Habad: The Hasidism of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady

By Roman A. Foxbrunner | Go to book overview
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Man in God's World

The Kabbalistic Legacy

RSZ based his worldview on a set of assumptions he shared with most eighteenth-century Jewish scholars familiar with kabbalistic thought. Kabbalistic theosophy begins with the En Sof -- the Infinite Being -- which is the unknowable and unrevealed essence of God and the emanator of the Or En Sof, the Infinite Light that is the actual creative force of the universe. Because it is unknowable, the En Sof is also referred to as Ayin -- nothingness -- insofar as what cannot be known is, from man's perspective, virtually nonexistent, although in truth it is precisely and only the Ayin that constitutes absolute reality, everything else being a contingent creation or emanation. Since the "nothing" of this Ayin was for the kabbalist the source of creation, the traditional doctrine of creation from nothing (ex nihilo) was thus transformed into a concept meaning creation from God, or, as Scholem puts it, "the emergence of all things from the absolute nothingness of God." 1

The primary emanations are known as the ten sefirot, which are the stages through which God manifests Himself in His different attributes and also constitute the archetypes of all that exists. The Or En Sof "clothes itself" in the sefirot and takes on their respective character, as water takes on the color of a colored glass into which it is poured. Whether or not the sefirot were actually identical with the Or En Sof was widely debated among early kabbalists. In the later stratum of the Zohar they are seen as vessels or tools that are neither quite identical with, nor separate from, the light they contain, whereas

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