God Shrank Himself?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

“Tzimtzum” is a belief that God literally contracted or shrank His size to make room for His creations. Proponents believe that as God occupied all of space, there was no room to place creation. Where could you put a couch in a room filled floor to ceiling?

Tzimtzum entertains a number of heretical notions. Proponents first believe that God occupies space. This is based on a second heresy that God is physical substance, has form, size and exists within the physical universe. The next false belief is that He once occupied “all” space, where His expanse throughout all space precluded anything else to coexist “next” to Him. Proponents then explain how the universe came into being: God “contracted” the space He occupies, shrinking His literal physical size, thereby allowing ample room for the universe to exist.

This view of tzimtzum—contraction—is refuted by the following…

All exists only due to God's will. That’s the definition of God: the cause of everything else. Prior to God’s willing everything into existence, nothing existed. Thus, God created all physical entities, but prior to doing so, He first created space, which is also physical. As God created space, prior to Him creating space, God existed without space or location. Let’s illustrate this point. One cannot say, “The idea of a triangle is on that table,”  or, “The idea of justice is inside that jar.”  Ideas—nonphysical realities—do not occupy space, and they share no commonalities with physical entities. Therefore they have no size and no location. But they are real.

God preceded all physical entities, as He is not physical, and therefore God does not partake of size, shape or location. Therefore, God is not “in” the universe. Of course, as God created everything, He is aware of every creation. But we cannot point to any location and say that God is “here or there,” or even “in heaven.” God has no location, just as the idea of justice has no location. 

This principle that God is not physical, nor similar to a physical entity, is one of Maimonides’ 13 Principles, affirmed by every thinker and rabbi. God also told Moses that “Man cannot know Me while alive” (Exod. 33:20). So a person who suggests characteristics about God, that He exists in space, violates God’s own words to Moses. We cannot know what God is, and and certainly we cannot equate God to anything physical, including size, shape, and location.

Until properly trained, the mind cannot entertain a non-physical entity, so he forces God into physical terms, such as occupying space. But as we have shown, space is a creation, and prior to its creation, there was no space, yet God existed without location. As our non-physical God has no size, no form and no location, there is no relationship between God and the universe. God does not exist “in” the universe. God did not have to minimize Himself to allow the universe to occupy space, as God does not partake of size or location: “To whom, then, can you liken God…what form compares to Him?” (Isaiah 40:18) God is incomparable to anything. God is indescribable. This also refutes those who attribute parts to God, or sephirot. Any positive description of God must be wrong and heretical.

Maimonides makes it clear that if a person does not agree with any one of the 13 principles, he has no share in the world to come. Therefore this is quite important to study and gain full conviction. And when we have the wrong concept of God, we are not praying to God, but to an imagination, and imaginations cannot answer our prayers.

Finally, what could be said about tzimzum, is that God’s physical creations have limited features, such as form, function, and substance. But physical creation cannot imbue man with ideas of metaphysics, such as proper justice and morality. This limited information the physical world offers is as if God limited what He reveals of Himself in His physical creation: He contracted “knowledge,” but he cannot contract Himself as He has no size or substance.

Genesis Rabba 68:8 — "God is the place (makom) of the world, buttheworldisnotHisplace." ThismeansthatGodisthecause ("place" used eupheistically) of the world, and He does not not need the world (place) to exist. God exists without location because He is not physical.