What We Understand


The following is a free translation of a letter by the Rebbe dated Nissan, 5724 (March-April, 1964):[14]

In answer to your query, in which you ask to explain the concept of shechinah (the divine immanence; lit. “indwelling”), which is mentioned many times in the teachings of our sages:

The concept is extensively expounded upon, particularly in the books and discourses of chassidic teachings—you can look it up in the indices published in the back of Tanya, Torah Ohr, Likkutei Torah and other works. Here I will offer a brief explanation, obviously not a comprehensive one, as space does not allow.

Since G-d is the ultimate perfection and is free of all limitations and definitions, it is self-evident that, in the words of the Alter Rebbe,[15] “The fact that He creates universes does not express what G-d is.”[16] At the same time, He is, as Maimonides writes in his Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, “the one who brings every existence into being; all existences exist only as derivatives of His ultimate existence” and the one whom “all existences are utterly dependent upon Him.” It is also obvious that just as no creature can comprehend the nature of G-d’s creation of reality ex nihilo, so, too, no creature can comprehend the nature of G-d, even the nature of G-d as the creator of the world and the source of every existence.

In the words of the great Jewish philosophers: “If I knew Him, I would be Him.”[17]

So though a person realizes and understands that no thing can create itself, and that one must therefore conclude that the created reality has a source that generates its existence, this is only proof of the existence of the Creator, not an understanding of what He is, even as “Creator.”

Nevertheless, G-d desired that the divine influences upon creation… and the divine immanence in the world should also include elements that the human mind can comprehend. In the words of the sweet singer of Israel,[18] “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers…”[19] Indeed, this includes an instruction to man regarding the service of his Creator: “Lift your eyes upward, and see who created these…”[20] (As the Alter Rebbe elaborates on this verse in a discourse that is also the basis of Sefer Hachakirah, authored by his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek.[21])

This aspect of the divine reality—that which pervades our world to the extent that it can be discovered by G-d’s creatures—is what is meant by the term shechinah, i.e., that which dwells within and enclothes itself.

It is important to emphasize that one cannot categorize the divine reality into various aspects or areas, G-d forbid; it is only that from the perspective of the contemplating creature, there are things that he can comprehend and things that he cannot comprehend. In truth, however, there are no categories, in the plural, but a singular, utterly abstract reality.

Consider the soul of man: obviously, it is not divisible into 248, 365 or 613[22] components; nevertheless, the observing eye differentiates between the vitality of the foot and the vitality of the brain, though both are of a single essence—the soul that vitalizes the body. How much more so (to distinguish ad infinitum) is it so regarding the divine reality. Thus, when we say that the shechinah is present in the Holy Temple, this is not to say, G-d forbid, that only that “aspect” of the divine that is called shechinah is there, but to stress that there the divine reality is present in such a way that it “dwells within” and “clothes itself” to the extent that it is observable with our physical eyes, in the fact that “the space of the ark did not take up space,”[23] in the ten miracles that regularly occurred in the Holy Temple,[24] and so on.

As we said, the above is but one approach to explain the concept of shechinah; many other approaches, and many other points in this approach itself, are elaborated in a number of books and discourses of chassidic teaching.

My hope is that you have set times for the study of the teachings ofchassidut every day, and to an even greater extent on Shabbat, the day sanctified to G-d.

With esteem and blessings for a happy and kosher Passover,

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

[14]. Igrot Kodesh, vol. XXIII, pp. 165-167.

[15]. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1812.

[16]. Torah Ohr, Esther 99b, et al.

[17]. Guide for the Perplexed, 1:58; Ikkarim 42:30; Midrash Shmuel 6:7.

[18]. King David.

[19]. Psalms 8:4.

[20]. Isaiah 40:26.

[21]. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, 1789-1866. In his Sefer Hachakirah Rabbi Menachem Mendel explores the nature of the created reality and what it can tell us about its Creator.

[22]. The human body contains 248 organs and 365 blood vessels, making a total of 613 distinct components, corresponding to the 248 positive commandments and 365 prohibitions of the Torah (Midrash Tanchuma [hakadum], Ki Teitzei; see Tanya, chapters 4 and 51).

[23]. Talmud, Yoma 21a. The ark (containing the Two Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed by the hand of G-d) stood in the most sacred chamber in the Holy Temple, the “Holy of Holies.” The ark measured 2.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits (1 cubit = approx. 20 in.), and the Holy of Holies measured 20 cubits by 20 cubits. Nevertheless, the space from each of the ark’s outer  walls to the opposite wall of the Holy of Holies measured a full 10 cubits. In other words, while the ark was a physical object of a definitive physical size, it did not take up any of the space of the room in which it stood. This expressed the truth that while G-d transcends all limits and definitions, He also transcends the very concepts of infinity and transcendence—He cannot be defined as “infinite” or “transcendent” any more than He can be defined as “finite” or “immanent.”

[24]. Ethics of the Fathers 5:5.


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