inquiry into the ultimate purpose and, indeed, the origin of God. Birnbaum, like the kabbalists of old, dares to raise the question of the origins of the Creator of the universe, a question which, in his view, must be raised on the grounds that its correct solution is a necessary propadeutic to genuine inquiry into the problem of evil.
Birnbaum’s proposed solution to the question of divine origins, to the mystery of the kabbalists’ En Sof (the infinite theistic principle giving rise to the God of Israel) is that “Holy Potential is at the epicenter of the Divine,” that God is, by His very nature, potential and possibility, “transcending, space, time and cosmos,” and ever- surging towards greater actuality. Birnbaum bases his thesis, in part, on the name by which God first became known to Moses and Israel: Eheye Asher Eheyeh, “I-will-be-that-which-I-will be” (Exodus 3:13-14) which he sees as a prooftext for his claim that potential is the holiest state of the Divine. Birnbaum sees the kabbalists’ sefirot as “primal quests for potentiality” which bridge the gap from “emptiness” to “somethingness,” and thereby become the vehicles of creation.
The significance of “Holy Potential” as the primal thrust of the universe, is that man, created in the image of God, has as his cosmic purpose the fulfillment of his own potential, encapsulated in the first Biblical command, peru u’rivu, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26). Birnbaum sees mankind’s potential displayed in two possible, but mutually exclusive, sets of dynamics that were laid out in the Garden of Eden. The first of these, the dynamic of the “Tree of Life/Bliss” promises a gilded cage existence, dependence upon God, eternal life, tamed evil but a limited potential for growth; the second, the dynamic of the “Tree of Knowledge/Potential” promises a life of challenge, freedom, privacy, responsibility, independence, untamed evil and mortality, but an infinite potential for growth. The two of these dynamics are, according to Birnbaum, mutually exclusive, in that insofar as one participates in the first, he cannot participate in the second, and vice versa. A life of infinite freedom/potential is logically incompatible with dependence on God and personal immortality.
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