Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A Condensation of "Da'at Tevunot" (Part 2)

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Part Two: The Revelation of G-d's "Yichud" as the Basis of Creation

1. The first point to grasp before we can delve into what enables us to perfect ourselves is this: We're taught that G-d utilized and manifested just a fragment of His Being to create the cosmos. (Consider the ramifications of that, in light of the fecund and stunning makeup of the cosmos en toto, and you can't help but be stunned by the thought of His full reach!) There's much more to be said about that, but it will come later on. For now, though, we'll concentrate on that aspect of Himself that G-d *does* manifest here.

2. In fact He manifests many, many qualities here, but the one that best defines His role in the cosmos -- and the only one we can grasp -- is what's known as His "Yichud" (related to the Hebrew term for "*one*"), which we'll soon define. In fact, the whole thrust of the comments made about G-d in the Torah and by the prophets was to explicate and illustrate His Yichud!

3. G-d's Yichud will prove to be a many-layered and labyrinthine phenomenon, but suffice it to say for now that on one level, G-d's Yichud refers to His being the *one and only* ("echad") indispensable Entity in the cosmos, and on another it alludes to His *singular and unique* ("m'yuchad") utter sovereignty. And it will also prove to be the one trait upon which all His others hinge.

4. But we tend to deny G-d's utter sovereignty and take five different stances that oppose it. (The significance of some of these might not strike us at first, but they'll become clear.)

5. First, some people believe that G-d is too lofty to care about and govern the world, so He has appointed celestial administrators, and that it's *they* we should worship. Others contend that there are two distinct deities, one of whom is responsible for good and the other for bad. Others believe that either the laws of nature or destiny prevail over everything. Others think that G-d has rejected the Jewish Nation because of their sins, and has chosen another one instead. And some others maintain that anyone with the right mystical know-how can impede upon G-d's wishes. But a full grasp of the implications of G-d's Yichud would easily dispel all of those delusions.

5. For the truth of the matter is that no person, entity, or thing could ever abrogate G-d's supreme sovereignty -- even by using the elements that He Himself set up to hold sway. His rule is supreme and absolute. And that will all become manifestly clear in the end.

6. In fact we're taught that the reality and revelation of G-d's Yichud is the axis around which the events of the cosmos play themselves out, and that the most essential role reality serves is as a stage for that revelation!

7. We'll find that our personal flaws and their undoing likewise hinge upon the revelation of G-d's Yichud (to return to our question at #1). For *all* flaws -- ours and the universe's own -- are rooted in G-d's full dominion being blurry at best and deniable at worst, and all perfection derives from its revelation.

8. After all, the thinking goes, wouldn't a perfect and all-powerful G-d be expected to have created a perfect universe; and doesn't an imperfect universe indicate either that G-d isn't perfect and all-powerful or that His perfection and dominion is hidden (or somehow shut-off)?

9. So we'll be focusing a great deal on G-d's Yichud and seeing what its revelation would entail throughout this book. For now it's important to know that it's His one trait that we can discuss (see #2 above), for whatever else we can say about Him can't really be explained and will prove to be an element of His Yichud at bottom anyway (see #3 above).

10. How do we depict His knowledge or His existence, for example, which are utterly out of our experience and like nothing we know of? Yet we can understand G-d's sovereignty, since it comes down to finding instances where it seems *not* to be in play and then discovering how it really *is*. And besides, G-d's other traits only come into play when He interacts with the cosmos, and He only does that in order to illustrate His Yichud (see #6 above)!

11. Indeed, that directly touches upon the imperfect nature of the universe. For the fact that it's imperfect is *the* instance par excellence of G-d's dominion seeming not to be at play.

12. So we're taught that G-d created imperfection and all wrongdoing for two reasons: to allow us the wherewithal to perfect ourselves and the universe at large despite it, and in order for it to eventually be undone and to prove *in retrospect* that G-d's dominion held sway even when imperfection and wrongdoing existed!

13. Another point to be made is that G-d purposefully created a relativistic, linear, time-bound universe (see #1 above) so as to enable us to grasp it and His plans for it to some degree. (For if He'd created it full-throttle and based on His full capacity, not only would we not have been able to endure that reality -- we likewise wouldn't be able to grasp it, and G-d thus couldn't reveal His Yichud to us).

14. The mechanism G-d used to allow for imperfection and wrongdoing (as well as for the creation of our relativistic universe) is known as "Hester Panim" (The Concealing of the Divine Visage). The implication of that is that G-d has "turned His Face from us" so as not to stun us with His Glory, and to allow us to act on our own and exist in the world (the way parents would allow their children the emotional "space" to be themselves while continuing to pay the bills).

15. We *reveal* the Divine Visage (a phenomenon known as "Ha'arit Panim") when we follow the mitzvah system and thusby allow G-d's dominion to have sway in our beings, which then enables us to undo our flaws. But know that the Divine Visage will be revealed in the end (see #'s 6, 7) one way or the other. Those who don't follow the mitzvah system will have to suffer the consequences of not actively participating in the process or they will have repented and come to serve G-d after all, *but one way or the other, everyone will experience "Ha'arit Panim" in the end*.

16. Full and unabated "Ha'arit Panim" will come about in The World to Come, when all imperfections and wrongdoing -- as well as free will (a temporary concession to our need to perfect ourselves by ourselves) -- will be undone.

17. But note the following irony: the stronger imperfection and wrongdoing get in the process of time, the greater will be the case for the reality of G-d's full dominion in the end. For imperfection and wrongdoing's initial strength and doggedness *followed by its undoing* will prove it to have been feckless and meaningless from the start (much the way a heckler would prove to have been weak and ineffective once he backs off in the face of criticism).

18. Another point to be made is that if we only merited it, imperfection and wrongdoing wouldn't have to become strong for G-d's full dominion to be revealed, and we wouldn't have to endure the havoc and anguish born of imperfection and wrongdoing. In fact, G-d's dominion would have manifested itself from the start had Adam and Eve not succumbed to temptation in the Garden. But their having done so made it necessary for the lengthy and formidable process of "Hester Panim" and eventual "Ha'arit Panim". And our having followed through on their error all this time has only served to prolong the process.

19. One again though, we're assured that G-d's full dominion *will* be revealed in the end.

20. So at bottom reality falls into two epochs of time: "Hester Panim", when we work at perfecting ourselves and the imperfect universe at large; and "Ha'arit Panim", when we reap the rewards of our efforts.

21. One more point, to be expanded on later, before we explicate "Hester Panim". Recall that we said (Part 1, #6) that G-d's Essence is far beyond our grasp but that we can understand something about Him by the way He set out to interface with reality. What we'll determine is that the traits He exhibits here actually allow us to grasp something of His Essence. Nevertheless, even those traits can only be grasped in light of what they bring about. So while we can catch sight of *instances* of G-d's compassion, we could nonetheless never grasp His compassion unto itself (much the way we can only fathom Moses' greatness and holiness in light of his accomplishments rather than in and of itself).

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
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