“Tzim-Tzum”: God Constricted Himself?


Moshe Ben-Chaim


By way of introduction, certain people believe God needed to “constrict” or “contract” Himself so as to “provide room” for His created universe. This reader wrote in with some thoughts.



Reader: I had a chat with my favorite Rabbi, a truly great scholar, and a Lubavitcher. He corrected the following misconceptions that I had, and you still have, regarding Chassidus and Tzim-Tzum.  In a sentence, what I have learnt so far is: Tzim-Tzum (or at least Tzim-Tzum as Chassidim interpret it is the following): “God transcends space, He doesn't occupy space, His presence fills space, and He constricted His light, not Himself.” This clearly does not contradict the Rambam’s statement about apportioning God.



Mesora: You write: “God transcends space.”

That is fine, if meant that God has nothing at all to do with the physical world, including taking up space.


You write: “He doesn't occupy space.”

Same as above. I fail to see anything new in these words.


You write: “His presence fills space.”

This must be clarified. For if “His presence” means that evidence of His existence may be seen in the world, then this has already been said by God “Milo Kol Haaretz Kivodo”, “The entire world is filled with His honor.” That being said, this explanation of “Tzim-Tzum” adds nothing to what God said.


You write: “He constricted His light, not Himself.”

What is His “light”? One cannot make a statement like this without explaining what “light” means here. For since God is not physical, and “light” is physical, it is heresy to say that “light” is part of God. A second heresy is to suggest God has one element (light) that might be referred to, “aside” from His metaphysical, unknowable essence.


The Rabbis teach that God is one in all ways, and this means that a person cannot speak of parts of God, like “light” being something He might constrict. Additionally, the idea of “constricting” is also relegated to the physical world alone, and cannot be predicated of God. Only physical objects have physical features, and anything predicated of the physical, like weariness, aging, division, and constriction, do not apply to God. He created in the physical world and their laws, so these laws cannot govern Him.


A wise Rabbi commented that any suggestion implying a relationship between God and anything physical is impossible. Hence, God “constricting” Himself for the needs of the physical world is false, as it assumes that God has some spatial relationship to what He created, and He needs to contract Himself to allow space for the world. It further assumes there are “parts” to God that can be constricted. And as we said, “constriction” or “contraction” are predicated of the physical alone, and cannot be spoken of in relation to God, just as we cannot say God has color or size.


Your Rabbi has not answered anything, but conversely, he has created problems. Please bring these issues to his attention.