Section One, Lesson Five:
HaShem is the First and the Last
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © November 12, 2018
4. I believe with perfect emunah
that the Creator,
blessed be His Name,
is the first and last
The echad nature of the Holy One as declared in the Shema is beyond all comprehension. The Holy One is echad in totality, not only in a surface sense. Without His causeless mercy we would have no way of conceiving Him at all. The Torah and our sages are clear that there is no oneness and no unity like His Oneness and His Unity. The Eternal Being is echad in every sense. This is one of the hallmarks of Jewish theology.
Most of the ancients worshipped multiple gods. Whether conceived in terms of trinities, pantheons, or natural phenomena and powers, their world paradigms were teeming with diverse, often highly competitive divinities of every sort. These conceived beings existed as products of their own hopes, dreams, desires, and frequently fears.
The revelations revealed to our father Avraham were different. He understood that being echad, the true G-d is not like those imagined 'powers'. As HaShem declares at Deuteronomy 32:39, 40:See now that it is I! I am the One, and there is no god like [or with] Me! I cause death and grant life. I strike, but I heal, and no one can rescue from My Hand! For I raise up My hand to heaven, and say, 'As I live forever.'
No other being can say this. Only HaShem exists throughout eternity past, present and future. Nothing proceeded Him and nothing will supercede Him. There are no gods with Him. There are no demigods, ba'alim, avatars, asuras, etc. acting as mediators for Him. HaShem is echad: Absolute One. This is the central declaration of our Tradition. Everything else is commentary by comparison. As discussed in the previous lesson this conviction forms the foundation or bedrock of all biblical truth. This understanding is the basis of all true emunah (active, motivating faith). Moshe Rabbeinu thus told us to always remember and repeat:Sh'ma Y'israel Adonai Elohaynu Adonai EchadWhile this essential Torah Truth can not be objectively demonstrated by modern investigative means, Jewish Scripture, Tradition and even scientific theory (such as Chaos and String theories) give strong support of it. Through emunah coupled with logic this understanding is proven for those who seriously investigate. Both are needed. Logic and reason reveals what may be discovered through the human mind and emunah reveals and establishes that which transcends empirical evidence. Combined we can know HaShem and step by step attach ourselves to Him. By its nature emunah transcends logic and objective evidence and yet combined emunah and sound reason demonstrate the absolute oneness of G-d and our relationship with Him.
"Listen (pay attention! this matters!), Israel (Jews), HaShem is our God, HaShem is One (Echad)" - Deuteronomy 6:4.
Our Tradition acknowledges the limitations of human perception. This limitation is rectified through emunah and bitacon (trust). A careful reading of the first chapter of Genesis, the first chapter of Ezekiel, and other biblical texts, as elucidated by our mystically minded sages and in works like the Zohar, reveal much about the nature of Reality and Being. While we will not go deeply into mysticism in this study, understanding certain basic principles can be beneficial as we move forward.
Accepting the Creator's existence with "perfect emunah" as stated in the Thirteen Principles, reason insists that this Being must be absolute One, as realized by Avraham and shared by Moshe in the Torah. We discussed Avram's realization in the previous lesson. Absolute monotheism (i.e. the belief in a single or "mono" supreme being or "theos") must be true logically. Consider that the diverse elements required for the creation had to have their source within the Creator because at the initial point of the act or spark of creation nothing else existed, until "And G-d said..." Otherwise we must seek for the creator of that element. Logic therefore demands that there had be an an primary source from which (or whom) these elements emerged.
Emunah reveals through the Torah that this Source is Ain Soph ("No-Thing") and that Ain Soph is the G-d of Israel as revealed in Torah. Hence everything that was created must come from HaShem. Being logically valid, Ain Soph is truly echad, or more clearly, there is ultimately only Ain Soph, the Source of all that is. This is a weakness of the so-called big bang theory: What 'banged'? Nothing comes from nothing. By definition the Creator must be the absolute Source of everything and inclusive of everything. Such a Being is completely inconceivable so the other nations, devoid of Torah, developed their own understandings. Logically if one accepts the existence of G-d as revealed in the Tanach there can be no oneness like His oneness: Adonai Echad.
This foundational biblical truth logically leads to the paradigm that as Ain Soph (or 'No-Thing' conceivable) the Creator and Source of all that is, is not part of a trinity nor any other imagined pantheon of gods. Were that the case there would have to be a Creator of that pantheon. Otherwise logic must ask: From whence did they emerge? Any other so-called gods, if real, would have a creator and hence would not be gods in any absolute sense. At most they would be like the angels according to the biblical presentation which we accept with "perfect emunah.".
Every created thing arrises from and exists within the all inclusive Will of the Creator. HaShem alone is echad and yet declares, "As I exist forever" (Deuteronomy 32:39, 40). This reveals that Ain Soph is not a "cosmic consciousness" (like the Force in Star Wars) because He has individual Consciousness and Will and often speaks in the first person. As an inconceivable Being Elohim creates and maintains the unity of all existence within His Divine Nature because the Creator of all existence predates their origins. Again, only nothing comes from nothing. Only consciousness comes from consciousness. HaShem is Self-Aware and we exist in His image. Like Him, we are self aware beings.
We require words and articulated thought to even consider such topics. So too, the Crerator articulates His "thoughts" in various ways that we are able to grasp. Primary among these is the Torah. For this reason the Torah is sometimes thought of as "the Mind of G-d." This further reflects a Divine Person or Supreme Personality rather than a cosmic consciousness composed of the totality of the creation as conceived in certain other systems. What we understand and conceive comes to us through observation, study of sacred texts, prayer and contemplation. The ability to partake in such is a gift of the Divine Person.
According to our sages, creation begins with the bringing forth of Ten Sefirot or Emanations by the Holy One. These emanations can be thought of as building blocks or divine energy containers of dualistic existence. We will only touch briefly on this topic here. The concept can be difficult to understand and it has led many people into confusion and heresy.
Trying to grasp the inconceivable nature of Being some people, devoid of true Torah knowledge, determined that the Ten Sefirot were individual gods or divine incarnations. They conceived of beings like the ba'als, demigods, avatars, asuras, the various trinities and so on. Without proper knowledge of the Torah they did not understand that HaShem alone is G-d and that He is echad. For this reason in part the mystical areas of study are only intended for those who have a solid working understanding of Torah and Talmud and who have lived long enough to attain personal wisdom through that knowledge (often this is set at 40 years of age). How easily people can be led into error! Echad does not mean three, it means one. We must properly understand Torah in order to avoid such confusion. The Torah and our other scriptures are only properly understood through careful, contextual research coupled with rabbinic elucidation (Numbers 11:16,17).
Beginning with the initial creation, or "in the beginning of G-d's creating," Ain Soph is partially revealed as Elohim (i.e. the conceivable 'G-d over all so-called gods'). To aid our comprehension we speak of Elohim with human qualities and attributes however in reality none of these truly apply to the Holy One. There is no "right hand of G-d." There is no form of any kind. By using such language however our imaginations are empowered to develop progressively deeper comprehension. From conceived Elohim the inconceivable Holy One establishes and enters into the consciousness of all existence.
The seemingly dualistic creation emerges from the Oneness of Ain Soph (which is to say, from within the "Void" established for this purpose -- Genesis 1:1). Without in any way infringing on the echad - singular - Nature of the Unbounded One we are empowered to conceive the inconceivable. This is difficult to understand however it reveals important truths when carefully examined.
This "calling forth" of Divine Light into the Void produces Adam Kadmon (the Tree of Existence or Life/Primordial Man), however this concept is conceived. Don't be confused here. This is not Adam from the Garden of Eden (i.e. "Adam Ha-Rishon" or 'Adam the first' [man]), rather, we are speaking here of "Adam Ha-Ḳadmoni" or 'Adam the Original'. Adam Kadmon existed before the "first" Adam. We can think of this as a sort of prototype of dualistic existence within which resides all material potentiality. Our sages debate such understandings endlessly however this is essential for our individual existences. Hence we read:
Tehillim (Psalms) 139:5-10:אָח֣וֹר וָקֶ֣דֶם צַרְתָּ֑נִי וַתָּ֖שֶׁת עָלַ֣י כַּפֶּֽכָה׃The Anointed or Divine Spark refers to the time "before the first and after the last day of Creation." The purport is, "And the spirit of G-d moved upon the face of the waters," meaning the spirit of Anointing which existed from before the beginning of the apparent dualistic separation and which will continue to exist forever into the future. It is this ongoing Anointing or Divine Spark of Life that empowers all. This Spark is granted for the purpose of G-d's creation and for the methodologies declared by Him to fulfill His purposes. We call this purpose the creation of the Perfected Community, those who will merit the Olam Haba or World to Come.
You hedge me before and behind; You lay Your hand upon me.
פלאיה [פְּלִ֣יאָֽה] דַ֣עַת מִמֶּ֑נִּי נִ֝שְׂגְּבָ֗ה לֹא־א֥וּכַֽל לָֽהּ׃
It is beyond my knowledge; it is a mystery; I cannot fathom it.
אָ֭נָ֥ה אֵלֵ֣ךְ מֵרוּחֶ֑ךָ וְ֝אָ֗נָה מִפָּנֶ֥יךָ אֶבְרָֽח׃
Where can I escape from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
אִם־אֶסַּ֣ק שָׁ֭מַיִם שָׁ֣ם אָ֑תָּה וְאַצִּ֖יעָה שְּׁא֣וֹל הִנֶּֽךָּ׃
If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I descend to Sheol, You are there too.
אֶשָּׂ֥א כַנְפֵי־שָׁ֑חַר אֶ֝שְׁכְּנָ֗ה בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית יָֽם׃
If I take wing with the dawn to come to rest on the western horizon,
גַּם־שָׁ֭ם יָדְךָ֣ תַנְחֵ֑נִי וְֽתֹאחֲזֵ֥נִי יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
even there Your hand will be guiding me, Your right hand will be holding me fast.
It is through Adam Kadmon that humanity is "made in the image of G-d" as stated at Genesis 1:27. Through meriting devekut (attachment G-d) and harmonizing oneself with the Ten Sefirot one enters into the consciousness of Da'at or true knowing. Through devekut one merits the perfection of the sparks of anointing and with this one is blessed to assist in tikun olam (the restoration of all that is broken) and enter into the Perfected Community, as referenced by Ramchal and other sages. This vital work assists in the bringing forth of Mashiach ben David and the establishment of the World to Come. For this reason the concept is associated with Isaiah chapter eleven and the manifestation of global peace and love. Through devekut and the "calling into existence" of the perfected qualities of the ten Sefirot those who partake are drawn into the realization of the Sacred Name of Holy One in order to manifest Love into the Olam Haba. Through this work the seemingly separated creation is drawn into unity with the Transcendent Echad.
Through the initial "calling forth" of the Ten Emanations creation comes to be and the work of perfecting the Perfect Community begins. Through the continuing "calling forth" creation gradually passes from Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored. Within Devekut existence is renewed within the boundaries and limitations of time and space. Ultimately the Perfected Community transcends both and attains the Olam Haba with its continual gradual purification into Unity. Through this long anointing process existence is gradually infused with independent life and chooses harmony with the Source. The end result is not self-extinction as presumed in some philosophies but rather complete soul enlightenment wherein all creation exists in a state of bless with our Creator.
Being echad the Holy One always transcends space and time. As humanity attains devekut it gradually enters into the consciousness of echad, modified oneness with the One Ain Soph. As we advance in this process we enter into this consciousness. As the prophet wrote:And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one - Zechariah 14:9In truth however nothing exists except Ain Soph, the Source of all. This is because Ain Soph is echad. What is created as seemingly separate existence in reality abides perpetually within the Unity of Adam Kadmon. Through Torah knowledge and observance, empowered with emunah and kavanah (focused intention), anyone can attain bitacon (trust) and spiritual harmony with the Holy One through teshuvah (repentance) and achieve harmony with the Source.
This is another area where confusion easily develops. This concept of the ultimate Oneness of the creation with the Creator is not the same as Eastern concepts such as nirguna brahman, netti-netti, nirvana, etc. wherein the diverse "parts" of the existence collectively form the totality of the Whole, wherein one realizes "tat tvam asi," or, "Thou art That."
Rather, the Unity of Ain Soph exists completely independent of the creation. Rather than being composed of the eventually harmonized duality, the creation has no impact on the Holy One in any way. There is no unity like His Unity. The Eternal One alone exists and yet chooses to interact with the created beings as 'other'. This complete otherness is required to preserve human free will and independence. As we merit progressively greater enlightenment we bless our Creator throughout all of eternity future. Hence we have Psalm 82:A Psalm of Asaph.Eventually we will embrace our true natures as the children of G-d. We will arise and become the Perfected Community. May this day come soon. HaShem exists beyond all time and space. Nothing is unknown to him because whatever has been, is, or ever will be is for Him the eternal present. In the Olam Haba we will partake of this divine inheritance.
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”[a]
Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
Points to Consider:
- Does HaShem have a physical form?
- Does HaShem have a spiritual form?
- Where does HaShem dwell?
- Does HaShem "live in Heaven on streets of gold etc?"
- Does HaShem have a Throne?
- What makes HaShem different from the gods of the nations?
- Why did Voltaire say that "If God did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent Him?"
- What are your thoughts on Bereshit Rabbah 38?
- What is the "Perfected Community?"
- What does it mean that HaShem is echad?
Go to Lesson Six
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