Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the famous argument between the Vilna Gaon and the Ba'al HaTanya in understanding the Sod HaTzimtzum? And what are some ma'areh mekomos in their works where this Machlokes is seen?

share|improve this question
1  
An important work which discusses this is Alan Nadler's "The faith of the Mithnagdim". And the critiques of this work are also quite fascinating. In the end, it seems there is a big dispute about whether there was any significant theological difference between the two groups at all. So your question already takes sides in some sense. –  Curiouser Jul 12 '11 at 0:45
    
    
See also the recent sefer by R. Tzvi Einfeld, Toras ha-Gra u-mishnas ha-chassidim who discusses this question at length –  wfb May 9 '13 at 2:04
    
rabbisedley.blogspot.co.il/2011/07/… –  ray Nov 12 '13 at 5:55
    
A long and detailed essay that discusses the argument of whether Tzimtzum is K'Pshuto (hundreds of years before Chassidus started), and how that argument was the root of the argument between the Mitnagdim and Chassidim: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2306809/jewish/… –  Menachem Jul 8 at 4:23
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I hope I'm understanding and presenting this correctly; someone please correct me if I'm getting this wrong.

I heard a talk from Rabbi Yaacov Haber about this. If I understand correctly, he contrasted the Tanya with a similar work by Ramchal known as "Adir BaMarom" or "Adir BiMromim." It's well-known that the Vilna Gaon thought highly of Ramchal.

"Tzimtzum" deals with the philosophical quandary that God is infinite, but He interacts with the physical world, which is finite. One side of the coin is that God "makes room" for anything else to exist, or else it wouldn't. The other side of the coin is that He allows some manifestation of Himself in the world as we know it. The question becomes, how real is that manifestation? Tanya believes in "tzimtzum gamur", absolute manifestation. Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon reject that.

If I recall correctly, Ramchal would say something to the effect of "every soul is Godly", but Tanya says "every soul is a piece of God" -- the danger here is the next step becoming "but some are more God than others." In light of the mess of Shabtai Zvi's messianic claims that were still in recent memory, the Vilna Gaon found this too dangerous.

share|improve this answer
5  
"Tzimtzum gamur" would mean "total withdrawal," which is the opposite of what the Baal Hatanya believes in. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l (whose letter I refer to in my answer) calls it "tzimtzum shelo kipshuto, verak ba'or." –  Alex Apr 9 '10 at 19:52
1  
@shalom, Alex is correct. The Baal HaTanya follows "tztimtzum aino k'pshuto". The Gra follows "tzimtzum k'pshuto". –  HodofHod Dec 26 '11 at 2:48
    
After rereading your answer, I see that your error stems from a mistranslation of the word "tzimtzum". Whereas you translate it as "manifestation", it actually means "withdrawal". Other than that you've got the gist. The Baal HaTanya believes that the "tzimtzum" or "withdrawal" that is discussed in kabbalah, is only metaphorical ("aino k'pshuto"). –  HodofHod Dec 26 '11 at 2:57
add comment

There is a letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l (original Hebrew text available online at chabadlibrary.org; an English translation is at chabad.org) in which he discusses this. (He also provides a list of places in Chabad Chassidic writings that talk about tzimtzum.) To summarize:

The two key variables here are:

(a) whether tzimtzum means "contraction" (i.e., something was there before and is not there now), or "concealment" (i.e., it's still there now as it was before).

(b) Whether tzimtzum affects G-d's own Self, or only the Divine energy ("light") that emanates from Him.

These two variables, then, yield four basic possible ways of understanding tzimtzum: as (1) the absence of G-d Himself from a certain space, or (2) of His light, or (3) the concealment of G-d's presence in a certain space, or (4) of His light.

The Vilna Gaon's view is that the approach #1 is the correct one: there are places in our physical world in which G-d is simply not present. The Baal Hatanya's view is the diametric opposite, #4: there is no place void of G-d's presence or of His light, but there are indeed places where it's not evident.

The Rebbe also notes that Nefesh HaChayim (by R' Chaim of Volozhin, one of the Vilna Gaon's star disciples) takes a middle ground, position #3.

share|improve this answer
2  
I think this topic is a little bit to extensive to be dealt with in this type of forum. –  SimchasTorah Apr 9 '10 at 17:21
2  
It's not just the proclamations, though. The Rebbe also references a letter by R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (available online at hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=31632&st=&pgnum=105), written during the Vilna Gaon's lifetime (to the chassidim in Vilna), in which he writes flatly that the Gaon "considers it absolute heresy to say that He, may He be blessed, is literally found within the most lowly and debased things." In short, then, this too indicates that the Gra's position is closest to #1 or some minor variant thereof, but surely not #3 (Nefesh Hachayim) or #4 (Tanya). –  Alex Apr 13 '10 at 1:46
1  
Alex, how can he bring a proof what the GRA held from a letter of the Ba'al Tanya?! –  Yahu Apr 14 '10 at 5:30
3  
Because we may assume the Baal Hatanya, who was prepared to debate the Gra on the subject (as mentioned in this letter), would first have "done his homework" to understand what he'd be arguing against. –  Alex Apr 14 '10 at 19:05
2  
This answer should be accepted as the best answer as it covers all of the postions. Postion of the Baal HaTanya, Gra, and R' Chaim of Volozhin who reconciles both opinions and reaches a middle ground. –  user1292 Mar 14 '12 at 17:38
show 10 more comments

The argument went much earlier.

There were students of the Arizal who held that Tzimtzum is literal.

For example, Yosher Levav (the author of the Mishnas Chassidim) wrote that it is based on both logic (that it is disgraceful for Hashem to be found in a dirty place) and because it is also what the Arizal taught him.

The Alter Rebbe (Baal Hatanya) disproves in Tanya (In Shaar Hayichud Vehaemuna) and says "It is possible to understand the error of certain scholars in their own eyes (May G‑d forgive them!)" which shows that they made a grave mistake in understanding Hashem's unity and are in need of atonement.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said a Sicha in Nasso 5743 where he said that there were two legitimate ways of understanding tzimtzum (and says that the simple way to learn tzimtzum is like the Mishnas Chassidim!). Yet, once the law was decided (by both the Alter Rebbe and R' Chaim of Volozhin) that tzimtzum in not literal, nobody has the authority to argue on that decision.

share|improve this answer
1  
How does the concept of psak apply to metaphysical reality? Did God retroactively go back and do His tzimtzum in the way we ultimately 'ruled'? –  Double AA May 8 '13 at 6:16
    
"that it is disgraceful for Hashem to be found in a dirty place" - what is the logic in this? just because something is disgraceful doesn't mean its impossible –  ray Nov 11 '13 at 19:53
    
@ray See the Sicha. The Rebbe points out that there is a level lower than a dirty place - a house of idolatry. And how could there be a command to destroy idolatry (its essence, not just its form) when Hashem is found there in the same level as in the Holy of Holies (which the Rebbe says makes no sense on its own - how can one say that Hashem is in an idol the same way as in the Holy of Holies!) –  Shmuel Brin Nov 11 '13 at 20:39
    
@ray The arguments here are not just about logical possibility, but also about what is reasonable to someone with a brain. –  Double AA Nov 14 '13 at 0:27
    
@DoubleAA do you mean "reasonable" but not logical? care to explain yourself? –  ray Nov 14 '13 at 6:00
show 4 more comments

This Mahlokes ultimately seems to stem from an earlier Mahlokes between Rabeinu Yosef Gikatelia (Shaarei Orah) and the Rashash (the Kabbalist). The SO holds that Keser of Atzilus (Keser Elyon) is the Ein Sof Himself and the Rashash holds that Keser of Atzilus is the Ohr of the Ein Sof.

If the K.E. is the Ohr E.S. then He Maintains His presence, but is Mitzamtzeim His Ohr. Those who say it is the E.S. Himself hold that He does withdraw Himself.

If you have no clue what I am referring to then this answer and the question that was asked is not for you.

share|improve this answer
3  
"If you have no clue what I am referring to then this answer is not for you." -- I like that! Though it raises the question whether a website like this is the right medium for this. –  Shalom Apr 19 '10 at 13:56
1  
Shalom, I agree that the way Kabbalah is being "peddled on the streets" is a disgrace and that most of what such people will write or say on the subject is inaccurate. In the same spirit as Ramban, I just wrote some hints to the underlying issues that only the initiated will grasp. –  Yahu Apr 19 '10 at 17:16
2  
See the guiding principle here: lo.yodeya.com/2010/01/guidelines-jargon.html . I think that Yahu's coda is more or less consistent with this. The intent of the jargon policy is to be accessible to newbies, but not preclude discussion of more complex topics. It would be impossible to discuss this topic at all succinctly without jargon, and I doubt that anyone not already familiar with the concept of tzimtzum (for example) would be interested in this question. –  Isaac Moses Apr 19 '10 at 17:20
3  
Replace "not preclude" in my previous comment with "not stilt unbearably." For example, if someone wanted to pose or answer a complex kasha on a Ketzos here, and they tried to link or explain all terms that a newbie wouldn't know, they'd spend all day linking. Further, while it might be a stretch of the policy, I think that it's OK for the case of Kabala in particular to use "someone well-versed in the topic" in place of "someone interested in the topic." I don't think this needs to be formalized into the policy; if anyone disagrees, please let me know. –  Isaac Moses Apr 19 '10 at 17:42
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.