Classical Torah Vs. Chabad: Does God Have Parts?
In the second chapter of Chabad’s sefer Tanya there is a rather problematic statement -
“The second soul of a Jew is truly a part of God above (chelek Elokai m'maal)…”
The Torah teaches that God created Man “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26). As explained by the great rabbinic commentator Sforno, this statement in the Torah indicates to us that Man is endowed with a unique attribute among all the living creatures, i.e. an immaterial intellectual apprehension that may resemble on a very small scale, God’s intellect. The Torah is only claiming that Man was created with a very limited resemblance to God, but it is NOT claiming that Man is “part” of God.
The Talmud, Tractate Berakhot 60b clearly teaches that a Jew’s soul was created by Hashem. Therefore a Jew's soul cannot be part of Hashem.
"כִּי מִתְּעַר אוֹמֵר: ״אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה. אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ בִּי, אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי, וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּרָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי When one awakens, he recites: My God, the soul You have placed within me is pure. You formed it within me, You breathed it into me, and You guard it while it is within me.”
Any concept of God having “parts” seems to have been rejected by most great classical rabbis, past and present. Hashem has no chelakim (parts) as the Rambam clearly expressed in the Rambam’s 2nd ikkar, and this is also expressed very clearly in Chovot HaLevavot, Shaar HaYichud, where it explains that anything composite must be physical.
In the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:7, the Rambam clearly taught that Hashem is not subject to corporeal characteristics such as division into parts or separation from another object.
"וְהוֹאִיל וְאֵינוֹ גּוּף לֹא יֶאֶרְעוּ לוֹ מְאֹרְעוֹת הַגּוּפוֹת כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּהֵא נֶחְלָק וְנִפְרָד מֵאַחֵר. And, because He is incorporeal, none of the accidental traits characteristic of bodies can be attributed to Him, such as divisible into parts or separated from another object.”
For those who claim (likely incorrectly) that the Rambam knew no Kabbalah - the Ramchal lived in the 18th century, and he was certainly a great Kabbalist. Ramchal referred to the Rambam as the “great rabbi” and Ramchal echoed very closely the Rambam’s concepts of monotheism. The Ramchal in his sefer Daat Tevunot also rejects the concept of Hashem having any parts. The Ramchal does NOT say a Jewish soul is part of God, as the Ramchal accepts the Rambam's 13 principles (paragraph two of Ramchal’s sefer Daat Tevunot). The Ramchal explained in Daat Tevunot, section 158 (Feldheim edition), that Jewish neshamot (souls) before they enter the body are chelek Elokai m'maal, meaning that they are a PORTION of God, i.e. they are attached to God on some level.
We thus see another example (in Tanya Chapter 2) of how various concepts in Chabad theology seem to radically conflict with non-Chabad classical Torah theologies. However, Chabad supporters are usually not accustomed to any critical examination of Chabad doctrines for internal or external contradictions. Chabad believers may simply claim that Chabad possesses some esoteric knowledge not possessed by the allegedly ignorant critics of Chabad who are allegedly not makpid (strict) like Chabad on allegedly Kabbalistic practices such as never trimming one's beard.
A while back ago I had three interesting conversations on the question above. I discussed the following with two friends who study Chabad’s sefer Tanya: The blessing at the beginning of a standard Sidur "Elokai Neshama" states that Hashem created and fashioned the neshama. This blessing in the Sidur was originally stated by Chazal in the Talmud Tractate Berakhot, so it has very authentic roots. However, Chabad’s sefer Tanya (Chapter 2) seems to claim that a Jew's neshama is "mamash" (truly) a part of God.
I asked my friends how can Tanya be reconciled with the "Elokai Neshama" that appears in the Sidur (and in the Talmud)? Are we forced to conclude that Hashem created Himself? I was not able to get a satisfactory answer to my question.
The sefer Nefesh HaChaim was written by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn, a great talmid of the Vilna Gaon, apparently as a rebuttal to certain claims in Chabad’s Tanya. In contrast, the sefer Nefesh HaChaim 1:15, seems to state that Hashem's "atzmut" (essence) does NOT enter the body of an adam. We see here what seems to be just one of several major conflicts between Chabad’s Tanya and Nefesh HaChaim that has been largely ignored by certain Chabadniks who try to claim that Nefesh HaChaim is consistent with Chabad’s Tanya, and that all alleged conflicts were already resolved.
My sefer Nefesh HaChaim has a commentary written by a rav connected with a major Yeshiva. I called that rav a while back ago and discussed this issue. I understood the rav to say that a Jew's neshama is NOT "atzmut" of Hashem, rather it's an "atzilut" i.e. an emanation from Hashem. We do not connect Hashem's "atzmut" with physical bodies or created beings, as this is a violation of monotheism.