What Can You Say About Atzmus U’mehus
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Ginsberg, Mashpia, Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim – Lubavitch, Kfar Chabad
Translated by Michoel Dobry

The mashpia, R. Mendel Futerfas, relates that he had three main mashpiim from whom he received a great deal. In fact, it can reasonably be said that he received his prime chassidic education from them.

One of them was R. Yechezkel ("Chatche") Feigin (may Hashem avenge his blood), who was his mashpia in yeshiva, taught him how to understand chassidus, farbrenged and spoke with him, and also "pressured" him to learn many sections of Tanya by heart. (For his whole life, R. Mendel was especially thankful to him for this, as he recognized during the time he spent behind the dark Siberian Mountains in prisons and labor camps what this wonderful learning and repetition gave him. He even tried to the best of his ability to make certain that his students (and whoever would listen to his voice) would learn and repeat Tanya by heart in a similar fashion.)

The second was R. Yitzchak ("R. Itche der Masmid") Horwitz (may Hashem avenge his blood). R. Itche was with him for a lengthy period of time and the affect and guidance he provided was penetrating. Along with the personal example he demonstrated, they worked together on his conduct for the remainder of his life.

The third ("the mashpia," as R. Mendel constantly referred to him) was R. Zalman Moshe HaYitzchaki, who showed him a living example of what a real chassid is. He also educated and guided him in a way that left an indelible impression upon him.

During his final years, R. Zalman Moshe emigrated to Eretz Yisroel. He lived in Tel Aviv and davened and farbrenged in the Chabad Shul on Nachlat Binyamin Street.

One of the more outstanding elderly chassidim in Eretz Yisroel was R. Moshe Gurary, of blessed memory. R. Moshe was considered one of the leading scholars in chassidus, and whoever had a question in chassidus would turn to him.

Once R. Zalman Moshe sat at a chassidishe farbrengen on Nachlat Binyamin Street. Thus, as we see the "good-heartedness of the king in wine," he clung to R. Moshe Gurary and demanded of him, "You are a ‘scholar.’ Tell me, what is the ‘atmzus u’mehus’ (essence and being) that we hear about so much in chassidus?"

R. Moshe tried to evade the question, "What can one possibly say about atzmus?"

But R. Zalman Moshe was unrelenting, and said to the point of almost yelling, "Don’t try to avoid the issue? You are a ‘scholar’ and it is your obligation to explain when you are asked! You can bring whatever amazing bits of knowledge you wish from whatever angle and say that in effect it is impossible to say anything accurately on the matter, but you must tell us, what is atzmus?"

Finally, R. Moshe opened his mouth and tried to explain something. But, at that moment, R. Zalman Moshe immediately turned to him again and gave a playful slap. He then said, "Listen, my brother, if you can speak and explain, even if the explanation is inexplicable and if what you say can not really be said, the mere fact that it is possible to say something - that’s already not atzmus!

* * *

In connection to the hilula of the Rambam on the 20th of Teives, and in particular, as we have just completed the nineteenth cycle of learning Mishneh Torah, and have begun the twentieth, we will dedicate this week’s column with a "Hadran" on Mishneh Torah which is related specifically to the "essence."

(There is here a special connection with the auspicious day of the 19th of Teives, when in 5750, occurred a "Didan Natzach" in continuation with the court case concerning the Rebbe MH"M shlita himself. For as is understood, this pertained to the Rebbe himself as well in a manner higher than in the revealed state (even more than the s’farim), as we have written in previous years.)

We bring here one point from the "Hadran" of the Rebbe MH"M shlita on the Rambam (5746; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 27; from p. 249). In the final halacha in the Rambam’s Yad HaChazaka, he writes: "In that time, there will be no hunger and no war, and no jealousy or competition, for all good will be in great plenty and all delicacies will be as available as the dust. And the world will have no involvement other than to know G-d alone. Therefore, the Jews will be great scholars that know all hidden matters, and they will attain the knowledge of their Creator according to the power of man, as is written, ‘And the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as water covers the sea.’"

At first glance, we see that the Rambam’s concluding words, "as water covers the sea," are a contradiction to what he says at the beginning, "and they will attain the knowledge of their Creator according to the power of man." "As water covers the sea" means that just as water covers what is in the sea to the point that we perceive only the water and nothing else until we search down deep and find what there is beneath it, so too the concept of "to know G-d" fills the entire existence to the point that it "covers" everything. This knowledge then remains beyond what man can fathom.

This is what the Rambam emphasized earlier when he says that the knowledge will be "attained" ("and they will attain the knowledge of their Creator"), which refers to something within reach, particularly regarding the words, "according to the power of man." This indicates that the knowledge will not remain above, but will enter the person and be accepted and internalized.

To understand this concept, we must preface our discussion with what the Rambam said at the very beginning of Mishneh Torah (in accordance with Jewish custom, we must connect the beginning and the end in all matters, as founded in the commonly known principle from Seifer HaYetzira, "Their beginning is wedged in their end and their end in their beginning") for it also deals with the subject of "to know G-d": "The basic foundation and pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being which creates all created beings, and that all created beings from Heaven to Earth and whatever falls between them does not exist except through His True Being."

The Rambam is precise when he writes, "which creates all created beings" (in the present tense), i.e., that He creates the created constantly, at every moment. As explained in the famous saying of the Baal Shem Tov on the verse "Forever, Hashem, Your word stands in Heaven," the word of G-d, which gives existence to the created being, stands and is found in it at every minute to maintain its existence and gives it life constantly from nothing. And if, ch’v, this life-force were to cease, even for one moment, the created being would likewise cease to exist and revert to nothingness.

On this basis, the Rambam continues with the second halacha: "And if it would enter one’s mind that He does not exist, nothing else can exist."

Here, the Rambam comes to add another detail that is most relevant and essential in order to know G-d. It is true (as mentioned previously) that the word of G-d gives existence and life to every creation at every moment. This is understood as a fact by logical proofs, as brought at length by the Alter Rebbe in Shaar HaYichud V’HaEmuna. However, all this is brought because our intellect understands that this must be so and the possibility of anything to the contrary simply can not be. However, G-d is not limited, ch’v, by the limitations of the intellect.

G-d created the intellect itself along with all intellectual principles. Therefore, the phrase, "it cannot be," does not possibly apply to Him. As the Rashba writes, it is impossible to say that there is something "impossible" regarding Him, for He is "beyond all things impossible."

Therefore, when "it enters one’s mind," i.e., when there will be an increase in "knowledge," when we look upon G-d in a manner much higher than that which is limited to our intellect - then it is possible to say "that He does not exist," as it were, i.e., He does not exist within created beings to give them life. For since He is unlimited, it is within His ability to create beings in such a way that they do not need Him all the time. They can exist without the word of G-d sustaining them at every moment.

However, the truth of the matter is that G-d did not want to create this way. He wanted to create in a fashion that would be understood by our intellect. For if G-d "does not exist" in the eyes of created beings, then "nothing else can exist." But this is what G-d wanted, and if He wanted something else, He could have created the world in such a way that it would be completely incomprehensible, to the extent that created beings could exist without the Divine strength that is constantly found within them.

This is a main part of the mitzva to know G-d, to know that G-d has no limitations, even within the realm of logic. It is even within His ability to make something that appears illogical.

The Rambam emphasizes this point further in the fifth halacha: "This is what the Navi says, "And G-d is Elokim Emes," i.e., He alone is Truth, and no being has truth comparable to His Truth, as the Torah says, ‘There is nothing besides Him.’" In other words, the main thing we must know is that all the explanations and proofs that the Rambam brought in the previous halachos don’t have to be. G-d can make everything in an entirely different way, and the fact that things are the way they are and not some other way is because of what the Navi and Torah say.

This point at the beginning of Mishneh Torah on knowing G-d, which is beyond all logical restrictions, comes to its culmination at the end of Mishneh Torah. "In that time," then the mitzva of knowing G-d will take place to the fullest extent. Then the knowledge of G-d will not only be "and they will attain the knowledge of their Creator," something that can be reached and attained; not only "according to the power of man," something that can grasped through human logic - but also "as water covers the sea," i.e., also things that surpass logic until they cover the logic and all other forms of existence; they too will fill the world.

Yet, there is also the emphasis that the existence of the world and logic will not be nullified, just as seawater does not nullify the existence of the place where the water is. Rather, it fills it and covers it, as logic "fills" and "covers" with "the knowledge of G-d" that is beyond all logical limitations. As the Rambam points out at the outset, even things that are beyond logic must be "known" logically, not just believed in. This means that the intellect itself must be filled with, penetrated, and "covered" by the knowledge of G-d that is beyond all intellect.

This also pertains to what the Rambam writes earlier on about Jews being "great scholars who know that which is hidden." Not only will they be "great scholars" who will know G-d in everything attainable in logic and wisdom, but they will also "know that which is hidden," that which the intellect can not reach. This they will "know" and reach with their intellect, which will be filled and "covered" with the "knowledge of G-d."

The knowledge of G-d is truly not definable or limited in any way. Yet, for this very reason, this knowledge pertains specifically to His "revealed" state and not His actual essence. As long as the loftiness remains in a state of finitude, any spiritual concept, however great and exalted it may be, can not be defined in terms of His atzmus. Nevertheless, it does bear some meaning that we can classify it, i.e., wondrous and celestial, as opposed to lowly and inferior. But He is beyond any such classifications. Just as we can not refer to Him as lowly and inferior, ch’v, in the same regard we also cannot say that He is wondrous and celestial. In truth, it is not even possible to associate with Him the idea that He is beyond description, be it in the Heavenly or earthly sense - this would be a form of definition. (As R. Zalman Moshe said, "if it is possible to say something - that’s already not atzmus!")

The "knowledge" and recognition of His blessed atzmus is truly the "knowledge of a child," the simple knowledge of every Jew. It precedes any and all comprehension of what is logical and what is beyond logic. Specifically through the knowledge of a child or the simple Jew, one can attain His true essence.

This is also alluded to in the beginning of Mishneh Torah, where the Rambam emphasizes that before all else, "the basic foundation and pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being," i.e., that there is a G-d. We can neither say nor know anything of what that Being truly is. The only thing that is possible to say is the fact that He exists. It is even impossible to say that He is "an entity" or "a being" or anything else to be found in our language. These are simply our own concepts, the way we relate to how G-d is so infinitely beyond us. As the Rambam’s well-known saying goes, G-d is "found even within that which does not exist." When we refer to Him as a "Being," it is not because that He is more of a "Being" than less, but rather because there is no alternative. If we want to speak about Him, we must use the term "Being." And it is this very "reality," that He is no more a "reality" than a "unreality," which is the true "reality."

After the "knowledge" of the essence of His existence and Being, the Rambam continues to explain that we must also know and understand the particular details of His perfection. The beginning of His perfection is logical, i.e., that He is the "Primary Being which creates all created beings, and that all created beings from Heaven to earth and whatever falls between them does not exist except through His True Being." Afterwards, the perfection is totally beyond logic - "And if it would enter one’s mind that He does not exist, nothing else can exist."

So we see regarding the knowledge of G-d’s existence that the main point is the very essence of His existence, the fact that he "exists" without any specific details. Then afterwards come all the particular "revealed" aspects of His oneness and perfection. In a similar manner, we find that in the days of Moshiach every lofty and wondrous circumstance that will be then is merely a result produced from the main purpose - the coming of Moshiach.

The main purpose of Melech HaMoshiach is to reveal G-d in the world, even before Moshiach begins working to refine the world. This comes with the essential revelation of the existence of Melech HaMoshiach, "the king in essence," who reveals the essential existence of G-d in the world, which is higher than any particulars and boundaries. Only after and as a result of this, his actions in the world come to fruition.

In the words of the Rebbe shlita: "The purpose of Moshiach is (not in order to refine the world, but) a purpose unto itself - "a King from the House of Dovid." And the purpose of the coming of Moshiach (into the world) … is that Melech HaMoshiach (who is higher than the concept of refining the world) will be drawn and revealed in the world. As a result of this, ‘he will (also) refine the entire world,’ so that the world will also be perfect, to the extent that ‘the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as water covers the sea.’

"Here - as is known, regarding all matters in the future to come that they depend upon our actions and service now - it can also be said that the coming of Moshiach itself (which is higher than the refinement of the world) will be drawn into the world [as the idea of Moshiach’s coming is for him to be revealed in the world, i.e., that they will know that he is definitely Moshiach] through our actions and service now."

(The Rebbe goes on to explain that this is accomplished specifically through learning Rambam, as it is not learning as a "means to an end," i.e., in order to know what to do, rather for the sake of Torah itself, as "the Torah and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, are truly One." Therefore, it is essential, in order to cause the coming of Moshiach in its entirety, to learn Rambam every day in actual deed, without excuses and justifications, as written at length in previous issues.)

As explained in the sicha from Shabbos Parshas Toldos 5752, this is the main element in the declaration of "Yechi Adoni HaMelech Dovid L’olam," namely, the revelation of the essential existence of Melech HaMoshiach in the world. Once this happens, all actions for the refinement of the world come as a result.

Thus, we see how essential it is that this declaration, which reveals the essential existence of Melech HaMoshiach in the world, brings all his activities to the whole world, which cries out in need of them so much now. May this declaration be heard as much as possible in every location and every corner and in every possible way until it produces its necessary achievement in full measure - the revelation of the Rebbe MH"M for all to see with the true and complete Redemption, speedily and immediately.

Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!


He clung to R. Moshe Gurary and demanded of him, "You are a scholar. Tell me, what is the ‘atmzus u’mehus’ that we hear about so much in chassidus?"



...R. Moshe tried to evade the question, "What can one possibly say about atzmus?"



But R. Zalman Moshe was unrelenting, and said to the point of almost yelling, "Don’t try to avoid the issue?"



When we refer to Him as a "Being," it is not because that He is more of a "Being" than less, but rather because there is no alternative.


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