Infinite One: Visualizing the Unknowable Divine in Jewish Philosophy

6 min read

In exploring the nature of the Divine, we embark on a profound journey through concepts of absolute oneness, simplicity, existence, and the creation of reality.

The Divine, or Ribono Shel Olam, is characterized by absolute oneness. Unlike beings in our realm, God does not possess relative unity but is intrinsically and singularly one. This oneness is so fundamental that it’s existentially impossible for another being like God to exist. This notion moves beyond our usual understanding of unity and existence.

Delving deeper, we encounter the idea of simplicity, or “pashtus.” God is described as indivisible and without parts, a singular entity beyond our comprehension. In our world, we are accustomed to complexity and multiplicity, but the Divine lacks these, existing in a state of pure simplicity.

Another profound aspect is that God is identical with His behavior and knowledge. Unlike human cognition, where the subject, the knowledge, and the act of knowing are distinct, in the Divine realm, these elements are unified. This unity reflects the concept of “pashtus,” where there’s no separation between the Divine essence and its expressions.

The concept of existence takes on a new dimension when considering the Divine. While we perceive existence as a quality we possess, for the Divine, existence is its very essence. This understanding challenges our conception of being and non-being, leading us to realize that our existence is contingent and derived from the Divine essence.

The attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence are natural extensions of the Divine as existence itself. These attributes are not additional qualities but are intrinsic to the Divine nature. This perspective also illuminates the name YHWH, reflecting the essence of being and existence.

On a deeper level, the Divine is not only singular (echod) and unique (u’me yuchod) but is also the only true existence. This leads to the concept that our existence, and that of everything else, is not independent but emerges from and is sustained by the Divine. This idea is so profound that even higher beings, such as angels, cease to exist upon fully grasping it.

The relationship between the Divine and creation is likened to a dream, where the dreamer is real and the dream figures are mere projections. This analogy helps us grasp the concept of “ein od milvado” – there is nothing but God. Even though we experience a form of existence relative to each other, in ultimate terms, our existence is a manifestation of the Divine.

Jewish tradition teaches that this understanding was revealed at Mount Sinai, where the unity and singular existence of the Divine were shown to the Israelites. This revelation underscored that everything in creation is a manifestation of the Divine will and essence.

As we delve into the “fourth floor” of understanding, we confront the Divine as Creator. Being existence itself, God brings forth creation from non-existence. This act of creation is total, leaving nothing that coexists independently with God. The entirety of reality, including its most fundamental aspects, is a product of the Divine will.

In understanding creation, we learn that God brought forth time, space, matter, energy, life, consciousness, and the spiritual universe, including souls and angels. Alongside these, the Divine also established the abstract concepts and the fundamental rules of reality, shaping the very structure of our existence.

Yet, with all these creations, the essence of the Divine remains beyond description. Any term we might use to describe God is itself a creation, thus incapable of encapsulating the uncreated essence. This leads to the realization that our language and concepts are inadequate to truly describe the Divine.

In prayer and prophecy, we engage not with the unknowable essence of God, but with the aspects that God chooses to reveal and embody. This “atzmuso” – the essence of God – is known only to God. This divine self-awareness is unlike anything we experience, as it is not a process of thought but an intrinsic aspect of the Divine nature.

God’s interaction with creation is metaphorically described as a “bubble,” within which God projects certain attributes and ideas for us to relate to. These include the yud-gimmel middos – the thirteen attributes of mercy and other aspects as described in Jewish texts. These attributes are not the essence of the Divine but are ways in which God chooses to manifest and relate to creation.

The character profile of the Divine, as perceived by us, consists of attributes and actions adapted for our understanding. This includes the Divine speaking, remembering, and exercising power. These are not literal attributes of the Divine essence, but ways in which God interacts with creation. This concept also extends to the Divine will, which is itself a created aspect of God’s interaction with the world.

At the core, the Divine essence, or “atzmuso,” remains unknowable. Any description we apply is inherently limited to the realm of creation. The Divine attributes that we perceive and relate to are manifestations within the created realm, not the essence of the Divine itself.

A question arises about the nature of Divine love. If God’s love is a manifestation rather than an inherent emotion, does it diminish its significance? The answer lies in the consistency and infinitude of this manifestation. The way God displays love is profound and unwavering, transcending our human understanding of emotions.

In prayer, we address the Divine essence, though it remains beyond our comprehension. The concept of “hearing” in relation to God challenges our understanding of existence and perception. This leads to the contemplation of whether existence itself is a creation or coexists with the Divine.

The concept of “ein sof” represents the highest manifestation of the Divine within creation, yet it is not the essence of God. “Ein sof” is an infinite representation, existing within the created realm, and is a way for us to relate to the Divine. This representation is part of the Divine’s creation of realities and “others,” including the various spiritual worlds.

In discussing the relationship between the Divine and creation, including the “ein sof” and the various worlds, we confront the mystery of how the Divine essence, beyond the bubble of creation, interacts with the manifestations within it. This mystery underscores the profound difference between the unknowable Divine essence and its representations within creation.

Concluding this exploration, we recognize the vastness and depth of these concepts, revealing layers of understanding about the Divine, creation, and our relationship with the ultimate Source of all. This journey through the nature of God invites contemplation and awe, as we grapple with the mysteries of the Divine and its manifestations in the world we inhabit.

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  1. 1
    Angela Gershenwald

    I want to learn more. Help me please incorporate it everyday, with my prayers and everyday life. I have such a need to connect.

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