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Atzmus/atzmut (עצמות‎ from the Hebrew עצםetzem) is the descriptive term referred to in Kabbalah, and explored in Hasidic thought, for the divine essence.

Classical Kabbalah predominantly refers to the Godhead in Judaism with its designated term "Ein Sof" ("No end"-Infinite), as this distinguishes between the divine being beyond description and manifestation, and divine emanations within creation, which become the descriptive concern of systemised Kabbalistic categorisation. Reference to atzmus is usually restricted in Kabbalistic theory to discussion whether "Ein Sof" represents the ultimate divine being in itself, or to God as first cause of creation.

Hasidic thought however, concerns itself with relating transcendent esoteric Kabbalah to the internalised psychological experience of man. In Hasidism, the essential divine atzmus above emanation is related to its description of omnipresent divine panentheism in the physical World, and focus on the essential divinity in daily Jewish spiritual experience. This underlies Hasidism's adjustment of Jewish values to extol the innate sincerity of the common folk, and to shape its concern with selfless spiritual motivation in learning, prayer and benevolence, beyond traditional Talmudic mastery for its own sake alone. The concealed divine soul essence that each person possesses becomes revealed in the Hasidic doctrine of the Tzadik leader as divine channel of physical and spiritual sustenance for the community, while the elite perception of essential divine unity of creation in ideal contemplation by the capable few, realises the union of the soul in God. In the Habad investigation of Hasidic thought, atzmus relates, beyond the revelations of Kabbalah, to the essential divine unity and purpose of creation, revealed in the eschatological future as the ultimate Dirah Betachtonim (divine "dwelling place in the lowest physical realm), through the essential will in Mitzvot Jewish observances. This relates to the divine essence of Torah and the soul, both reflecting the essential fifth level of Yechidah ("Singular"). While esoteric Kabbalah relates to the transcendent fourth level of Torah interpretation and the soul, the level of Chayah (Chochmah-Wisdom insight), the nature of Yechidah (innermost Keter-Will delight), enables its higher divine source to permeate and descend lower into perception, as essence permeates all while remaining distinct. The essence of the divine is not restricted to Ein Sof limitlessness or to transcendent Kabbalistic emanation alone. Through seeking to reveal the divine closeness and Omnipresence to all the community, religiously learned or illiterate, Hasidism, across its different schools, sought to hasten the ultimate Messianic realisation of atzmus unity.

Background

Perceptions of God in Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah

Medieval Jewish philosophers like Maimonides, articulate a transcendent Godhead in Judaism with its designated term "Ein Sof" ("No end"-Infinite), as this distinguishes between the divine being beyond description and manifestation, and divine emanations within creation, which become the descriptive concern of systemised Kabbalistic categorisation. Reference to atzmus is usually restricted in Kabbalistic theory to discussion whether "Ein Sof" represents the ultimate divine being in itself, or to God as first cause of creation.

Hasidic thought however, concerns itself with relating transcendent esoteric Kabbalah to the internalised psychological experience of man. In Hasidism, the essential divine atzmus above emanation is related to its description of omnipresent divine panentheism in the physical World, and focus on the essential divinity in daily Jewish spiritual experience. This underlies Hasidism's adjustment of Jewish values to extol the innate sincerity of the common folk, and to shape its concern with selfless spiritual motivation in learning, prayer and benevolence, beyond traditional Talmudic mastery for its own sake alone. The concealed divine soul essence that each person possesses becomes revealed in the Hasidic doctrine of the Tzadik leader as divine channel of physical and spiritual sustenance for the community, while the elite perception of essential divine unity of creation in ideal contemplation by the capable few, realises the union of the soul in God. In the Habad investigation of Hasidic thought, atzmus relates, beyond the revelations of Kabbalah, to the essential divine unity and purpose of creation, revealed in the eschatological future as the ultimate Dirah Betachtonim (divine "dwelling place in the lowest physical realm), through the essential will in Mitzvot Jewish observances. This relates to the divine essence of Torah and the soul, both reflecting the essential fifth level of Yechidah ("Singular"). While esoteric Kabbalah relates to the transcendent fourth level of Torah interpretation and the soul, the level of Chayah (Chochmah-Wisdom insight), the nature of Yechidah (innermost Keter-Will delight), enables its higher divine source to permeate and descend lower into perception, as essence permeates all while remaining distinct. The essence of the divine is not restricted to Ein Sof limitlessness or to transcendent Kabbalistic emanation alone. Through seeking to reveal the divine closeness and Omnipresence to all the community, religiously learned or illiterate, Hasidism, across its different schools, sought to hasten the ultimate Messianic realisation of atzmus unity.

Medieval Jewish philosophers like Maimonides, articulate a transcendent negative theology where it is only possible to describe God in terms of what He is not. Here Divine Unity means that God's singularity is unique and bears no relation to any concept one can conceive. Kabbalah, influenced by the philosophical argument, but seeking the Biblical God who is also immanent, gives a different, more radical solution. It distinguishes between God in Himself and in His emanations. The Infinite Divine, the Ein Sof ("Limitless") is beyond all understanding, description or manifestation. Only through the 10 Sephirot Divine attributes is God revealed to Creation, and the sustaining lifeforce that continuously recreates existence is channeled. The final sephirah Malchut (Kingship) becomes the feminine Shechina (Divine presence), the immanent indwelling Divinity in Creation. In manifestation God is anthropomorphically described as both male and female, where male denotes outward giving and female denotes inward nurturing.

In Kabbalah there are traces of Panentheism, such as the Zohar's description of the two forms of sustenance, the "Light that surrounds" and the "Light that fills" all Worlds, and Moshe Cordovero's description of Panentheism in his 16th century quasi-rational hierachical systemisation of Kabbalah. Cordovero reconciles previous opinions regarding the Divine nature of the sephirot, by describing them as lights invested in vessels. Only the vessels differentiate, while the light, originating from the Ein Sof, is undifferentiated, removing any notion of plurality, in the manner water pours into different coloured vessels or light streams through different colours of glass. Regarding perception of Divinity, influenced by the negative theology of the philosophers,[2] Cordovero says:

Whenever one forms a conceptual image of God, he should immediately backtrack, recoiling from the false notion, as any notion is shaped by man's spatial world. Rather, he should "Run and Return" towards imagining Divinity, and then rejecting it.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the first act of Creation is the primordial Tzimtzum (self "Withdrawal") of God, to resolve the problem of how finite Creation could emerge from the Infinite. Beforehand, the Ohr Ein Sof fills all reality, nullifying potential creation into non-existence. The tzimtzum constitutes a radical leap, withdrawing the infinite light into God, to allow the latent potentially finite light to emerge, from which Creation unfolds. Subsequently, the sephirot reconfigure as Partzufim, recasting Cordovero's linear hierarchy with one of enclothement, allowing lower Creation to conceal within it higher Divine origins.

Opinions in Kabbalah about the Ein Sof and Atzmus

Before Moshe Cordovero and Isaac Luria gave subsequent systemisations of Kabbalah in the 16th century, Medieval Kabbalists debated the relationship between the Divine Will Keter and the Ein Sof. This involved the philosophical need to divorce the sephirot from any notions of plurality in God, and involved the question of whether the Ein Sof describes the essential Divine Being, or God as first cause of Creation. Cordovero lists Keter as the first sephirah, part of Creation. Luria takes an intermediate view that the Ein Sof does not represent the essence of God, nor that Keter is listed as the first sephirah within Creation, but instead the Ein Sof sublimely transcends Keter, mediating between Atzmus and Keter. He agrees with Cordovero's inclusion of Keter in the sephirot if one is describing the lights in the Sephirot, but in unqualified reference begins the sephirot from Chochmah (Wisdom), as this lists the vessels of the sephirot in Creation.

In Kabbalah there are traces of Panentheism, such as the Zohar's description of the two forms of sustenance, the "Light that surrounds" and the "Light that fills" all Worlds, and Moshe Cordovero's description of Panentheism in his 16th century quasi-rational hierachical systemisation of Kabbalah. Cordovero reconciles previous opinions regarding the Divine nature of the sephirot, by describing them as lights invested in vessels. Only the vessels differentiate, while the light, originating from the Ein Sof, is undifferentiated, removing any notion of plurality, in the manner water pours into different coloured vessels or light streams through different colours of glass. Regarding perception of Divinity, influenced by the negative theology of the philosophers,[2] Cordovero says:

Whenever one forms a conceptual image of God, he should immediately backtrack, recoiling from the false notion, as any notion is shaped by man's spatial world. Rather, he should "Run and Return" towards imagining Divinity, and then rejecting it.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the first act of Creation is the primordial Tzimtzum (self "Withdrawal") of God, to resolve the problem of how finite Creation could emerge from the Infinite. Beforehand, the Ohr Ein Sof fills all reality, nullifying potential creation into non-existence. The tzimtzum constitutes a radical leap, withdrawing the infinite light into God, to allow the latent potentially finite light to emerge, from which Creation unfolds. Subsequently, the sephirot reconfigure as Partzufim, recasting Cordovero's linear hierarchy with one of enclothement, allowing lower Creation to conceal within it higher Divine origins.

Before Moshe Cordovero and Isaac Luria gave subsequent systemisations of Kabbalah in the 16th century, Medieval Kabbalists debated the relationship between the Divine Will Keter and the Ein Sof. This involved the philosophical need to divorce the sephirot from any notions of plurality in God, and involved the question of whether the Ein Sof describes the essential Divine Being, or God as first cause of Creation. Cordovero lists Keter as the first sephirah, part of Creation. Luria takes an intermediate view that the Ein Sof does not represent the essence of God, nor that Keter is listed as the first sephirah within Creation, but instead the Ein Sof sublimely transcends Keter, mediating between Atzmus and Keter. He agrees with Cordovero's inclusion of Keter in the sephirot if one is describing the lights in the Sephirot, but in unqualified reference begins the sephirot from Chochmah (Wisdom), as this lists the vessels of the sephirot in Creation.

Ten stages of God’s Infinite Light before the beginning of CreationChabad Kabbalist Yitzchak Ginsburgh describes 10 unfolding stages in the revelation of the Ohr Ein Sof (Light of the Infinite Ein Sof), based on Kabbalah and Chabad thought:[3]

1 Atzmut (God’s Absolute Essence)[4]
2 Yachid (The Single One)[5]
3 Echad (The One)[6]
4 Sha’ashuim Atzmi’im (The Delights of Self)[7]
5 Aliyat Haratzon (The “ascent” of God’s will to create the world)[8]
6 Ana Emloch (The Primordial “Thought” of “I Shall Rule”; God’s Primordial Will to be “King”)[9]
7 Ein Sof (Infinity)[10]
8 Kadmon (The Primordial One)[11]
9 Avir Kadmon (Primordial Atmosphere)[12]
10 Adam Kadma’ah Stima’ah (Concealed Primordial Man)[13]

Atzmus in Hasidism

Hasidic Panentheism

The school of Habad, founded by Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), differed from mainstream Hasidism in seeking to intellectually articulate Hasidic thought in systematic study, with the mind as the route to the heart. Consequently, it retained the mystical ideal to communicate as widely as possible the elite nullification of Creation in Divine Unity.[18] In the second section of the Tanya, Schneur Zalman philosophically presents the Panentheism of the Baal Shem Tov, drawing in previous Kabbalistic description. Two levels of Divine Unity are described, both paradoxically true; Lower Unity of emanated Creation dependent on God, Higher Unity of illusionary Creation nullified within God. The follower of Habad method contemplates (Hisbonenus) at length the paradoxical ascent to God during private prayer, or learns Habad thought before communal prayer. The second leader of Habad, Dovber Schneuri expands the thought of his father into practical understanding. His "Tract on Ecstasy" instructs the intellectual contemplation to reach the consummate complete Bittul of no self-awareness. Superficial emotional "Enthusiasm" is to be rejected, as it involves the ego. At the supreme level, Divine Atzmus is encountered through the follower perceiving the

The school of Habad, founded by Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), differed from mainstream Hasidism in seeking to intellectually articulate Hasidic thought in systematic study, with the mind as the route to the heart. Consequently, it retained the mystical ideal to communicate as widely as possible the elite nullification of Creation in Divine Unity.[18] In the second section of the Tanya, Schneur Zalman philosophically presents the Panentheism of the Baal Shem Tov, drawing in previous Kabbalistic description. Two levels of Divine Unity are described, both paradoxically true; Lower Unity of emanated Creation dependent on God, Higher Unity of illusionary Creation nullified within God. The follower of Habad method contemplates (Hisbonenus) at length the paradoxical ascent to God during private prayer, or learns Habad thought before communal prayer. The second leader of Habad, Dovber Schneuri expands the thought of his father into practical understanding. His "Tract on Ecstasy" instructs the intellectual contemplation to reach the consummate complete Bittul of no self-awareness. Superficial emotional "Enthusiasm" is to be rejected, as it involves the ego. At the supreme level, Divine Atzmus is encountered through the follower perceiving the Divine Etzem essence of his soul. After the Tract on Ecstasy, Dovber withdrew it from general circulation, instead outlining a lower contemplative instruction, accessible to all, in the "Gate of Unity". It is necessary for the follower to know their spiritual ability. For the average follower, to aim for self-unaware Bittul, beyond emotion, would instead lead to falling below the beneficial spiritual inspiration of emotions. Today, normative ideal Habad practice is to study Hasidic philosophy before prayer, including amongst many texts those on Divine Panentheism, while using the emotional love and awe of God generated, in the subsequent communal morning service. Comsumate Bittul remains for select elite, though all who study Habad thought gain some intellectual and emotional appreciation of the complete Divine Unity.

Dirah BeTachtonim and the purpose of Creation

  1. ^ Cited in True Monotheism: "The Jewish Three that are One" from inner.org, explaining the absolute unity in Jewish mystical thought of any various manifestations of plurality in Creation such as this classic statement: Plurality emerges only within Creation, after the primordial Tzimtzum. Before the Tzimtzum, all potential plurality is nullified into simple unity within the absolute Divine Atzmus source. After the emergence of plural manifestations, as Hasidic thought explains, all Creation still remains nullified in truth into non-existence in the absolute Divine source, from the perspective of Daat Elyon (Divine perspective). Only from the paradoxical perspective of Daat Tachton (Creation's perspective) does Creation and plurality appear to exist, seemingly independent of God. Since the innate consciousness of the root souls of Israel in Kabbalah derive from the world of Atziluth, still nullified in the awareness of Daat Elyon, innate Jewish faith senses the falsity of plurality, and would not worship the Torah or the soul community of Israel.
  2. ^ The Jewish Religion: A Companion, Louis Jacobs, Oxford University Press. Entry on Moses Cordovero
  3. ^ [https://www.inner.org/worlds/worlds.htm Introduction and "10 stages of God’s Infinite Light before the beginning of the creative process" from inner.org
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ Hasidic thought
  8. Divine Providence and Unity in Hasidism
  9. Kochos hanefesh
  10. Deveikut