We’d first have to explore a few things before we can solve all that, though we certainly won’t explore anything we’re not allowed to, like God’s very Essence, Heaven forfend! For “no thought can grasp His Essence whatsoever” (Tikkunei Zohar, Introduction), so we dare not think about or reflect upon that. But we will delve into the things we’re commanded to explore, like God’s actions. After all, the Torah charges each one of us to “know your father’s God and serve Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9); and as it’s said, “we know You from Your actions” (Shir HaYichud).
Ashlag now begins to answer his questions by stepping back a bit and laying out certain Kabbalistic principles beforehand.
Let it be said from the outset that underlying Ashlag’s statements here is the supposition that we’re to speak of God while knowing that there are two ways to depict Him overall: God unto Himself, and God as He presents Himself in the world. Make no mistake about it, though: that’s not to say that there are different aspects of the one, sheer, complete, total, unalloyed, and indivisible God. Just that when we speak of Him we’re to take into account how He is unto Himself and how He’s experienced by us now that the world has been created. This point won’t be expanded on after this, however; it’s just a caveat.
The point is that God doesn’t present Himself — appear — in the world as He is per se since the world couldn’t endure that. He appears here on a more subdued, we might even say “suppressed” level (the way geniuses present themselves when they interact with more ordinary people).
And while we’re indeed encouraged and charged to know Him as He presents Himself in the world, which we can deduce from what He does here (the way we can deduce anyone’s character by his or her actions), we’re still-and-all barred from inquiring into Him Himself, i.e., His ultimate thoughts and motivations. For “no thought can” — is able or allowed to — “grasp His Essence whatsoever”.
So we’ll explore God’s ways in the world, from the moment it occurred to Him to create it and onward, but not before that.
So, our first inquiry will touch on this: How could anyone imagine a completely original creation — something utterly new-sprung that hadn’t already been incorporated in God’s Being from the first — when it’s obvious to any thinking person that everything was originally incorporated in His Being (since it’s clear that whoever means to give something can only give it if he himself already has it)?
Ashlag will now address a series of sub-questions. They aren’t reiterations of the five underlying questions we’d just presented but rather new conundrums we’d need to solve before we could go back to the original ones. Just know that this is heady and deeply abstract stuff, so be patient and allow yourself to luxuriate in it.
At the time it occurred to God to create the cosmos (which is our time-frame, don’t forget) all that existed was God Himself and His idea to create it (other thoughts existed, too, but they’re also out of our framework).
It follows then that the entirety that did eventually come about had to have been an utterly new and original phenomenon, rather than a derivation of or a variation on something else ongoing. It had to have “popped up” somehow “out of the blue”, as we’d put it, unlike anything else (which means to say, unlike God Himself).
But, how can there be anything outside of or separate from God? That is, how could anything appear out of the blue in fact? For as Ashlag enunciates it, isn’t it clear that a giver can only give what he himself already has? So, how could anything other than He ever come about?
Second, if you contend that He’s omnipotent so He could certainly have created something out of sheer nothingness, which is to say, something that didn’t already exist in His Being — then what is this “thing” that we’d determine wasn’t found in Him originally but was created out of sheer nothingness?
That is, if in fact the cosmos did come about out of sheer nothingness, as it could very well have, since God can do anything including just that — then what does that say about the nature and makeup of the cosmos? It must be nearly as sublime and utterly inexplicable as God Himself in its perplexity and marvel.
The truth of that should strike us, by the way. After all, the “everything” that has come into being is utterly original and fresh; everything that we know of, as well as everything that we don’t, can’t, and won’t know of is a thing (and non-thing) hatched anew from God’s mind, while every “thing” else is either God Himself or still in His mind.
We’ve raised questions up to now about our essential natures, about God, and about the cosmos at large. Now onto our souls (which we said aren’t our essential natures, if you recall). Did they pop-up out of the blue, too? What are they comprised of? Ashlag begins exploring that by first citing a fundamental Kabbalistic portrayal of the soul.
(This will be the first question answered, see Ch. 7.)
Third, the kabbalists say that the human soul is a “part of God”, the only difference between them being that God is the “whole” while the soul is a “part”. And they equate the two to a rock hewn from a mountain, with the only difference between them being that one is the “whole” and the other is a “piece”.
That’s to say that the reason the human soul is the numinous, very otherwise, singular, and peculiar phenomenon that it is, is because it’s a “part of God”.
First off, understand that we’re not talking about the “battery-cell” that keeps the body alive when we refer to the soul; or about the human heart which is admittedly profoundly occult, forestial, and awash with mystery, but not the soul; or about the nearly equally numinous human mind either. Instead, we’re referring to the immortal utterly non-physical “kernel” that lays both deep within and near-and-far outside our beings.
Each soul, we’re told, is a particular detail in the perfect total makeup of God Himself.
Now, that’s not to say that at bottom God is the sum-total of all souls, since He Himself can’t be defined or limited in any way (as we said). What it means to say is that once God decided to create the cosmos, He allowed for the appearance of our souls as well. And they’re each a part of Him, much the way each segment of a hologram is an independent element of the entire hologram.
But this point itself raises other questions.
Only now we’d need to explore the following. A stone that’s hewn from a mountain had to have been hewn by an axe made for the express purpose of separating the “piece” from the “whole”. But could anyone ever imagine hewing a separate “part” of God, i.e., a soul, which would then be considered a part of His very Essence?
That is, how could God Almighty be divided into parts — and what in the world could ever have actually done that?
(c) 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).