Life, history and all of reality dances between the poles of singularity and multiplicity, between יקוק (Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay)-consciousness and אלקים (Elohim)-consciousness, between the finite and the infinite. While we strive to achieve דבקות devekut, total merging with the Infinite God, we’re also reminded that a “tzadik (the paradigm of a “perfected” human) falls seven times”. Like Moses, in preparing to receive the Torah at Sinai is repeatedly sent up and down the mountain, we can have insights and moments of ecstatic awareness, but they are, in this world, fleeting.
The irony is that consciousness, the faculty that allows us the potential to reach to God, is the very faculty that creates the separation in the first place. It also creates the dynamic which allows growth and evolution. It powers our journey and was, possibly, the first “product” of Creation.
I’ve struggled for years with an early paragraph in the Ramchal’s (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto) classic, Derech HaShem, The Way of God. He writes that one of the other concepts we are defined by as having an internally-generated insatiable need to understand that God exists in a state of pure simplicity, without and hint of הרכבה, harkava, being comprised of separate components or רבוי, ribui, multiplicity at all. In other words, God exists in a state of total and simple unity, a state before (as it were) duality is even conceivable. Why does he emphasize those two concepts as being irrelevant to the Creator, and why does he then further describe these absent concepts with the word גדר, geder, boundary?
The מגן דוד, Magen David, the six-sided star made up of two triangles, one pointing up, one pointing down, is probably the most universally recognized symbol in Judaism. The up-pointing triangle represents, among other things, the singularity of God’s unity, the יקוק which is אחד, echad, one, that we proclaim twice daily in the Shema. The base of the triangle implies the diverse multiplicity, tending towards infinity, of the created universe. While from the most profound point of view these seemingly opposite concepts are one, the graphic representation of this triangle shows that as we move downward from the pure simplicity of God and begin to conglomerate and precipitate and gradually become material, first duality and then plurality and finally infinity accompany the transition.
God begins, as it were, in this singularity, without even the hint of separate components, without any sense of border or boundary. The necessary first act of creation, then, is allowing for duality. בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ, In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, the first duality. Even before heaven and earth is the word את, et, a word that really has no independent meaning by implies multiplicity. The potential for duality precedes duality itself. And at that moment, which is initiated with the command, יהי אור, Yehi Or, let there be light (pure energy which, as we know, is, in an unknown process, identical to matter), physicality and materiality begin to emerge.
And lest we despair that this journey from pure and simple unity is tragic, God immediately declares this light כי טוב, ki tov, that it is good. As the process continues, we see more and more previously united elements divide as reality becomes more and more what we recognize. Not only does the רקיעה, rakiah, the “firmament”, divide, so does the waters. Even man, who is first created both דמות אלקים, demut Elohim, similar to God, and זכר ונקבה, zachar u’nakeva, male and female (i.e. fully integrated and united), is then separated into man and woman. And even at this level of multiplicity, the world is able to remain harmonious, separate yet intimately connected to the Creator.
When do things start to “go wrong” and what does our tale really come to teach us? We all know the story continues with mankind being given a garden to tend, easily acquired food to eat and only one restriction, to not eat from the עץ הדעת טוב ורע, etz ha’da’at tov v’rah, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The sin, as it were, is much more serious than mere misbehavior. Rather, it was the premature formation of the ego, ingesting the very concept of their being actions directed to God and actions directed away from Him. The only direction, figuratively speaking, “away” from God is to the separate individual, to the ego. In other words, it was only at this moment that the possibility of not-God emerged through the processes of satisfying our own desires and appetites.
As the Ramchal and, really, all of our holy sages have taught, nonetheless, we remain always capable of approaching infinitely close to God. (Perhaps Adam, man, didn’t realize that when he was still co-joined with the feminine, awareness of duality would prove fatal, but once man and woman became separate, he could then reframe duality and desire through woman as not being aimed only at his own sensual satisfaction, but as an act of creation, i.e. other-directed. In other words, perhaps had he chosen to not blame his acquisition of a separate consciousness of Eve, but rather acknowledged her as the enabling partner in the process of god-like action, which is to say had he truly been aware of his opportunity, they would have immediately reached perfection, shlemut. In other words, the separation could have, and should have led to perfect unity rather than to alienation and lonely separateness.) As a reminder, space in the spiritual sense is not geometric or geographical, but rather based on similarity. Created in the “image of God”, we have the potential to act in a God-like fashion. And as the Ramchal develops, one of the few things we know about God is that he creates only for the benefit of others. Thus we can always make the choice to act with an eye to satisfy our own selves, which creates separation, or with an eye to benefit those around us, which becomes closeness, leading to דבקות, devekut, attachement.
Thus, it’s consciousness which creates our challenge of return while, at the same time providing us with the means to return. In other words, and this is an old lesson, the keys are in our hand to direct us in the direction we really want to follow. We can use every experience of pain and separation to lead ourselves and the world back to wholeness.