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The Imperfect God

Ron Margolin

Abstract

This paper focuses on the Hasidic view, namely, that human flaws do not function as a barrier between a fallen humanity and a perfect deity, since the whole of creation stems from a divine act of self-contraction. Thus, we need not be discouraged by our own shortcomings, nor by those of our loved ones. Rather, seeing our flaws in the face of another should remind us that imperfection is an aspect of the God who created us. Such a positive approach to human fallibility arouses forgiveness, mutual acceptance, and a hope for repair, and, therefore, has much to recommend itself. In the first part of the paper, I argue that the notion of a perfect God derives from the Greeks rather than the Hebrew Bible. A review of classical philosophies and the idea of God’s imperfection is followed by a consideration of several Jewish attempts to resolve the dichotomy between Divine perfection and an imperfect creation. I focus on Lurianic Kabbalah, Hans Jonas, and on the Hasidic concept of "Ayin" or “nothingness” as the very source of redemption. This Hasidic idea, which was further expanded upon by the Baal Shem Tov’s students, appears in a tale recounted by his great-grandson R. Nachman of Bratslav called “The Hanging Lamp.” I focus on the tale, which illustrates the idea that knowledge of human imperfection is itself a means of perfection and redemption.

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