Let’s lay out this very rich section theme by theme and go on to offer it bit by bit. It hearkens back to a number of things we’d already brought up and introduces a lot of things that help us understand Ramchal’s perspectives on Kabbalah as well as on God’s intentions for the universe.
Ari speaks of a Tzimtzum — what’s commonly translated as a “constriction” or “diminution” of God’s presence — as step one in the creation process; as a sort of “stepping aside” of God so that everything non-God can exist without being “smothered”, if you will, or “stifled” by His otherwise overarching and all-encompassing presence. We spoke of it before but we’ll go into it in depth here along with Ramchal and others. (It’s of course very interesting that no one spoke of this before him — though one person disagrees as we’ll see, and that it isn’t mentioned in the story of creation offered in the Torah.)
Ramchal depicts the Tzimtzum as the first step in the carrying out of the act of creation outside of God’s own Being. And rather than take it literally he understands it as referring to the Ein Sof purposefully set(ting) aside His infinitude and adopt(ing) the mode of finite action, i.e., of finitude, instead (Petach 24). So we’d need to discuss the difference between the two perspectives.
He also hearkens back to the idea of some individuals being able to envision the Sephirot with the remark that it was the Tzimtzum in fact that enabled God’s light and radiance to be envisioned (Petach 25). So we’ll return to that notion. Then he speaks to a rather arcane point about the light that can now be envisioned being termed “emanated light”… when in fact it’s only a specific aspect of the original light whose ability was diminished as a consequence of the … Tzimtzum (Petach 25) which we’ll also need to flesh out.
Then he moves on to explain the next few steps in the creation process. While Ari seems to indicate that an utter void was left behind when God’s presence was withdrawn, Ramchal (and others) said that in fact a trace or remnant of the original light, i.e., of God’s presence, remained behind there which functions as the (finite) “place” of all of existent phenomena, given that it allows them what they need to experience physical existence, which God’s own presence there could not. This place is said by Ari and others to be empty since it’s devoid of the light of Ein Sof, but his point is that it’s not empty (Petach 26).
This “trace” itself is quite important in that everything that was to exist in the world has its roots in it. Ramchal then underscores the fact that the trace isn’t an independent agent but rather one of God’s tools (like the Sephirot), and that He controls (i.e., “governs”) it the way a soul governs a body, with all the implications involved in that (Petach 27). We’ll need to expand upon all this. And we’ll also need to delve into the place of the Sephirot in this scheme (Petach 29).
He then introduces the line that God projects into the center of the “emptiness” brought on by the Tzimtzum, and he addresses how the two interact with each other (Petach 27), how He interacts with both, and the role the Sephirot play in all this (Petachim 28-29). We’ll spend some time addressing all that.
And finally, Petach 30, the last one in this section, waxes even more philosophical and address the place of right and wrong in the universe, and the role that the ultimate revelation of God’s sovereignty — His Yichud — plays in that. We’ll cite what we said about that before and continue that conversation here.
We’ll take a break, though, while we work in the background getting all of this together.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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