Ain Od Milvado
What does the Torah verse "ein od milvado" mean?
“You have been shown, so that you know that G-d is the L-rd, there is none other beside him (ain od milvado).” (Deuteronomy 4:35)
The classical meaning of this statement in Deuteronomy is explained in non-Kabbalistic terms in several places in the Talmud, and it is NOT what many of the Kabbalists seem to be saying it is.
In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 67b and in the Ramchal's Daat Tevunot, it explains that "Ein od milvado" means that there are no other POWERS that control the Universe, that Hashem is the only ruler in the Universe, and Hashem can nullify any sorcery if he chooses. "Ein od milvado" does NOT mean that everything is God. This seems to be the correct understanding of ein od milvado as opposed to radical replacement theologies that associate the Universe with Hashem. We do not have to believe in any "replacement theologies" that claim that the Universe itself is Hashem.
Rav Hirsch zt”l in his brilliant perush on Chumash refuted the Chabad and/or Chassidic rabbis who claim the Creation is "part of" or "filled with" Hashem. Rav Hirsch explained that the Torah verse "God SAW that the light was good..." (Genesis 1:4) is teaching man that Hashem created something (from nothing) that is NOT Hashem. Those who claim everything is Hashem have committed a deplorable error according to Rav Hirsch.
In a privately published anti-Kabbalah sefer “B'Orach Mishor” I received from a Hareidi Torah scholar, it quotes Rav Saadyah Gaon 2:11 that space itself was created by Hashem and that it is unthinkable that as a result of the Creation, Hashem then transported Himself into the space as this would constitute a change in Hashem Himself. Consistent with this, I have seen in modern physics textbooks that what we know as outer space is a type of perfect fluid, it is not empty (as Einstein explained). So how can the ARI speak about clearing out space to create the Universe? This apparently erroneous concept of clearing out space might raise a question as to whether the ARI was really a prophet, and this would also suggest that Rav Saadyah Gaon was much closer to the emet.
Many Kabbalistic “preachers” nowadays, especially in the Chabad movement, are constantly claiming the Torah verse in Davarim “ein od milvado” should be interpreted to mean that the Universe is somehow a part of Hashem. Some non-Chassidic rabbis are even repeating this mantra. However, it is important to know that such a radical belief is an attack on traditional Torah monotheism that distinguishes God from His creation.
A scholarly essay appears on the vilnagaon.org website that thoroughly debunks the whole concept that the Universe is “part of God”. Also, see the 3rd ikkar of the Rambam’s 13 Ikkarim, where the Rambam states that Hashem cannot be described in any physical or geometric terms.
It seems that certain erroneous theological beliefs, which conflict with Chazal and with normative Torah beliefs, only became mainstream in the last few hundred years under the influence of Chassidism and Kabbalah. However, these popular but erroneous beliefs may actually be endangering religious Jews nowadays.
I believe it is imperative to reexamine the teachings of earlier rabbis who presented more authentic Torah opinions than what we hear nowadays.
Phrases like ’Ein od milvado’ are being abused to imply that everything is Hashem, therefore everything that happens in the world has been caused by Hashem, and man is essentially a spectator. However, Chazal in Sanhedrin 67b teach us that ’Ein od milvado’ does NOT mean that “everything is Hashem”, it means there is no other ultimate power than Hashem.