So let’s now plumb the depths of the Kabbalists’ viewpoint we cited in the third inquiry (2:4-5). We were struck by their statement (there) that our souls are a part of God much the way that a stone is a part of the mountain that it’s hewn from, the only difference between them being that one is a “piece” while the other is the “whole”.
What does the statement that “our souls are a ‘part’ of God” mean? God certainly can’t be subdivided; because if we assumed that He could be, then we’d be forced to arrive at certain inanities like the idea that everyone is, say, a trillionth of God. But if that were so, then God would only be an aggregate of His parts, and as soon as one would be missing, He’d be that much less-than-perfect. But that’s absurd since God is perfect and whole, “one, sheer, complete, total, unalloyed, and indivisible” (2:1). So while we’re indeed a “part of God”, we’d still need to know what that means.
After all, it’s one thing to say that a stone can be hewn from a mountain by an ax made for that purpose — but how could anyone say anything like that about God? And with what were our souls (“hewn” and) withdrawn from Him in order to become created entities?
That is, there’s also the dilemma of what “tool” one could ever use to separate a “part” of God from the “rest” of Him. It would obviously have to be stronger than He, which is also absurd.
But now we can begin to understand this for ourselves: for just as (something physical like) an ax can hew and separate physical things from each other, (something intangible like) a difference of tsurah can likewise separate two spiritual things from each other.
Let’s illustrate that. While we’d consider two people who love each other as being “attached” to each other and to have become a single entity (for all intents and purposes), and contrarily we’d consider two people who hate each other as being as disparate (from each other) as east is from west.
This is a complex section with many points raised. Let’s begin by defining terms. One’s tsurah (tsurot in the plural) is his make-up and character, which is to say his physical, intellectual, and emotional selfness — your impalpable “you”, and my impalpable “me”. We’ll also add that a tsurah is taken to be “spiritual” even though it has nothing to do with one’s soul in the above instances, because it refers to a person’s intangible personal qualities.
Now, the Hebrew term for the idea of “attachment” expressed here, Devekut, usually alludes to the sort of selfless and utterly amorphous adhesion onto the Divine that the righteous long for and sometimes achieve. It’s taken to be the fulfillment of a great degree of adoration for God and is often depicted as swooning before the Divine Presence. The closest everyday experiences we have of it are instances of great and pure camaraderie or of romantic love. But Ashlag will present us with an entirely different understanding of the term.
He contends that when one person’s make-up and character (his tsurah) is aligned with another’s, the two are very compatible and are thus either true friends or in love with one another, and are “attached” to each other emotionally accordingly. Contrarily, if their make-up and characters are incompatible, there’s an intangible psychic breach between them that’s just as real as the breach between two hewn stones. Hence, what attaches people to each other is the likeness of their tsurot: their essential alikeness.
But it isn’t a question of their physical proximity so much as a compatibility of tsurot.
That’s to say that their physical proximity wouldn’t have anything to do with their attachment, since they could be “close” to each other on an emotional, psychic level even if they were worlds apart if their tsurot were on par. After all, there’d be a high degree of affinity between them.
For when their tsurot are so identical that each one loves what the other loves and hates what the other hates, then they in fact love one another and are “attached” to one another. But if they have disparate tsurot — meaning that one of them loves something that the other hates (and vice versa) — then the more disparate they are, the farther from each other they are, and the less attached are they to each other.
As such, if they’re comprised of (totally) opposite tsurot and each one loves what the other hates and vice versa, then they’re as distant from each other as east is from west, which is to say, utterly so.
So what is it that attaches us onto God? It must be the things we have “in common” with Him. Apparently, then, when we’re at variance with Him we’re distant from Him. Recall, though, that God is everywhere; so in fact the only way anyone could ever be said to be “distant” from Him would be in his make-up and character (which is exactly what Ashlag is driving at).
(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).