Was Spinoza a Kabbalist? The Influence of Jewish Mysticism in Book I of Ethics

By Rocco A. Astore
2016, Vol. 8 No. 11 | pg. 2/2 |

V. Spinoza the Mystic? Arguments Against Interpreting Spinoza’s View of God as Solely Kabbalistic

Though Spinoza’s and the Kabbalah’s view of God are similar in a variety of ways, it is not the case that one should understand them as being identical. One reason why people should not equate the two is that to Spinoza God’s attributes are incompatible, while on the other hand, Kabbalists believe that they intermesh.133 To Spinoza, the Kabbalist view of Sefirot intertwining would be an impossibility because it would disregard God’s infinitude, as well as his/her .134 That is, if attributes were compatible, they would stop God from being limitless because it would be the case that one attribute could overpower another.135 Consequently, if one attribute were to overpower another, it would stop an aspect of God from being infinite, which is impossible since nothing in the natural order has the power to limit him/her.136 Also, if God’s attributes could overpower one another that would mean that only certain facets of him/her would be of the highest degree of power whereas others would not.137 The problem that arises from this is that God would be somewhat all-powerful, and somewhat not, and thus, he/she would not be truly omnipotent.138 Accordingly, if God were not truly omnipotent, he/she could not maintain the existence of the natural order, since he/she would be inconsistently active.139 To Spinoza, this conclusion, which the Kabbalah can lead to, is illogical because the continuous activity of the natural order is only sustainable by an eternally active being, or God.140 Moreover, Spinoza would claim that the Kabbalist implication that God can be inactive at times goes against the reality of the constant flow of life, which he would claim is impossible since the laws of the natural order or attributes of God exist without interference.141 In other words, because animation in the natural order is ceaseless, and since the laws of nature boundlessly exist, it is the case that God must be everlastingly active because life or Being can never fade into Nothingness.142

Furthermore, Spinoza denies that people can affect God and thus, one may claim that he does not strictly adhere to a Kabbalist understanding of the Divine.143 First, it is the case that to Kabbalist, humanity plays an integral part in God fulfilling his/her quest to become a self-conscious being.144 In contrast, Spinoza believes that God is not teleological, and thus, people play no role in the natural order.145 One reason for this discrepancy is that Spinoza believes God cannot be the direct cause of people since his/her infinite nature is not compatible with their finite natures.146 Consequently, Spinoza claims that God is not the direct cause of humanity but rather their ultimate cause.147 That is, though people, in the end, can attribute God as their cause, it is more accurate to claim that they derived from causes more immediate and akin to their natures since he/she cannot engender anything that involves limits, or finitude.148 Hence, Spinoza, as opposed to the teachings of the Kabbalah, would claim that because God did not directly engender humanity it is not the case that they play a role in his/her development.149 Moreover, Spinoza does not believe that God works towards any end because he/she is already a complete being, and thus, the Kabbalist view of the Divine as constantly evolving, Spinoza would not support.150 One reason why Spinoza would reject a teleological God is that he/she does not rely on any concept or being for his/her conceivability or existence.151 That is, there can be no goal that God is seeking to fulfill because there is no being that can exceed his/her perfection.152 Also, one may claim that it is not of the nature of God to want to evolve because as a perfect being, there is no greater stage of development for him/her to achieve.153

Another disparity between the Kabbalah’s and Spinoza’s understanding of God, that can justify that Spinozism is not interchangeable with Jewish mysticism, is Spinoza’s idea that people cannot affect God, whereas Kabbalists believe that they can.154 In Spinoza’s view, it is not the case that anybody precedes God, since no one can exist outside of him/her, and thus, nobody is truly separate from him/her.155 Consequently, since people can only exist in God, they can never act upon him/her because there is no way to escape his/her confines.156 In other words, people are unfree to exists outside of Nature, because nothing is outside of it, and thus, God is free from anything affecting him/her since, by being equivalent to Nature, nothing is external to him/her either.157 Furthermore, this difference between the Kabbalist view that people can affect God, and Spinoza’s belief that they cannot, persists in their understanding of God’s inner being.158 That is, Spinoza, unlike Kabbalists, denies that anything finite can affect anything infinite, and since people are not everlasting, and because God is, it follows that people or beings inside God cannot affect him/her.159 Lastly, because nobody can affect God, in any way, Spinoza believes that he/she is impartial to humanity since he/she is an impersonal being, which is another claim that is in sharp contrast to Kabbalist theories.160

IV. Conclusion

The first purpose of this piece was to give an account of Spinoza’s and the Kabbalah’s theories of God. By drawing from the first book of the former’s work, the Ethics, and Daniel C. Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism, I have provided that account, so that the reader can more easily understand their theories. Next, I compared Spinoza’s views with those of the Kabbalah, to show how both agree with one another’s idea of God in certain ways. Despite their similarities, I concluded this piece by arguing that Spinoza was not a mystic, but rather a philosopher who justified his positions by using rational arguments. Lastly, it is my hope that this work invites new dialogue on the value of Spinoza’s and the Kabbalah’s relation to it.


References

Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995). 1-163.

Spinoza, Benedict De. Edwin Curley, ed., Ethics (Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996). 1-186.


Endnotes

  1. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 1, 9-10.
  2. Ibid., 1.
  3. Ibid., 3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 1, 3.
  8. Ibid., 3-4.
  9. Ibid., 7.
  10. Ibid., 9.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., 3, 9.
  13. Ibid., 7, 9-10.
  14. Ibid., 9.
  15. Ibid., 3, 9.
  16. Ibid., 1-2, 7.
  17. Ibid., 1-2.
  18. Ibid., 1-2, 6, & 7.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid., 3, 6, & 7.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid., 1, 3, & 6-7.
  23. Ibid., 6-7.
  24. Ibid., 16.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 2, 6, & 10-11.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid., 16.
  30. Ibid., 13-14.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid., 13-16.
  36. Ibid., 13-14.
  37. Ibid., 13.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid., 13-15.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid., 25.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Ibid., 27-31.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid., 33.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ibid., 33-34.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid.
  63. D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Ibid., 25, 54.
  66. Ibid., 26-27.
  67. Ibid., 29-31.
  68. Ibid., 26-27.
  69. Ibid., 54.
  70. Ibid.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Ibid.
  73. Ibid., 38, 43.
  74. Ibid., 26.
  75. Ibid., 42-43.
  76. Ibid., 43.
  77. Ibid., 52-53.
  78. Ibid., 25.
  79. Ibid., 31.
  80. Ibid.
  81. Ibid., 31-35.
  82. Ibid.
  83. Ibid.
  84. Ibid.
  85. Ibid.
  86. Ibid., 55-62.
  87. Ibid.
  88. Ibid.
  89. Ibid.
  90. Ibid.
  91. Ibid.
  92. Ibid., 48-50.
  93. Ibid.
  94. Ibid., 31-35, 49.
  95. Ibid., 29-31.
  96. Ibid.
  97. Ibid.
  98. Ibid., 29.
  99. Ibid.
  100. Ibid., 31.
  101. Ibid.
  102. Ibid.
  103. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 1, 9-10 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 29-30.
  104. Ibid.
  105. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 20-21 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 25.
  106. Ibid.
  107. Ibid.
  108. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 16 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24-25.
  109. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 16, 20-22 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 25.
  110. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 13-14 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 48.
  111. Ibid.
  112. Ibid.
  113. Ibid.
  114. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 4-5 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 54.
  115. Ibid.
  116. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 26-27 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 54.
  117. Ibid.
  118. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 13 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 50-51.
  119. Ibid.
  120. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 10-13 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 28, 54.
  121. Ibid.
  122. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 3-4, 16 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24-25, 54.
  123. Ibid.
  124. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 25-31 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24-25, 54.
  125. Ibid.
  126. Ibid.
  127. Ibid.
  128. Ibid.
  129. Ibid.
  130. Ibid.
  131. Ibid.
  132. Ibid.
  133. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 16 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 46.
  134. Ibid.
  135. Ibid.
  136. Ibid.
  137. Ibid.
  138. Ibid.
  139. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 25 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 54-55.
  140. Ibid.
  141. Ibid.
  142. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 10-13, 25 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 26, 52-55.
  143. Ibid.
  144. D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24-25, 54.
  145. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 18-19.
  146. Ibid.
  147. Ibid.
  148. Ibid.
  149. D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 24-25, 54.
  150. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 16.
  151. Ibid., 1.
  152. Ibid., 32.
  153. Ibid.
  154. B.D. Spinoza. E. Curley, ed.,Ethics(Princeton: Penguin Books, 1996)., 10-13, 25 & D.C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah, the Heart of Jewish Mysticism (New York: Castle Books, 1995)., 26, 52-55.
  155. Ibid.
  156. Ibid.
  157. Ibid.
  158. Ibid.
  159. Ibid.
  160. Ibid.

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