Kabbalah, Walt Whitman, and the Coincidence of Opposites

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The Paradox of Giving and Receiving (5/04)


Dear Dr. Drob,


I have just finished your wonderful, comprehensive book Symbols of the Kabbalah and enjoyed it so much I have ordered Kabbalistic Metaphors and eagerly look forward to reading it as well.  The breadth and depth of your approach is truly inspiring.


Some of versions of the Lurianic creation story I have read include an aspect you did not touch upon in your book and I am wondering if you have any comments on it from a philosophical or psychological perspective. I ask because it involves a fascinating paradox and you have such a keen appreciation of the 'coincidence of opposites.'   I'm sure you already are aware of this version (which I encountered in The Way by Michael Berg and Rav P.S. Berg's The Essential Zohar; I gather it has come through the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, but I haven't yet read any of his writings). 


(For simplicity's sake, I will refer to the Vessel as singular, which is how I first encountered it in these readings.) According to what I read, there was the original, primordial creation of the Vessel (ex niliho) which received the Light of the Creator. They originally existed in perfect harmony. The perfect giver and the perfect receiver. But, in the same way a glass will warm up when you pour hot liquid into it, the Vessel took on the qualities of the Light of the Creator -- of wanting to give, to create. This caused a paradox within the Vessel: it was designed as the perfect receiver and yet it now wants, also, to give. To create. In an attempt to resolve this paradox, the Vessel pulled back against the Light and this, in turn, caused the Creator to withdraw, to contract. The vessel immediately realized its "mistake" and the Light came back in and then the shattering occurred.


I find it fascinating, the notion of tzimtzum taking place in reaction to the Vessel pushing away in its attempt to resolve a paradox, the paradox of receiving and giving. Passive and active.  Especially, as you demonstrate in Symbols, the Lurianic Kabbalah is all about coincidentia oppositorum. 


Do you know where this version of creation originates?  If you have any comments on it at all, especially any psychological dimensions, I would be most appreciative.  Psychologically we are taught to build a container in which opposites can co-exist -- and here it is being shattered in the primordial beginnings.


When I first encountered this story of creation, tzimtzum, the shattering of the vessel(s) (and, later, the restorative tikkun), it had a profound impact on me; in addition to thinking about it as a story of something that happened, in the past tense, at the beginning of creation, I also realized it is happening, now, in the present tense, deep within my psyche. Paradox and creation, here and now. That's why it is so great to come across your writings and your 'rational-mystical' approach which is teaching me a way to reconcile similar, seemingly opposing tensions within myself.  (I am reminded of Walt Whitman's "Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes!")  Your writings help to unite the multitudes.


Meanwhile, I hope that your book on Jung and Kabbalah is finding a publisher!  I will be purchasing a copy.


Thank you for your excellent contribution. I'm so glad I happened upon your website.


Respectfully yours,


Michael David Hoppe


Victoria, B.C. 




Dear Michael Hoppe:

Thank you very much for your most articulate and interesting letter. It is certainly very satisfying to me that you have thought deeply about the ideas in my book and carried these thoughts into your own life. The quote from Whitman is wonderful and gets precisely at one of the most important   aspects of not only Kabbalistic thought but also at what I regard to be therapeutic thought in general: the capacity to live with antinomies, opposites and contradictions--on the spiritual, intellectual and emotional level. My own reading of the Kabbalah is that it creates an open economy of thought and feeling and shatters all rigidities and dogmatics. This reading grows out of my understanding of (1) the symbol shevirat-ha-kelim (breaking of the vessels) (2) the idea that Ein-sof is a Unity of Opposites, and (3) the Kabbalistic view that Torah has an infinity of interpretations. Now, of course, if one reads Vital and other Kabbalists there is plenty that is dogmatic and closed in their writings as well--the stringent atonements for minor sexual prohibitions come to mind, and there are many others as well--but I believe that the principles that underlie the Lurianic system create the very "therapeutic container of all" that your email suggests.

I need to think more about the paradox of giving and receiving, so I will make just a few very brief associations. Of course, for Luria, the acts of Tikkun are a wonderful gift to God as they actually help constitute and complete the actualization of Ein-sof itself. In this regard we might consider the French philosopher Jacque Derrida's understanding of a gift as something that is given without creating debt and without any expectation of recompense. All other gifts are really barter and exchange and are not truly gifts. I am reminded of Maimonides degrees of charity: the highest is where neither giver nor receiver know each other's identities!

Walt Whitman, New Kabbalah and the Coincidence of Opposites


I found your recent dialog with Michael Hoppe interesting, especially with reference to his comment on Walt Whitman, and Whitman's famous line, "Do I contradict myself?...."  I am participating in a poetry discussion group this summer and the first poet we are considering is Walt Whitman.  I thought I would send along a few comments on Whitman which come to mind in relation to your New Kabbalah, and the coincidentia oppositorum.


Whitman's Leaves of Grass was published in its final form in 1892, after a lifetime of revision.  It might be said that his life was a creative process which can be seen as a continuing shattering and restoration of  his book, a book which he thought of as a companion and a person.  The process only stopped with his death, but seemingly would have continued indefinitely, to the end of his life.  Reminds me of your article on the creative writing process in which many Kabbalistic elements are present.


In Song of Myself, Whitman considers the meaning of grass, "A child said What is the grass?  fetching it to me with full hands;  How could I answer the child?  I do not know what it is any more than he."  Grass seems to represent the unknowable.  He guesses that "the grass is itself a child...or a uniform hieroglyphic...Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones..."  Grass, to Whitman, seems perhaps to suggest an image of God, a language underlying everything, and God in a macrocosmic as well as a microcosmic sense. Later he says, " I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars." 


Whitman seems to relate to the idea of the unity of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing in many places, for example, also in Song of Myself, "To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means."  Additionally, his attempt to identify much of the detail of the world within this poem, details he finds within himself, expresses such unity. 


And then about evil in Myself, Whitman says, "I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also...Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,..."  Perhaps a statement of the coincidentia of evil and good, and the transformation of evil into good. 


Then, there is this in which Whitman seems to be considering himself in an Adamic and Seferotic way, "Divine am I inside and out...If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it...Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me...We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun...With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds..."


Whitman's mention of his internal "contradictions," as cited by Michael Hoppe, seems to be the most direct indication of the coincidentia oppositorum as central  to his person and thought. 


Then, Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, one might start in many places to show the unity and blending of his thought.  The hermit bird, whose death song is "Sadly sinking and fainting,...and yet again bursting with joy. 


So I guess that I would urge any visitors to your website to read the best and powerful poetry of Whitman and note the relationship to the New Kabbalah, and especially the underlying coincidentia oppositorum in many of these poems.


Charlie Coon

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


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