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Kabbala #2: Perceiving the Infinite

Kabbala #2: Perceiving the Infinite

How can we get a glimpse of God? Kabbala reveals how the Infinite interacts with humanity.


The Kabbalah is about understanding God.

This brings us to a major paradox, because how can we -- who are finite, understand God, who is Infinite.

The Kabbalah describes God as Ein Sof, which in Hebrew means "without end."

Colloquially, of course, we are accustomed to use "infinite" whenever we refer to something “very, very big” or “uncountable.” But its real definition is “without borders” or "without parameters."

Just as when we physically grab something, we need edges/borders to hold onto, so too when we mentally grasp a concept, we need to perceive the boundaries of the idea as points of reference. Thus, when we define something we give it parameters, and thereby we are able to comprehend it.

A picture’s clarity depends on the sharpness of contrast of its boundaries. When I wish to describe a person, I point out the distinctions between him and others. If I say, “he is tall”, I really mean to say “he is taller than most others.”

God is termed Bal Tachlis -- He is not bound in any way.

This doesn't just mean that His powers are not limited in any way, but, more deeply, that we cannot contrast God with any experience known to humanity.

Describing the Indescribable

When a child asks to describe honey, we can point to the sweetness of sugar, the color of brown toast, and the texture of syrup, and tell him to imagine all three together.

But when a child asks for an explanation of the politics of workplace relationships, we have a difficult time finding an illustration, because emotional interactions have no real parallel in a child’s universe.

The same is true of God’s essence. No amount of comparison, illustration, or metaphor will bring His reality closer to our understanding. He is simply Ein Sof -- indefinable, period.

So what are we studying in Kabbalah?

Is the mind a useless tool when it comes to contact with God?

Are we adopting the view that the mind is a useless tool when it comes to contact with God? Or that communion with God is but a transcendental, emotional state of self-negation and acceptance?

No. It cannot be that the human mind -- our most important and God-like organ -- has no purpose in our attempt to communicate with our Creator.

The Realm of Understanding

The answer is that while God Himself is Ein Sof, He has created a place of interaction between Himself and humanity that is, for our sakes, bounded and defined. This place is called hanhaga -- and this is the realm within which we can make use of our understanding and knowledge.

But is this realm meaningless in the absolute sense? Has it been created just for the sake of keeping our minds occupied, since we can’t ever grasp the real thing?

Let us contrast two illustrations that will highlight our question and hopefully, provide an answer.

An adult is visiting the home of his friend, who has asked him to baby-sit. The adult has little in common with the child, yet must busy him somehow (let's say the television is broken.) He devises a game of marbles, and sits with the child and plays.

In doing so the adult has completely left the adult world and has entered the child’s world. Years later when the child will remember this incident, he might feel this as an example of the adult's kindness. But nothing in the game itself is a reflection of the adult’s values.

Now let us consider a second illustration. An adult sets up a school for children, where he will teach them dignity, responsibility and justice. But those are abstract concepts, meaningless to a child. Therefore, he makes a rule that white shirts and ties be worn at all times, that a certain amount of homework be the duty of the child to prepare, and that studying or the lack of, will be noted and publicized.

In the child’s mind these are concrete rules, and physical realities that the child can relate to. Yet underpinning the rules are abstract principles that the child is meant to learn. When the child grows up, he will perceive the inner values represented in these rules.

Commandments are finite and graspable. Yet their "soul," so to speak, is Divine.

This is what is at work in Divine hanhaga -- how we perceive God's interaction with the universe, which, of course, is contained in the rules and laws of the Torah.

To us the commandments of the Torah are rules and dictates. Being concrete and finite they are graspable. Yet their "soul," so to speak, is Divine.

Studying, obeying and understanding that hanhaga allows us to gradually develop some sense of the Divine will.

This is the subject matter of Kabbalah.

The Kabbalah seeks to understand the Divine hanhaga, God's relationship as perceived from within this world, as opposed to understanding God Himself. Yet in reaching a deeper understanding of hanhaga, we get a glimpse of God Himself.

February 14, 2000

Article 2 of 24 in the series Kabbala

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Visitor Comments: 30

(26) Lee Kelso, August 22, 2017 12:55 PM

What is the difference between, hanhaga and the 10 sefirot?

I know I read your articles 8 years ago... but didn't remember the word hanhaga as my teacher did not use this word. So the focus of Kabbalah is the 10 Sefirot so why not just say this sense you are going to expound on the 10? On one hand it is minor and I am not even attempting to correct you, as that is what you wrote. I perceive it would be good connection in this article to draw a parallel between the hanhaga and the 10 sefirot. My mind ask the question... how many more times will you mention hanhaga and or give an explanation on this word vs sharing about the 10 sefirot. I found a statement that expresses that the 10 rings can be viewed in "general" as the hanhaga. This would mean that hanhaga is a particular view on the 10 filters, filtering the light of Ein Sof. Another commentary on the root of hanhaga was "to go" or "walk"... this here sounds like the letter Gimmel. Which is bestowing to the poor man the Dalet, which is the door for the Yod to shine through. I am not attempting to be negative here but just see/perceive how each school/teacher has their method and well it causes or better said our desire to be right and tell another they are wrong comes into the picture and has the potential to make things more challenging for one to develop in this science of reception. LeChaim!

(25) Gloria, June 4, 2015 1:07 AM

I don't know much about this, I have just stumbled upon it but it is the most amazing thing that I have ever read

Thank you for this wonderful teachings please do tell me how to learn more... I'm all the way in Africa, Angola. How do I learn more? is it possible to teach someone this far?

(24) Shelly, March 9, 2015 12:58 AM

Kabbala and quantum physics

Do Kabbala and quantum physics have anything in common? I mean, do they work together. YHVH made science and quantum physics proves HIS word is truth. So does Kabbala work through quantum physics also and get portrayed wrongly as witch craft or magic as some things in quantum physics seem to be? I am trying to understand.

(23) Rafael, September 6, 2014 12:18 PM

Describing the undiscibable?

When a human is arrogant enough to empower himself with such a task, it is the person who becomes god and god restricted to his vision !
If a mathematician takes infinity and divides it in half and comes up with a number , he is only imposing an illusion of fact and making himself the beacon of truth

(22) justin, August 25, 2014 10:44 PM

fyi kabbala is not rubbish

I've seen the pattern it covers everything. Makes everything. It's real. I saw it before knowing anything about it.

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