1 Being in Love

David Aaron

Elijah the Prophet said:
“Master of the Universe, You are one but not in number.”
—- Tikuney Zohar (Second Introduction)

 

When we read the Torah carefully, we notice that in the beginning, when it describes the seven days of creation, it refers to God only as ELOHIM:

In the beginning ELOHIM created heaven and earth…And ELOHIM said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. And ELOHIM saw that it was good; And ELOHIM divided the light from the darkness. And ELOHIM called the light Day and the darkness He called Night…And ELOHIM said: ‘Let there be firmament in the midst of the waters…’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let there the waters be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear …’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree…’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night…’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth…’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let the earth bring forth living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind…’ And ELOHIM said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ And on the seventh day ELOHIM finished His work which He had made.… [1]

Suddenly, after completing the account of the seven days of creation, the Torah introduces a new name for God, YHVH and begins to mention it together with the name ELOHIM–YHVH ELOHIM:

These are the generations of the heaven and of the earth when they were created, in the day that YHVH ELOHIM made earth and heaven…. No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for YHVH ELOHIM had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground. Then YHVH ELOHIM formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; And the man became a living soul. And YHVH ELOHIM planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there He put the man whom he had formed…And YHVH ELOHIM commanded the man, saying; ‘Of every tree of the garden of Eden you may eat freely; but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you should not eat of it…’[2]

The Torah refers to God as YHVH ELOHIM twenty times until the end of the Garden of Eden story. The only exception is when the snake speaks to Eve–the snake refers to God as ELOHIM alone and Eve responds in kind.[3]

However, after Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, the unification of the names YHVH ELOHIM disappears. It is found only once after that; it appears in the Book of Exodus[4] when Moses rebukes King Pharaoh of Egypt: “But as for you and your servants I know that you will not yet fear YHVH ELOHIM.”

Of course, traditional Torah does not perceive these nuances as an accident or as an indication of different authorship of various Torah passages. The unification of the name YHVH with the name ELOHIM was precisely the Divine truth available in the Garden of Eden and this truth disappeared from the world when the first human being chose knowledge of Good and Evil over immortality. Something very dramatic happened. The united name of God, YHVH ELOHIM, split and became hidden from us. And its re-unification became the reason why we are here and the theme of history.

 

The One and Only God

What is the purpose of creation?

The Kabbalah, which is the mystical teachings of Torah, teaches that God created the world for the purpose of revealing His oneness and giving His goodness–Himself–to others.

Although at first glance the Kabbalah seems to be saying that there are two separate and independent purposes for creation, we will soon understand that they are actually one.

To understand this we will begin by exploring the true meaning of God’s oneness.

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When Torah insists that God is the one and only, it does not merely mean that God is the one and only God, excluding the possibility of other gods. Rather, Torah tradition is actually stating that God is the absolutely one and only reality. There is nothing outside of God.  As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, “To you it was made known that YHVH is ELOHIM, there is nothing but Him”;[5]  “Know this day and draw it to your heart that YHVH is ELOHIM in heaven above and in earth below, there is nothing else;” [6] And as God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘I fill heaven and earth’, says YHVH.”[7]

Rabbi Chaim of Velozhin, the great philosopher and Kabbalist of the 18th century, states:[8] “There is nothing at all but God, just His simple oneness.”

Is this pantheism, which teaches that all is God? Or does this mean that the multiplicity, diversity and the existence of beings other than God are all merely illusions?  No!

When Torah teaches that God is “one” and “only” it is not referring to the meaning of “one” and “only” as defined in our modern dictionaries. The “one” in our dictionary is the opposite of “many” and the meaning of “only” excludes any possibility for “others.” If that was the meaning of God’s oneness then we, who are other than God, could not exist.

Elijah the Prophet expresses the truth of God’s oneness in this way: “Master of the Universe, You are one but not in number.”[9] The Sefer Yetzirah,[10] the oldest of Kabbalist text, attributed to Abraham, simply states: “Before the number one, what do you count? Such is the Divine.” In other words, the meaning of God’s oneness transcends the limitation of the number one in our dictionary. God’s oneness preceded all numbers and all opposites.

Here’s how the Kabbalah describes the true meaning of God’s oneness: In the beginning, all of existence was endless Divine light–a simple oneness. When God wanted to create you and me and the rest of the universe, He withdrew His light from the center, creating a space wherein He produced the existence of vessels. The Endless One then gave His light to the vessels, fulfilling His desire to give of His goodness to an “other.” However, the finite vessels found that each of them could not grasp the truth of God’s endless light, presence and oneness and, therefore, they broke!

Those vessels represent the essence of multiplicity, diversity and beings other than God. The Divine light represents the ultimate gift we could ever hope to receive—the opportunity to feel God’s presence in our lives and experience ourselves as connected and at one with God.

The mystical story goes on to describe the reconstruction of the vessels. The goal is to rebuild the vessels in a manner that by sharing the light with each other they will eventually be able to hold it without breaking.

The story ends with a paradox. Although the vessels are broken and the Divine light surrounds the space, it still fills it.

From the Kabbalistic description of creation we can understand the profound truth about humanity and divinity and the way they coexist: All is included within the Divine. Although we are other than God, with a very real and distinct identity, we do not have a separate or independent reality.  We only exist within the context of God’s oneness. Although we are other than God, we exist within God.

We delude ourselves if we think we are self-defined, having a separate, independent identity outside the context of God’s oneness. In and of ourselves, we are really nothing. When we free ourselves of the vain illusion of being self-defined and separate, we discover the Divine dimension of our humanity. When we understand that our humanness is an aspect of the Divine we experience the ecstatic realization of ourselves as included within the Divine. We are one with God and yet we are other than God.

 

As the Thought is to the Thinker

Our existence is analogous to the image of a man as an idea in the mind of a thinker. Although that man is not the thinker, nor vice versa, it would not be correct to say that there exist two entities, the thought and the thinker. The thinker remains the one and only, after the thought as before. The imagined man, although other than the thinker, has no independent reality and is therefore considered nullified to the thinker. From the perspective of the imagined man he may mistakenly perceive that he and his creator are two separate beings. However it is clear from the perspective of the thinker that this is not true. The thought is really only a detail in the full expression of the thinker. Therefore, there is really just the thinker.

This analogy, however, is not completely parallel to God’s oneness, since the imagined man has no free will or consciousness. He is able to do only that which the thinker thinks up for him. He is not completely other.

God, however, is able to create a being truly other than Himself, a being with free choice, while maintaining the continued status of being the One and Only. This is the goal of the creation of the human being. God’s goal is to reveal His all-inclusive oneness. He achieves this by creating a being other than Himself and giving that being His Divine goodness, which is the opportunity to receive God’s presence in his or her life and bond with Him. Even though this great gift affirms how the created being is significantly other than God, God paradoxically remains the One and Only.

 

Knowing God with Our Hearts

 Although this metaphysical formulation remains beyond our logical minds, we can feel the meaning and truth of Divine oneness with our hearts. In fact, this is what the Torah asks of us in the Book of Deuteronomy: [11] “And you shall know and bring it to your heart that YHVH is ELOHIM in the heaven above and earth below, there is nothing else.”

In the language of the heart, the word that reflects and communicates the mysterious oneness of God is love. The oneness of God is no less mysterious than the oneness of love.

In the ecstasy of love, the oneness experienced transcends all logic. The lover and the beloved, while feeling a single identity, continue to sense the infinite gap that distinguishes them. In the state of love, there is simple oneness and yet a mysterious inclusion of multiplicity and relationship. We are one, there is just oneness, and yet we are not one and the same. Love is a oneness that includes multiplicity, otherness and relationship while remaining one.

In real love, we do not lose ourselves but mysteriously find ourselves. The wondrous experience of love is that we can feel absolute oneness without loss of our unique and distinct identity and being. The mystery is that we can be in love.

The truth is that we can’t really make love we can only enter into it and allow it to enter us. When we are in love we are in essence experiencing ourselves embraced by and filled with the miraculous oneness of God–the many within the one and the one within the many.

The story of love is much like the Kabbalah’s description of creation: in the beginning there was just me. To love, I must withdraw myself from the center creating a space to include someone else in my life–a significant other. I will give of myself completely to my beloved, however, without losing myself or causing loss of his/her distinct identity and being. I must also allow my significant other to make a space in his/herself to include me and give of his/herself completely to me. Then my beloved becomes included within my own identity, while still maintaining the distinction of his/her identity and being. I become included within my beloved’s identity, while maintaining my distinct identity and being. We are two and yet mysteriously there is just oneness. How wondrous it is to be in love!

To be in love you must strike a balance between two opposite forces: assertion of self and surrender of self. The mystery of love is that it is both selfish and selfless. To achieve being in love there must be “you.” You must be able to assert your individuality, and recognize that you are a person distinct from your beloved. However, you also must have the ability for self-sacrifice. You must remove yourself from the center and give your beloved the space to be your significant other, as well as give of yourself to him/her. Love is then a creative tension between self-assertion and selfless surrender. The explosive energy of love is generated by the friction that occurs when you succeed in holding onto your distinct self while giving selflessly at the same time.

This dynamic struggle is not only true regarding love between man and woman. It is the great challenge to all souls whose burning desire is to love God and feel loved by God. You must remove yourself from the center and give God place in your life to be your significant other, as well as give of yourself to God. To love God you must strike a balance between self-assertion and self-sacrifice. This delicate balance is reflected in the unification of the names YHVH ELOHIM.