Nefesh HaHayyim Section 1 Chapter 2

After presenting us with a general definition for tzelem, R. Hayyim specifies what the Torah means when it states “btzelem elokim.” His contextual question is, what characteristic trait does humanity share with the elokim aspect of G-d. For this definition, he quotes from the Arbaah Turim of R. Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Asher, that elokim refers to G-d as the master of all koah (power) (chapter 5). By having power, human beings have the ability to create and improve the world. However, the similarity falls short, which is R. Hayyim’s primary point in the second chapter.

For R. Hayyim, the distinction between humanity and G-d in relationship to creation is that humanity can only build from a preexisting object and once the item is built, it can remain in existence without the builder’s involvement. G-d, on the other hand, can create out of nothingness (at least at first) and cannot allow existence to remain without continuous involvement. As such, there is a continuous creative process, for G-d’s koah, as infinite and necessary, never ceases to operate.

In other words, the continuous nature of creation is not that G-d continuously creates but rather the supernal power, which is limitless, never ceases to stop acting. R. Hayyim further proves his argument by highlighting that we say in birchat yozer ohr the phrase l’oseh orim gedolim (from Tehillim 136:7), meaning that creation, in the context of our world,[1] is in the present and timeless.

Having established the criteria of G-d being able to create yesh me’ayin and that G-d is continuously creating, R. Hayyim concludes the second chapter by reiterating that all koah in all worlds is continuously emanating from G-d.  In his notes to the end of the chapter, R. Yitzchak of Volozhin comments[2]on how we know that the name elokim relates to power and strength.  However, he emphasizes that while we use the term elokim for other leaders, such as judges and angels, to signify their power, we must recognize that all power is ultimately from G-d.  As such, we refer to other powers as elokim aharim, meaning that their power comes from the elokim, the baal koach.  Therefore, when we say hashem elokaichem emet, what we are saying is that G-d is the true source of all power, the true elokim.  

[1] This is based on the kabbalistic schematic of the existence of four levels of created worlds: atzilut, beriah, yetzirah and asiyah.  In this Kabbalistic schematic, creation ex nihilo occurs from atzilut and beriah.  The worlds of yetzirah and asiyah are the worlds in which G-d fashions and acts upon the already existing primordial matter (Ramban Bereishit 1:1).  Additionally, as R. Hayyim’s son notes in this chapter, the action of oseh is the continuous manipulation of the divine name YHVH which can be mixed into 1080 different possible combinations based on the letters and the various vowelizations of the letters.  Based on the Zohar, the constant manipulation of the four letters is equivalent to the constant balancing of the four elements, earth, wind, water and fire. 

[2] R. Yitchak’s proof texts are reminiscent of Maimonides in his Moreh Nevuchim, sec.1 chapter.2: Some years ago a learned man asked me a question of great importance; the problem and the solution which we gave in our reply deserve the closest attention. Before, however, entering upon this problem and its solution I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, and that Onkelos the proselyte explained it in the true and correct manner by taking Elohim in the sentence, “and ye shall be like Elohim” (Gen. iii. 5) in the last-mentioned meaning, and rendering the sentence “and ye shall be like princes.” Having pointed out the homonymity of the term “Elohim” we return to the question under consideration ( .


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