The Paradox of the Void
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
Death. The very mention of the word is enough to invoke fear and anxiety in immense proportion. Pain and suffering, sadness and melancholy, grief and despair, loss and bereavement, hopelessness, finality, mortality, are just some of the feelings death of a loved one procure. Gradually over time, these intense feelings dissipate. But there is one feeling that never ceases and that is the void in a heart and soul that never gets filled with the passing of a loved one.
By way of introduction, this essay seeks not to minimize the grief and pain of losing a loved one. Neither does it negate the longing for the days when death will be eradicated entirely with the coming of Moshiach. It merely aims to impart some meaning into the existential void death creates, in an effort to provide hope and the will to continue living for the bereaved.
This essay will explore the nature of the “void” created in death by way of comparison to “the void” at the beginning of creation – also known as Tzimzum Harishon (the first contraction), and why the void remains forever.
The search for G-d is the search for meaning, writes Rabbi Johnathan Sacks in his book “The Great Partnership”, and the discovery of G-d is the discovery of meaning. The discovery of G-d at the highest point of creation will imbue meaning at the lowest point in mans existence.
The First Tzimztum – Siluk or Helem
G-d desired to create a dwelling place on earth. Yet as the Arizal puts it (Aitz Chayim Shaar Aleph), “before creation, the only existence was G-d’s infinite light thereby leaving no space for a physical creation.” Physicality could not exist in the presence of G-d’s light, much like man can not survive on the sun. To create a physical world, the Arizal explains, G-d removed himself “Biderech Siluk- by way of departure” creating an empty space in which the world can exist. This was first of several vaccums before a physical world- created and sustained ex nihilo- would eventually emerge. This empty space which G-d made is termed “The Challal” (the void) in Chassidus. It is where the infinite and finite converge. Paradoxically, that void didn’t fill after creation.
The Alter Rebbe in Tanya (Shaar Hayichud Vihameuna, Perek 7) emphatically challenges the notion that G-d removed himself, since there is no place that is devoid of G-d. The true interpretation he offered is that the Challal-vacuum was created through G-d’s “concealment” rather than His “removal or departure” from that space.
In reality, the void was never void. It only seemed that way.
Concealment for the Purpose of Revelation
The Alter Rebbe further elucidates (Likutei Torah,14:2) that the concealment done by Gd did not affect change to Gd Himself, rather it created a reality in which creations can perceive Gd as ‘hiding.’ The concealment was merely on a single “ray of light” stemming from G-d’s essence. That “ray of light” contained all the characteristics of G-d’s essence in its potential, yet it was concentrated and filtered to allow for a material world to exist.
Once created, infinity could be revealed within the finitude of this universe. To G-d, there was no change before or after this concealment. The change was to the created beings.
After creation, human beings were given the task to reveal G-dliness in this world. The purpose of concealment was for G-d’s ultimate revelation by man.
“A Jews Neshomah is an actual part of G-d”, says the Alter Rebbe in Tanya (Perek Bais). Being a part of G-d, this Neshomah is eternal. The soul is life while the body is naturally inanimate (Sefer Hamamorim 5710, Pg 43). When a person is born, the infinite soul enters the finite body giving life to the body. When it departs, the body returns to its lifeless state.
Bearing a child is often thought of as the most G-dly experience a person can achieve. Not only because it literally involves creating a human being from nothing, but also because of the convergence of the finite and infinite with the eternal soul entering the finite body.
Death on the other hand is considered the ultimate human experience demonstrating the absolute finite limitation of human existence. Where birth adds, death detracts.
There is however a very G-dly experience in death itself.
The Correlations of the Voids
The Posuk says, “better is the day of death than the day of birth” (Koheles 7:1). The Rebbe explains, this is because when a person is born the Neshama is concealed and the Giluy Oir- true expression of his Neshomah is only in a potential state, only becoming fully revealed when he dies (Likutei Sichos 26, pg. 3).
Furthermore, death is called Histalkus the same word used to describe the process of Hashem’s Siluk at the beginning of creation. Just as G-d didn’t remove himself C”V from the world but rather concealed himself, so too when the Neshomah departs from the body it doesn’t become removed from us. It is only concealed.
The void felt with the death of a loved one is that of concealment, not of ultimate loss. Just as Chassidus teaches that G-d is present in the void before and after concealment, so too the neshomah never goes away. In fact, The Rebbe teaches that the Neshomah continues to feel our joy and pain as if it were still here physically.
That is why the void never fades away, because the Neshomah remains with us always. With this understanding, the void is never truly void. Death doesn’t impact the infinite Neshomah, only the finite beings left behind.
In addition, the purpose of the concealment of death is tantamount to G-d’s concealment in the challal, in that its primary goal is to reveal.
Without the interruption of death, the individual would never be able to make his or her mark on history. The Jewish people are eternal, but individual human beings are not. If all your ancestors would still be alive your individuality would never be actualized. Death of a loved one is actually G-d’s way of telling you it’s your time to shine – Vihachai Yiten El Liboy.
In the continuum of life, death is the process of ensuring the torch never goes out and G-dliness continues to be revealed until Moshiach comes when G-d’s infinite light is openly revealed.