view counter
Addition By Contraction
Tue, 12/17/2013 - 19:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

The mystics speak of tzimtzum, withdrawal or contraction. God, who fills all, contracts into God’s self to allow space for the world to be created. Tzimtzum is a concept in theological physics, teaching what it means to limit oneself to enable creation.

It is also a lesson in human psychology. We too create space within ourselves, within our lives. The lesson of tzimtzum is that withdrawal precedes overflow; the cistern bursts forth in a fountain. Moses withdraws for 40 days up the mountain and comes down to teach. Rabbi Akiba leaves for years to study and returns to become the Gadol Hador, the great one of his generation.

There are moments in life to expand, and stretch beyond our usual capacities. But we learn from this powerful mystical concept how important it is now and again to contract, to make smaller, to withdraw. In a world that fills our minds and our time, the ability is increasingly important. God created a space to make the world. We make a space inside ourselves to let the world in. Then we can open to give more of ourselves to our world.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

Our Newsletters, Your Inbox


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


I have to agree with commenter Robin (not verified) that the Buddhist "Right View" is keeping an open mind, an "empty" mind, as it were, not clinging onto views, any views. Not identifying with them. This is, for me, actually the most important Buddhist teaching.

(But it's not of much use to Zionists, eh?)

"Tzimtzum" feels and sounds like "Tsunami!"

Rabbi Wolpe, I admire the way that you articulate so beautifully the concept of the need to 'contract', to draw within oneself in order to create a space for that which needs to emerge. In psychotherapy, people often believe they should forcefully push their way through their problems or difficulties, when often what is most needed is the ability to step back, wait, cultivate patience, and gently embrace the 'unknowingness'. The answers will emerge, but one must first create an opening for them to come through. Just like Moses, Rabbi Akiba, Budhha and all other great spiritual teachers have taught throughout the ages, we must make space within ourselves, not just to discover what is 'within' ourselves, but also to learn more about what is also 'within' the people we love most.

Totally agree! I call it *detachment*. Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, teaches this. We need to step back & gain perspective before jumping in & becoming a part of things. You often can't see something if you are too close to it. Detach, observe, think, meditate. Actions should always come from a good place!