Likutei Amarim Chapter 48, Class 4

Conclusion of Chapter 48

ולקרב אל השכל יותר הוא בדרך משל

Let us make this more intelligible by means of an example.

A further example is needed in order to clarify this paradox — how G‑dliness simultaneously pervades the world and yet remains aloof from it, encircling and encompassing it (as it were) from above, and not being revealed within it.

כמו האדם שמצייר בדעתו איזה דבר שראה או שרואה

When a person forms an image in his mind of something that he has seen or sees,

הנה אף שכל גוף עצם הדבר ההוא, וגבו ותוכו ותוך תוכו, כולו מצוייר בדעתו ומחשבתו, מפני שראהו כולו או שרואהו

even though the entire body and essence of that thing, both its exterior and interior and its very core, are completely mirrored in his mind and thought, for he has seen it or is seeing it in its entirety,

הנה נקראת דעתו מקפת הדבר ההוא כולו

this is expressed by saying that his mind encompasses that object completely, and, just as in the mind’s frame of reference, so, too, regarding the perspective of the visualized object:

והדבר ההוא מוקף בדעתו ומחשבתו

and that thing is enveloped by his mind and thought.

רק שאינו מוקף בפועל ממש, רק בדמיון מחשבת האדם ודעתו

But it is not encompassed in actual fact, only in the imagination of the man’s thought and mind.

Since man’s thought is limited, he cannot actually encompass the object itself; he only encompasses its image as it exists within his mind.

אבל הקב״ה, דכתיב ביה: כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם גו׳

G‑d, however, of Whom it is written: 4 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,…” so that it is utterly impossible for us to grasp His thought process, —

הרי מחשבתו ודעתו, שיודע כל הנבראים, מקפת כל נברא ונברא מראשו ועד תחתיתו, ותוכו ותוך תוכו, הכל בפועל ממש

His Thoughts and His Mind, which knows all created beings, encompasses each and every created thing, from its head i.e., from its highest level to its end i.e., to its lowest level, and its inside and very core, all in actual reality, and not as with the thought of mortal man.

The Alter Rebbe now gives an example of G‑d’s thought and knowledge encompassing a specific object.

למשל: כדור הארץ הלזו, הרי ידיעתו יתברך מקפת כל עובי כדור הארץ, וכל אשר בתוכו ותוך תוכו, עד תחתיתו, הכל בפועל ממש

For example, in the case of the orb of this earth, His knowledge encompasses the entire diameter of the globe of the earth, together with all that is in it and its deepest interior to its lowest depths, all in actual reality.

שהרי ידיעה זו היא חיות כל עובי כדור הארץ כולו, והתהוותו מאין ליש

For this knowledge constitutes the vitality of the whole spherical thickness of the earth and its creation ex nihilo.

The whole earth was originally created and continues to be created ex nihilo as a result of G‑d’s knowledge of it.

רק שלא היה מתהווה כמות שהוא עתה, בעל גבול ותכלית, וחיות מועטת מאד כדי בחינת דומם וצומח

However, it would not have come into being as it is now, as a finite and limited thing, with an exceedingly minute degree of vitality sufficient for the categories of inorganic matter and vegetation,

אם לא על ידי צמצומים רבים ועצומים, שצמצמו האור והחיות שנתלבש בכדור הארץ

were it not for the world being created through the many powerful contractions which have condensed the light and vitality that is clothed in the orb of the earth,

להחיותו ולקיימו בבחינת גבול ותכלית, ובבחינת דומם וצומח בלבד

so as to animate it and sustain it in its finite and limited status and in the categories of inorganic and vegetable matter alone.

Thus the minute degree of illumination which results from the tzimtzumim enables the earth to exist in a finite manner, and only in the finitude of inorganic and vegetable matter. G‑d’s knowledge, however, as shall presently be explained, encircles the earth from above. For since His knowledge is infinite, while the world is finite, it is impossible for this knowledge to pervade the earth, even though this knowledge constitutes the earth’s very creation and existence.

אך ידיעתו יתברך המיוחדת במהותו ועצמותו, כי הוא המדע והוא היודע והוא הידוע

But His knowledge which is united with His essence and being, for “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known,

It has been previously explained (in ch. 2) that G‑d’s knowledge and intellect are totally different from man’s. When a mortal being knows something, three distinct identities are involved: (a) the “knower” — the person in possession of the knowledge; (b) the “knowledge” — the intellectual faculty which enables him to know; (c) the “known” — the particular item of knowledge which he knows. G‑d, however, “…is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.” He that knows, and the vehicle through which He knows, and that which He knows — are all Himself. Thus His knowledge is wholly united, wholly identified, with His essence.

ובידיעת עצמו, כביכול, יודע כל הנבראים

and knowing Himself, as it were, He knows all created beings,

ולא בידיעה שחוץ ממנו, כידיעת האדם

though not with a knowledge that is external to Himself, like the knowledge of a human being,

Human knowledge requires getting to know something which is external to the knower himself. Not so G‑d’s knowledge: it comes from His knowing Himself,

כי כולם נמצאים מאמיתתו יתברך

for all of [the created beings] are derived from His true reality,

G‑d’s true reality and existence is the source of all created beings. By knowing Himself, therefore, as mentioned just above, He knows all of creation.

ודבר זה אין ביכולת האדם להשיגו על בוריו וכו׳

and this thing is not within the power of human beings to comprehend clearly…,“ —*

The human mind cannot possibly grasp the concept of “Knowledge, Knower and Known” all being one and the same. For whatever matter a man may desire to comprehend, he imagines how it exists within himself — bearing in mind, of course, that when the matter at hand is the knowledge of G‑dliness, it is to be conceived on a more exalted and abstract plane than that of simple human existence. Since G‑d’s manner of knowledge is totally dissimilar from man’s, it is thus impossible for him to picture it at all. It must forever remain beyond his ken.



“He is the Knowledge, the Knower…” and so on, is a quotation from Rambam (Maimonides). There are prominent sages who take issue with this view, among them Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loewe) of Prague.

In the introduction to his Gevurot HaShem, Maharal raises a number of objections to the thesis of Rambam. One of his most telling arguments: The descriptive term “knowledge” or “intellect” is one of limitation. By terming something as being “intellect” we are thereby saying that it is not anything other than intellect — such as feelings, action, or whatever. Yet how can we possibly say that G‑d is limited in any way? For He is the ultimate in indivisible simplicity, not a complex amalgamation of distinct, limited attributes.

Even if we posit that G‑d’s knowledge and man’s are totally dissimilar, and that man is incapable of comprehending how G‑d is both simultaneously “Knowledge, Knower, and Known,” yet the fact still remains that knowledge is a specific attribute: we are speaking of knowledge, to the exclusion of all else. This cannot possibly serve as a description of G‑d’s essence.

Maharal goes on to point out that the Sages of the Talmud refer to G‑d as “the Holy One, blessed be He,” not as “the Intellect, blessed be He.” For “holy” means separate and apart — utterly transcending anything that is within the realm of description. And it is specifically because He is above everything and beyond all description that everything derives from Him. For He is limited in no respect that might preclude the existence of anything.

Intellect, Maharal teaches, is merely one of G‑d’s creations. Seen in this light, “And G‑d knew” is no different from “And G‑d said” or “And G‑d made.” Just as G‑d’s speech and action are not His essence but faculties which He brought into being, so, too, with regard to knowledge — the attributes of knowledge and intellect are His creations.

The Alter Rebbe explains in this note that the scholars of the Kabbalah subscribed to the view of Rambam that Divine knowledge ought to be considered in terms of “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, they specify, this only applies after the light of the Ein Sof contracted into the ten Sefirot of Atzilut — Chochmah, Binah, Daat (wisdom, knowledge and understanding) and so on, i.e., after the “clothing of the light in vessels.” Only after the light of Chochmah clothed itself in the vessel of Chochmah, the light of Binah in the vessel of Binah, and so forth — i.e., only after these entities already exist — is it possible to say that this knowledge and intellect is totally at one with G‑d. However, before the contraction within these Sefirot, G‑d supremely transcends intellect and wisdom, even as they exist in their most abstract and rarefied form.

According to the teachings of Chassidut, following along the lines of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s interpretation of the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), the views of both Rambam and Maharal are correct.

G‑d’s essential existence and being, before any contraction of G‑dliness, is as described by Maharal — an existence of unqualified simplicity, beyond the pale of knowledge and intellect in whatever form they may take, even so subtle a form as “Knowledge, Knower, and Known.” However, once the contraction took place, and the Sefirot came into being, then His vestiture in them may properly be described by saying, in the words of Rambam, that “He is the Knowledge….”

This is because the Sefirot are emanations of G‑dliness rather than created beings. As such they are wholly united with G‑d. This is expressed in the statement of Tikkunei Zohar: “He and His life-giving emanations (i.e., the orot, the ”lights“ of the ten Sefirot of the World of Atzilut) are one; He and His causations (i.e., the kelim, the ”vessels“ of the ten Sefirot of Atzilut) are one….” That is to say, the Ein Sof-light is one with the lights and vessels of Atzilut. This is exactly the same as saying “He is the Knowledge…,” for the knowledge of the Sefirot is truly one with G‑d (and not a created being), as Maharal insists.

For the view of Maharal, too, is fraught with difficulties. Firstly, we note that Scripture does ascribe knowledge to G‑d Himself, as in the verse, “…and His understanding is beyond reckoning.” Furthermore, it appears unreasonable to argue that G‑d’s knowledge is dependent on a created entity.

According to the explanation of Chassidut, then, all these difficulties — both those in the view of Maharal and those in the view of Rambam — are satisfactorily resolved: G‑d’s essence is indeed beyond description, yet He is still the “Knowledge, the Knower and the Known” as He unites Himself with the Sefirot of Atzilut, after their having come into being through the medium of “contraction”.

In the words of the Alter Rebbe:

כמו שכתב הרמב״ם ז״ל

As Rambam, of blessed memory, has written — that G‑d is “Knowledge, Knower, and Known,

והסכימו עמו חכמי הקבלה, כמו שכתוב בפרדס מהרמ”ק ז”ל

and the scholars of the Kabbalah have agreed with his views, as is stated in Pardes of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, of blessed memory.

וכן הוא לפי קבלת האריז”ל

This is also in accord with the Kabbalah of our master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory,

It was Rabbi Isaac Luria, the AriZal, who first revealed the doctrine of tzimtzum (“contraction”), which taught that G‑d’s exalted essence is even more removed from the Sefirot than was thought before then. It would thus be logical to assume that since he stresses this infinite distance from the Sefirot (the Sefirah of Chochmah, for example), he would be unable to accept the statement that “He is the Knowledge….” Nevertheless this teaching holds true even according to him — but with the proviso:

בסוד הצמצום והתלבשות אורות בכלים, כמו שנתבאר לעיל, פרק ב׳

in the mystery i.e., the doctrine of “contraction” and the clothing of the lights [of the Sefirot] in the vessels [of the Sefirot], as has been explained previously, in ch. 2.

The unity of G‑d with the Divine Sefirot is so absolute that even according to Rabbi Isaac Luria one may safely say of this unity, “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.”


Before the above note the Alter Rebbe stated that G‑d’s knowledge is united with His essence and being; since He is infinite His knowledge is infinite as well. It is therefore impossible for this knowledge to pervade the earth, and it must encompass it. This is true, of course, not only of G‑d’s knowledge of the earth but of creation as a whole.

הרי ידיעה זו, מאחר שהיא בבחינת אין סוף, אינה נקראת בשם מתלבשת בכדור הארץ, שהוא בעל גבול ותכלית, אלא מקפת וסובבת

this knowledge, then, since it is of an infinite order, is not described as clothing itself in the orb of the earth, which is finite and limited, while G‑d’s knowledge is limitless, but as encircling and encompassing it,

אף שידיעה זו כוללת כל עביו ותוכו בפועל ממש

even though this knowledge embraces its entire thickness and interior in actual reality,

Unlike the knowledge of a human being, which encompasses only the image of an object and not its reality, G‑d’s knowledge embraces the object in actual reality,

ומהווה אותו על ידי זה מאין ליש

thereby giving it existence ex nihilo,

Creation does not come about from the minute glimmer of G‑dliness found within the object, which sustains it only at the inanimate and vegetative level, but from the Supernal Knowledge that encompasses and encircles it. And although this knowledge is responsible for the object’s existence, it is still described as encompassing. For inasmuch as the knowledge is infinite while the created being is finite, this knowledge is unable to clothe itself within the created being.

וכמו שנתבאר במקום אחר

as is explained elsewhere — that creation ex nihilo can take place only as a result of the “encompassing light.”




4.  Yeshayahu 55:8.

Comments are closed.