaning, but nevertheless it is the same Divinity that the High Priest encounters in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

 

A person may not set aside any detail of reality as not providing an opportunity for him to encounter God:

 

For a Jew must always be looking at the intelligence within everything and connect himself with the wisdom and intelligence that is within everything, in order that the intelligence that is within every thing will illuminate his way to come close to the Blessed God through that thing itself, for intelligence is a great light that illuminates all his ways, as it is written, "The wisdom of a man shall illuminate his face."  ...for the wisdom and intelligence are the vitality of every thing... (Likutei Moharan Kama 1).

 

The light, then, appears to man not from afar, but rather from very near by: "Behold, he stands behind our wall, watching from the windows, peeping through the lattices."

 

R. Nachman's demand of man is absolute.  Divinity is to be found in everything, and therefore all of man's actions are holy.  In every act, in every object, in every detail of reality the Holy One passes before man, clothed in fewer or more concealments - but it remains He Himself, in all His glory.

 

One of the Ba'al Shem Tov's lesser known teachings states that a person whose thoughts stray for a moment from the Creator of the world is like an idolator.  This is not an exaggeration meant simply to emphasize the greatness of the sin, but rather a statement with real content:

 

Since there is none other than God Himself, and since there is nothing that exists that does not contain Divinity, therefore when one faces reality - any object, any emotion - without consciousness of the Godliness within it, it is a sort of declaration that there exists some reality other than Godliness - but "there is none other than Him.

 

The difference between the "surrounding" view and the "filling" view finds expression on other levels, too.  We shall present a brief comparison in this regard between the Ba'al Shem Tov, representing the immanent view, and the Rambam, who is one of the leading proponents of the transcendental view.

 

The Rambam discusses, in several places, the proper perspective for looking at the world:

 

This honored and awesome God commands us to love Him and fear Him, as it is written, "You shall love the Lord your God," and it is written also, "You shall fear the Lord your God."  And what is the proper way to love and fear Him? When a person observes His wondrous and great acts and creations, and stands in awe of His wisdom that has no measure or end, then immediately he loves and praises and glorifies and feels a great desire to know the great God, as King David said, "My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God."  And when he ponders these things he is immediately withdraws and fears, with the knowledge that he is a tiny, lowly creature standing with its scant intelligence before the One Whose knowledge is perfect, as King David said, "For when I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers - what is man that You should remember him?" And in accordance with these things I explain great principles from the acts of the Master of the Universe, in order that there should be an opening for one who understands to love Hashem, as our Sages taught concerning love - that from this one comes to know the One Who spoke and the world came into being. (Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei Torah 2, 1-2).

 

The Rambam teaches that by observing the Creation and studying its laws one arrives at the realization of its great complexity and wisdom, indicating that His intelligence is endless, and he then experiences a great desire to know the Creator, and this itself also leads to the fear of Him.

 

In contrast, there is a different model for reaching Hashem through observing nature, as described by the Ba'al Shem Tov:

 

A person who cleaves to the Creator can make an effort, with everything that he sees, such that it will appear that he is looking at that thing, but in fact he is perceiving only the blessed Creator. (Be'er ha-Chassidut, the Ba'al Shem Tov, Steinman).

 

This model is the opposite of that of the Rambam.  In the Rambam's view, it is the very distinction between different things and the realization of the complexity of each of them that brings a person to a desire to know God.  The Ba'al Shem Tov, in contrast, blurs the boundaries and speaks of God as being found behind all of reality; in fact, reality itself is simply a garment that must be removed; a person should not stop at that barrier.

 

Again, as in Rav Soloveitchik's Halakhic Man, reality itself for the Rambam is not the place of man's encounter with God.  Rather, the encounter lies in harnessing reality through his actions (in this instance, through his consciousness and thoughts) as a springboard to the Creator.

 

The Ba'al Shem Tov, on the other hand, has his encounter occurring within reality itself.  Reality itself is a garment that must be removed, and when a person acquires the ability to look at reality and to strip it of its outer layer, the Divine Immanence that exists within everything is revealed to him.

 

R. Nachman even teaches us how to find the Divinity within everything:

 

But since the light of the Intelligence is very great, one cannot merit it except through the aspect of "nun," which is the aspect of malkhut (kingship)...  and this is the aspect of the moon, for the moon has no light of its own except what it receives from the sun, and this is the aspect of kingship [Malkhut] has nothing of its own other than what it receives from Chet, the aspect of wisdom/sun. (ibid.).

 

The sefira of malkhut (kingship), as we have seen in previous shiurim, is the sefira through which the Divine influx flows to the world and to man, and it is through this that the connection is created.  What characterizes this sefira, as we have seen previously, is that it has no content of its own "other than what it receives from Chet."  God's Divinity, although contracted to the level of the dust of our world, is still lofty and elevated beyond man's vessels of reception.  Man is required to approach reality in complete humility and with his full attention.  The attribute of attention - listening - and the readiness to receive and to absorb are the principal tools that will allow him to look at the "intelligence" of each thing; in other words, its Divine vitality. 

 

The meaning and content of each thing are in fact the Divine vitality that exist within it, and a person who seeks to reveal the meaning of each thing, the person who seeks to hear God's voice as revealed through something that happens to him, a person who sees all of his actions as part of the dialogue between himself and God - such a person will find the intelligence within everything, and each thing will bring him closer to God.

 

The assumption that all of a person's actions and everything that happens to him is part of the dialogue between himself and God has several ramifications, and they mold his entire life, his experiences and his desires.

 

R. Nachman, like Spinoza, takes Divine Immanence to the limit.  But while in Spinoza's writings we find a deathly silence that turns every "voice" into a game and illusion, in R. Nachman's teachings the entire world - with its achievements and failures, ups and downs, wonders and disasters - is the continual and eternal song of the Holy One, the Master and Life of the universe.