- The essential feature of monotheism is the creation of otherness from G-d where otherness is defined as complete distinctness from G-d and distinct in and of itself from all other beings and things. That is to say, definitionally for monotheism, G-d is not the creation and the creation is not G-d. This means by definition that Judaism is neither pantheism nor panentheism.
- Creation as otherness from G-d is necessarily derivative by nature where derivative means not infinite. This means G-d as infinity cannot create another infinity. To do so would be a corruption of the integrity of His infinity. This is an indication of G-d’s oneness, uniqueness, and greatness rather than its opposite. See the Rambam’s list of negative theology for further elaboration. As such, creation is necessarily derivative, where derivative means nothing in creation generates its own existence but, rather, must rely on Source for the energy and state of its existence. As such, creation is, a priori, non-infinite and therefore requires energy input for its existence from G-d.
- The creation as derivative, i.e. requiring G-d’s energy input, is necessarily bounded. Though immense and complex from micro to macro features and so infinite-seeming, the creation is necessarily a bounded one since it is not G-d Himself. For example, at last count, the universe is reckoned to be 52 billion light years large, an unfathomably giant number that is nevertheless bounded. And so there will be an actual ‘end’ to creation. That is to say, there is an ultimate end to knowledge of created subjects. That end, even for the most prosaic subjects, is mostly beyond human cognition and so serves two theological purposes: 1. To use one’s sense of the immensity, complexity, and formal order of the finite to launch human wonder metaphorically toward the Infinite. 2. To provide ‘room’ for human history to progress in its knowledge. As such, from a human point of view, finitude tends toward infinity more than toward the limitations of our own cognition.
- The fact that G-d supports/propounds/continues the creation by the input of His energy means that the world necessarily exists in relationship to Him and with Him.
- This continuous energy input is a continual act of giving. It is a giving of non-coercion—nothing can coerce infinity. Otherwise, it would not be infinite. Again, see the Rambam’s negative theology, summarized well at the end of the first chapter of Derech HaShem. Humans experience that giving as the existence of their own aliveness. This experience of aliveness is the default/entry level tangible experience of the relationship with G-d. G-d is not tangible but the energy of His relationship with humans is. This is an experience that is common to all men.
- The human perception of this relationship, i.e. the end of regression of religious meaning, starts with the rhetorical question of, “If I don’t generate my own existence since I die, how is it that I have existence?” The recognition of this question/meditation points to Source as the source of existence. The recognition of Source is the most fundamental response to one’s existence. This response-as-recognition is the germ of the intentionality of relationship. For most men, though not all, belying those in great pain of one sort or another, the further in time this recognition germinates, the more one will judge existence to be better than non-existence. The recognition that one would rather be alive than dead, that is to say, existence is preferable to non-existence, that recognition itself is the primal gesture of gratitude, where is the realization of the gift of aliveness that one has been granted. This is why chesed in Judaism is so primary: because it is in all its various forms the gift of aliveness of one to another. Kabbalistic thought teaches us that our giving back to G-d takes the form of making tikun, where tikun is the behavioral expression of moral free-will, that is to say, making the world a place where G-d can dwell amongst us.
- Relationship is defined as the coming into emotional and cognitive commonality of two distinct and morally free beings. The primary tool of boundary crossing from one’s uniqueness into commonality with another is language. It is with language that G-d created otherness and, hence, relationship. The give-and-take within this realm of commonality is called relatedness.
- Relatedness at its most basic level consists of this back-and-forth of giving and gratitude through the agency of recognition and intentionality.
- Relationship is then ignited by the intentionality of giving and gratitude. Without intentionality, i.e. the recipient of giving and the target of gratitude both recognizing the other, there can be no relationship. For example, to say thank you to the wrong person or give a gift to the wrong person is to ignite no relationship despite the quality of giving.
- The back-and-forth of giving and gratitude is reciprocal by nature. It is reciprocity and its intentionality which creates the energy of relationship. The energy of relationship, in turn, creates the energy of emotional proximity. The energy of emotional proximity is the very definition of love.
- Hence, the essential feature of monotheism is G-d’s creation of otherness for the purpose of relationship. Relationship’s mechanism at its core—the very act of creation—is the reciprocal and intentional back-and-forth of giving and gratitude in order to create a commonality between free unique beings that consists of and is energized by the energy of proximity in all its emotional and cognitive forms, what is otherwise known as love.
Rabbi Yosef Kaufman is a writer and teaches at Machon Yaakov, Jerusalem.