Maimonidian Qabbalah – Part II
In the previous installment on this topic, I included long quotes from the Rambam’s to show that his position on how the world came to be has more points in common with Qabbalah than we usually picture it.
The Rambam describes creation as the Creator having a thought which has a thought, and so on down a chain until one gets to the spheres, earth and in short physical existence. This is a causal chain progressively more contingent from the Almighty down to the objects around us.
Qabbalah describes creation as a Light which shines forth from the Creator, progressively down from world to world until it reaches the lowest world, olam ha’asiyah (the world of action) which is the physical world around us. According to the Leshem, the forms of items in one world are in fact the substance of the items in higher worlds. So there too there is a concept of a chain of ever more pure and abstract thought connecting the physical world to G-d.
This identification of form and thought requires justification. That will be our next topic. But first…
So how isn’t the Rambam Qabbalah, despite my choice of title for these posts?
The Rambam speaks in terms of thoughts. Entities. For example, those thoughts in the chain from G-d to the physical are what we call mal’achim.
Qabbalah speaks in terms of Light. Light fills spaces. This is how qabbalah has a conversation of higher and lower worlds, as ever less light reaches spiritually lower spaces. Thus the conversation is not about entities, but domains. And this led to the concept the Ari called “tzimtzum“, the vacuation of the spaces (all of which is metaphoric, since we’re not speaking of the emptying of physical space but the emptying of spirituality so that there can be a physical space to begin with) so that Light can fill them in different ways rather than everything being the pure unflitered Light and undifferentiated pure existence — rather than distinct things.
The Rambam’s model leads one to a Transcendent view of G-d, Who is linked to us as our Creator by a chain of Thought. And to the Rambam, our entire relationship with the A-lmighty is defined in terms of knowing what He isn’t (since we can’t know what He is) and emulating Hashem as He shows Himself to us through His actions.
The Qabbalah describes an Immanent G-d Who is only separated from us by an act of tzimtzum which filters His Light. If I may use the metaphor of a movie… What makes the distinct characters and objects on the screen is not the creation of something distinct from the projector’s bulb, but the presence of a film that blocks parts of that light from reaching it. (The light that shines through is like the qav, the line, which allows the substance of one world become the forms of the next.) We can therefore quite literally connect to G-d, because “the whole world is filled with His Glory”.