Thursday, March 31, 2011

Greatness in humility

“Where you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, there you find His humility.”
Talmud Bavli, “Megillah” 31a

What is the meaning of the above statement? What does it mean for G-d to be humble, to be great and to be both? In my mind, I see a few levels:
  1. In the simple meaning, His greatness and His humility can be found “in the same place”, at the same time. These two characteristics coexist, simultaneously, side-by-side. For instance, G-d creates the Universe every single second; He is holy, awesome and exalted; the angels praise Him daily, and the righteous are in awe of Him. Yet, He cares about the needs of every single worm, and we can address Him with the simplest of requests. “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh...”, yet “poseach es yadecho...”.

    (In the words of Talmud, quoting from Dvorim: He is “The King of kings, the Supernal Being above all supernal beings, and Master of all masters — and yet, He judges on behalf of the orphan and the widow.”)

    This may teach us (who are supposed to “walk in the paths of Hashem”) that no matter how great and important we may (perceive ourselves to) be, we must still find time and space for even the most unimportant of creatures, events and people. Furthermore, we cannot be haughty about our station — the true greatness is evidenced by humility.

  2. Alter Rebbe asks a question in Tanya: how is it possible for us to say that G-d — the great exalted G-d — cares about what we eat, what we wear, what we do in our everyday lives? He answers: because Torah is really G-d’s Will and Wisdom, stemming from His Essence, and piercing each of the spiritual worlds, enveloping itself in the “garments” of each of the worlds, until it reaches the material world and envelops itself in the physical matters: in the physical food, in the meat of kosher animals for consumption and skin for parchments, in the wool for tzitzis, etc.

    And don’t say that G-d cares only about the spiritual because He Himself is so exalted and above the material. First of all, G-d is as high above the spiritual as above the material. Second, “where you find His greatness, you find His humility” — G-d’s “greatness”, i.e., His exalted Will and Wisdom, descend into this world to envelop themselves in the material matters, to become accessible to us, such that we, through performing mitzvos, can make a Dwelling for G-d in the physical Universe.

  3. Looking at Seider Hishtalshelus, the spiritual chain of the worlds and G-d’s Lights and Vessels, there is a point, where we see that we cannot go any higher. It’s the most “lifnei” and the most “le’ma’alah” one can get. Above all the worlds, above all tzimtzumim, above all definitions, powers and potentials. There, we say, is the true greatness of G-d. Well, “where you find His greatness, you find His humility”. Even that exalted level above all comprehension is merely G-d’s “humility” — His lowering Himself from His Essence to have connection to His creation.

    This is the concept of yedias ha’shlila, study through negation: one first learns about the worlds and Lights of G-d, how exalted, beautiful and awesome they are. About G-d’s creation of everything every single moment out of nothing. About His bringing of His spiritual Universe out of nothing through His Lights and His vessels, and all their intricate interactions and mysteries, a glimpse of which is barely accessible to human understanding after years of work. And after all that, we know that this “greatness” is nothing but G-d’s humility.

  4. Wherever you find G-d’s ability to reveal Himself (His “greatness”), through His Light — you find equally His ability to conceal Himself through His vessels and tzimtzumim. Both stem equally from G-d. “Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echod.” One cannot say that G-d is only infinite, for that way one limits Him too. G-d can express Himself through finitude as well as through infinity.

  5. At the moment where you observe G-d’s “humility”, His concealment of Himself, you actually observe His greatness. Revelations, Lights, spirituality, Upper Worlds, the souls and the angels — that’s not the true greatness of G-d. The vessels and tzimtzumim, the power to conceal and to limit and not to shine (“yecholto she lo lehoir”, or, lower, “koach ha’gvul”), the physicality and materiality — and, finally, the human body. All of these are, despite being expressions of G-d’s “humility”, so to speak, are actually expressions of His Greatness, expressions of His Essence.

    In that case, why do we need the Light? In order to reveal that His Humility is actually His Greatness.

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