Perusing my email from Lookjed, I notice that the topic is a very interesting one: “Is Kabbala at Odds with Torah?
Now, for most of us, Kabbala is something that is obviously a part of Torah. So how can it be “at odds” with Judaism?
Well, depending who you ask, Kabbala can definitely be at odds with Torah. For our example, we’ll focus on the example furnished by one commenter on the thread.
It comes from Chapter 2 of Tanya, where the Alter Rebbe states “ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש “, which can be translated (according to Chabad.Org) as “The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G-d above.”
And here is the commentary from Chabad.Org on this statement:
“A part of G-d above”1 is a quotation from Scripture (Iyov 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly” to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known,some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse describing “great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens” is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase “a part of G-d above” in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly”, thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above.”
Now, when I saw this quoted, I thought this must be someone twisting the (perhaps risky) metaphor of the Alter Rebbe. But, in fact, it is from Chabad.Org, as we already noted. Why would anyone ever say our souls are part of God?
If God is infinite, He cannot have “parts”, and it must be our souls are all one, and are all God. Thus, we are God. That sounds heretical, right?
Indeed, according to Rambam, there is no question that this is heretical, and anyone who holds this opinion has to be hated and destroyed.
Let’s list which of Rambam’s 13 principles this statement contradicts:
First Principle – “…For unity and mastery are only God’s, since He is sufficient to Himself. All else, whether angels or celestials and whatever is in them or below them, needs Him to exist. This first fundamental principle is taught in the Biblical verse: “I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:2).”
From Tanya we learn that unity actually belongs to us as well, and that angels might be below God, but we’re not, since we are Him. Furthermore, God isn’t “your” God, unless He’s talking to Himself, which throws a whole new meaning on prophecy.
Second Principle – ”…God, rather, is uniquely one.”
According to this interpretation of Tanya, that means God is one…other than the fact that he is one with US, right?
Fifth Principle -Only He, blessed be He, is rightfully worshiped, magnified, and obeyed. One must not pray to anything beneath Him in existence: angels, stars, planets or elements, or anything composed of these.
Again, presumably we can pray to ourselves, since our souls are God. Indeed, if I’m not mistaken, Spinoza came to this conclusion about prayer after he decided that everything is God2, and he promptly decided that prayer is most likely haughty, since it is just God worshiping Himself.
We could go on, and I encourage you to investigate how impossibly large the gap is between Rambam and this statement in Tanya. I’m pretty sure Rambam would have had a conniption had he read it.
Now, as we noted before on this blog, you should be careful before you go around hating and destroying people who disagree with the 13 principles, since that category includes many more great rabbis and sages than you’d think.
Additionally, in the tradition of telling Rav Soloveitchik stories on Modern Orthodox blogs, I should mention that the Rav studied Tanya and had a deep and strong respect for Tanya and Chabad. Indeed, he learned it as a child and it is not uncommon to come across an idea from Tanya in his writings.
On a more personal note, I attended a Chabad school for 2 years in high school, and can personally testify to the total devotion to Torah and Mitzvot that my Chabad friends and their families have, and I hope that no one takes too harsh a view of this wonderful community.
In conclusion, I have no idea if Tanya is at odds with the Torah, but I do think that Rambam would be convinced that it is. (And have you seen the first chapter on souls? Rambam would have a field day with that!)
So what does that mean for us?
Well, I have no idea.
1This is not the correct translation. So odd!
2I can’t remember if he was a pantheist or a panentheist though, sorry.