parshat terumah, exodus 25
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 23rd 2023. We continue a previous discussion concerning the emergence and almost universal impact, if not acceptance of the concept of tzimzum and tikkun on the Jewish concept of redemption. We explore the writings of Gershom Scholem and ask how this radical idea manifests in a new pernicious form of post-Zionism.
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/469103
This is a continuation of last year’s Terumah podcast: WHEN GOD get small
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Toldot. . Last year when we discussed the creation of the tabernacle, we explored a powerful theological concept called Tzimzum where God creates the world by contracting his presence. This year we continue the discussion from a historical, ideological and political perspective. We explore how after the expulsion from Spain this concept profoundly impacted every aspect of the Jewish Journey into modernity and up until the current political crisis in Israel.
So welcome, you know, every week, I have to make sure that I’m not talking about the same thing that I talked about in past years. So I wanted to talk about Tzimzum, I love Tzimzum, and I went back to last year’s podcast, and lo and behold, we talked about Tzimzum, and I listened to it. And I encourage any of you who haven’t listened to it recently to go ahead, because this is a continuation of that discussion, we are going to get into what tzimzum is, as I said before, in the introduction, it’s when God creates the world by contracting. And I think that at the end of last year’s podcast, to give you a sense of the direction we took last year, we asked the question of how is it possible that God on the one hand, can contract himself and withdraw from the world, but also be m’tzamzem make himself small and come into the temple. And I quoted if you remember, Rabbi, Shai Held, who said, it’s kind of like a relationship, sometimes you have to give the other person space by contracting yourself and moving away. And other times you have to get into their life and be a part of every aspect of it. And so that gives you a sense that last year, we were really talking on a very personal level, a theological level, but this year, we’re going in a whole other direction, we’re going to really look at history. And in a sense, it’s almost going to be a masterclass in Gershon Scholem, the the great historian, scholar of Kabbalah. And we’re going to use him as a guide. And I think we’re going to be kind of surprised by some of the ramifications that tzimzum had throughout history. So Rabbi, do you share even a little bit my my fascination with tzimzum?
Adam Mintz 03:11
It’s a really, really good topic. And I wasn’t sure you know, that “continued”, I wasn’t sure what angle you were gonna take in terms of in terms of tzimzum,
Geoffrey Stern 03:21
So what we’re starting with is the Parsha deals with the Israelites building God, a temple. And there’s one verse in Exodus 25, 8. And it says, And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. And the key word that we discussed really ad nauseam last year was וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם . And I will dwell (amongst them) and if you hear the word Shechina, in V’shechanti, you are on the money, “I will dwell within them”. And the whole question is what is “within them mean”? And we quoted one piece of Midrash in Shemot Rabbah, where the moment when the Holy One said to Moses, make me a tabernacle, Moses was dumbfounded, and said, The glory of the Holy One fills the upper worlds, and the lower and he said, to make him a tabernacle? And he said, “but will God indeed dwell on the earth?” So really, there is this question here of how the infinite can become part of our world of finitude, and at the end it says, The Holy One replied to Moshe, I do not see things the same as you do. I will come down and contract my presence within a space of one qubit by one qubit and it says in the Hebrew שֶׁאֵרֵד וַאֲצַמְצֵם שְׁכִינָתִי בְּתוֹךְ אַמָּה עַל אַמָּה so this word that the Kabbalists went to town with is used very rarely. And this is one of the rare occasions that it is used in a Rabbinic, Midrashic text and earliest understanding of Tzimzum, which means really to contract is that God took his infinite presence and brought it inside of the tabernacle. And what we are going to discuss today is how the Kabbalists, in Tzfat in Safed in Israel, took this concept and made it into something that I am going to argue with the help of Gershom Scholom today, affected every aspect of Jewish life, affected the thoughts that everybody listening to this podcast probably has about Judaism, affected history, ideology, theology, and even nationalism. So the first thing that Scholem does, is he explains what this meant from a theological perspective, and then how it evolved. And he said that ultimately, this concept of God creating the world instead of emanating into the world, by slowly but surely materializing himself through these different Sefirot, which I described last year, as a sense of almost kicking the can down the road. Instead, he contracted himself, he says, “the doctrines developed in the schools of Safed, apparently embodied some fundamental and universal Jewish quality that’s transcended all local variations. And he says, what they did was they had recently been exiled from Spain. And you have to understand Spain in its day was, was like American Jewry. It was. It was like Berlin right before and the Holocaust, it was Jews were in every facet of life. And they thought they had arrived, and all of a sudden, a catastrophe occurred, and they lost everything. And the Kabbalists went to Safed. And for the first generation, they really felt that this cataclysmic event had occurred, and the Messiah would come. And when that wore off, they had to figure out what everything meant. And so what they did was they took this concept of God creating the world and contracting himself into God exileing himself. “They triumphed because they provided an answer to the great problem of the time, to a generation for which the facts of exile and the precariousness of existence in it had become most pressing and cruel. Kabbalism could give an answer unparalleled in breadth and depth and vision. The Kabbalistic answer illuminated the significance of exile in redemption, and accounted for the unique historical situation of Israel within the wider, in fact, cosmic context of creation itself. What Gershon Scholem is trying to prove is that they took something that previously had only related to the creation of the world, and they brought it home to the situation of the Jews in exile. And they took this concept of God in a sense coming out of his holy abode, or God contracting himself from the world because there was a little bit of both of them, and they projected that on to the Jewish people, so now all of a sudden, this idea of being exiled, became almost something that could be compared to the divine. I’ll finish this little introduction because Gershom Scholom is almost lyrical and when you read him, he’s almost poetic. He says, There is a ruthlessness towards himself (meaning God), for he exiled himself from boundless infinity to a more concentrated infinity. There is a profound inward galut exile, not the galut of one of the creatures but of God Himself, who limited himself and thereby made place for the universe. So this is where this idea of tzimzum becomes more than just how does God create a temple? Or how does God even create a world and that is what we we’re going to explore a little bit today. How does that resonate with you Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 10:05
Well, first of all, I mean, I’m so happy that you started with Gershom Scholem. Because he’s the master of understanding this and that’s why it’s so great that he call it a continuation, the idea that God, contracting himself becomes God going into exile was such an important pivot by the Jews. And we’re still living in that pivot. That’s what you said, you said, it applies to us. Even today, we’re still living in that pivot, we still see God as going into exile, and how that relates to us and how we relate to that. So I love that idea.
Geoffrey Stern 10:45
And if I’m correct, we have had a previous podcast, where you have referenced this concept of Shechinta B’Galuta, that the Divine Presence went with the Jews into exile. That was not something that was created by this concept of Tzimzum, that like many things in the history of ideas that was existing, but it was, I think, kind of embellished and given more power, the idea of the Divine Presence also went into exile, or that even when Israel sins, God goes down with them, those are in the source sheet. We have texts; traditional texts, nothing to do with the Kabbalah that, that talk about that. And of course, we find that to be kind of a powerful. And I think it’s in a sense, these are the humanistic aspects, the Hasidic stories about how the simple little Jew or the the Jew who might not be knowledgeable in the Torah, God is with that person. I mean, that in itself is a powerful, a powerful message. But again, we’re gonna take it out of the realm of theology, and the personal and into the realm of ideology, and ideological movements and nationalism and politics. And that I think becomes kind of fascinating how that happened.
Adam Mintz 12:26
That is fascinating. Let me just say that that idea that that God is in exile is based on a very old rabbinic tradition, which is quoting a verse which says, עמו אנכי בצרה that I am with you in your suffering, and that God actually is with us in our suffering. And that’s really amazing, right? So when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us, עמו אנכי בצרה
Geoffrey Stern 12:57
Absolutely. And I think you can even make the case that there was in rabbinic tradition, a sense of that a God would go into the exile. When it says, to make me a Mikdash. In Shemot Rabbah, it says, Make me a Mikdash, so that I not be on the outside שֶׁלֹא אֶהְיֶה בַּחוּץ . This, this concept of exile an Alien Nation, being a foreigner, being an alien, whether to oneself or in every aspect, again, it was all there. But the Jews from suffered in the tiny little town on the top of a hill, came up with an interpretation that really resounded so so strongly, that I think will show it really affected so many different occurrence within within Judaism. And that becomes kind of fascinating.
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/467460
Please listen to last year’s Podcast: WHEN GOD gets small