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The doctrine of tzimtzum teaches that HaShem contracted Himself to create a space within which to create creation. "Prior to Creation, there was only the infinite Or Ein Sof filling all existence. When it arose in G-d's Will to create worlds and emanate the emanated ... He contracted (in Hebrew "tzimtzum") Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of His light. He restricted that light, distancing it to the sides surrounding the central point, so that there remained a void, a hollow empty space, away from the central point ... After this tzimtzum ... He drew down from the Or Ein Sof a single straight line [of light] from His light surrounding [the void] from above to below [into the void], and it chained down descending into that void. ... In the space of that void He emanated, created, formed and made all the worlds. — Etz Chaim, Arizal, Heichal A"K, anaf 2".

This teaching directly contradicts Malachi 3.6 which states that "HaShem does not change." That is, before creation all there was was HaShem. Since creation all there is is HaShem (Ayn Od Milvado); that is, HaShem is Eternally the same at all times and in all places. There is also the passuk (verse) Tehillin 90.1 "A Prayer of Moses the man of G-D. Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations."

Shlomo Elyashiv writes: "I have also seen some very strange things in the words of some contemporary kabbalists who explain things deeply. They say that all of existence is only an illusion and appearance, and does not truly exist. This is to say that the ein sof didn't change at all in itself and its necessary true existence and it is now still exactly the same as it was before creation, and there is no space empty of Him, as is known (see Nefesh Ha-Chaim Shaar 3)."

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  • most kabbalists explain tzimtzum metaphorically...
    – wfb
    Aug 12, 2021 at 0:20
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    Surely not all mekubalim are apikorsim?
    – pcoz
    Aug 12, 2021 at 0:43
  • Actually, the “doctrine of tzimtzum” doesn’t teach what you are suggesting at all, meaning that the Holy One, blessed be He changes. Your difficulty is derived from the idea that you are trying to understand something in English translation. There is a distinction between G-d and His name, even though we learn explicitly that they are one. The doctrine of tzimtzum pertains to G-d’s name only. Aug 12, 2021 at 0:46
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    The details of the English translation presented in the question are factually inaccurate and incorrect. Based upon the question title, the consequence of these inaccurate and incorrect translations, whether with intent or by accident, is aimed at creating division and hatred among the Jewish people. This is clearly not in keeping with the guidelines of this site. Aug 12, 2021 at 0:58
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/a/718/14850
    – Joel K
    Aug 12, 2021 at 5:22

4 Answers 4

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First, the Tzimtzum is a mere expounding of Midrash Temura 1.5 that tries to explain the wording of the blessing "ברוך כבוד ה׳ ממקומו" - what does it mean "from His place"?

"אנשי לשכת הגזית קוראין אותו מקומו של עולם ולא העולם מקומו"
([Members of the Sanhedrin] call Him "in which the world is placed" and not "placed IN the world".

So what does it mean "God is where the world is placed"?

The early Platonic and Aristotelian idea of God's omnipresence (c.400BCE), pronounced in Rambam's Yesodey Hatora (c.1200CE), goes beyond the classic Biblical idea of God being simultaneously everywhere, as described in Psalms: "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.", and sees God as a transcendental entity that "permeated everywhere before the world was created".

That posed a question of where could our world be created if God is one and "infinite"? The Tzimtzum approach provides a theory - God "created a hole in Himself" that became our "space".


To your question, the Tzimtzum approach does not contradict any of Rambam's principles of faith, because a "hole" in God does not hinder His unity or oneness.

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  • Al Berko: Your answer only confirms my assertion that the doctrine of tzimtzum teaches that HaShem changed (created a space in G-D's Self). This teaching was rejected by Rabbi Yihya Qafih. He also rejects the teaching of "zeir anpin" and the "sephiroth" as being heresy and idolatry. Aug 12, 2021 at 14:45
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    If Rav Qafih wanted to outlaw this idea in his own community of for himself, fine, but it is no small matter to contradict generations of sages from various communities. You can't resolve this difference. By framing it as a binary heresy/not, you are trying to force a side when it should be viewed as an open machloket.
    – Mike
    Aug 12, 2021 at 17:09
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    @YochananMauritzHummasti Let's not forget that there is substantial debate among modern poskim about whether or not R' Yihyah Kafih espouses apikorsus.
    – Yehuda
    Aug 13, 2021 at 2:14
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This is a loaded question and I don't think I have enough time to write out the entire debate so I will just give references:

Tzimtzum is to be understood literally; Rav Amnuel Chai Ricki - Yosher Levav (Bayis Rishon, Cheder Rishon, 13-20/ Bayis Sheni, Cheder Rishon, 5). Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv - Leshem Shevo V'achaloma (Chelek Ha'biurim, Derushei Igulim V'yosher, Intro, 2).

Tzimtzum is a metaphor for concealment; Rav Avraham Ben Ha'Rambam - Commentary on Chumash (Yisro, 20, 3). Rabeinu Bachya - Commentary on Chumash (Bereishis, 1, 1). Rav Yosef Irgas - Shomer Emunim Hakadmon (Vikuach Sheni). Rav Moshe Chayim Luzzato - Klach Pischei Chochmah (24). Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi - Tanya (Shaar Hayichud V'emunah, 7). Rav Chayim of Volozhin - Nefesh Ha'chayim (3,8).

Books I found helpful on this subject are; Understanding Emunah - Rabbi Yehuda Cahn. Moreh Ohr - Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

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  • "Tzimtzum is a metaphor for concealment; Rav Avraham Ben Ha'Rambam - Commentary on Chumash (Yisro, 20, 3)." From where are you deriving that Rabbenu Abhraham intends by the term "תצומצם" (which is Sasson's rendering from the Arabic) the kabbalistic doctrine of צמצום? Apr 17, 2023 at 12:59
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The Nefesh Hachayim explains that the word tzimtzum does not mean contraction, for the reasons you cited. Instead, it means a veil; that is, G-d concealed his presence in order for people to be perceive the world but not G-d's presence.

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Depends on what you mean by Tsimtsum, which in itself is a very slippery concept of which to get clear explanation.

The position of most Kabbalists are consistently linking the "contraction" to God himself, implying change in him. It's still a complicated subject.

In his Da'at Elokim, R'Kook was correct in his rejection of Spinozist pantheism, which insisted God is equal with nature. However in his Orot haKodesh, he continued to be marred by the insistence that the world is inside God, while not being contained by it.

The same problem applies to the Alter Rebbe (and many other Hasidic groups beyond Lubavitch), as well as R'Kook, is that God's infinity goes outward into the world. It isn't corporealism per se, but it is not correct.

This is a faulty understanding of what "infinity" means in the context of our human existence, as well as that of God.

In the view of classical Jewish philosophy, as explained by giants such as R'Hai Gaon, R'Saadia Gaon, R'Abraham ibn Daud, R'Bahya ibn Pakuda and haRambam, God is completely unlike anything in this world. Godly transcendence involves a complete negation of all aspects of worldly existence, such as composite unity, spatio-temporal location and ontological "presence" in matter.

God's "infinity" preceded all space, so those who say he is "hosting" the world "inside of him," is a faulty misapplication of our own human cognitive categories.

Rasag explicitly says in Emunot veDe'ot that God didn't create the world from his own "essence," but made it all anew. That is a defining aspect of Rabbinic Torah, even before the alleged influence of Aristotle on later Jewish thinkers.

However, there are some interpretations of Tsimtsum that are not problematic in this regard. The Gaon of Vilna himself said that the contraction was of the "process of the creation of the world," and not God himself. (Perush haGRa leSafra haZeniutha)

This is a fancy way of saying "VeYekhulu haShamayyim veHaAretz..."

Echoing Rasag, HaGra additionally said that God's glory in the world is not equal to him, and that all seeming "divine manifestations" in this world are based on God's sovereignty over all parts of the world. (Biur haGra leSefer haZohar)

To use an analogy found in the Torah, like the beauty of a book attests to the genius of its author, without it literally containing him.

That is how one should best understand the idea of "omnipresence," that God controls all of creation equally. His will is dissumulated by the laws of nature.

Many might push back, citing the verses that say "En Od Milevado," but that is also incorrect. Targum Onkelos and many Midrashim explicitly interpret these verses as implying that God is the only worshipful being, no others exist.

Additionally, when Yirmiyahu haNavi says that God "fills heaven and earth," many midrashim indicate that the "filling" was only the filling of heaven in the creation of the moon and the stars.

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