Path of the Righteous Gentile: Knowing God
PART ONE – Concerning the First Existence, the God of the Universe, God’s Oneness and the negation of attributing physicality to Him.
1. It is the foundation of foundations of all doctrines and philosophical inquiry to know that there is a First Existence without a beginning and that He created all existence from absolute nothingness. Everything that is found in the heavens or on the earth exists only because of the truth of His Existence.1
2. If all the creatures in creation should cease to exist, He alone would still exist and in no way would He be nullified because of their nullification. Every creation needs Him, but He, Blessed Be He, does not need any of them or all of them, and His truth is not like the truth of any one of them.2
Their existence is not imperative, but depends on His existence. Therefore, their existence is relative. But the First Existence is uncaused. His existence is absolute.
3. Of Him the prophet says, “The Lord God is truth (Jeremiah 10:10).” He alone is truth and there is no other truth like unto His truth.3 Of Him the Torah says, “There is nothing else besides Him (Deuteronomy 4:35).”
4. This Existence is the God of the universe and Master of the earth. He directs the planet with a power that has neither limit nor end, with a power that is uninterrupted, so that the planet always revolves. And it is impossible for something to revolve without there being a force causing it to revolve. He, Blessed Be He, causes it to revolve without a hand and without a body.4
5. And if it should ever occur to you that there is another deity besides Him, it is a rejection of the very Source on which everything depends.5
6. This God is one. He is not two or more than two, and there is no single existence that is unique and singular like His existence. He is not in a category that includes others of His species. And He is not divided into portions or sections as is a body. His oneness is the ultimate of simplicity and His uniqueness has no equal in the universe.6
7. If there were many gods, they would necessarily have bodies, because there is no way to differentiate one being from another except by bodily or material differences. And if the Creator had a body or any material form, He would have both a limit and an end, and His power would have a limit and an end, because it is not possible for there to be a body that has no termination point and everything pertaining to a body also has a termination point. But because of our God, Blessed Be His Name, Whose power is endless and uninterrupted, the planet revolves perpetually, for His power is not a bodily power. Because He has no body, there are no accidents or occurrences of the body that happen to Him which might divide or separate Him from another being. Therefore it is impossible for Him to be anything but One.7
8. If a person should think that there might be two deities, equally uncreated, what would distinguish one from the other except for their occupying different places at the same time or the same place at different times? And if you want to say that they occupy different places at the same time or the same place at different times, they are surely not limitless. Otherwise, the concept of two infinities arises, which is by definition impossible. Infinity is one and all inclusive and supremely indivisible into aspects, extremities, or forms.
9. It is explained in the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, has no body, for it says, “Because the Lord He is God in Heaven above and on the earth below (Deuteronomy 4:39),” and a body cannot be in two places, and it says, “Because you saw no form on the day the Lord spoke to you (Deuteronomy 4:15),” and it says, “And who is compared or equal to Me? (Isaiah 40:25),” and if He had a body, He would have some basis of comparison to other bodies.8
10. If so, why does it say in the Torah, “And under His feet…(Exodus 24:10),” and “Written by the finger of God, (Exodus 31:18),” “the hand of the Lord (Exodus 9:3),” “the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 38:7),” “the ears of the Lord (Numbers 11:1),” and many examples like this? All of this is because the intellect of man is unable to fathom anything other than physicality, and the Torah is given in the language of man. So all of these examples are descriptive phrases, such as, “If I whet the glitter of My sword, (Deuteronomy 32:41).” Does He have a sword? It is all only a metaphor. The truth is that He has no semblance or form, but all of it is the vision revealed to the prophet, as it is written, “Can you find God by searching for Him, or can you delve into the depths of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7).”9
11. And what was it that Moses sought when he asked God, “Please, show me Your glory (Exodus 33:18)”? Moses wished to know the truth of the existence of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, to the point where he knew it in his heart, just as one knows a person whose form is engraved in his heart, and whom he recognizes as distinct from other men. Thus did Moses yearn to know the Holy One, Blessed Be He, to the point where He would be distinct in Moses’ heart like other existences, thereby knowing the truth of God’s existence as it really is. And God answered him that man, while his soul is attached to a body, lacks this power of intellect and so he cannot know this truth clearly.10
12. Since, as it has been explained, God has no body, He is not subject to the accidents of the body. He has neither attachment nor separation, neither place nor measurement, neither ascent nor descent, neither right nor left, neither front nor back, neither standing nor sitting, and just as He has no ending, neither has He a beginning, and He has neither life nor death as a body has, neither intellect nor wisdom like a wise man, and He neither sleeps nor wakes, and he has neither anger nor laughter, neither joy nor sadness, neither silence nor speech like the speech of man.11
13. And such passages in the Torah as “He sits in the heavens and laughs (Psalms 2:4)” are merely metaphors and similes, for as the sages of Israel teach, the Torah was given in the language of man. And God says, “I am the Lord, I do not change (Malachi 3:6).” If He were at times angry and at times joyous, this would surely constitute change, for all these qualities and attributes are found only in a physical body, a vessel whose foundation is dust. But He, may He be blessed, is exalted far, far above any of this.12
PART TWO – Concerning the obligation to love and fear God.
1. One should strive to love and fear God, Who is honored and exalted, as it says, “You should love the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6:5),” and “You should fear the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6:13).”
2. What is the way to love Him and fear Him? When a man ponders deeply about His wondrous deeds and His manifold great creations, he will realize that God’s wisdom has no equal or end, and he will immediately love and praise and glorify and desire with a great desire to know His Great Name.13 And when he thinks about these things, he will immediately be awestruck with fear, and he will realize that he is but a tiny creature, low and inconsequential, 14 standing with extremely limited knowledge before the One Who possesses knowledge that is perfect and complete.15
PART TWO – Concerning God’s creation of the universe through His speaking and the continued existence of the universe through God’s life force.
1. “Know this day and take it unto your heart that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other (Deuteronomy 4:39).”
2. In the beginning, when God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters (Genesis 1:6),” the words of His blessed speech, being eternal as He is eternal, stand eternally in the firmament of the heavens as the activating life force in creation. Were God to retract His words or cause His speech to depart even for an instant, the heavens would immediately return to absolute nothingness just as they were prior to their having been created by God’s saying, “Let there be a firmament.”16
3. Thus it is with each of the Ten Utterances by which God created the world. Were God’s speech to return to its Source, the entirety of creation would instantly cease to exist and would become the absolute nothingness that it was before the beginning of the six days of creation.17
4. One who contemplates the foregoing can begin to understand how God was one and unique and alone before He created the world, and remains equally one and unique and alone even after He created the world, and that the creation of the world in no way added anything to His completeness and perfection.18
5. This seems to be a paradox. How can it be that the creation of the world added nothing or effected no change in God? The seeming paradox is resolved by realizing that compared with God, Whose speech is the sole life force in creation, the world is absolutely and literally nothing and nonexistent. This is because in His Presence everything is considered nonexistent, literally null and void, and there is no place devoid of His Presence,19 as it is written, “Do I not fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:24).”
6. When a flesh and blood person speaks, the words and the breath of his mouth are felt and seen to leave the speaker and to become things unto themselves, but God’s speech is never separated from Him, because there is no place devoid of Him and nothing outside of Him, for He is eternal and infinite.20
7. Even the idea of speech as applied to God is to be taken not literally but metaphorically. Just as the speech of a person reveals what was hidden in the person’s thoughts, thus it is with the Lord of Hosts, Blessed Be He, Who brought forth all of created existence from a state of concealment to revelation by the Ten Sayings of creation as recorded in the Book of Genesis. It is this which is called speech in reference to God.21
8. These Ten Sayings by which the world was created are called the speech of God because through them His will went from a concealed state to a revealed state. But this so-called speech is unified with Him in absolute unity. The difference is only from the perspective of created beings, who receive their life force from God’s speech, as it descends from His exalted being and creates material existence, descending level after level until it reaches this base physical world. Here, created beings are able to receive the Divine flow of life without losing their identities and being absorbed and nullified in their true Source, God.22
9. This Divine influx is concealed to avoid a revelation of God that is greater than the world can endure. Therefore, it appears to the creatures that the light and life force of the Omnipresent which is clothed in each creation, and is the true existence of each creation, is a thing apart from His Blessed Self and merely issues from Him, just as the speech of a human being issues from the person. Yet there is absolutely no concealment from the perspective of the Holy One, Blessed Be He. Nothing is obscured from Him whatsoever. To Him darkness and light are exactly the same, as it is written, “Even the darkness conceals nothing from You, but the night shines as the day (Psalms 139:12).”
10. Nor does the descent of level after level prevent His blessed speech from remaining in a state of absolute unity with Him, but it is metaphorically like the snail whose garment is part of him.23
11. The error that secular philosophers make which leads them to believe that God created the world and then abandoned it to its own devices is that they assume that the creative process of God is the same as that of man. In truth, it is vastly different, as it is written, “For My thoughts are not like your thoughts,” and, “Thus My ways are higher than your ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).” Man is merely capable of creating something from something. The human craftsman takes an ingot of silver and fashions a vessel from it. When the craftsman removes his hand from his creation, the vessel remains. This is because the craftsman merely changes the form of a created substance. However, when God created the heavens and the earth, He made them from absolute nothingness, and were He to remove His creative force, they would be as they were before He brought them forth into the state of revealed creation, that is, they would be non-existent.24
12. From the foregoing words of truth, it should be apparent how the entirety of creation is, in truth, considered null and void with respect to God’s activating force and the breath of His mouth. This does not mean that the creation is an illusion. What it means is that God’s Divine Force is its true existence and that the creation has no independent existence of its own. However, it must be realized that the example of God’s removing His original Ten Saying was hypothetical. God has no such intention. The universe is real. It is, however, nullified to its Creator. How do we know the universe is real? Inasmuch as our limited senses and intellect are part of the created universe, any proof they might offer is inconclusive, for we are part of the very thing that may not exist! There is but one proof that the universe really exists. It says so in the Torah, as it is written “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).”
13. The reason that every created being and thing appears to possess an independent self-existence is that we do not grasp or see with our physical eyes the power of God and the breath of His mouth that is within creation. If permission were granted the eye to see the life force and the spirituality that flow from God to every created thing, then we would no longer see the physicality of material existence. For, since the physical world is truly nullified to its Source, if we could see the Divine source, how could we see the physical world?25
14. By analogy, a ray of sunlight may be seen from the earth, but from the perspective of the sun which is the source of the ray, all that is seen is the light that fills the sky. From the sun’s perspective, the ray has no existence whatsoever.26
15. However, the analogy of the ray of sunlight is incomplete, because its source, the sun, exists only in one place in the heavens. The sun does not exist both in the heavens and on earth where its light appears to have a separate existence. This is in contrast to created beings, which are always within their Source, although the Source is not revealed to their eyes.27
16. It is not sufficient to say that God created the world during the six days of creation, for His creative activity is continuous, an infinite flow of life force. This is why it is written in the present tense, “He creates darkness and forms light,”28 rather than in the past tense – He created darkness and formed light. And this applies to man as well. The man who feels his own self-importance and does not recognize that the Creator is bringing him forth from absolute nothingness into existence is called one whom God created in the past tense. This is in contrast to a person who acknowledges the truth of his existence, realizing that it constantly comes from God alone. This person is called one whom God creates. One who contemplates these teachings will surely come to realize that God is truly our Father and our King Who brings us into being and desires our existence.
1 Mishneh Torah, Foundations of Torah, 1:1
2 Ibid., 1:3
3 Ibid., 1:4
4 Ibid., 1:5
5 Ibid., 1:6
6 Ibid., 1:7
8 Ibid., 1:8
9 Ibid., 1:9
10 Ibid., 1:10
11 Ibid., 1:11
12 Ibid., 1:12
13 According to the mystical teachings of the Torah, the Name of God means the Revelation of His Divine Presence.
14 Any being in comparison to the entire universe, and all the more so in comparison to the One who created the universe, can be considered truly inconsequential.
15 Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah, 2:2 16 Tanya, Gate of Unity and Faith, chap. 1, p. 76b
17 Ibid. It must be understood, however, that God’s speech is never separated from Him as it is with created beings, for there is no place outside of Him.
18 Ibid., chap. 7, pp. 82b-83a
19 Ibid., chap. 3, p. 78a
20 Tanya, chap. 21, p. 26b
21 Ibid., chap. 21, p. 26b 22
23 Genesis Rabba 21
24 Tanya, Gate of Unity and Faith, chap. 2, pp. 72a-72b
25 Ibid., chap. 3, p.78b 26 Ibid.
27 Ibid., p. 78b
28 Siddur (Hebrew Prayer Book), morning prayer service