What does it mean that Hashem is One and that there is nothing in the world except for Him? What does the Ba'al Ha'Tanya mean (chapter 20) that Hashem Echad means that He is alone in the world and that everything else has no existence? In what sense do I have no existence?

  • It is a paradox. If Hashem Echad, there is nothing out of Him, but he created world, he created free will, praise and punishment.
    – kouty
    Sep 5, 2016 at 6:00
  • While the Baal haTanya believe "there is nothing in the world except for Him", that is not the definition of "Hashem Echad" according to everyone. Sep 5, 2016 at 23:48

1 Answer 1


There is a base reality which everything conforms to and from which everything springs. This reality is why the law of gravity is the way it is, and every other law of nature. It is the force behind everything.

The theoretical alternatives to this concept are (1) that no force exists behind any law (and the laws of nature are not really laws, but random patterns with no necessary force to them); or (2) that multiple such underlying realities exist. The notion of Hashem echad rejects both of these alternatives; why is a separate discussion.

Thus, Hashem echad is the concept that you and I exist only as building blocks upon that base reality. Our existence has meaning only in relation to that reality. If we isolate that reality -- we can't, but if we could imagine it not existing -- we would necessarily have to imagine ourselves not existing either, because everything real is only real insofar as it relates to reality. If something has no relation to reality there is no sense in which it can be called real.

In this sense, Hashem's existence is more basic than ours, more real. He is reality itself - what will be, what is, and what was - while our existence is just relative to his.

See also Derech Hashem, Ch. 1.

  • "Our existence is just relative to his", or the Rambam's notion that our existence is contingent on his (Yesodei haTorah 1:3, 2:9) is different than saying that our independent existence is only an illusion. (If our existence is only an illusion, who is experiencing that illusion?) Sep 5, 2016 at 23:52
  • Our existence is not an illusion. We do not (and in this state cannot) experience the whole of reality, but our experiences are real.
    – Dov F
    Sep 11, 2016 at 13:24
  • Does that really reflect what the Tanya says, though? According to the Tanya, miTzido, He is the Yeish and we are the ayin. Sep 11, 2016 at 15:15
  • @MichaBerger To my current understanding, when we experience it is actually him experiencing--it only seems like we are experiencing because he has walled off parts of his perception/existence and grounded them in the imaginary construct of space-time. Thus our experience is real because it is his experience but from the vantage point of himself we are not actually separate entities.
    – Dov F
    Dec 12, 2016 at 13:26
  • that's pretty much what I said in the name of the Tanya. That's not to say I understand the Tanya. After all, if our separate existence is only an illusion, who is having that illusion? Dec 12, 2016 at 20:03

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