Maimonidian Qabbalah – Recap

Talking it over with some friends, it became clear that my posts on this topic required an overview. The explanation got buried among the proofs, and it’s therefore hard to follow the flow of the essential points. It all started with my considering the Leshem. Here we have a mequbal whose works follow the Vilna Ga’on’s approach to Qabbalah and yet also cites the Rambam frequently. This led me to think about the points hared in common between the Rambam’s philosophy, which is usually thought of as Artistotilian Rationaism, and Qabbalah.

  1. According to the Rambam, creation is via a series of angels. First is G-d, the only One who exists without any contingencies, then the highest level of angels, who in turn are the causes of the next level, and so on, down until the Celestial Spheres and finally the physical substances of this world. Each level more contingent than the prior. (Part I)
  2. Angels are both forms without substance and thought independent of matter.(We then explored the identity of form and thought, and how in information theory too, a bit is one aspect of the form, and totally unrelated to the substance or even other aspects of the object’s form.) So, we can equally discuss of a chain of forms down from the most abstract downward into physical substance. And we can also describe this chain of angels as G-d having a thought, who has a thought, who has a thought, etc…
  3. The Rambam also understands events as being initiated by intellects (in consonance with Aristotelian physics). In the case of Divine Will, angels are the intellects that mediate between His Will and physical motion and change. Thus, angels are not only definable as links in the causal chain of the existence of objects, but also in the occurrence of events. (Part III)
  4. Qaballah refers to a Divine Light which is ne’etzal, willfully emanated by G-d (Part II). Unlike forms, Light fills space, thus adding to Qabbalah two concepts not in the Rambam’s discussion:
    1. A hierarchy of olamos, universes that run from concrete physical existence to one step below the Divine.
    2. Tzimtsum, the restriction of that Light. If we view Hashem’s power of creation as  a Light, then the pure white undifferentiated light of G-d must be filtered and differentiated for various things to exist. Creation via tzimtzum is like the projection of a movie in a theater. The film stands between the light and the screen, blocking various parts of the light, narrowing the colors and amount of light that reaches each portion of the screen.
  5. Still, the Leshem identifies this Light with the same concepts as the Rambam’s understanding of existence. The light bridges each world’s forms to those of the world below. The substances of one world are the forms of the world below. The Light actually shines through twice to the next world twice: once as the substances becomes its forms, and a second time as those forms take on substance.
  6. Thus, according to the above, each world contains a set of truths more abstract than the one below. This concept is echoed in Rav Dessler’s explanation of the Maharal’s understanding of miracles. According to the Maharal, the difference between living in a world of natural law or one of miracles depended upon the spirituality of the viewer’s perspective. Even to the extent that two people experience different realities. Rav Dessler elaborates that this is the very difference between worlds. The person for whom the laws of Justice, Morality and Spirituality are more absolute than those of physics will impose that order on the world of his perceptions. And so, miracles will actually violate natural law in conformance with that perception (Mind, Perception, and Metaphysics).
  7. According to the Rambam as well, the prophet is someone who raises his perception to that higher plane. This is the basis of his dispute with the Ramban about the nature of prophecy. According to the Ramban, prophecy is a message relayed via vision. But according to the Rambam, prophecy is a perception of events at a higher plane of reality.Thus, the Rambam says that Avraham’s three visitors came in a prophetic vision and yet actually did save Lot from the real destruction of Sodom. The Abarbanel explains that even though he believes that angels can only be seen through prophetic vision (since they are not physical, and therefore can’t be seen by physical vision), the angels seen in that vision are real, and their actions are real.In contrast, the Ramban has no problem believing that the Man in the throne seen by the elders at Mt Sinai, and by Yirmiyahu and Yechezqeil in their visions of the Divine Chariot actuall was G-d. Because to him, nothing in a vision is real — the Man is simply a symbol in a message, representing G-d. However, to the Rambam’s understanding of prophecy, identifying the Man with G-d would be idolatrous, as it would mean that from the more abstract perspective, G-d had a body. Rather, Maimonides understands the Man as being Kavod Nivra, Created Glory. An entity created to embody G-d’s Kavod, and not Hashem Himself. (Aspaqlaria [title post]).
  8. This distinction — whether the prophet is one who tries to receive G-d’s message or develop his own unity until he himself is on a higher plane, is the root of the “Forks in the Hashkafic Road” category.)
  9. People have this ability to see things at different planes of abstraction. And, if sufficiently holy, to actually lift our perception to that of other worlds. We are unique in this way. Angels are static. Each are on its level, depending upon the type of angel. Each is a slice, one plane along the Divine Light. The physical is the lowest plane of reality. The human soul, however, extends along the entire dimension. We are unique in this way. (Form and InFORMation)
  10. A person’s consiousness is always aware of three things — the plane of abstraction it is focused on, the aspect of the soul on the plane immediately below it, and the aspect of the soul immediately above. This is the root of Naran (see blog category). Since Adam’s expulsion from the garden, people spend most of their existence (barring moments of prophecy or miracle) such that their awareness is from the perspective of the physical world, their lower desires are those of the body, and their loftier ones are those of the Olam haYetzirah, which Rav Dessler (above) defined as the one where the laws of Justice, Kindness and Spirituality operate.
  11. The relationship between soul and brain is therefore NOT as two distinct entities. Rather, the final link in the soul’s chain of forms is embodied in the brain. It is the soul, as it is manifest on the physical plane.
  12. The Nefesh haChaim writes that physical action causes metaphysical change only through people. Only people combine the forces of all the worlds, therefore only through the human soul do changes in one world carry through to others. This is akin to Rav Dessler’s explanation of miracles, a generalization of the idea. Actions change perception, and that’s what changes the underlying metaphysics in how the universe responds. Thus, according to all of the above, in this misnagdic qabbalah, a mezuzah can not protect the home. It’s the act of keeping the mitzvah of mezuzah which impacts the soul and it is that which brings protection to the home. If one does the mitzvah perfectly, checking it as recommended, etc…, and unbeknown to them a letter happened to crack off the parchment, there is no reason to assume the home is any less protected than had the mezuzah been whole.

One more concept not yet raised in this discussion:

  • Somewhere early along this chain of forms/ideas/angels is Chessed. As Hashem lacks nothing, a common observation (made by R’ Saadia Gaon and the Ramchal, to bring two distant examples among many others) is that the only ones to benefit from Creation are the created. Creation occured because “it is the nature of Good to have someone to whom to bestow that good”.
  • However, the ultimate Good would be to share in G-d’s Image, and thus to be able to define ourselves, jusr as G-d Himself is not shaped by external forces (in a more absolute sense).
  • Thus, growing out of Chessed is Gevurah, Divine Restraint, holding back to allow us to make our own mistakes, and also to complete ourselves as we see fit.
  • According to the Malbim (on Dani’el) this is the relationship between Micha’el (Chessed) and Gavriel (Gevurah). But then, we already established that angels are forms (abstractions) / intellects.

(If you see in this the sketching of a pattern that could be carried through to all ten Sephiros as they appear in the Eitz Chaim, that is intentional.)

This shows where the notion of Divine Justice as developed in the first section of my Aseres Yemei Teshuvah reader (where you can find these bullet items developed in far more detail) fits in relation to this larger model. Just as, along the way, I tried to give similar context to the model of the psyche developed on this blog, prophecy, miracles, the split between Chassidim and Misngdim, and a number of my other recurring topics.

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  1. December 31, 2012 – י״ח בטבת תשע״ג

    […] Personally, I believe both #2 and #3. This flows from my own idiosyncratic metaphysics, in which the difference between speaking of forces in higher worlds and of humans internalizing more abstract ideas and ideals is one of language, not substance. (See the post “Maimonidian Qabbalah“.) […]

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