Review of Nefesh HaTzimtzum

By Zev Garber

NefeshHatzimtzumTwo1The Four Gateways of Nefesh HaChaim are introduced and discussed in Nefesh HaTzimzum, volume one. They speak respectfully of the power of human actions, speech/prayer, and thought in transforming self and world with metaphysical repercussions. Nefesh HaTzimtzum, volume two, is exclusively focused on sections of Gateway Three which discusses God’s Being (essence, existence, metaphysics) as developed in the Kabbalistic doctrine of Tzimtzum, that is, the contractions of the Infinite Being to create, penetrate, and sustain a finite universe. Doctrinal issues embrace experiential and transcendental response. Rationally, can an absolute Infinite Being be contracted to Finite Being; if God’s presence is everywhere in creation then in what way is creation an independent entity and Man’s function therein; if God as God does not contract does this embrace associated attributes, such as God’s Will and Glory, and so on. Of particular significance, Fraenkel’ s attempt by introduction, insightful notes, use of additional writings of Rabbi Chaim and others to adjudicate differences between Mitnagdim and Hasidim on the language, ideology, and salvific role of Tzimtzum as mediator between holy and profane. Nonetheless, the Yeshiva Weltanschauung (Gateway Four) is extant. Rabbi Chaim’s understanding of Torah Lishma is less communion (devekut) and intention (kavvanah) with Heaven than performance of mitzvah lishma done in the context of Torah and halakhah. Historical overview, proper Hebrew-English layout, and intensive index are helpful.

This review appeared in American Reference Books Annual, volume 47.

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