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The Subconscious of G-d


I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise up from Israel…

from Bilaam’s prophecy on Moshiach, Numbers 23:17

[Regarding the time of the Redemption,] the Heart does not reveal to the Mouth

Zohar, part I, 8a

Fundamental to our faith is the daily anticipation of the Redemption: not only a belief in, but also a constant expectation of, Moshiach’s imminent coming. In the words of Maimonides, “one who does not believe in him, or does not anticipate his coming” disavows the whole of Judaism.[1]

The Torah is replete with references to “the end of days” and the state of universal harmony and perfection that it will bring. However, there is no clear indication as to when it will come: we haven’t been given a time or date for the final Redemption. The Zohar goes so far as to say that, with regard to the time for the Moshiach’s coming, “The [divine] heart does not reveal to the [divine] mouth,” implying that G-d cannot articulate it even to Himself!

Why, indeed, has this been kept a secret from us? Why has such a crucial element of our faith been a mystery for thousands of years? And what does it mean that G-d’s “heart” does not convey it to His own “mouth”?

Speaking a World

The Torah, “speaking in the language of men,”[2] describes the divine act of creation as an act of speech: G-d said “Let there be light,”[3] “Let the earth sprout forth greenery,”[4] and so on, and the various elements of existence came into being.

Chassidic teaching takes this a step further: the world is the speech of G-d. The divine utterances of Genesis are not merely mediums or forces which bring the creations into existence, but are the very essence of their being. What we perceive as a stone, a human being or a physical law is, in truth, the divine communication that it should exist.

Why speech? Why is “and G-d said” the appropriate metaphor to borrow from human experience to describe what happened at creation? Because despite its apparent formidability, our world can hardly be said to exist at all. Is what we experience as “reality” in fact real? Yes and no, say the Chassidic masters. On the one hand, it is wholly dependent upon its Creator, every fraction of time, for being and life. As one Chassidic thinker put it, if G-d no longer wished that our world should exist, G-d forbid, He need not destroy it—the moment He ceases to will it into being, it no longer is. A “reality” of such dependence and subjectivity hardly qualifies as an existence in its own right—all it “is” is the expression of another, infinitely greater being’s desire that it be.

On the other hand, our world is imbued with a sense of selfhood and distinctiveness of being. Although the fact that we sense our own existence and that of our environment to be real does not prove anything (for all we know, our sense of existence may be an illusion), the Torah gives credence to this reality. It states: “In the Beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.”[5] It also tells us that He created them with a purpose in mind—that He desires that we develop them in a certain way and that we refrain from other deeds which corrupt His creation. Furthermore, the sense of “self” which we experience is an integral part of this purpose: G-d specifically wanted a world which would perceive itself as a reality apart from its Creator, and that this “lowly realm” should choose to develop itself as a “dwelling for G-d”—an environment receptive and hospitable to His reality.[6] Illusion or not, creation’s self-definition as a distinct reality has a truth to it, a validity granted it by its Creator.

To express the paradoxical nature of creation’s reality, the Torah borrows the term “speech” from human experience. Man creates on three basic levels: thought, speech and action. Were the Torah to say that G-d “made” a world, this would imply a creation as disconnected from its creator as the products of man’s physical actions are from theirs: a person builds a building, paints a picture or writes a book, and his creation is now a distinct and independent existence, even possessing a “life” of its own. On the other hand, to describe reality as a divine “thought” would imply that it exists only within its Creator’s reality. Speech, however, describes an existence which, on the one hand, is distinct from its source, yet on the other, is utterly dependent upon it and possesses no reality other than that dependence.

When a person speaks, he creates something which extends beyond his own existence. The thought which he had conceived, and which, up until now, has existed only within his mind, is now translated into words which “leave” his person to attain a separateness from their creator. Nevertheless, they are utterly dependent upon him for existence: the moment he ceases to speak, the entity we refer to as his “speech” no longer exists. In other words, their existence can only be defined in terms of his ongoing involvement to create them.

So it is with our world. G-d desires that it exist, and that it constitute a reality which is (at least in its own perception) distinct from His own. On the other hand, the world has no independent existence; it possesses no reality other than G-d’s constant involvement to create and sustain it. In other words, G-d did not make a world—He spoke it.

Retreating Into Thought

A person may articulate a thought to himself and “create” no further; but every word or act of his is also a thought, conceived first in the mind and then given an existence distinct of himself as words or actions.

The same is true of G-d’s creation: the “spoken” world we inhabit represents the lowest and most external layer of His creation, and is preceded by a higher, more intimate version of creation—a reality which may be described as “G-d’s thought.” When we say that this thought reality “precedes” our conventional speech reality, this is not to say that it precedes it in physical time—physical time is itself a product of G-d’s creation; rather, it is the self-same world we inhabit, yet on an “earlier” (i.e., closer to its source) plane of awareness and self-definition. This is a world which sees itself not as an entity distinct from its Creator, but as a concept within the divine mind—as something submerged within the divine reality.

For six days a week we live in the “spoken world” generated by the divine utterances of Genesis. But for one day  each week, we enter a higher plane of awareness, as our world “recedes” from its spoken state to the realm of divine thought. As the Torah relates in its account of creation, for six days G-d spoke the world, projecting His concept of creation into the “separate” reality we know. On the seventh day He ceased to speak. He did not, however, cease to create—were He to do so, the world would have ceased to exist. Rather, He withdrew from the externalization of speech and confined Himself to the internal creation of thought. He continued to articulate our world, not as something “outside” of himself but as a self-contained conceptualization of His vision of creation.

The seven days of creation are an ongoing cycle. Every Shabbat, G-d withdraws from His more external mode of creation, elevating our world to the level of divine thought. On Shabbat we still live in the very same world we inhabit during the other six days of the week, but on Shabbat the “I am” of our world is muted, its illusion of distinctiveness more transparent. On this day, man can more readily transcend the disconnectedness of the material reality and experience a union and identification with his essence and source.

Subconscious Thought

Within the realm of thought itself are many levels of definition and tactility.

Conscious thought is closest to the outward projection of speech. It, too, is composed of images and words. Although expressed in a “language” more abstract and nebulous than that of speech (a single fleeting thought may take hours to articulate verbally and may contain many nuances of understanding which are not translatable into spoken words), it has a language nonetheless, and is thus a “world” comprised of definitive entities. While a person’s conscious thoughts do not exist outside of himself, they occupy a distinct place within his mind.

If we apply this metaphor to the divine thought-reality of Shabbat, we might say that on Shabbat we enter a state of being that might be described as G-d’s “conscious thought”: a realm that is “within” the divine reality but whose union and identification with its source is not absolute: it is a distinct creation, albeit a wholly internal one.

Thus, Shabbat is only a “taste” of a higher reality—a reality that can only be described as the “subconscious thought” of G-d.

Subconscious thought has no language, no definition, no parameters—nothing to distinguish it from the mind which contains it. The definitive thoughts to which it gives birth seem to spring out of nowhere—from the essence of the mind itself. We know that they must already “exist” in some earlier, more arcane incarnation—in what we, in “the language of men,” call “subconscious thoughts.” Yet these form no identifiable part of the conceiver’s mind, but are seamlessly woven into the very fabric of its essence.

The Torah tells us that at the very beginnings of creation, “the spirit of G-d hovered” above a still vacant and formless world.[7] This “spirit of G-d,” say our sages, is the spirit of Moshiach[8]— G-d’s primordial “subconscious” conception of creation.

The era of Moshiach is therefore described as a time of “absolute and eternal Shabbat.”[9] For if on Shabbat our world is elevated to the realm of divine conscious thought, the era of Moshiach is a time when we will inhabit the “subconscious” of G-d. Again, it is our world, the same world we live in today, different not in substance but in awareness. Its self-perception is not that of the external world of “speech,” nor even that of the submerged but still distinct world of “conscious thought,” but one of seamless unity with its Conceiver and Creator.

Thus our sages describe the age of Moshiach as a reality which “the heart does not reveal to the mouth.” Our present-day world is the divine “mouth”—a world whose relationship with its Creator is like the relationship between spoken words and their speaker—while the era of Moshiach is a time when our world will graduate to its primordial place in the subconscious “heart” of G-d. Therefore, just as the world of the subconscious cannot be expressed as conscious thoughts, and certainly not verbalized as words, so, too, the time of the ultimate Redemption is unarticulateable to a speech-defined existence.

Yet it is this most intimate heart of G-d that will become our everyday experience and reality, when we complete our task to make our lives and world a “dwelling for G-d.”

Based on numerous talks by the Rebbe, including an address delivered on Nissan 12, 5750 (April 7, 1990)[10]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

[1]. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:1; Introduction to Perek Cheilek, The Twelfth Principle.

[2]. Talmud, Berachot 31b, et al.

[3]. Genesis 1:3.

[4]. Ibid., v. 11.

[5]. Ibid., v. 1.

[6]. Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16; Tanya, ch. 36.

[7]. Genesis 1:2.

[8]. Midrash Rabbah on verse.

[9]. From the Shabbat addendum to the Grace After Meals.

[10]. Sefer HaSichot 5750, p. 397.


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