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Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is Himself neither. This often raises the question: if God is so different from His creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted early Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to envision two aspects of God, (a) God Himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God, His "light," which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another, similar to a creation inside a person's mind.

Hasidic view

This view has been developed further in Hasidic and anti-nomian circles, however. Kabbalah teaches that in order to create the physical universe, God "withdrew" His light, and created the universe within the space from which "He" contracted ("Tzimtzum"). It is taught in the Zohar that God, at the beginning of creation, shattered the כלים ("kaylim" or "vessels") of the ספירות ("sephiroth") scattering their fragments throughout the universe. (Controversial physicist-theologian Gerald Schroeder makes a correlation between this view and Big Bang theory in Genesis & The Big Bang.) The sephiroth — represented by the so-called עץ חיים ("Etz Hayim" or "Tree of Life") — are different vessels embodying various emanations of God's being. God shattered the vessels to hide His unity, allowing creation to seem separate.

With this in mind, the Kabbalist Isaac Luria, explained that all creation contained ניצוץ ("nitzutz" or "holy sparks") — the remnants and shards of the sephiroth/kaylim which God had shattered — and offered a theological purpose known as תיקון עולם ("Tikkun Olam" or "rectifying the world") which states that humanity's duty is to recognize the holy sparks inherent in all creation and to elevate them by performing מצוות ("mitzvot"), otherwise regarded as the fulfilment of Biblical obligations. Ultimately, this will reveal God's unity once again, but this time through our efforts. This work to perfect the world is the ultimate good that God bestows on mankind. This view gave rise to the concept of panentheism in Judaism: The notion that God is inherent in all things, and is corroborated by the Jewish principle בצלם אלוהים ("b'tzelem Elohim" or "in the image of God"), inferring that all humanity is created with God inherent. The concept derives from Genesis 9:6 (serving as a Biblical proof-text for the position), "For in the image of God He made man." Thus, suggested Luria, by doing mitzvoth directed towards our fellow human being, we recognize the nitzutz within them, and thus sanctify and elevate their inherent Godliness.

This notion is exemplified rather well by a Jewish nursery school song

Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around. Here, there, and everywhere, is where He can be found.

Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent Godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in neo-Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God. I.e., all being is God. As it is stated in the ancient Kabbalistic incantation, אין עוד מלבדו ("Ain od milvado") — "There is nothing but Him." Thus, it has become understood that God used God's Self to form the universe. Rather than a contraction and the creation of something "other" in the void which God created, it is as though God punched a doughnut-hole in God's Self and used the remaining "munchkin" to form all of creation.

Jewish Renewal's view

This paradigm shift is well documented by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi and founder of Jewish Renewal and its neo-Hasidic progeny, in his book Wrapped In A Holy Flame:

I'd like to say we are in the shift to the place where everything is God, pantheism. The understanding that has come from mysticism and from people on the cusp of periods moving from past to present, people talking about primary experience, is that the body and the soul cannot be separated. It shouldn't be that they should be fighting one another, that you have too get rid of one in order to get the other. We want Wholeness, a holistic understanding, now. I believe that people are moving from theism to pantheism. There are some who don't like the word pantheism, the idea that God is everything. They prefer the word panentheism, which means that God is in everything. I, however, don't think that the distinction is real. What was the objection that people had to pantheism, God is everything? "Are you going to tell me that the excrement of a dog is also God?" And the answer to this would be —"Yes." What is wrong with that? It is only from the human perspective that we see a difference between that and challah. On the sub molecular level, on the atomic level, they all look the same. And if you look from a galactic perspective, what difference is there between one and the other? So if "God is everything," why are you and I here? Because we are the appearance of God in this particular form. And God likes to appear in countless forms and experience countless lives. If you would have mentioned this point of view when theism was dominant, you might have been killed. The theists would complain, "What you are saying is that there are no differences anymore? Does that mean that everything is right, everything is kosher? Where are the differences?" And those are good questions. We are not so far advanced yet that we can explain all these things, but deep down, the deepest level of the pattern is that God is everything. So it's not that God created the world but that God became the world.

Another progenitor of neo-Hasidism, Rabbi Arthur Green, further describes the evolution of pantheistic thought in the Hasidic world, as well, in his book Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology. It is important to note that as in all Jewish Mysticism the refrain "those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know" is one of the foundations.

See also

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