The Infinite Lights - Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
The Infinite Light

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PART ONE

GOD

1.  What do we know about God?

Mostly, we know about God from our own experiences, both as individuals and as a people. We know Him from such great events as the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai. We know Him from the many times that He intervened to guide the history and destiny of our people. We know Him from the careers of people who have been touched by Him.

But most of all, most of us know God through our own experiences. There have been times in all our lives when we have felt close to God, or experienced His hand guiding our lives. It is very easy to forget these times, but if we look back and think, we can remember.

We seek God in many ways. We approach Him in prayer. We keep His commandments. We look at the world and stand in awe at His handiwork.

Who at some time has not contemplated nature and stood awestruck, realizing that he is gazing at the handiwork of God? Who at some time has not shared Job's experience, when he exclaims (Job 12:7-9):

     Now ask the beasts, they will teach you,
          The birds of the sky, they will tell you;
     Or speak to the earth, it will teach you,
          The fish of the sea, they will tell you;
     Who cannot learn from all these
          That God's hand has done this?
     In His hand is every living soul,
          The breath of all human flesh.

We experience God in our own lives and also know of Him from the history of our ancestors. We therefore call Him, "our God and God of our fathers." He is our God because we ourselves have experienced Him, but He is also God of our fathers, because we know even more about Him from our traditions and history. This is what our people sang at the Red Sea, "This is my God, I will glorify Him; my father's God, I will praise Him" (Exodus 15:2).

We know God for His mighty deeds, but also from his small miracles. God fashioned the stars, but He also listens to the cry of the small child. The Psalmist expresses this most beautifully when he says, "He rides upon the skies, His name is God . . . the Father of orphans, the Judge of widows, He is God in His holy place. God gives the friendless a home, and frees the captive, bringing him to safety" (Psalms 68:5-6). Our sages thus teach us, "Wherever you find God's greatness, you also find His humility." 1

We know God as the Highest, and yet, we seek Him with humility. As long as one is filled with his own egotism, he has no room for God. Our sages teach us that God says that He cannot abide in the same world with the haughty man. 2 A man must surrender his own ego before he can truly find God. This is God's message, "I dwell in a high and holy place, but I am with the brokenhearted and humble. I revive the humble spirit and give new life to the broken heart" (Isaiah 57:15).

We know God through love. It is He who bids us, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). We know of this love as a reflection of our love for God, as the Torah says, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). We know of His infinite love for us, as He announced through His prophet, "I love you with an infinite world of love, and so, have drawn you to Me with affection" (C Jeremiah 3l:3). And there are times when we can say along with the Psalmist, "0 God, my God, I seek You, my soul thirsts, my flesh longs for You, like a dry and thirsty land that has no water" (Psalms 63:2).


We know God through our hope in the future. We know Him through our prayers for life, health and prosperity. We know Him through our hopes for Israel, for all mankind, for peace and brotherhood among men. We know Him through our optimism that the world will be good in the end.


One of the most profound prayers ever written is the Amidah (or Shemoneh Esreh), the silent, standing prayer, that every Jew has repeated three times each day for the past 2500 years. In the opening lines of this prayer we express our most basic feelings toward God:

Blessed are You O Lord,
     Our God and God of our fathers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
     And God of Jacob;
Great, mighty and revered God,
     Highest One,
Giver of love and goodness,
     Master of all,
Who remembers the love of the fathers
     And brings help to their children's children
For His name's sake, with love.
     King, Helper, Savior and Shield.

2.

What can we say about God'?

We know about God mostly from traditions found in the Bible. God Himself revealed these things when He spoke to His prophets. Looking in the Bible, we can obtain a very profound concept of God.

Many great thinkers among our sages have written about God. They have delved into all our traditions, analyzing and clarifying them. It is no exaggeration to say that some of the best minds that have ever lived have dealt with the question of God. But for most of them, this was more than a mere intellectual exercise. Their writings were guided by a most deep inspiration and feeling for God. As they thought about God and delved into His mystery, they were also experiencing Him. Thus, our traditions combine both the intellectual and the mystical.

But above all, our traditions go back to the Bible. Almost everything written about God can be found in this Book, if one knows where to look. Searching it carefully, we can build up a picture.

3.

It is clear from all our traditions that we define God primarily as the Creator of all things. We find this in the very opening verse of the Torah, which says, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This is a statement about creation, but it also tells us that God is the Creator. 3

When we speak of God as Creator of "heaven and earth," we are not just speaking of the visible world. God's creation includes every possible thing that exists. The Bible clearly tells us that there is absolutely nothing that is outside the domain of God's creation, as He told His prophet, "I am God, I make all things" (Isaiah 44:24).


We may be able to conceive of other universes. There may be worlds beyond our imagination. All of them, however, ultimately emanate from God. This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, "Your dominion is a kingdom of all worlds" (Psalms 145:134).

There are many things that are difficult to imagine as emanating from God. For example, there is much evil in the world, and one may be tempted to think of it as coming from a separate power, independent of God. Nothing could be further from the truth; everything ultimately comes from God. If we understand God's purpose in creation, we understand why evil must exist. But it is most important to realize that there is no power independent of God's creation. He therefore told His prophet, "I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil, I am God, I do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).


The very word "create" --Bara in Hebrew --implies creating something out of nothing. Otherwise, we use the word "make" or "form." When we say that God created the universe, we mean that He created it absolutely ex nihilo--- out of nothing. This is alluded to in the verse, "He hangs the world upon nothingness" (Job 26:7). 5

The Midrash 6 tells us that a philosopher once remarked to Rabban Gamaliel, "Your God is a wonderful artist, but He had fine materials to work with. When He made the world, He fashioned it out of waste and desolation, darkness, wind, water and the depths." 7 Rabban Gamaliel replied, "Your words are mere wind! All of these things were also created by God."

The act of creation involved absolutely no effort on the part of God. When the Torah says that He "rested" on the seventh day, it does not mean that He rested because He was weary or tired after six days of hard work. Rather, it means that God stopped creating after six days, since the world was completed with the creation of man. The act of creation, however, involved absolutely no effort on the part of God, as the prophet Isaiah taught, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, Creator of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint" (Isaiah 40:28).

This is because God is absolutely infinite. To an infinite Being, the entire universe is like nothing, and therefore, its creation involves no effort. The Bible thus says, "Everything on earth is like nothing to Him, He does as He wills with the host of heaven and the hords of the earth" (Daniel 432). Every possible thing, even the creation of a universe, is infinitely easy for an infinite God.

In order to emphasize the fact that God's creation involved no effort, the Torah speaks of it as being done with words. Each act of creation begins with the expression "And God said." 8 The Psalmist explicitly states, "With the word of God were the heavens made, with the breath of His mouth, all their host. . . . For He spoke and it was, He commanded, and it stood" (Psalms 33:6, 9). The Midrash comments on this: "Not with work nor effort did God create the universe, but with a mere word." 9

In expressing the absence of effort in the act of creation, our sages teach us that it did not even involve a word, but a mere letter of the alphabet. This furthermore was not just any letter, but the one letter that is most easily pronounced. They teach us that the world was created with the letter Heh, the Hebrew equivalent of "H." 10 Pronouncing this letter involves no more effort than the slightest breath. With such a small effort God created the universe.


When we say that the world was created with God's word, we are, of course, using a metaphor. God did not actually speak in a physical sense. 11 He merely willed the existence of all things. His very wisdom and knowledge implied creation. When the Torah says that He spoke, it merely does so to tell us that creation was a willful act. In actuality, however, God's creation came about as a direct result of His wisdom and knowledge. 12 The Prophet said, "He made the earth with His power, founded the world with His wisdom, and unfurled the skies with His understanding" (Jeremiah 10:1213).

Of course, this also means that creation was an intelligent and purposeful act. God does not act blindly, but with infinite wisdom. We find this concept echoed in the verse, "God founded the earth with wisdom, and fixed the heavens with understanding" (Proverbs 3:19).

We therefore see God's work as ultimately perfect. The Torah tells us, "The Creator's work is perfect, for all His ways are just" (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Psalmist, too, sings, "God's way is perfect, His word is tried" (Psalms 18:31). We may not be able to see the ultimate perfection in creation, but, in truth, everything has its own perfect time and place. This is the meaning of the verse, "He has made everything perfect in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Once we say that God is Creator of everything, it becomes obvious that there can be no other creator. If there were a second creator, God would have created everything but it. The fact that God is Creator of everything therefore implies that He is One and Unique. We hear this in His word to His prophet, "Thus speaks God, Who created the heavens, God, Who formed and made the earth . . . I am God, there is none else" (Isaiah 45:18). We shall speak at length of God's unity in a later section.

As Creator of all things, God takes a keen interest in His world, down to the smallest details. The same God Who spins the galaxies also takes care of the hungry child. Nothing in all creation is too trivial for His attention. The Psalmist tells of this in his song, "He made heaven, earth and sea, and all that is in them, He is a true Watcher forever. He provides justice to the oppressed, He gives bread to the hungry" (Psalms 146:6-7).

The belief that God is creator of the universe is a foundation of our faith. 14 As discussed earlier, belief in a purposeful Creator is what gives both man and the universe a sense of purpose in existence. The fact that everything was created by one God also provides us with a concept of unity in all creation. It makes every human being a brother under the fatherhood of God. If we are all God's creatures, placed on earth to fulfill His purpose, what possible reason can we have for hatred and warfare? The prophet Malachi expresses this most clearly when he says, "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then do we deal treacherously with one another?" (Malachi 2:10).

4.


We can really say very little about God other than that He Is the Creator of all things. About God Himself, we can say nothing. We know that He exists, but beyond that, no mind can penetrate.

This is essentially what God told Moses when he asked His name. God replied that His name is, "I Am what I Am." (Exodus 3:4). God was saying, "I am. I exist. There is nothing more you can understand about Me."

The only positive thing we can say about God is that He exists. We may experience God, but we cannot understand Him.

Although we cannot comprehend God, we do know Him as Creator, and as such, we understand that certain things must be true about Him. For example, we cannot say that He is any less than any of His creatures. Thus, the very fact that we can see and hear implies that God can do no less. We see this in the words of the Psalmist, "He made the ear, shall He not hear? He formed the eye, shall He not see?" (Psalms 94:9).

We therefore say that God at least has every kind of perfection found in the world. Here again, we do not know exactly what this means when speaking of God Himself, but we see His power manifest in creation. All these qualities ultimately come from God, therefore, we cannot say that He Himself does not have them. King David expresses this thought in his prayer, "Yours O God is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, the majesty, and everything in heaven and earth . . . For it is in Your hand to give strength and power to all" (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). From the fact that God can grant all these powers, we know that He can also use them.


We must constantly remember that God is the sole Creator of all things. He was the very first, and everything else emanated from Him. It is therefore obvious that God has power over all things. Everything came from Him; therefore, nothing can stop Him or prevent Him from doing as He wishes. God thus told His prophet, "I am God from the beginning of time,15 none can deliver from my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?" (Isaiah 43:13). God is saying that He is the very first and therefore is Creator and Master of all. His power is unlimited, nothing can hold Him back.

We therefore say that God is omnipotent---all powerful. He is the One Creator and Master of all things and there is no power in existence that can turn Him back or frustrate His ultimate purpose. We hear this in the words of Job when he says, "He is in Unity, who can hold Him back? He does what His own will desires" (Job 23:13). 16 The same concept is also expressed in Jehoshephat's prayer, "God of our fathers, You alone are God in heaven. You rule over all kingdoms. In Your hand is mighty power, and none can withstand You" (2 Chronicles 20:5).

This is one of the important things that we believe about God. He is all powerful and nothing can stand in His way. He rules the world according to His desire. This was one of the very first things that God revealed about Himself when He asked of Abraham, "Is anything too difficult for God?" (Genesis 18:4).

God repeats the question to Job, saying, "I am the Lord, God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me?" (Job 32:27). He expresses the same thought in the song of Deuteronomy when He says, "I bring both death and life, I wound and I heal. None can deliver from My hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39). The same concept is stated in the Prophet's words, "When God decides, who shall cancel it? When He stretches forth His hand, who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:27). The Psalmist sums up the idea of God's omnipotence when he sings, "Our God is in heaven, He does whatever He pleases" (Psalms 115:3).

God has only to send forth His word and His will is done. As we discussed earlier, this word is not actual speech, but a command that is even more tenuous than thought. When God wills something, it is as good as done. This is what He meant when He told His prophet, "The word that leaves My mouth shall not return to Me unfulfilled. It shall accomplish what I planned, and succeed in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55:10).

As Creator of the world, God not only is just, but He also defines justice. We cannot think of such concepts as justice and good as independent of God. Even these are His creations, and are therefore defined by Him. To set up an independent standard of justice and good by which to judge God is to place something on the same level as God, and this, of course, we cannot do. God expressed this idea to His prophet when He said, "I have made the world, and man and beast on the face of the earth . . . and I give it to whom I see fit" (Jeremiah 27:5). Elihu told Job essentially the same thing, saying, "Who can tell Him what course to take? Who can say, 'You have done wrong'?" (Job 36:23).

Since there is no force that can turn God back, there is nothing that can make Him change His mind. Everything in creation fulfills His purpose, and everything that He does leads toward it. No power exists that can change this purpose. This is what God meant when He told His prophet, "I have spoken, I have decided, and I do not repent nor turn back from it" (Jeremiah 4:28). It is also what the Torah says, "God is not man that He should lie, nor is He mortal that He should change His mind. Shall He say and not do, or speak and not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19).

It is for this reason that God is called True. The prophet teaches us, "The Lord, God is Truth. He is the Living God, King of the world" (Jeremiah 10:10). Our sages explain this verse by stating: "Why is He true? Because He is the Living God, King of the world. A mortal king may make a promise and not be able to keep it. But God is always able to make His word come true." 17 Our sages similarly teach us that God's seal is Truth. 18

As Creator, God is Master of all creation. Everything that exists is His and is here to fulfill His purpose. The Torah tells us this, saying, "It all belongs to God: the heaven, the heaven of heaven, the earth, and everything in it" (Deuteronomy 10:14). It is also what the prophet means when he says, "This is the plan prepared for the world: It is the Hand stretched over all nations" (Isaiah 14:26).

God is the ultimate Ruler over all mankind. Man is given freedom, but ultimately the world's destiny is in God's hands. We are utterly and totally dependent on God, as He Himself told His prophet, "As clay in the potter's hand, so are you in Mine. At one instant, I may decree upon a nation to pluck up, break down and destroy . . . . At another instant, I may decree upon a nation to build up and plant" (Jeremiah 18:6-9).

We therefore call God the "King of the universe." This was one of the first things that the Jews realized when they left Egypt, and they exclaimed in the song of the Red Sea, "God is King forever and ever" (Exodus 15:18). 19

We call God a King, but He is like no earthly king. A human monarch may rule, but there are limits to his power. Only God is a King with unlimited ability. The Psalmist thus sings, "God is most high and awesome, a great King over all the world" (Psalm 47:3). The prophet Jeremiah sums it all up when he prays, "There is nothing like You, O God. You are great, and Your name is Mighty" (Jeremiah 10:6).

5.

As mentioned, there is very little we can say about God Himself. However, we can, to some extent, understand His relationship to His creation. 20

One of the best analogies of the relationship between God and the world is that of the soul to the body. In a sense, we can call God the "soul" of the universe. Of course, the analogy is far from exact, since God cannot be compared to anything else in creation. But it does serve the useful purpose of clarifying His relationship with the world.

Our sages use the analogy of the soul to the body to explain God's relationship to the world in six basic ways:21

Just as the soul is one in the body,
     so is God one in the universe.
Just as the soul is pure and above the body,6
     so is God pure and above the world.
Just as the soul does not eat or drink,
     so God does not eat or drink.
Just as the soul fills the body,
     so God fills the world.
Just as the soul sustains the body,
     so God sustains the world.
Just as the soul sees and is unseen,
     so God sees and is unseen.

These are very basic statements about God. All of them are mentioned many times in our traditions and will be discussed at length. Here we will merely outline them:

1. God is one in the world. He is an absolute unity.

2. God is pure and above the world. He does not partake of any worldly quality. He has neither body, shape nor form. Nothing in all creation can be compared to Him. He is even above such basic worldly concepts as space and time.

3. God does not eat or drink. He is in no way dependent on His creation. Absolutely nothing can be given to God, for ultimately, everything is His.

4. God fills the world. There is no place empty of His presence.

5. God sustains the world. His life-force permeates all creation and gives it existence. If this were removed even for an instant, all creation would instantly cease to exist.

6. God sees and is not seen. He is aware of every single thing in the world, but no creature can see or comprehend God. There is nothing in all creation that can grasp His majesty.

These six concepts provide us with our basic knowledge regarding God's relationship to the world, and we will discuss each one at length. There are a few additional ways in which our sages use this analogy, and we will explore these briefly.

Our sages teach us:

Just as the soul dwells in the innermost chamber,
     so God dwells in the innermost chamber.

Here, our sages are teaching us that even though God fills all creation, He does so in a hidden manner. God is everywhere, and yet, no matter how deeply we probe, we cannot detect His presence. 22

Just as the soul survives the body,
     so God survives the world.

This is closely related to the statement that God does not in any way need creation. If the world were to cease to exist, God would still remain the same.

Just as the soul does not sleep,
     so God does not sleep.

This alludes to God's constant providence, whereby He is continuously aware of everything in the world and in direct control of all things. There is absolutely no time that His attention is in any way diverted from His creation. This is what the Psalmist meant when he sang, "The Guardian of Israel does not doze nor sleep" (Psalms 121:4). God's providence is constant and continuous.

God - Part II

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    Footnotes:

    FOOTNOTES

    1   Megillah 31a.
    2   Sotah 5a.
    3   See Emunoth VeDeyoth 1:1; Yad, Yesodey Ha Torah 1:1, 1:5; Mechilta on Exodus 6:2 (120a); Sifra on Leviticus 18:2 (85c).
    4   Metzudoth, Targum ad loc.; Reshith Chakhmah 1:1 (9c).
    5   Yad, Teshuvah 3:7, Raavad ad loc.; Ramban on Genesis 1:1;

         Emunoth VeDeyoth 5:8 (74a); Kuzari 1:67 (41a).
    6   Bereshith Rabbah 1:12. See Raavad loc. cit.
    7   Alluding to the things mentioned in Genesis 1:2. According to the Ramban ad loc., the philosopher was referring to the primeval matter of the Hyle, the primitive Form, and the four elements of the ancient world, fire, air, water, and dust. See also Torath
    HaShem Temimah p. 156.
    8   Ramban on Genesis 1:3. Also see Kuzari 4:25 (44a). Cf.
     Midrash Tehillim 107:3.
    9   Bereshith Rabbah 12:10, 4:7.
    10 Minachoth 29b; Rashi on Genesis 2:4. See also Etz Yosef on Bereshith Rabbah 12:10.
    11 Ramban loc. cit., Moreh Nevukhim 1:66.
    12 Magid Devarav LeYaakov 102.
    13 Cf. Jeremiah 51:15.
    14 Ramban on Genesis 1:1, Thirteen Principles of Faith #1, Yad,
    Teshuvah 3:7.
    15 See Targum ad loc.
    16 See Malbim, Metzudoth ad loc.
    17 Yerushalmi Berakhoth 1:5 (9b); VaYikra Rabbah 26:1. See Rashi, Radak ad loc.; Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 1:4.
    18 Shabbath 55a.
    19 See also Psalm 10:16, 29:10, 146:10.
    20 Chovoth HaLevavoth 1:10 (Warsaw 5635) p. 40a; Moreh
    Nevukhim 1:58; Kuzari 2:2; Ikkarim 2:22.
    21 Midrash Tehillim 103:4, according to reading and interpretation of Shomer Emunim (HaKadmon) 2:9-11. For other versions and readings, see Berakhoth 10a; VaYikra Rabbah 4:8; Devarim
    Rabbah 2:26; Pirkey DeRabbi Eliezer 34; Tikuney Zohar 13 (28a). See also Derech HaShem #1.
    22 See Iyun Yaakov on Berakhoth 10a (in Eyn Yaakov #50).