Kabbalah, and the logic of the impossible - Moses our rabbi

The Exodus from Egypt was a crucial event not only in the life of the Jewish people, but for the world as a whole.

THE PARTING of the Red Sea during the Jewish nation’s escape from Egypt, an illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE PARTING of the Red Sea during the Jewish nation’s escape from Egypt, an illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Let us recall how the story of the Exodus begins. 
The Almighty addressed Moses from a burning bush, and entrusted him with a mission to go to Pharaoh and take the Jewish people out of Egypt. Moses, who had a brilliant intellect, spoke logically with the Almighty about the conditions that he believed would ensure the mission's success:

1) Moses asks, “Who am I?” (“In what capacity do I go?”) and the Almighty replies that “I will be with you” (Shemot, 3:11-12).

2) Moses asks God to tell him His name, in order to understand the capacity in which God reveals Himself to the Jewish people. God reponds by revealing to Moses some of the secrets of the divine name (Shemot, 3:13-15). 

3) Moses asks what to do if the Jews do not believe him, and God grants him the ability to performs miraculous signs (Shemot, 4:1-9).

4) Moses tells the Almighty that he does not have the gift of eloquence. God responds: “Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what to speak.” (Shemot, 4:10-12).

5) But this answer does not satisfy Moses and he says, “I beseech You, O Lord, send now with whom You would send.” The Almighty tells Moses that his brother Aaron will speak for him (Shemot, 4:13-16).
After this conversation, Moses believes that all the “conditions for success” have been specified, and he sets out for Egypt.
Moses and Aaron went to the Jewish people, performed miraculous signs for them, and told them the joyful news of deliverance. The Jews believed them. After that, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and delivered the edict from the Almighty to release the Jews. And then something incredible happened: the Pharaoh not only refused to release the Jews, but also made their life and work much worse and more difficult. But that was not the end of the story. The Jews accused Moses and Aaron of being imposters. They said, “May the Lord look upon you and judge, for you have made us a foul odor in the Pharaoh’s eyes.” (Shemot, 5:21) This seems to imply the Jews did not believe that Moses and Aaron were messengers for the Almighty. For Moses, who infinitely loved the Jewish people, this meant the complete failure of the mission and a personal disaster. Let us try to logically follow the course of his thoughts. 

Moses had already been informed by God that the Pharaoh would not immediately let the Jews out of Egypt, and that he will do so only after great punishments would be inflicted on the Egyptians (Shemot 3:19-20). So he expected that punishments would follow after Pharaoh’s refusal, which would lead to the Jews’ deliverance. But when instead of releasing the Jews from Egypt Pharaoh made their lives more difficult, there was no punishment. 

The logic of Moses's reasoning can be imagined as follows. 

1. The Almighty is all-powerful and always speaks the truth. 

2. Therefore, the Pharaoh should have immediately been punished after refusing to release the Jews and, after that, should have let them go. 

3. However, the opposite happened. 

One of the main tasks of logic is to determine how to reach a conclusion from the prerequisites and obtain true knowledge about the subject of deliberation. 

One of the most frequently practiced types of proofs in classical logic is proof by contradiction (ad absurdum). The principle is this: if the conclusion obtained from the prerequisite contradicts reality, then the prerequisite is not true.  
From the point of view of classical logic, point 3 refutes point 1. But for Moses, the omnipotence and truth of the Almighty were indisputable. As a result Moses’ system of logical reasoning crumbles, he experiences a state of moral collapse, and he cannot continue the mission in such a state. He decides to confront the Almighty: “O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to the Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.” (Shemot, 5:22-23).
How does God respond? He says: “Now you will see what I will do to the Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out..." (Shemot, 6:1).

Apparently, the answer does not satisfy Moses, as it says what will happen in the future but does not explain the events that have already occurred. But there is more to come in God’s response. Reading further,we encounter the following statement:
“God (Elohim) spoke to Moses, and He said to him, “I am YHWH. I appeared to Abraham, to Yitzhak, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God (El Shaddai), but [with] My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.” (Shemot 6:2-3)

This passage from the Torah has been the subject of numerous comments. Let us briefly consider the main ones. 

Rashi (based on the Midrash) believes that there is a reproach in the words of the Almighty, “You have doubted My ways, unlike Abraham to whom I said, ‘...For in Yitzhak shall you have posterity,’” (Bereshit, 17:19) and then said, “Bring him up there for a burnt offering (Bereshit, 22:2), and he did not doubt Me” (although the first clearly contradicted the second). Rashi sees the words ”I am YHWH” as carrying the message, ”I am faithful to My promises and I can be relied upon.”  
Abraham Ibn Ezra, commenting on the Moses’ question to the Almighty, writes: “Moses believed, from the very first time he came to Pharaoh, that it would become easier for the Jews, but it became harder for them.” Ibn Ezra comments on the words “I am YHWH” as follows: “This means that My name 'God Almighty' (El Shaddai) became known through the forefathers, and through you My glorious name YHWH will be known all over the world.”  

According to Nachmanides, the Almighty tells Moses that the Patriarchs did not see Him through the ‘transparent glass’ as Moses
sees Him. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, commenting on Torah passage, explains that Moses served the Almighty mainly through intellect, whereas the Patriarchs did so mainly through emotions. Therefore, Moses’ question was not wrong. The inability to understand the actions of the Almighty weakened Moses' intellectual connection with Him. Therefore, Moses’ question was not a challenge, but rather an attempt to approach the Almighty. Rebbe explains the Almighty’s response as follows: “Do not serve Me with intellect alone. Balance your intellect with emotion and faith, so that you can serve Me without any restrictions.”
Fully agreeing with the previous commentaries, the author proposes the following additions.

Carefully reading the Torah, we can see how the character and mental qualities of the main figures constantly change in the context of events and their communications with the Almighty. The Almighty not only punishes and rewards, but also, with His every action and word, He teaches the main characters lessons, raising them to higher and higher spiritual levels.  

In the Torah we read: “God (Elohim) spoke to Moses, and He said to him, ‘I am YHWH’” There is a full stop after these words. This sentence contains a complete thought. From my point of view, the words “I am YHWH” are the main message of the Torah .It is not necessary to see this as a rebuke  to Moses, and I offer the following understanding of these words of the Torah. In my opinion, the Almighty was saying to Moses:
“Your question is correct according the logic of the world around you, which is the external manifestation of My name Elohim. The Patriarchs lived according to this logic; that was their mission. Pharaoh also lives according to this logic.

“But I am YHWH, and from now on, the Jewish people and the world will live according to other laws. From this point on, all events will occur according to My logic as YHWH), the logic hidden deeply within My name God (Elohim), the logic of the impossible, the logic of the highest sefirah (divine attribute), Chochmah (“wisdom”).

“According to the 'external' logic of Elohim, the Jews will never leave Egypt, and according to the hidden logic of YHWH, they will come out. And many years later, when a small Jewish people will be dispersed among large and powerful nations, according to the external logic of Elohim, the Jews would have to disappear; according to the logic of YHWH, they will never disappear.

“You, Moses, are chosen to rise to the level of my hidden logic of YHWH, to the level of the highest Chochmah, and from this level to bring the Torah to the Jewish people. And for as long as the Jewish people will be with the Torah, the external logic of Elohim, the logic that rules the natural world, will not have power over them.”

Abraham Ibn Ezra, who wrote books on astrology, wrote in his commentary on the third chapter of Shemot on the phrase “I am the YHWH”: “The human soul is above the middle world and, therefore, if a person is wise and has known the acts of the Almighty, performed with and without intermediaries, has retired from the passions of this world to cleave to the Glorious name, even if a person’s horoscope predicts trouble on a certain day, the Almighty, to Whom the person has cleaved, arranges events so that he will escape from trouble.”
It is also necessary to answer the question of how to understand the presence of the hidden logic of YHWH within the name Elohim. This issue has been discussed in great detail in a Hasidic discourse by the Rebbe Rashab (the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) titled VeYadaata, which comments on the phrase from the Torah “You must know that YHWH is Elohim).” 

Here is a brief explanation. The main thesis of the Kabbalah is that in discussing the Almighty in the category of Ein Sof (the infinite), which is inaccessible to our understanding, the existence of creations with their own "self" is impossible. Therefore, at the beginning of creation, the Almighty produced a tzimtzum process, which is allegorically described as the creation of some empty space with the subsequent emission of a beam of light (kav) from which the whole creation originated. This process should be understood not as the creation of some physically empty space, but as the concealment by the Almighty of His infinite light (information) and the radiation of the finite light from which the whole creation originated.

This finite ray of light carried the information of all of creation. In passing through the chains of the worlds, the light (information) was concealed in such a way that in our world we barely see the Divinity. However, it should be understood that information does not disappear anywhere — when something is concealed it does not cease to exist. And under certain circumstances, concealed information can be obtained.

Let us give a simple example: If we look at a stone lying on the ground, we immediately obtain information about its color and shape. In fact, however, the information we receive is an insignificant part of all the information contained in the stone. Employing certain methods, we can obtain information about the chemical composition of the stone, its atoms and molecules, electrons, neutrons and protons, etc. 

Similarly, reading the Torah simply as a story, we obtain an insignificant amount of information. However, pondering the words of the Torah, analyzing them, finding hidden connections, fulfilling the commandments, we can, step by step, approach a comprehension of the information hidden in the Torah, and thus approach the level of YHWH.

The Patriarchs

Now, let us turn to the second part of God’s communication to Moses: “I appeared to Abraham, to Yitzhak, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God (El Shaddai), but [with] My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.” 

In the section Lech Lecha of the book of Bereshit, we read:

And He said to him, ‘I am YHWH, Who brought you forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.’” 
The phrase is similar to the one spoken to Moses. But Abraham asked the question, “O Lord God (Adonai YHWH), how will I know that I will inherit it?” (Bereshit, 15:7-8). In response, the Almighty told Abraham about the future enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their exodus (Bereshit, 15:13-14). 
Some of the commentaries believe that the Jews’ exile and slavery in Egypt was in punishment for Abraham’s question. I do not share this opinion. In my view, Abraham could not be faulted for asking the question, as he was not aware of the logic of YHWH — the logic of the impossible. According to the logic of the world around him, it was incomprehensible that he, and the 318 people who were with him, would inherit a land populated by numerous and powerful nations. However, it is an obvious fact that for the rest of his life, Abraham lived with the thought that his descendants would be slaves.

Similarly, when the Almighty tells Abraham that He will give him a son from Sarah, we read in the Torah: “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed (va-yitzhak, in the Hebrew). And he said to himself, ‘Will [a child] be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?’” The Almighty heard what Abraham said to himself, and said to him, “You shall name him Yitzhak” (“will laugh”) (Bereshit, 17:17, 17:19). Subsequently, when Sarah hears about the future birth of her son, she also laughs, and the Almighty reproaches her for this (Bereshit, 18:12-15). 

It is paradoxical that Yitzhak, whose names means “will laugh,” embodied the quality of Gevurah (constriction, severity, judgment), and, apparently, he rarely laughed. Nor was it a laughing matter for Abraham and Sarah when the Almighty ordered Yitzhak to be sacrificed. 

However, after Abraham’s circumcision, and the subsequent miraculous birth of Yitzhak, everything changes. Abraham no longer asked the Lord questions, and even when the Almighty ordered him to sacrifice Yitzhak, despite the fact that He promised Abraham offspring from him, Abraham did not ask God questions — the lesson had been learned. From this fact, we can conclude that after his circumcision and the miraculous birth of Yitzhak, Abraham was at a much higher spiritual level than he was before. He had begun to recognize the Almighty as He operates with the name of YHWH, with the logic of the impossible.

Let us now return to the events of the Exodus. When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh for the first time, they said:
“So said the Lord God (YHWH Elohim) of Israel, ‘Let My people go, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.’ And Pharaoh said, “Who is YHWH that I should heed His voice and let Israel go? I do not know YHWH, neither will I let Israel go.” (Shemot 5:1-2)
 We note that Pharaoh did not say, “I do not know God (Elohim),” from which it can be concluded that Pharaoh also lived within the logic of Elohim. But this can also be proved in another way.

During our conversation, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, drew attention to the fact that after the sixth plague (boils), the Almighty ordered Moses to tell Pharaoh:
“So said the Lord God (YHWH Elohim) of the Hebrews, ‘Let My people go so that they may worship Me. Because this time, I am sending all of My plagues into your heart and into your servants and into your people, in order that you may know that there is none like Me in the entire earth.’” (Shemot, 9:13-14)

Rabbi Lazar raised the question — why were these words said after the sixth plague, and not after any other? In order to answer this question, let us note that the first six plagues did not have any long-term consequences, but the plagues that followed this phrase had long-term (locust, hail) or irreversible (death of the firstborn) consequences.

In order to understand why this happened specifically after the first six plagues, let's analyze Pharaoh’s behavior. From the text of the Torah, we know that the Pharaoh’s reaction to the plagues came in two forms: 

1. Pharaoh was unrepentant.

2. Pharaoh repented, but then changed his mind. 
An analysis of Pharaoh’s behavior is shown in the following table:
No. Plague Behavior of Pharaoh
1 Blood Did not repent
2 Frogs Repented but then reneged
3 Lice         Did not repent
4 Wild animals Repented but then reneged
5 Murrain of the cattle Did not repent 
6 Boils Did not repent
7 Hail         Repented but then reneged
8 Locust Repented but then reneged
9 Darkness Repented but then reneged
10 Death of the firstborn Repented, and allowed the Jews to go
The data given in this table show a pattern in Pharaoh’s behavior. During the first four plagues, Pharaoh’s behavior is repeated as follows: 

did not repent — repented — did not repent — repented

Further on, Pharaoh’s behavior changes. For two plagues in a row (fifth and sixth), he no longer repents.
It is after the sixth plague that the Almighty orders Moses to utter the aforementioned words on His behalf, and during the four subsequent plagues following these words, Pharaoh repents after each plague.

Pharaoh's actions can be explained as follows. Having tried the same sequence of actions for four plagues (did not repent — repented — did not repent — repented), Pharaoh decided for himself that repentance didn't change anything, because in both the case of repentance and in its absence, the plagues were temporary and stopped by themselves. Pharaoh concluded that repentance made no sense, since the plagues stopped on their own accord. And, starting with the fifth plague, Pharaoh changed his style of behavior and, for the next two plagues in a row (the fifth and sixth), he did not repent. 
At this point, we can say, that Pharaoh thought that he understood and estimated the logic of Elohim.  The moment that he decided this, the Almighty commanded Moses to convey to Pharaoh the message of “this time.” God’s words can be interpreted as follows: “You thought that you figured out My logic? You said that you don't know who YHWH is? Now, you will discover who YHWH is, and see that the logic of Elohim is no longer operable. Instead, you will now be confronted with the logic of YHWH, the logic of the impossible. And now you will repent to the end.” And this is what happened.

The logic of the impossible

At this point we should ask: What is the logic of the impossible?

Modern science gives us distant analogies. For example, the logic of quantum mechanics is fundamentally different from the logic of the world around us. In classical physics, if we measure the speed and coordinates of a tennis ball in flight, the result does not depend on the order of measurement. In quantum physics, if we measure the moment first and then the coordinates, or measure the coordinates first and then the moment, the results will be different.

The same thing happens with Aristotle’s famous Law of the Excluded Middle, which reads as follows: at a point in time, something can be either A or non-A. In quantum physics, we cannot make a similar statement: either a particle or not a particle. Also, many principles of classical logic, such as commutativity, are not applicable to quantum mechanics. 
This example illustrates that there is logic that differs from classical logic, which corresponds to our common sense.

As science develops, we will obviously discover other types of non-classical logic.

However, it is fundamentally important to understand that the logic of YHWH — the logic of the impossible — is not (God forbid) a pattern of non-classical logic. 

This last statement needs clarification. 

According to the theory of Alter Rebbe, the soul of man was created in the image of the higher spiritual worlds. The soul has garments in the form of an equivalent of the Sefirot – Chochmah, Binah, and so on. The soul is an open system. On the one hand, it receives information from the world around us, while on the other hand, it is connected with the higher sefirot of the spiritual worlds. 
Our perception of the world, which we can articulate and formulate in the form of reasoning (the system of thinking), unfolds at the level of Binah (understanding). Binah, in turn, receives information from Chochmah(wisdom), which receives information from our world through Malchut (the sefirah that incorporates speech and action), as well as from the higher Sefira Hokma. 

It is important to note the following fundamental points: 

The information of Chochmahis not articulated and is not recognized by us through the system of thinking (read more in Sefer Yetzirah with comments by Aryeh Kaplan).

Binah reveals some of the information of Chochmah through the system of thinking. The quantity and quality of information disclosed depends on the level of our intellect. 

However, even with the most brilliant development of the intellect, all of the information of Chochmah cannot be revealed. 
The Torah is given by the Almighty from the highest Chochmah. Consequently, in the Torah, as in the sefirah of Chochmah, there is information that cannot be disclosed at the level of Binah. 

This incomprehensible information contains the logic of the impossible, the logic of the highest Chochmah. 

This is the logic that lies forever beyond our comprehension, which can be brought to action by faith, trust in the Almighty and a desire for knowledge of the Almighty.
To purchase Eduard Shyfrin’s book ‘From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics’ please click here.   

To purchase Eduard Shyfrin’s book ‘Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind’ please click here.
This article is part of a collaboration for the Kabbalat Shabbat Project with Eduard Shyfrin.