In the past posts we have discussed a profound, albeit a troubling statement of Pirke D"Rabbi Eliezer. It appears to allow a duality within the Godhead by saying that, "Before the world was created there was only Hashem and His Name". We saw that a number of attempts at explanation have been made, without, however being very satisfactory. We will now discuss an explanation that is, at least to me, entirely satisfactory and meaningful.
If we look at the statement closely, we can focus on the line "Before the World was Created". What does this mean? Does it mean all the way before, the very, very beginning, that time before there was time? Or, does it mean that in the process of Emanation, and before the stage we call Creation, there was an intermediate "time", when only Hashem and His Name were in existence. Many commentators say, "Yes", we are talking only about a discrete and intermediate stage in the process of emanation. A list all of commentators who say this can be found in the commentary of R. Dovid Luria to the passage in question, in the third chapter of Pirke D'Rabbi Eliezer. They include the Villna Gaon, R Chaim Volozhiner in Nefesh Hachaim 2:2 and is probably based on Sefer Chareidim, and R. Todros Halevi in Otzar Hakavod. The most involved and the longest explanation can be found in Rebbe Rashab's RS'Vov, p. 247-249 (and the entire maamar is devoted to this).
To explicate the profound issues involved, we need to take a step back.
The simplest understanding of this approach, is to say that Emanation proceeded through the steps of Atsilus, Beriah, Yetzira, Asiysa. Atsilus is a state of un-differentiation, that time when Light has moved forth and began to separate from the Divine but individual entities did not yet form. The subsequent step was Beriya, a period of differentiation and separation of different things one from another. Naturally then, the "Name" became distinct from the Godhead just prior to the step of Beriya, or, what is called, "Before the World was Created".
I think one can mine this for more meaning, however.
We are used to thinking that the concept of Emanation is opposed to the concept of Creation. There are some very good reasons to think that . R. Meir Gabbai in Avodas Hakkadosh, Shaar 1, argues that only Emanation fulfils the purpose of making the world. This is because Hashem is hidden. How does one find Him? By projecting forward things of this world up towards their source. That is only possible with the process of Emanation. With emanation every detail that one finds in this world is a projection and a development from the Source. With creation, it is not necessarily so. An infinite and all-powerful Creator could have created our world with only a fraction of his Essence. In that case, human beings could not project from creatures of this world to the true Creator who has made them. Only if the world in all its details has emanated step-by-step and without a break from the Almighty, can a human being in some way retro-engineer an understanding of Hashem from this world.
However, as we discussed in the past, there is a sizable group of opinion that emanation was only of the spiritual world and that when it came time to make the physical world, there was a skip that was a Creation. Spiritual can not become physical and an act of Creation was necessary to make this world.
If so, one can explain that it was specifically before the quantum jump from Emanation to Creation, that a sort of a duality came to exist within the God-Head. What this duality was was simply He and the entire sephirotic apparatus, which, from Kesser to Malchus is deservedly called, "His Name".
To go even deeper, it is known that this world was created according to the Torah, as it says in Zohar (2:161b): “God looked into the Torah and created the world.” Mishlei 3:19-20: By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
What does this mean? One can explain it in one of two different ways.
One is that the Torah served as the blueprint in that every detail in the Torah is reflected in the actual physical world that we see. Another one is that this world was made to be such a world that it's would reflect spiritual values. In other words, there are many possible worlds. In some of them concepts such as loyalty, love, beauty, piety etc will exist and in some of the possible worlds they would not exist. However it does not mean that every physical detail is a direct result of a spiritual detail. It is a kind of an Anthropic Principle – the world was created so as to enable the existence an expression of spirituality within itself.
The first opinion posits that emanation proceeded from spiritual to physical, so that every spiritual detail is expressed in the physical world. This second opinion is that Hashem based the world, in the worlds of Mishlei, "laid its foundation by Wisdom", upon spiritual ideas, but not that every physical detail has a spiritual antecedent.