Another story from the days of awe series.
On the phone with Andy
Tzimtzum: the contraction or concealment of God
“I was reading last night about the holy Ari and tzimtzum,” Andy said.
God is withdrawing. It’s a tzimtzum, for sure. I knew it, Andy said.
It’s God in conflict with Itself, Andy said. Tzimtzum — it comes from that duality, Gnosticism, that God could be in conflict with Itself. God withdraws in the sense that God is still surrounding, but there are places where God isn’t, in an inner way, like a bagel.
This was Andy’s new take on tzimtzum, Andy’s chidush [newness]. If you write about this, Andy said, make sure you mention the bagel. There’s this space where God isn’t, deep in the center, where God allows us to free-fall. We reach out, or in, or not.
Hakadosh Barukh Hu [the Holy Blessed One] is withdrawing, Andy said, but the Shekhinah [the inner Presence] is entirely accessible. But She is the subtext. The Shekhinah. She’s subtle. We have not made her overt. Except for Shabbes.
That’s what happened at shul the Shabbes after 9/11, I said, the Shekhinah, what was hidden become known, what was subtle, unloosed. Overt.
We went to the center and I think we were not afraid. We went to the center, where even if God had accomplished a tzimtzum there, a contraction, an emptiness, it was quiet, comforting strangely comforting, was it because it was the center or was it because we had all arrived there together?
Maybe that is what happened to us at shul that Shabbat, 9/11, I said, we went to the center where it was empty but quiet, and because when we sat in the center emptiness, we knew that all around us, or perhaps underneath us, in the deep story, or around us in your imagery, was God. Still. Waiting.
God waiting for us to redeem the world. I am always waiting, God speaking. I am always waiting, God says.
The Shekhinah is always entirely accessible. On Shabbat she comes out of hiding, and that is why we welcome her so eagerly.
It happens, in spite of ourselves, and no one has the power to interrupt that flow, the process. It happened to us that Shabbat, and we all sat there when the prayers were over, we sat there looking inward, and we sat there looking into the center of this disaster where God had exited, but we felt the presence everywhere around us, underneath us, enveloping us, waiting, waiting.
I am always waiting, God says.
Then Andy spoke again. Tzimtzum is a choosing to not be there. Not a choosing without conflict, it opens up the world to tremendous conflict. But something has to die for something new to be reborn. And the redemption when there is such a great destruction is dangerous and difficult. One has to ascend into the darkness in order to redeem the world, to make the Great Tikkun.
The Ari opens that up for us, Andy said.
All we have to do is to be, because God is waiting for us to redeem the world.
Andy kept speaking. The notion of Kabbalah is passive, an act of receptivity, it’s not active. It’s Kabbalah, it’s received. It’s not what I’m giving, it’s what I’m getting.
That’s what we are doing, we are engaged in the struggle for the heart of the world. There is a struggle in the world, different forces, that’s what makes the world move, Andy said. Carry on, it is precisely the separations and the differences and the necessity to enter into conflict with what opposes you that drives the world.
We are readying ourselves the best we can for the Great Tikkun [adjustment]. God too is in exile. God is waiting to be redeemed. That’s our part. Let God be God, with all the attendant struggles, and don’t you know that God is in conflict? You do know, you are feeling it now in your blood in your bones God in conflict, God turning in on Itself. That’s God in tzimtzum.
Let God be God, what about us? asked Andy.
The Rosh Hashanah prayer says Hayom Harat Olam, usually translated as “today is the birthday of the world.” Harat means both tremble and birth. Today the world trembles, today the world is born. We are the midwives, every day we are giving birth.
What are we doing? Standing here. Today. All of us. We are saying the kaddish from the center of our hurt, ground zero, where it’s empty and quiet and dark. All around us: God. In the middle, emptied out, God’s tzimtzum, God waiting somewhere, God in exile from Itself, in conflict with Itself, God waiting.
We are saying the kaddish. We didn’t choose the Kaddish [memorial prayer for the dead], the Kaddish chose us. God choosing us is stronger than we choosing God.
Remember how you taught The Kaddish, Andy said.
We are standing in the crucible. We are “tzvishn [between].” That’s the kaddish, the prayer we howl into the darkness that ignores the dark, it’s the belief in the power that saves and comes from the most wondrous place imaginable and unimaginable, not just peace we are praying for, but great peace, and life, for us and for everyone, and say it: amen.
Now I remember, I do remember, I said, the kaddish and how we poise ourselves between acknowledging the hurt yet praying for the coming of God’s kingdom, not death, not one mention of death, only great peace, God’s kingdom, peace everywhere all the time, and say it: AMEN.
May there be great peace, unbelievable peace, unimaginable peace, unity, wholeness, inconceivable wholeness, for us, for all the world, and say it: amen.
We are praying for peace, with every breath, every word, every song, all the silences, all the sounds, from the emptiness deep deep within, from the quiet place, from the center, all around us — God, but at ground zero — we are praying with everything we have. God is waiting for us to redeem the world, we are always waiting, patient, quiet, present.
God says, I am waiting too.