Ein Sof

Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation? Hence it is forbidden to lend Him any form or similitude, or even to call Him by His sacred name, or to indicate Him by a single letter or a single point. But after He created the form of the Heavenly Man, He used him as a chariot wherein to descend, and He wishes to be called after His form, which is the sacred name “YHWH”. (Zohar, part ii., section “Bo,” 42b)

Tree of LifeFor a while, during my final years in seminary and for some years afterward, I was intensely interested in the Kabbalah, at least on an intellectual level. I must admit though, it did provide much fuel for meditation. In the Kabbalistic traditions of the Jewish mystics and for many non-mystics, today’s word Ein Sof (אין סוף) holds the most important place. It is the mystery of mysteries –it, as St. Paul puts it, is the “Unknown God” (Acts 17:23).

Judah Ḥayyaṭ, in his commentary Minḥat Yehudah gives the following explanation regarding the term Ein Sof:

Any name of God which is found in the Bible can not be applied to the Deity prior to His self-manifestation in the Creation, because the letters of those names were produced only after the emanation. . . . Moreover, a name implies a limitation in its bearer; and this is impossible in connection with the ‘Ein Sof.’

In Kabbalah, the Ein Sof (the nameless being) is understood as God, prior to His act of self-manifestation in the creation of any spiritual or material realm. To put it into metaphysical terms, the Ein Sof is ‘Being’ as ‘Being’. But in other passages of the Zohar, the principal text of Kabbalah, the term is reduced further so that it is rendered as Ein (non-existent) – the Kabbalists believed it to transcend human understanding so greatly as to be practically non-existent. Although it cannot be perceived, it is for the metaphysician that which is most real and most existent.

One of my favorite meditations on the Ein Sof is to contemplate the Big-Bang Theory in terms of the emanation of the cosmos from nothing. Kabbalah has the only ancient cosmology that contains a notion of the universe expanding from a single point – somehow the early Kabbalists were mystically prescient of the modern scientific model. Just as science is stumped by what came before the big-bang, we know nothing and can know nothing of the Ein Sof before his self-revealing act of creation.

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