Torah Sages Rejected Pantheism

Kabbalists (in particular Chabad) have emphasized for some time now their concept that Hashem is “memalei kol almin”, meaning that Hashem allegedly “fills” this Universe and all the other “worlds” postulated by the Kabbalists. Such a concept can be very problematic for a whole number of reasons. One such reason is that “memalei kol almin” would seem to contradict the very first verse in the Torah, which most Torah sages interpret to mean that Hashem created the Universe from absolutely nothing.

Chabad books or websites may often cite various Biblical verses, such as Jeremiah 23:24, in an attempt to validate some of Chabad’s radical Kabbalistic theologies, such as the claim that Hashem’s atzmut “fills” the heaven and Earth. However, Chabad tends to cite such Biblical verses in a vacuum by simply ignoring the pre-Chassidic commentaries that sharply conflict with Chabad’s interpretation of such verses.

“Do I not fill the heaven and the earth? Says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

However, if we study the classical commentaries (such as Radak) on Jeremiah 23:24, we see that the pre-Chassidic Torah sages interpreted that verse in a very different way than the way Chabad is interpreting it:

“...this is a metaphor because Hashem is not a body that He fills space, rather it is teaching Hashem’s providence over the heaven and the Earth.” (Radak on Jeremiah 23:24)

The Rambam's theology and cosmology were largely based on authentic statements from Chazal such as Perek Ein Dorshin in the Talmud tractate Hagigah. In Moreh Nevuchim I:70, the Rambam cites Hagigah 12b (which cites Deuteronomy 33:26) that describes Hashem as the “rider of the heavens” who resides “upon” the heavens, NOT in the heavens. Thus the Rambam, based on the Chumash and the Talmud, rejects any concept of Hashem being a “spirit of the heaven”, a concept the Rambam connects with the pagan Sabians. This is quite significant in my opinion because it greatly refutes, based on the most fundamental Torah sources, Chabad’s claim that Hashem’s atzmut “fills” the world.

The Rambam apparently considered Hashem's thoughts to be one with the metaphysical form (tzura) of the Universe, not that Hashem’s atzmut filled the Universe. This is discussed in detail in Moreh Nevuchim I:69.

Chabad’s sefer Tanya is a primary Chabad book that is frequently described by Chabad as “the one size fits all life manual”. If we now examine Chabad’s sefer Tanya, Chapter 33 (and other places) advises us “to consider how He (God) permeates all worlds, both upper and lower”. This seems to be suggesting that man can somehow contemplate the essence of God that allegedly fills all the worlds (“ממלא כל עלמין”).

Tanya, Chapter 33, also describes how God, “before” the Creation event, allegedly filled the “space” wherein the Universe was “later” created. These concepts in Tanya are very problematic for several reasons:

  1. Based on the classical Torah sources, man cannot at all comprehend God’s essence.
  2. “Filling”, i.e. occupying physical space, is a physical property. God has no physical properties and cannot be described as occupying space.
  3. By describing God as “filling all worlds”, the distinction between the Creator and the created objects is essentially eliminated, opening the door to a violation of the strict prohibition of “shituf”, i.e. associating God with created objects.

Rav Saadyah Gaon was certainly one of the foremost rabbinic authorities shortly after the period of the Talmud. His opinions on fundamental Torah principles should carry great weight even at the present time. In his Torah sefer Emunot V’Deot 2:11, Rav Saadyah Gaon explains that Hashem is the Creator of all space, space itself being a creation. Thus Hashem would not have transported himself into space after having created it. This concept would certainly be consistent with scientific observations in the last 100 years that demonstrated how the Universe began from a tiny point of matter and later expanded. (Ramban states explicitly in his commentary on Genesis that the Universe began with a tiny point of matter). As a result, Tanya’s claim that any “space” or “makom” existed before the Creation appears to be in error.

It is also rather significant that the great Kabbalist Ramchal, in his sefer Daat Tevunot, section 58, describes how “the entire creation continuously depends on God’s will for its existence”. Ramchal then cited various ancient Torah sages, including the Talmud, who taught that “God is above what he supports”(Chagigah 12b & Yalkut Shimoni 964). Ramchal describes the view of the Torah sages as “God is supporting every element of existence, while at the same time standing above it.” The Ramchal makes no mention here of “God filling the Universe”, apparently because the ancient Torah sages did not explain it that way, and also because of the prohibition of “shituf”, mentioned above.

Thus Tanya’s theology urging us “to consider how He (God) permeates all worlds, both upper and lower” appears to be a radical departure from classical Torah theology in various ways. Man cannot contemplate such concepts as God permeating all the worlds. Man can only know something about the Creator through examination of the works of the Creation, because man cannot know the Creator through examining His essence.

In the sefer Nefesh HaChaim 2:5, Rav Chaim of Volozhyn explains that one can only understand Hashem in terms of His relationship to the world. This viewpoint would probably be quite consistent with ideas taught in “Negative Theology”.

The theological conflicts between the Vilna Gaon and the first Chabad Rebbe, the Baal HaTanya, seem to go back centuries before the modern era to the Middle Ages.

According to Rambam, the Universe provides evidence for Hashem, but Hashem is a Being NOT included in the Universe.

Torah Sages Rejected Pantheism