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DOES THE WORLD EXIST?
By Rabbi Yosef Marcus

It is perhaps the most oft-quoted phrase in Chabad Chasidism: ein od milvado—there is none besides Him. It is a three-word phrase that encapsulates an entire philosophy. It is the notion that every Chasid strives to absorb.

In its common interpretation, the phrase expresses the fundamental Jewish belief that there is no other god besides Him. Monotheism. It expresses the same idea as Hear O Israel the L-rd our G-d the L-rd is one. But in the hands of Chabad philosophy, the phrase means much more. Not only is there no other god besides Him, there is nothing besides Him—literally. The only thing that exists is G-d.

What of the world and all that is in it? What of the empirical sightings of our fleshly eye? Is this magazine you hold in your hands only an illusion?

No. The Torah states clearly: In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth. For six days He created things. These things exist—truly. If the world is not real, then Torah, indeed life itself, is meaningless. Chasidus considers such a notion untenable. How then to reconcile our perception of reality with ein od milvado?

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) , writes that the world and all its contents exists only by virtue of the fact that G-d is constantly creating it. Were He for one moment to cease creating it, it would lose its existence. It would not crumble, or burn up, or dissolve it would simply cease to exist, like the disappearance of the sun’s rays when the shades are drawn.

The creation of the world—the creation of something from nothing—was and is a miracle. It was and is unnatural. And just as we don’t expect miracles to go on indefinitely—we expect the waters of the sea to return to their natural flow after G-d is finished holding them up for the Israelites—so should we not expect the world to continue to exist. We should expect it to return to its natural state: nonexistence. For example, when you throw a rock in the air, you don’t expect it stay there. As soon as the power of your hand invested in the rock dissipates, the rock returns to its natural place: the ground.

So yes, the world exists. But its existence is entirely dependent upon the Divine word that commands its existence. Such "existence" cannot compete with true existence, one that is not dependent on any other being: the existence of G-d. The existence of the world is not self-attributable. Even as it exists, it is not truly existent—just as the airborne rock has not become "a flying rock." The word does not take on the properties of existence during its "existence."

Maimonidies says as much in the second chapter of his "Laws of Foundations of the Torah:" This is what the prophet means with "G-d is true." He alone is true, and no other being possesses truth like His truth. This is what the Torah says: Ein od milvado—i.e., there is no other true existence besides Him that is like Him. This doctrine of "perpetual creation" provided a rational foundation to the Baal Shem Tov’s motto: G-d is everywhere. The opponents said, "How can you put G-d in the trash bin?" The Alter Rebbe said, "How can a trash bin exist without a Divine directive that it do so?"

Before and during prayer the Chasid will meditate on ein od milvado. He will contemplate the words of the Zohar: No place is devoid of Him. G-d is imminent. He will break into song about it in the late hours of a farbrengen. He will spend his entire lifetime internalizing this notion—a notion that runs contrary to his psyche.

This is his task.

 

- Rabbi Yosef Marcus, a native (southern) Californian, is a writer and translator of Jewish literature. He is a leading contributor and former editor of AskMoses.com and a regular contributor to Farbrengen Magazine. His most recent publication is a new commentary on Ethics of our Fathers and he is currently at work on a collection of one-liners from the Chasidic masters. He currently is the co-director of Chabad of the North Peninsula, with his wife Esty. In his spare time, he enjoys miniature golfing with his daughters.

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