Tricky question, this, do I exist or don’t I?
Learning Tanya, you come across a discussion in Sha’ar HaYichud Chapter 4, where the Tanya analyzes a verse that says, “Kee Shemesh Oo’Magayn Hashem Elokim.” G-d Elokim is a Sun and a Shield.
Naming G-d and saying G-d has a name is problematic. Yet, we do that. We do that so that we can describe how G-d is interfacing with us. G-d has different names depending on how we perceive His actions and how He is interacting with the world. This verse above is saying that G-d is like a sun, when His name is Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay and like a shield when His name is Elokim.
Quick review of names of G-d: name of Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay is the merciful, all giving G-d and the name Elokim is the aspect of G-d that actually gives punishments and also put into place laws of physical nature.
So, this verse is saying, that when G-d is all mercy He is like the sun, and when He is about punishment He is about punishment.
Okay, what are we talking about here. Let’s go to the example the verse tells us about, the sun itself.
G-d created the powerful sun. Bright, hot, too hot to bear. Source of all living growth, but still too hot to bear. Hence, the ozone layer, shielding mankind from too hot a sun.
Now translate that into how that explains G-d. The name Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay is about G-d continuously willing the world into existence. That you and I stand here, alive, created beings, is because G-d is right now willing us to be around. That concept is mind-blowing, just like the heat of a sun, so powerful an idea, illuminating to us our nothingness, that a person would not be able to stand erect with such an understanding. Just like we wouldn’t be able to stand the heat of the sun.
So…just like G-d shields us from the sunlight that is too bright, G-d created a shield for our sense of nothingness. And that is to interact with us with His name Elokim, which is the name used to discuss consequences of actions. From the Tanya translation, here we goL “In order to conceal from created beings the Divine illumination of Havayah that is within them, and that is responsible for their existence” G-d works the world with His name Elokim and “Only then can people perceive themselves as existing independently of their life-force. And this perception in turn makes it possible for created beings to consider and feel themselves to be tangibly existing.”
You and I, we concur maybe with the old philosopher who opined, “I think, therefore, I am”. But that isn’t what tells us we exist. When talking physics and intelligent design, everything you and I and all the world is, can be reduced to particles and nothingness. You begin to realize nothing is real. We’re G-d’s creation. What makes us then sure that we exist… is the concept that there are consequences to our actions. Gedulah — G-d’s greatness created us. Gevurah – the attribute of strictness allowed us to perceive ourselves as tangibly existing. If I do a mitzvah that will be rewarded or G-d forbid do wrong and get punished, hey, I must exist.
G-d created us and lets us be aware of our existence by “restraining’ his unbridled giving and letting the world run with some pains and punishments, that is with Gevurah woven in.
Let’s go back to our sun example we started with. We are told that in the Messianic stage, Hashem will take out the sun from its shield and the wicked will perish from the intensity of the heat, not able to take it, while the righteous will enjoy the added brightness to the world. (Yup, we are not that worried about the depletion of the ozone, having known that someday the shield of the sun will be ripped away.)
We are told by our prophets that from G-d no bad happens. So then how do we explain the pain in the world? We are told that when Moshiach comes, when that shield is taken from the sun, we will be able to see how the bad and the pain was really all good.
To our limited vision, pain is bad, death is bad, suffering is awful. But all those factors in life allow us to begin to ponder our existence, to begin to question, if there is death, what should I do with my life before I die. If there is pain, how can I alleviate it. It gives us a sense that we matter, that we are not just a figment of G-d’s imagination. We, here and now, you and me, because of the pain and suffering in the world, are able to take responsibility for our lives and not be blinded by a feeling of worthlessness in the face of G-d’s almighty power.
When Moshiach comes, then G-d can take away the shield from the sun and reveal Himself fully. The righteous who ran with the ball and questioned their existence and took responsibility for their choices in life, they will be blessed by that added brightness and light. The wicked, however, will be pffft, gone, up in smoke in the realization that all exists only through G-d’s thought, not by their own reckoning.