To Become Divine
To get a small taste of
the radical impact of the different views on the Tzimtzum (the Divine concealment
in existence discussed here in the past few weeks) just read Mark Lilla’s
cover article in last Sundays New York Times Magazine.
In a comprehensive fashion
Lilla maps out the history and evolution of religion and its role in running
the world. The tense relationship between faith and governance, and the terrible
bloodshed that it brought about, among other reasons, resulted in the development
of new philosophies regarding the role of religious belief in modern society.
Lilla describes the fallacy
of the Enlightenment’s expectations and predictions that society was on a
“one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once
placed on that track, would inevitably follow.” Promoters of modernization
took it for granted that “science, technology, urbanization and education
would eventually ‘disenchant’ the charmed world of believers, and that with
time people would either abandon their traditional faiths or transform them
in politically anodyne ways.” This simply did not happen, and may never happen.
On the other hand, political theology in the West no longer dominates modern
society as it once did.
In the last few centuries
different approaches developed to find some way to relieve the tension between
faith and modernity. For Thomas Hobbes the rules of daily life must be separated
from the laws of the Divine lest we risk rousing radical passions that will
overrun society. “In order to escape the destructive passions of messianic
faith, political theology centered on God was replaced by political philosophy
centered on man.” Rousseau believed that religion ought to remain a potent
force, but it must be stripped of its primitive principles and extreme political
From West to East the
shadowy ripples of the grand Tzimtzum’s black hole leave their mark in the
rifts and tensions exposed by virtually every philosophy and school of thought.
Whether it is Hobbes (and his descendants) compartmentalization between church
and state (“the great separation” as Lilla coins it), or Rousseau’s (and his
descendants) religious reform, tailoring it to contemporary standards. Or
on the other extreme, radical religious passions, which now come in the shape
of Muslim fundamentalism, mimicking its earlier Christian cousin, which for
millennia dominated, if not terrorized, political life. All these positions
– from one end of the religious spectrum to the other, and all the variations
in between – make one thing very clear: No one seems able to make peace between
a Divine mandate and the political realities on the ground.
And G-d will simply not
However you twist it,
G-d and daily life simply doesn’t get along. Is there a simpler way to define
the grand Tzimtzum? Is there a more tangible expression of the Tzimtzum? Whether
it is the literal or non-literal interpretation of the Tzimtzum, the Divine
has a tenuous relationship with existence. The concealment and inaccessibility
of the Divine defines the very nature of our political and religious history.
When an entity (life) is out of touch with its mission, when substance is
detached from spirit, when what you do is misaligned from who you are – you
have a fatal rift.
Yet, as discussed last
week, the Tzimtzum is after all merely a state of concealment, not removal.
Albeit, a profound and powerful concealment, which unleashed complicated tensions,
but still, we have the power and role – our unique mission – to puncture the
“black hole” and reveal the light within. We have the ability to bridge substance
and spirit, to reveal their inherent unity and reconnect our material lives
with its Divine purpose.
week we reviewed how the cosmic order allows us to recognize the Divine properties
within our material existence and actually enables us to integrate and align
the two into one seamless flow. Substance and spirit – containers and light
– join as one. Thus creating a full relationship between the human and the
Divine – “I am to my beloved and my beloved to me.”
The question we left with
last week remains: How can we achieve total fusion of “I am to my beloved
and my beloved to me” when the Divine Essence is a non-existential, independent,
reality (metzius bilti metzius nimtza), completely beyond and diametrically
opposite, in every way, of our existential, dependent, mortal existence. How
then is it possible to unite these opposite realities? Given, we can unite
with the Divine as it manifests in existence, but can we actually connect
to the ultimate reality – the innermost essence of Divine reality, which we
have absolutely no way of relating to?
The answer in one (Hebrew)
word is: Bittul. This may be a foreign expression to some of us. Indeed,
“bittul” is hard to translate into English, perhaps because the concept is
outside of our mind-set.
Bittul is a combination of humility, modesty
and selflessness. Bittul is the single most important ingredient in
all growth and excellence, and the only way to achieve immortality: The ability
to suspend your self – and self-interest – in order to channel that which
is greater than you.
Every birth must undergo
a metamorphosis in which a previous state of being recedes in order to allow
a new state of being to emerge. A seed rots in the ground before it blossoms.
Creativity is the child of frustration. Raw metal must be melted in order
to shape it into a beautiful ornament. One layer of skin has to be shed before
a new one replaces it. As the Kabbalists put it: Between two states of “being,”
“itness” (“yesh”) there is a vacuum, a state of suspension (“ayin”). As long
as the previous state remains intact, it can never fully access a completely
new level of experience. The past will shape and (often) haunt the future.
This is what “thinking
out of the box” truly means. All of us are defined by our subjective perspectives:
The combination of our education, experiences and viewpoints. As great as
that perspective may be, it still is our own defined perspective. Bittul is
the ability to suspend your perspective – now matter how hard earned and developed
– and allow in the possibility of another, fresh perspective.
In the language of the
Chassidic masters: “Bittul” is the entity called “ohr” – light or energy.
Light/energy is the powerful metaphor that the Kabbalah uses to describe Divine
transmission. The Divine Essence (Atzmus) is beyond expression and
definition, a “non-existential” reality (metzius bilti metzius nimtza).
Light is the way the Divine expresses and manifests itself. Just like light
is merely a reflection of its luminary, so too Divine light has no substance
of its own, but it merely reflects and expresses its Source.
Any entity that has its
own presence will express itself, and in doing so, it must conceal any other
(higher) presence. Because it has no substance of its own, light illuminates,
rather than darkens, the landscape with the presence of the luminary it reflects.
In other words: Light
is bittul. The epitome of an entity that combines both substance and
no substance: it has no substance of its own and always reflects its (luminary)
source. Yet, by virtue of its utter and total bittul the Divine Light
assumes and emanates the “personality” of its source. (see Light:
Where the Existential Meets the Non-Existential). Precisely because of
its transparent bittul (selflessness), with no “personality” of its
own to get in the way, light purely reflects and channels the deepest “substance”
of the source, including the “non-existential” “nature” of the Essence. In
effect, the utter bittul of light becomes one with its source (“kodum
ke’kadmuso), thus “carrying” the non-existential Essence into existence.
So this completes the
circle: Light is the manner by which the Essence imparts its qualities to
existence. This light will go through many stages of evolution: It will divide
into the infinite light and the finite one, and then experience the radical
“quantum leap” of the Tzimtzum, which conceals the light and allows for our
independent consciousness. The light will then pierce the Tzimtzum as a narrow
thread of light (kav), which in turn will undergo further stages of
concealment and revelation.
And this light is also
the manner by which we climb the ladder, reversing the steps and returning
from matter to spirit, from the containers to the light. The defined “lights”
and “containers” of the cosmic order allow us to pierce the Tzimtzum’s concealment
and fuse the personality of our material existence with the Divine “personality”
(in whose “image” we were created). We then climb via the kav into
the pre-tzimtzum light, and that in turn leads us into the infinite
(Ein Sof) elements of the Essence reflected in the light. Since light
is completely selfless and only reflects its source, it ultimately bridges
the final gap between the existential and the non-existential Essence. Ohr
(light) is the final stepping stone bridging our mortal existence with the
Truth be told, bittul
is necessary on all levels, to transform every level from the human to the
Divine. But it is absolutely imperative, and in its ultimate form, in order
to rise from the existential to the non-existential.
For us to fuse with the
Divine – “I am to my beloved and my beloved to me” – we too must become like
light. The process begins by first recognizing that every aspect of our material
existence is a “means” – a “container” – for Divine light. We then transform
and sanctify our material belongings and activities into spiritual forces,
e.g. donating money to a good cause. Slowly we expose the Divine properties
in every detail of the fabric of existence. The containers then become an
extension of light, in turn becoming an extension of the Divine Essence. We
thus convert the entire material world into a home for the Divine – a magnificent
Divine tapestry reflecting the beauty of the Divine in the multifarious nature
Imagine how wonderful
such a world would be.
The most critical ingredient
to achieve such seamlessness is through bittul – to be like light whose
entire being is to reflect a truth greater than itself.
All the attempts to either
ignore or integrate religion into modern life, Lilla writes, conveniently
avoid the single most important message of faith: You must change your life.
But this message is the one people don’t want to hear. And therein lays the
undoing of all the philosophies – from radical atheism to radical religiosity,
from compartmentalization to liberal theology: As long as you want to live
on your own terms, and even religion must fit into your defined framework,
you will be left solely at the mercy of your limited resources; the most that
you can expect is what your mortal life and subjective experience can offer.
You, thus, can never truly integrate with the Divine (let alone with the Divine
Essence). Absolute self interest simply does not allow in (in any complete
way) anything beyond your self.
Bittul, however, selfless dedication to
a cause greater than your self, opens up the door to the Divine, and ultimately
to the Divine Essence.
– absolute and utter devotion to the cause for which we were created, rather
than our own myopically perceived need – allows us to become part and extension
Then and only then do
our otherwise pedestrian lives take on eternal, immortal and absolute meaning.
Is there a greater gift