Monday, May 29, 2006

Tzimtzum Kipeshuto - Heresy?

For some reason, commenting was disabled on RYGB's blog, so I'll post my response here.

RYGB, who hails from Lubavitcher (on his mother's side) and Telsher (on his father's side) backgrounds, notes on his blog (and Avodah) that

1) Tzimtzum K'Peshuto is heretical, or close to it;
2) Chabadniks claim that the Vilna gaon (and Misnagdim in general) held of it, but it doesn't seem credible; and
3) RYGB agrees with R' E.E. Dessler that nobody held of it.

Reading the Vilna Gaon's letter of 11 Tishrei 5557 as brought in Wilensky, "Hasidim uMitnagdim", is inconclusive - it doesn't go into detail about exactly why the Gra disagreed with the Chasidim, although Wilensky postulates that the Gra had preprints of the Tanya to which he referred in his letter.

Allan Nadler, in "The Faith of the Mithnagdim," explains the Gra holding like the Chasidim that the tzimtzum was indeed not kipeshuto, but that one shouldn't teach this idea to the unwashed masses, for fear that they would take it wrong and come to worship the trees and stones.

So what is tzimtzum? See R' Moshe Miller's explanation, and his discussion of the controversy over its interpretation. It seems to be about the only non-Chasidic explanation on the Web And I am not going to explain it more.

The Etz Chaim (R' Chayim Vital's transcription of the Arizal's ideas) says of tzimtzum:

דע כי טרם שנאצלו הנאצלים ונבראו הנבראים היה אור עליון פשוט ממלא כל המציאות ולא היה שום מקום פנוי בבחי' אויר ריקני וחלל אלא הכל היה ממולא מן אור א"ס פשוט ההוא ולא היה לו בחי' ראש ולא בחי' סוף אלא הכל היה אור א' פשוט שוה בהשוואה א' והוא הנק' אור א"ס. וכאשר עלה ברצונו הפשוט לברוא העולמות ולהאציל הנאצלים להוציא לאור שלימות פעולותיו ושמותיו וכנוייו אשר זאת היה סיבה בריאת העולמות כמבואר אצלינו בענף הא' בחקירה הראשונה. והנה אז צמצם את עצמו א"ס בנקודה האמצעית אשר בו באמצע אורו ממש (אמר מאיר בערכינו אמר הרב זה וק"ל) וצמצם האור ההוא ונתרחק אל צדדי סביבות הנקודה האמצעית ואז נשאר מקום פנוי ואויר וחלל רקני מנקודה אמצעית ממש כזה <ציור> והנה הצמצום הזה היה בהשואה א' בסביבות הנקודה האמצעית ריקנית ההוא באופן שמקום החלל ההוא היה עגול מכל סביבותיו בהשוואה גמורה ולא היה בתמונת מרובע בעל זויות נצבת לפי שגם א"ס צמצם עצמו בבחי' עגול בהשוואה א' מכל צדדים והסיבה היתה לפי שכיון שאור הא"ס שוה בהשוואה גמורה הוכרח גם כן שיצמצם עצמו בהשוואה א' מכל הצדדים ולא שיצמצם עצמו מצד א' יותר משאר הצדדים.

See here for translation.

So we see the potential ambiguity, in that the paragraph starts out (Etz Chayim Heichal 1 Shaar 1 Anaf 2) saying that the Or filled all of existence. But then the Ari says that the Infinite One contracted HIMSELF. And repeats the nature of that contraction as perfectly circular (spherical?).

It thus seems to me that the Arizal himself may have held of tzimtzum kipeshuto (of Himself) rather than eino kipeshuto (of His Light). It was apparently a bone of contention among his students. Chabad draws more from the kabbalah of Israel Sarug than from Chaim Vital; see the Sources of Chassidus thread on for more on this. Perhaps this insistence on tzimtzum she'eino kipeshuto comes from Sarugian kabbalah, which appears to talk of a double tzimtzum.

Note that R' Aryeh Kaplan in Innerspace translates this passage in accordance with the Chassidic doctrine that the tzimtzum was in the Light, not in the Infinite Illuminator, but that doesn't agree with the simple reading of the passage above. R' Kaplan was a Breslover, and read Kabbalah through that filter.

The Gra's adherence to Tzimtzum Kipeshuto derives from certain passages in his commentary to Safra DiTzeniyusa; R' Moshe Miller agrees that the Gra held of tzimtzum kipeshuto, others maintain that those passages were inserted by a student, not by the Master.

What are we left with, then?

1) we can't say for sure that the Misnagdim held of tzimtzum kipeshuto;
2) it's hard to maintain, given the Etz Chaim text, that tzimtzum kipeshuto is heretical, if the Arizal, who developed the concept, seems to have held of it himself;
3) if R' Chaim Vital held of it, perhaps others did too.
4) this is all very confusing, and I don't really understand it yet.