The Philosopher and the "Rav:" J.N. Findlay, Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz and the "Double Movement" in Kabbalistic Thought.
The 20th century philosopher, J.N. Findlay, in
a series of little known but profound works presents a modern Neoplatonic
philosophy that can help serve as a guide to a contemporary interpretation of
On Findlay's view, the various values of mind, reason, intelligence and will, along with those of satisfaction, happiness, freedom, fairness, beauty, etc. "culminate in a single, unique intentional object to which devotion, worship, unconditional self-dedication are the only appropriate attitude."
The Antinomies of Experience
To this point
As will become clear, the contemporary Hasidic thinker, Adin Steinsaltz,
holds a view of the contradictoriness of the world that is quite similar to
Findlay focuses upon several antinomies connected with space and time; he
points out, for example, that these great "media" of experience
appear to be the "containers" within which all events occur, but
are also defined by the very events that transpire within them. A second
antinomy arises from our consideration of the temporal "now," the
series of which seem to constitute the march of time, but none of which can
be defined apart from reference to a past and a future. There are antinomies
related to the opposition between efficient causality, and teleology, and,
There are antinomies that derive from a consideration of the fact that
while we can appeal to the experience of others as proof of an occurrence we
ourselves have observed, the very experience and testimony of the other is
ultimately only apprehended through our own.
Findlay explores a number of paradoxes that relate to material bodies, for
example, pointing out that while such bodies are thought to be completely
independent of any mind cognizing them, they cannot even be conceived except
as in relation to a conscious perspective upon them  or under the aegis
of some category or idea.
The Immanent Solution
On this view our varied ways of seeing and interpreting things do not ultimately reflect an underlying fixed nature, but rather permit and encourage the emergence of the inquiry, debate, cooperation, creativity and self-consciousness of the our rational, social selves. The problems of this world are neither open to simple solution nor hopelessly enigmatic. Though they may present themselves as conundrums for millennia, they are eventually accommodated by the human spirit, and remain enigmatic only and precisely to the degree as to force the fullest development of human values, imagination, culture, science and philosophy.
Findlay's immanentist solution has clear parallels to and implications for the Kabbalistic doctrine of Tikkun. For example, we read in Moses de Leon's Ha-Nefesh ha-Hakhamah (1290): "The purpose of the soul in entering the body is to exhibit its powers and abilities in the world...And when it descends to this world it receives power and influx to guide this vile world and undergo a tikkun above and below..."
Findlay's world of antinomies can readily be likened to Luria's "World of making", our actual world, in which divine sparks have mixed with shards of the broken vessels, thus yielding a distorted, conflicted world, that is desperately in need of restoration and repair. For the Kabbalists, the purpose of our highly imperfect world is precisely to provide a context for the exercise of human worship and other values toward the achievement of Tikkun ha-Olam
. For the Kabbalists, the world is perfected through the exercise of human free will in choosing good over evil, in proper worship of God, and through a deep understanding of reality as described by Kabbalistic theosophy. According to Moses Chayyim Luzatto:
The partnership that exists between
Man's service is the result of his own choice. It is this factor of choice which brings greater advantage to creation, resulting in its perfection and completion. Consequently, Man is partner to the Creator in maintaining and perfecting His world.
This Kabbalistic conception is clearly articulated by the contemporary Kabbalist, Adin Steinsaltz. In an interview with the author Steinsaltz relates:
There is a quotation from the Kabbalistic work of Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sefer Ets Hayyim, that our world is one that in its majority is a world of evil. Evil is the ruler of the world and there is very little good in it.
...When you speak about the world from this point of view, it is, so to speak, a tour de force, an experiment in existence, an experiment in what I might call "conquering the utmost case." So in a way, existence in any other world is not "proof." "Proof" in the "utmost case" occurs only when you can do things under the worst of circumstances. L'havdil. If I want to test a new car, the way that I test it is not on the smoothest of roads, under the best conditions. To have a real test to prove that a car really works, I have to put it under...the worst conditions in which there is yet hope. I cannot test it by driving off a cliff, but I can test it on the roughest terrain where I must come to the edge of a cliff and have to stop...The same with Creation. Creation would have been pointless unless it was Creation under precisely these difficult circumstances. So I am saying, theologically speaking, that the worst possible world in which there is yet hope is the only world in which creation makes sense.
Steinsaltz, who is himself a follower of Chabad Chasidism, is here clearly influenced by the Chabad doctrine that all things are revealed through their opposite, and specifically that divinity is revealed through evil and its transformation into good. As put by Rabbi Aharon Halevi Horowits of Staroselye:
It is known that all the descents are for the purpose of ascent. For His main intention, blessed be He, is to have his Blessed divinity be revealed precisely through inversion, in darkness, and in concealment. This is also in order to coerce the sitra achra [the realm of evil] and transform darkness into light...and it is precisely in the revelation of evil that His blessed will be revealed.
The Transcendent Solution
steady vanishing of the harsh definiteness and distinctness of individuals, and a steady blurring or coming into coincidence of the divisions amongst kinds and categories, until in the end one approaches and perhaps at last reaches a paradoxical unitary point of convergence, where the objects of religion may be thought to have their habitat.
According to Findlay, the progress towards higher worlds or latitudes involves a steady diminution of individuality, corporeality and temporality, and the objects in these worlds will be governed by associations of meaning as opposed to causality. Individuality will begin to vanish, as things become more and more indistinguishable from their species and genera, resulting in a realm of values that exist generically apart from any instantiation. As individuality diminishes, the obstacles that it and materiality place between communicating minds will vanish as well, as will the communicative gulfs that exist between persons in our own realm. The attenuated matter of the upper realms, rather than being an obstacle to consciousness and reason, will simply serve as a context for communication and a vehicle for the expression of thought and will. Simple location will vanish, and all things will be "predominantly somewhere, but more distantly present everywhere else." Temporality will be altered, and prophecy made possible, as alternative futures are displayed, teaching us what will almost certainly happen or will happen unless we take counter-measures, etc. Finally:
At the mystical pole of our whole geography we may place an object of infinite and no longer puzzling perfection, which we need no longer conceive as a mere supreme instance of incompatible values, but as the living principle of all those values themselves.
Thus, at the apex of all the worlds,
The highest of the four worlds, the World of Emanation...is a mode of existence characterized by absolute clarity, no concealment, and no separate beings. There is no individuation, and no "screens" or filters separate God from that which is not God. In fact, the World of Emanation is not a world in the sense that the other three are: in a certain sense it is the Godhead itself.
As one descends in the system of worlds, there is more and more matter. Another way of stating this is that the beings of the lower worlds have a greater awareness of their independent, progressively separate selves, of their private "I," This consciousness of self obscures the divine light, and dims the true, unchanging "I" that exists within each individual being...
According to Steinsaltz the higher worlds do not manifest "space as we know it, but a framework of existence within which all forms and beings are related." Further "Time, too, is manifest in a totally different fashion in the higher world...the system of time becomes increasingly abstract...It becomes no more than the essence of change or the potentiality of change."
A Rational Mysticism
One might think that
The world described by Plotinus resolves our earthly antinomies because it is a unified, purely spiritual and conceptual world that exists outside of space and time. It is a world governed by thought, rather than material necessity, and in contrast to our own contingent, chaotic realm it is ordered by connections of reasons and significance. It is a world in which acts of thought and volition are neither mediated, hampered nor contained by space and time, and hence are unconstrained by material causation. As Plotinus emphasizes it is a completely translucent realm in which "every being is lucid to every other," and where the objects of thought are known clearly and immediately. In such a world the philosophical problems of the nature of time, space and eternity, of the relationship between the mind and matter, and knowledge of "other minds" are completely resolved, or, better, do not even arise. It is a world devoid of gross matter, and as such a world in which to know a concept is to know its instance, and vice versa. Finally, it is a world in which there are no material rewards for one's thoughts and deeds, and hence a world where thoughts and deeds are their own reward.
Much the same, of course, can be said of the "higher worlds" of the Kabbalah, and moreover, regarding the Lurianic system as a whole. The Kabbalistic symbols of Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirat ha-Kelim , Tikkun ha-Olam, etc. which the Kabbalists utilized to resolve their own theological problems are relevant to the philosophical conundrums of our own age.
To begin with, the Tzimtzum, and to even a greater extent, the Breaking of the Vessels, results in a confused and chaotic condition in which the primordial values and ideas (the Sefirot) become entangled in a realm of "matter." As a result of these events, our deepest spiritual values, e.g. morality, freedom, teleology, knowledge, communication, etc. have become highly problematic and even appear to be contradicted by experience. Morality has no hegemony in a world of random, natural disaster and material power; teleology (the progression of events towards a rational goal) is upstaged by material causality; freedom too is contradicted by the processes of material causation; knowledge is questionable because a gulf exists between matter and mind; and communication is barred because others' minds are "enclosed" in bodies that render their inner life opaque to our own. From a Kabbalistic perspective we might say that each of our philosophical notions (morality, teleology, freedom, knowledge, communication, etc.) have shattered and become enmeshed in a material realm, which renders them contradictory and opaque. Only through an act of birur, extraction, can these values be restored and understood in the light of a higher conceptual and spiritual realm.
Again Adin Steinsaltz provides a contemporary Kabbalistic parallel to
Now when I speak about problems of the world I am talking about all the basic questions, not just the theological and philosophical ones such as "What is the purpose of things?" "Why are we here?" or "What is the justification of things we undergo and experience?" But I am speaking of other more mundane questions as well. I don't believe, for example...that you can really resolve problems regarding economic justice or social equity from within any given "earthly" frame...This is because the world contains enough contradictions, enough destructive elements, so as to eliminate any possibility of a solution. The only way you can solve these questions is through movement to a higher dimension or world.
As an example, Steinsaltz argues that "you cannot have an egalitarian society in which justice prevails unless you have a belief in something higher." The reason for this is that a democracy in which all individuals are equally valued and where each is provided with one equal vote, cannot be justified on any empirical or rational view that all men are equal. This is because, from an empirical point of view the equality of man is "obviously untrue."
People are not equal from any point of view. Therefore to create a society based on the notion that the vote of a wise and learned man has the same value as the vote of somebody who is unlearned and doesn't know what he is talking about, you must posit that they have equal souls. This is also true with respect to the rights of man as well. Why should a person who is the highest intellectual be regarded as equal to somebody who is ignorant or who is a criminal with respect, for example, to the right to be saved by a given medical procedure? So you see, this principle, this belief that people have souls and that souls are of inestimable, equal value, is the source of every social structure we hold dear.
Further Dialectics In Kabbalistic and Hasidic Thought
We might observe, however, that each of these solutions, the immanent and the transcendent are themselves poles of yet another philosophical antinomy; on the one hand the contradictions in this world appear to have no explanation other than the solutions we create for them in our earthly endeavors (the Immanentist solution), while on the other hand they must have a cause and a resolution in something real that transcends human experience and endeavoour (theTranscendent solution).
On the one hand the broken state of affairs, the antinomies, injustices in own world, represented in the symbols of the Kellipot and the Sitra Achra, are only resolved, emended and restored through the moral and spiritual efforts of mankind in forging Tikkun ha-Olam. On the other hand, man is able to transcend the perplexities of this life, and glimpse ha-Olam haba, the "World to Come" through devekut, "cleaving" to the upper Sefirot and the worship of God. Unlike the Gnostics who saw this world as a thoroughly evil one from which the divine spark in man's soul must escape, the Kabbalistic program is at once a transcendence and emendation or repair of ha-Olam hazeh, the world of the here and now.
This double movement of transcendence and immanence is most clearly evident amongst the later inheritors of the Kabbalistic tradition, the Hasidim. As stated by Schneur Zalman:
There are two aspects to the service of the Lord. One is love in tongues of flame...and [the heart] seeks to leave its sheath of bodily material...The second is the aspect of fervor...of the drawing down of the divinity from above.
According to Schneur Zalman, the first divine service, what we have spoken of as the "transcendent" solution, involves a "quietist" effort to leave the body and seek union with the one above, while the second divine service, our "immanent solution," involves an "activist" effort to bring divinity into the daily activities of life.
Rivka Schatz Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer has pointed to the tension and ultimate balance between activism and quietism within Hasidic thought. The activist tendency is rooted in the Lurianic concept of Tikkun ha-Olam and involves engagement in the corporeal world, precisely in order to "redeem the external world by its spiritualization." The quietist tendency, which is rooted in the ecstatic Kabbalah, seeks a union with the divine through a negation of this world and an annihilation of the self. According to Schatz Uffenheimer, the quietist "elevates his own will to the Divine 'nothing,' to the world of reconciliation of opposites in which 'he and his opposite are one.'"
Both activist and quietist tendencies are evident in the writings of the foremost theorist of Hasidism, Dov Baer (The Maggid) of Mezhirech. According to the Maggid the broken nature of the World of Action is a necessary even deliberate divine act, in order to provide an impetus to human activity:
It was therefore necessary that there should be a shevirah (Breaking of the Vessels), for by this means forgetfulness occurs in the Root, and each one can lift up his hand to perform an act...and they thereby elevate the sparks of the World of Action...
Yet the Maggid also holds that the happenings of this world are nothing in comparison to the treasures of the world to come. Accordingly human beings "must abandon themselves and forget their troubles, so that they may come to the world of thought where everything is equal."
It is not much of a step to hold that part of the dialectical equalization that occurs within the godhead, is a reconciliation of activist and quietist modes of theory and worship on earth. Through a "quietist" renunciation of personal desire, one becomes better equipped for the active task of "raising the sparks" and spiritualizing one's worldly encounters. Conversely through such active "spiritualization" one is brought into close contact with the holy Sefirot which constitute the world of thought on high.
While the relative prevalence of transcendent and immanent solutions to the world's broken state waxed and waned in the history of Jewish mysticism, the general tenor of the Kabbalah and Hasidism was to accept both, and to hold that in repairing this world one could transcend it, and in transcending this world one could restore it. It is the very acts prompted by the world's antinomies that both constitute the activist "immanent solution," and provide humanity with an intuition of the value archetypes or Sefirot, which comprise the higher worlds (the transcendent solution). Indeed, the Kabbalists held that in performing Tikkun ha-Olam, the individual could not only make emendations in this world, but in all the worlds on high as well. Those who suggest that there is a choice between the immanent and transcendent solutions to the problems of the world's absurdities and contradictions, have failed to be sufficiently dialectical in their theology.
There is a further dialectic that is present in the symbols of the Lurianic Kabbalah. According to the Lurianists, just as the higher worlds resolve the contradictions and absurdities that exist in our own world, our world was actually created to resolve the antinomies of heaven and God. The reason for this is that it is only in a material world of chaos, toil, and trouble that the values, which are mere abstractions in the heavens, can become fully real. The vessels must break, spirit must become enmeshed in matter, if the Sefirot (and God Himself) are to become what they truly are. As put by Vital:
If the worlds had not been created, along with all that is in them, the true manifestation of His blessed, eternal existence-past, present, and future-could not have been seen, for He would not have been called by the Name, HVYH.
The Kabbalah, like Plotinus and the philosophers of the east, posits a
transcendence of this material world as a means for relieving the puzzles,
contradictions and sufferings of our own. The Kabbalah however, implies a
transcendence in the other direction as well. In creating the material world,
Ein-sof, as it were, transcends and thereby completes itself, by
actualizing and fulfilling the values that lie at its core. It is in this
sense that Zohar can assert that humankind creates and completes
God. Our world is the answer to the problems of the heavens just as the
heavens are a solution to the antinomies on earth. On earth we have
imperfect, chaotic and obscured actions that seek pure values to give them
meaning. In heaven God has pure, abstract values, that must be instantiated in
a chaotic, dangerous realm to make them real. As
The other world is, in fact, not so much another world as another half of one world, which two halves only make full rounded sense when seen in their mutual relevance and interconnection.
The dual trends in which man yearns to transcend finitude and God seeks to become actual and real, constitute Ein-sof, in the fullest sense of this term. It is only as a result of the differentiation, deconstruction and later restoration and reunification of these two complementary realities (God and man) that the purpose of creation is ultimately realized and fulfilled.
 J. N. Findlay, Values and Intentions (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1961); J. N. Findlay, The Discipline of the Cave (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966); J. N. Findlay, The Transcendence of the Cave (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966); J. N. Findlay, Ascent to the Absolute. (London: George Allen & Unwin 1970).
 ibid., p. 98.
 Ibid., p. 20.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 Ibid., p. 21.
Gershom Scholem, "Kabbalah and Myth." In Scholem, On The Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Schocken, 1965), pp. 87-117, p. 112.
Ibid., p. 27.
 Ibid., p. 261.
 Ibid., p. 206.
 ibid., p. 34.
 Ibid., p. 101.
 Ibid., p. 76.
 This perspective, which
 Quoted in Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 159.
 Luzzatto, General Principles of the Kabbalah, p. 249.
 Ibid., p. 247.
 Drob, "The Mystic as Philosopher; An Interview With Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz," p. 14.
 Aharon Halevi Horowitz of Staroselye (Shklove 182), as quoted in Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God, pp. 206-7,
 Ibid., p. 105.
 Ibid., p. 121.
 Ibid., p. 122.
 Ibid., p. 123-4.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 137.
 Ibid., p. 134-5.
 Ibid., p. 128.
 Ibid., p. 129.
 Ibid., p. 131.
 Ibid., p. 137.
 Adin Steinsaltz. Worlds, Angels and Men. In his The Strife of the Spirit (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1988), p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 49.
 Ibid.,. p. 44.
 For example, the problems engendered by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and the difficulty of conceiving of creation at all by an omnipresent and (already) perfect deity.
 Drob, "The Mystic As Philosopher," p. 14,
 ibid., p. 17.
 Schneur Zalman, Torah Or, p. 49., Translated and quoted in Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God, p. 134.
 Rivka Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism, p. 121.
 Ibid., p. 69.
 Dov Baer of Mezhirech, Maggid Devarev le-Ya'aqov, par. 73, pp. 126-7. Quoted in Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism, p. 121.
 Dov Baer of Mezhirech, Maggid Devarev le-Ya'aqov, par. 110, p. 186. Quoted in Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as mysticism, pp. 81-2.
 Sefer Etz Chayyim 1:1; Menzi and Padeh, The Tree of Life, p. 4. The term HVYH represents a reaarangement of the letters in God's holiest name, the tetragrammaton, and has the meaning "existence." Vital implies that God's existence is dependent upon creation.
 Zohar III, 113a. Sperling and Simon, The Zohar, Vol. 5, p. 153; cf. Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, p. 187.
Sanford L. Drob holds doctorates in Philosophy and Clinical
Psychology. He is the author of Symbols of the Kabbalah: Philosophical and
Psychological Perspectives, and Kabbalistic Metaphors: Jewish Mystical Themes
in Ancient and Modern Thought (both published by Jason Aronson, 1999). He is
currently completing a book on Carl Jung, Jewish Mysticism, and
Anti-Semitism, working on studies on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy and the
Kabbalah and Postmodern thought, and developing a Kabbalistic "Tree of
Life," "axiology" or "firmament of values" (progress
on which appears periodically on this website). Dr. Drob served as head
psychologist on the Bellevue Forensic Psychiatry Service from 1984-2003 and
was for many years the Director of Psychological Testing at
Dr. Drob is available for
psychotherapy consultations In
Click here for Dr. Drob's CV in clinical and forensic psychology.
Click here for a description of Brownstone Brooklyn Psychological Services, for which Dr. Drob and his wife, Dr. Liliana Rusansky Drob are co-directors.
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