A Hassidic Advaita Story
My Dear Aaron Hershel,
You ask me of God: to define the Nameless to place in your palm the ultimate secret. Do not imagine that this is hidden somewhere far from you. The ultimate secret is the most open one. Here it is: God is All.
I am tempted to stop with this-to close this letter, sign my name and leave you with this simple truth. Yet I fear you will not understand. Know from the first that all that follows is but an elaboration on the simple fact that God is All.
What does it mean to be All? God is Reality. God is the Source and Substance of all things and nothing. There is no thing or feeling or thought that is not God, even the idea that there is no God! For this is what it is to be All: God must embrace even God’s own negation.
Listen again carefully: God is the Source and Substance of everything. There is nothing outside of God. Thus we read: “I am God and there is none else [am od]” (Isaiah 45:5). Read not simply “none else,” but rather “nothing else”-not that there is no other god but God, but that there is nothing else but God.
Let me illustrate. It rained heavily during the night, and the street is thick with mud. I walked to the Bet Midrash (House of Learning) this morning and stopped to watch a group of little children playing with the mud. Oblivious to the damp, they made dozens of mud figures: houses, animals, towers. From their talk, it was clear that they imagined an identity for each. They gave the figures names and told their stories. For a while, the mud figures took on an independent existence. But they were all just mud. Mud was their source and mud was their substance. From the perspective of the children, their mud creations had separate selves. From the mud’s point of view, it is clear such independence was an illusion-the creations were all just mud.
It is the same with us and God: “Adonal alone is God in heaven above and on earth below, there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39). There is none else, meaning there is nothing else in heaven or on earth but God.
Can this be? When I look at the world, I do not see God. I see trees of various kinds, people of all types, houses, fields, lakes, cows, horses, chickens, and on and on. In this I am like the children at play, seeing real figures and not simply mud.
Where in all this is God? The question itself is misleading. God is not “in” this; God is this. Think carefully about what I have said. It is the key to all the secrets of life.
aus: Open Secrets: The Letters of Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael, Rabbi M. Shapiro