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According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon holds that the tzimtzum is to be understood literally, that God literally withdrew Himself from the creation.

How can this be understood given that the universe's existence depends on God's existence. How can something whose existence depends on something else continue to exist when that source withdraws from it?

for an overview of tzimtzum and its implications see here

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I think the whole point is Tzimtzum isn't going to make sense. –  Double AA Nov 11 '13 at 6:52
    
it makes sense according to the other views, namely, that God did not withdraw literally, since He is the source of their existence. –  ray Nov 11 '13 at 7:00
    
Only if you're cool with the fact that you just typed out that comment on God. And you ate God for dinner. And you flushed some God down the toilet earlier. Which is weird. So...I stand by my comment. –  Double AA Nov 11 '13 at 7:12
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if it didnt make sense they wouldnt have debated it. your argument is emotional not logical - and inappropriate terms. –  ray Nov 11 '13 at 10:27
    
The Wikipedia article on Tzimtzum claims that the Gaon didn't understand tzimtzum literally; he understand that tzimtzum refers to a contraction of God's Will and not God Himself. –  Ephraim Nov 11 '13 at 11:49
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2 Answers 2

This debate didn't start with the Gaon, but is earlier. You can see the history here. Hopefully this paragraph from there will make it clear enough.

If the tzimtzum narrative is taken at face value (tzimtzum ki'pshuto) then the created reality is analogous to Leonardo’s sandwich; G‑d created the world and very much cares about worldly events and human actions, but G‑d’s essential self is in no way embodied or invested in such goings on. In the analogy, Leonardo was very hungry, and he really liked cream cheese; peanut butter and jelly really would not have gone down well at all. But none of these facts are in any way relevant to — or expressions of — Leonardo’s essential genius. In the analog, the utter transcendence of the divine self remains entirely absent from the created realm even as divine supervision is exercised therein.

As long as someone doesn't come along and try to claim that he means G-d gets hungry, ר"ל.

See also here.

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if God withdrew completely then how can He affect the world? –  ray Nov 11 '13 at 20:14
    
@ray, through what happens post Tzimtzum. Either way, transcendence has no interaction with the world, although it does have effects (some things in the world are different because it is there than they would be otherwise). –  Yishai Nov 11 '13 at 20:25
    
I see in your link that Yoser Levav argues against non-literal tzimtzum because "it is disgraceful for Hashem to be found in a dirty place". Interesting. –  Double AA Nov 11 '13 at 20:51
    
@DoubleAA, see the link to the Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe at Shmuel Brin's answer that I linked to, where he elaborates on what the real intention of a disgusting place is. –  Yishai Nov 11 '13 at 21:04
    
@Yishai It seems he says that the ultimate disgusting place is a Beit AZ. I don't know what you mean by "real intention". It is clear he thinks different things are disgusting to different extents. –  Double AA Nov 11 '13 at 21:29
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The Leshem, a great Lithuanian/Misnagdic kabbalist (i.e., in the tradition of the Gaon, rather than the Besht), in his book Hakdamot u-Sh'arim, gate 1, elaborates a distinction between giluyim (=manifestations) of divinity and toldos he'arah (=derivative illuminations).

The giluyim are divinity itself. We can have no grasp of their essence. They are metzumtzam (=limited, from the same root as tzimtzum) to not extend beyond the bottom boundary of the world of Atzilut. From there downwards only toldos he'arah extend, flowing into the worlds of Bri'ah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, and making up the innermost soul of these lower worlds.

In this way, perhaps an approach is suggested that respects certain aspects of Halakhah--the careful delineation between what is holy and what is not, what we may ascribe divinity to and may not--and which, also, does not pass over our everyday subjective experience of reality as composed of multiplicity and often pain---but does ultimately root reality, in its deepest sources, in divinity.

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How many giluyim are there? –  Double AA Nov 15 '13 at 18:47
    
I am no expert. I think they correspond to the divine names. The main giluy is the name y.h.v.h, which is the partzuf of z'eir anpin. This giluy clothes itself in the name a.d.n.y, which is the partzuf of malkhut. –  paquda Nov 15 '13 at 18:50
    
So there are multiple things which are divinity itself? –  Double AA Nov 17 '13 at 1:11
    
The text I mentioned talks about 'manifestations' and 'names'. It seems wrong to use the term 'thing' to refer to a 'name'. And one being can have multiple names. But I could certainly understand if you think it's wrong to speak of God using any language that has multiplicity in it. But the question was on a kabbalistic topic, and this language is used in kabbalah. –  paquda Nov 17 '13 at 1:35
    
A name is not divinity itself. It is a name. You said "giluyim are divinity itself". Perhaps you mean to say "giluyim refer to divinity itself"? –  Double AA Nov 17 '13 at 1:39
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