God is Not Here

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

A reader responded to the last Jewishtimes issue which rejected the heretical notion of “tzimtzum”: God contracted His size to allow room for their universe to be created. The Jewishtimes article rejected any relationship between God and physicality: He has no location or size. As God preceded the physical world—space and matter—God exists non-physically. His existence does not occupy space, and certainly  not “all space,” as mystics believe, which refutes the need for God to “shrink” so matter can exist. Our edited dialogue follows…

Reader: “Immanence” and “Transcendence” are Kabbalistic terms. How does God interface with us in our world? In our Kedusha prayer we say “Holy, holy, holy, God of hosts fills the entire world.”  What exactly does this mean? As you rightly say, God has no parts. If so, if God fills the world with His Glory, then it is not just a part of Him (His Glory) that fills the world. 

Jewishtimes: “God of hosts fills the entire” world is metaphoric, but you understand it literally, which is heresy.

Reader: He is indivisible and therefore He is entirely present and within everything and every aspect of our world. He is therefore entirely “Immanent.” 

Jewishtimes: Your misunderstanding of “fill” forces a metaphysical God into physical space. Heresy. 

Reader: However, this is not the whole story. The next line of our Kedusha prayer says, Blessed is God from his place.” We now seem to state something entirely contradictory to the first line of the Kedusha. We now talk about God’s Glory, not filling our world, but rather that it is elsewhere, in his “Makom/place,” a place that is not within this world, but rather one that is outside of this world. It “transcends” this world. The Kedusha prayer is describing a basic understanding of our Faith – that our understanding of God is that He is somehow both within everything in this world and at the very same time is also outside everything in this world and abstracted from it. In philosophical language this is called “panentheism” (not to be confused with pantheism).

Jewishtimes: You write, “God is somehow both within everything in this world and at the very same time is also outside everything in this world.”

It is heretical to say that God “fills the world” and is also “outside the world” as those both terms treat God spatially. 

God’s evidence is seen in nature’s  brilliance, explaining “He fills the world” metaphorically: His wisdom is evidenced everywhere. But He is not “in” the world. For only that which is physical, having substance, size and location can be “in” the spatial world.

“Blessed is God from His place” means we don’t know how He exists; His “place” is to be understood as, “God is the place of the world, but the world is not His place” (Gen. Rabbah 68).” This means that God is the cause (place) of the world, and that the physical world it’s not the nature of His existence, so He cannot be “in” the universe…the universe is not His nature (place) of existence. 

This is Judaism’s’ Fundamental: Since God, and how He relates to the world are not physical phenomena, and since man can perceive only that which is physical (via senses), man is completely ignorant of God, and how He operates: “For man cannot know Me while alive” (Exod. 33:20). 

The only knowledge man possesses in relationship to God is what God communicated through Torah and His prophets, and what man can derive through study of the universe. But knowledge of God Himself, and how He creates and maintains His creations, is unrelated to human senses and impossible to grasp by humans, without God telling us. 

Torah does not discuss what God is, how He creates, or how He interacts with the physical world, for that’s not God’s intended study for humans. Torah actually says that God is unknowable and incomparable (Isaiah 40:18,25). Positive statements about what God is, or how He interacts with the physical world, are matters of which man is completely ignorant. And if someone wishes to discuss matters of the chariot (maaseh mercavah), this is prohibited in public discussion (Chagiga 11b). 

The greatest man—Moses—discussed proper ethics, morality, and mitzvos like tefillin and tzitzis. He taught of sacrifices, kindness, justice, courts, charity, reward and punishment and the foolishness of mysticism. Tanach elaborates on these topics, and does not share stories of prophets discussing imaginary sephirot, God’s “immanence,” “transcendence” and other imaginary notions. It is clear that God wishes man to focus on these topics that Tanach addresses, and not imagination. 

Again, God tells us “To what then, can you liken Me; to whom can I be compared?” (Isaiah 40:25). Talking about what God is and how He interacts (immanence, transcendence) contradicts this verse. Dividing God into parts  (sephirot: Yesod, Binah, Malkuth, Ein Sof, etc.) also contradict Rambam’s 13 Principles that God has no parts. 

Reader: Tzimtzum is the mechanism through which an infinite God creates and interfaces with a finite world. Another equally valid definition of Tzimtzum: Tzimtzum is the mechanism through which God conceals His Presence through His creation of the world.

Jewishtimes: You suggest how God operates, when God has not said this. These are baseless assumptions. God exists, the world and Torah prove that. But He is not “here”…He is not “in” anything or anywhere. King Solomon said, “But will God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built!” (Kings I, 8:27)

Follow God and his Prophets. Not mystics.