God’s Absolute Essence
Of God’s Absolute Essence it is said: “no thought can grasp You at all.” He is neither “something” nor is He “nothing,” for He is the “Absolute Something” as well as the “Absolute Nothing” as one.
Even when we refer to this and other related phenomena with regard to God as His being “the Paradox of paradoxes,” this phrase itself is not meant to define God but only to describe the nature of man’s experience of Him.
The phrase “no thought” in the above statement implies that even the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon–that thought which conceives all of Creation at once–cannot know the essence of God, the Creator.
Although the intellectual faculty of the Divine soul cannot know God, the inner essence of the Divine soul of Israel–”an actual part of God Above” (Tanya Ch. 2)– connects to God’s Essence intuitively and directly (in the second person), as evident from the above statement itself: “no thought can grasp You at all.”
When a simple Jew says “God,” as in the phrase “blessed be God” or “by the will of God,” he is referring to Atzmut–God’s Absolute Essence. This is expressed by the Chassidic saying: “a simple Jew is connected to the simplicity of Atzmut.”
In Hebrew, Atzmut means “Self” (and derives from the root etzem, which means “bone”). The first word of the giving of the Torah to Israel–the Ten Commandments–is Anochi, “I,” the revelation to Israel of God’s Absolute Essence, His ultimate “Self.” The experience of this revelation impresses on the soul the sense of God’s being “the Paradox of paradoxes,” as mentioned above.
Courtesy of Gal Einai
Atzmuth (עצמות from the Hebrew Etzem עצם) meaning “essence”, is the descriptive term referred to in Kabbalah, and explored in Hasidic thought, for the Divine essence.
Classical Kabbalah predominantly refers to G-od with its designated term “Ein Sof” (“No end”-Infinite), as this distinguishes between the Divine Being beyond description and manifestation, and Divine emanations within Creation, which become the descriptive concern of systemised Kabbalistic categorisation. Reference to Atzmus is usually restricted in Kabbalistic theory to discussion whether “Ein Sof” represents the ultimate Divine Being in Itself, or to God as first cause of Creation.
Hasidic thought however, concerns itself with relating transcendent esoteric Kabbalah to the internalised psychological experience of man. In Hasidism, the essential Divine Atzmus above emanation is related to its description of Omnipresent Divine Panentheism in the physical World, and focus on the essential Divinity in daily Jewish spiritual experience. This underlies Hasidism’s adjustment of Jewish values to extol the innate sincerity of the common folk, and to shape its concern with selfless spiritual motivation in learning, prayer and benevolence, beyond traditional Talmudic mastery for its own sake alone.
The concealed Divine soul essence that each person possesses becomes revealed in the Hasidic doctrine of the Tzadik leader as Divine channel of physical and spiritual sustenance for the community, while the elite perception of essential Divine Unity of Creation in ideal contemplation by the capable few, realises the union of the soul in God.
In the Chabad investigation of Hasidic thought, Atzmus relates, beyond the revelations of Kabbalah, to the essential Divine Unity and purpose of Creation, revealed in the eschatological future as the ultimate Dirah Betachtonim (Divine “dwelling place in the lowest” Physical realm), through the essential Will in Mitzvot Jewish observances. This relates to the Divine essence of Torah and the soul, both reflecting the essential fifth level of Yechidah (“Singular”).
While esoteric Kabbalah relates to the transcendent fourth level of Torah interpretation and the soul, the level of Chayah (Chochmah-Wisdom insight), the nature of Yechidah (innermost Keter-Will delight), enables its higher Divine source to permeate and descend lower into perception, as essence permeates all while remaining distinct. The essence of the Divine is not restricted to Ein Sof limitlessness or to transcendent Kabbalistic emanation alone. Through seeking to reveal the Divine closeness and Omnipresence to all the community, religiously learned or illiterate, Hasidism, across its different schools, sought to hasten the ultimate Messianic realisation of Atzmus Unity.