This week’s parasha is, of course, about building the משכן.
The problem with the concept of a משכן for an infinite G-d is well known:
This is the source of the idea that the greatest miracle of all is that ה׳ allows the universe to exist:
Now, this is subtly different from how we usually think of צמצום: at least for me, צמצום is a contraction “from”; ה׳ withdraws in some sense from us, giving us our own space. This is the idea of contraction “into”; ה׳ withdraws into a place that we can access. But both are aspects of the kabbalistic idea of צמצום. Unfortunately, I don’t know and can’t know anything about kabbalah:
But since Rav Soloveitchik brought it up, I figure I’m allowed to try. The beginning of the Zohar on בראשית is completely obscure:
But Chaim Vital, the student of the Ari, explains the image:
ה׳ is “the infinite light” and created an empty void within that is the universe, and within that is a בּוּצִינָא דְּקַרְדִינוּתָא, a shining lamp, that represents the light of ה׳ within our world. צמצום is both ה׳ contracting from the world and being contracted to limited places and times within it. Rav Soloveitchik often uses the term “numinous”, the “sense of the holy”, when we experience the presense of ה׳ in our world.
But why do I care about צמצום? I’m not a kabbalist. But it matters, because we are supposed to be מְצַמְצֵם as well:
Rav Hutner makes a similar point (his definition of צמצום is slightly different: ה׳ limits His own power of creation in the universe, but the underlying theme is the same).
And then he continues by citing the Ramban, explaining זכור ושמור שניהם נאמרו בדיבור אחד:
So just as ה׳ withdraws to make space in the universe for us in His creation, we withdraw to make space for Him in our world. That’s very nice and philosophical, but there is a practical application: Don’t talk in shul! Let there be some limited place where it’s not about us, where we can experience the numinous, feel the presence of ה׳.