The One

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By Rabbi Dovid Makel

There are various names that are used to describe God; transcendent, infinite, the Creator but when Jews affirm their faith in the Almighty they simply say (Devarim, 6:4), “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.[1]

While declaring God’s oneness seems a pronouncement of monotheistic rather than polytheistic belief, but does not describe the “nature” of this divine entity, it is, in fact, a more accurate description—of an ever indescribable essence—than the portrayals asserted above.

Not only does oneness also include the above definitions, but more importantly the above definitions are, in a sense, incorrect. God is immanent as well as transcendent, expressed in finitude as well as infinity and altogether removed from merely being associated as a Creator.

More so, the classification of infinity is usually descriptive of an entity containing endless parts, yet God Himself has no parts at all—the entire notion of parts being completely antithetical to Him. So while His expression extends for infinity, with each manner of expression being infinite, that infinite expression is in no way Him—but rather what Kabbala would refer to as His ohr-light.

When we speak of the divine essence, Jewish thought expresses that He is pashut b’tachlit ha’pshitut—He is a unitary being, not composed of parts or even infinite attributes, but rather pure simplicity without any multiplicity whatsoever. That being the case, it is unconceivable to describe any attributes to the divine essence whatsoever. For the divine essence is not an aggregate of infinite parts but a pure simplicity and the ultimate One. That being the case, the very notion of divine will is not only absurd but heretical, for it is antithetical to his oneness, as it conveys an attribute of God.

Notwithstanding this absurdity, Jewish philosophy speaks of divine will per the statement (Etz Chaim, 1:1) “k’shala b’ritzono ha’pashut l’bro’ah­,” when it arose in his simplistic will to create, and Kabbalah speaks of sefirot ein sof, infinite attributes. Paradoxically, these infinite attributes are not only not antithetical of His simplicity but an extension thereof and depend on one’s perspective. Although a world of multiplicity exists—not as an illusion—but as a reality, this is not only not a problem for His unity but in truth an extension thereof. The explanation of the matter is in essence a question of perspective.

This notion can be better appreciated in our terms through a metaphor of numbers. When one observes the number 1 as a single number, there is a certain paradox within it. For while the number 1 is a unitary entity undivided, it can be conceptually divided into infinite fractions. A mathematician can speak of the infinite decimal points that form the number 1, yet from the 1’s perspective as the number 1, there are no fractions at all—it is merely 1. Now, while the 1 of a number is theoretically divisible, the One of pashut b’tachlit hapshitut is not.

Although from the observer’s perspective there are infinite attributes to the One, in reality, there are no parts whatsoever. In essence, the creation of the world is the experience of this paradox. On one hand, ein od milvado—there is only the One, but on the other, we experience infinite parts and multiplicity. In essence, the foremost act of creating the world is to give room for this observer. However, even after this creation—to create multiplicity in our perception—the multiplicity, which is an authentic creation of God, does not negate the One. For the One sees how the multiplicity is included and submerged in the One, and not an existence apart from it (similar to how there are indivisible fractions of the 1 from the mathematician’s perspective but the 1 remains 1).

So, while we refer to ratzon hapashut or ohr ein sof, these do not actually exist in the divine essence at all—they are only terms that we reflectively refer to. For in our conception, we call the first act of creation desire, or the expression of God—which connotes conveying to another—as ohr ein sof. In reality thought, from the perspective of the divine essence there is no ohr at all; it exists in conceptions—or what Chassidic thought refers to as yecholet—but not in actuality.

In reality though, ratzon hapashut is an intrinsic paradox—if there is desire, there is an attribute and hence there is not simplicity, and if there is simplicity then there is no desire. What is conveyed though in this paradoxical term, is that the creation of the world is not, God forbid, a necessary manifestation of God’s existence—which is one of the essential flaws of Aristotelian and Spinozian philosophies—but rather God is free. This “choice” though is not done—so to speak—with an attribute of choice, but an expression of His entire oneness.

That being the case, embedded in the world is not merely a singular attribute of God, but His entirety—for that is all there is. Were we to say that the creation came from a choice as a specific attribute, that would convey that only this specific attribute would be what the world manifests. However, being that God is indivisible, the world, which is a manifestation of this indivisible One, is expressive of the very essence of the One. For in truth, ein od milvado – there is nothing besides the One.

The creation of the world though is indicative of the paradox of being one with the One from G-d’s perspective and being a finite, multiplicity from the human observer’s perspective. Similar to how in physics there is a wave-particle duality that depends on the observer, there is a constant paradox inherent in creation that depends on who the observer is.

When the observer is God, He sees the world as being completely one with His One—and there exists no division or multiplicity whatsoever; while from our perspective, we experience division and multiplicity, only understanding that it remains One on a conceptual level. This is what Chassidic thought refers to as the doctrine of tzimtzum lo k’pshuto—the contraction is not literal—only taking place from the finite observer’s standpoint, but from the One’s perspective there is only multiplicity on a conceptual level. Just as the number 1 can be conceptually divided into infinite parts, the multiplicity of the world conceptually exists. However, in truth, there exists nothing except for the One.

More so, while Chassidic philosophy uses the term creatio ex nihilo, it is at the same time creatio ex essentia Dei. There exists a certain paradox: on one hand, the world is created from the One and therefore is the One, which would convey a certain pantheism or panentheism, but at the same time, the world does not—from the observer’s perspective—reflect the One and is, therefore, creation ex nihilo at the same time.

What the doctrine of tzimtum effectuates is that it creates room for the reality of the observer. In the observer’s reality he cannot express panentheism at all. For the very notion of an observer connotes that he is not existing in a reality of the One, but as a separate entity. That being the case, from his perspective he is not one with the One, but a separate entity. For, would he to be one with One, he would not be an observer at all but the One Himself. More so, when man points to a specific article, saying “This is God,” the very expression of this indicates that he is viewing the multiplicity, not One. As were he to experience One, there would be neither the observer nor the “this”—there would be only the one.

This concept is expressed in the notion (Breishit Rabba, 68:9) “Hu m’komo shel olam, vein ha’olam m’komo,” He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place. From the perspective of the world, it cannot be said that He is the place of the world, as the world is not cognizant of this reality—for if it would be, the “world” as a separate entity would not be perceived at all. However, from the perspective of the One, He is the place of the world—the world does not exist apart from His oneness, it is His oneness.

In man’s perspective, he must apply the doctrine of “l’ma-ala ma-ala ad ein ketz, ulmata mata ad ein tachlit.” One the one hand, God is infinitely transcendent, but on the other, he is ever present. Although this is not a dualistic expression of transcendence and immanence, but rather He who is transcendent is immanent, the finite observer who is not conscious of the ultimate unity cannot overtly express it. On the other hand, man must constantly affirm, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our G-d; the Lord is One.” He must realize that the One is ever present and there is nothing that negates that unity but rather G-d is as well l’mata mata ad ein tachlit—ever present and immanent in a manner that there is nothing apart from Him.

In essence, not only does the Oneness despite multiplicity not negate Oneness, but the ultimate expression of an entity that is truly One, is that although there is multiplicity there is nevertheless Oneness. For, a One that is only one because there is no other, is not one at all. For were there conceptually to be another, He would not be One. An entity is only truly One when the multiplicity is not only derived from his unity but dependent on it.

It is this ultimate expression of Oneness that is conveyed in the creation of the world. Because in His reality—which is the true reality—multiplicity is not the negation of One but the infinite manifestation is a facet of His Unity, the ultimate expression of the world is to convey His oneness. It is the Oneness despite and because there is another, that is the greatest innovation in the creation of the world. This is expressed in the statement that G-d desired a dira b’tachtonim—that his essence should be completely manifested and revealed in the greatest point of perceived separation. The more we are cognizant of this reality, the sooner we will herald in the messianic era where (Yeshayahu, 11:9) “The land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord as water covers the seabed,” and (Yeshayahu, 30:20) “your Teacher shall no longer be concealed from you, and your eyes shall see your Teacher.”

[1] This article is culled from notions found in the Mittler Rebbe’s Sha-ar HaYichud and Imrei Bina, R. Aaron of Strashela’s Sha-ar HaYichud, the Tzemach Tzedek’s “Ha’amanat Elokut” and “Yichud Eloka” found in his Derech Mitzovotecha, general Chassidic thought and Maharal’s 2nd preface to Gevurat HaShem.

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