It Ain’t Just Tzimtzum

Ramchal speaks to all of the above throughout Klach Pitchei Chochma and in his other esoteric works as well, as one would expect. But he treats it rather peripherally in his more “popular” works like Derech Hashem and Ma’amar HaIkkurim [1]; whereas in Da’at Tevunot he couches it in terms of Creation Ex Nihilo [2] which the earlier sages spoke a lot about [3].

There’s a fundamental and vital difference though between the idea of Creation Ex Nihilo and the Kabbalistic idea of Sephirot, etc. Non-Kabbalists — Jewish and non-Jewish — argued from a perspective of everything arising anew out of sheer nothingness by Divine fiat from a God who was and is still very separate from it, whereas the Kabbalists argue that God Himself is the “No-thing” from which creation emanated and that He is still connected to it.

Returning to Ramchal’s statement we find that he says at the very end of Da’at Tevunot (193-195) that when God created “material substance”, which was “an utterly new phenomenon” — that’s to say that it’s utterly unlike His own Being — He did it in a way that we simply cannot fathom. He’s not arguing against Ari’s depictions here so much as pointing out that while, like Ari, one can arrive at metaphors that serve to address the issues at hand, one cannot actually depict the process itself since it occurred beyond space and time, and within God’s very Being. The metaphoric or non-metaphoric nature of Ari’s depictions proved to be a very controversial subject which we’ll discuss in some detail later on in this section, but suffice it to say that it’s easy to determine Ramchal’s stance on that from this statement alone.

In any event, the remark that sums up our concerns here reads, “When (God) wanted to create material substance out of ‘nothing’ (i.e., out of His Being) He set up an utterly original system of emanation from His Being that was meant to allow for this material substance”. And that “original system” alludes to Ari’s entire depiction [4].

We’ll discuss Ramchal’s portrayal of the Sephira of Malchut next.


[1]       He only addresses the process of creation in passing in Ma’amar HaIkkurim where he differentiates between God Himself, His “Transcendent Forces” (Nivdalim, i.e., the Sephirot, Partzufim, etc.), and the various created entities that followed from angels and souls downwards. He offers much of the same, though in more detail, in Derech Hashem, where he likewise differentiates between all of that (see the first chapter; 1:5:1, 3-4) but see 2:5:1, 3, 6 where he addresses the issue of emanation which is to be discussed below.

[2]       That is, the creation of the universe “out of the blue”, i.e., out of sheer nothingness (but see Da’at Tevunot 80, near the beginning, for some allusion to the Ari’s system).

[3]          See Sa’adiah Gaon’s Emunot v’Deot 1:1–2; Ibn Gabirol’s Keter Malchut; Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim 2:22, 24-25; Crescas’ Ohr Hashem 3:1, 4–5; etc.

[4]          As we’ll see, Ramchal also discusses the rarely cited Creation Ex Nihilo system known in Sefer Yetzirah as “Tsur Tak” in Petach 39 (in his comments there).

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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