Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Wheel of Transformation



Sichos HaRan # 40, slightly abridged
Translation, commentary, and wild speculations by Dovid Sears
Introduction

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God commands Moses, “Make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among you” (Exodus 25:8). The Children of Israel had estranged themselves from God and Moses. However, through the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, and later through the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, this relationship was “patched up” and the spiritual damage began to be repaired.


The Holy Temple is the central paradigm for the spiritual and even physical accord between the Creator and creation. As Rebbe Nachman states in the lesson we are about to read, it embodies the principle of “the superior below and the inferior above.” That is, Godliness “descends” into the vessels of creation, and creation “ascends” to its Essence, which is the Divine Oneness. The cognitive realization of this mystery is called da’as, literally, “knowledge.” However, a better translation in this context might be “enlightenment” (notwithstanding the word’s Eastern religious associations) in the sense of a completely transforming spiritual awakening. In this context, the term da’as does not refer to an idea or concept, but to an encompassing perception of the divine essence of all things.

The connection between the Holy Temple and da’as is underscored by a teaching from the Talmud:

Rabbi Ami said: Great is da’as, for it was given between two Divine Names; as it is written, “A God [E-L] of Knowledge [de’os, a construct of da’as] is the Lord [YHVH]” (Exodus 2:3).1
First the verse uses the Divine Name “E-L”; then the term “de’os”; and then the Essential Divine Name YHVH (known as the “Shem HaVaYaH”). So da’as is couched between these two holy names.1 

The Talmud continues:

Rabbi Elazar said: Great is the Holy Temple, for it was given between two Divine Names; as it is written, “Your dwelling place that You brought into existence, O God [YHVH], the sanctuary [mikdash], O God [ADNY], that Your hands established…” (Exodus 15:17).
Just as da’as is found between two Divine Names, so is the Holy Temple, or mikdash. Thus, our Sages show that there is a certain equivalency between the two. Aside from its other functions, the Holy Temple is the channel for the revelation of divine wisdom. As such, it is the antithesis of philosophy, which is a product of human reason, reflecting the natural order. Divine wisdom, by contrast, both encompasses and transcends nature; it is supra-rational, miraculous.

In the teaching from Rebbe Nachman about Chanukah and the Holy Temple that we are about to consider, rationalist philosophy is pitted against “mystical wisdom,” represented by the Holy Temple—and the former is defeated by the latter. Although Rebbe Nachman doesn’t say so, this is why the struggle of a handful of Jews against a vastly more powerful foreign invader more than two thousand years ago remains relevant even today. The Syrian Hellenists sought to suppress the study of Torah and the rites of the Holy Temple, championing an alternative world-view and seeking to impose it the conquered. The Talmudic sages recognized that this conflict was not just another one of the many national conflicts the Jews had endured. Rather, it represented an archetypal conflict between two approaches to life, and existentially between two antithetical ways of being-in-the-world.
The Hellenists esteemed above all else man-made philosophy; even their gods were conceived in vividly human terms. By contrast, the Maccabees who led the Jewish revolt asserted the superiority of divine intellect, prophecy, and the paradigm of the Holy Temple. The miraculous victory of the Maccabees, as Rebbe Nachman explains it, was actually a refutation of the Greek approach, which was the philosophical approach, and the occasion for a new revelation of divine intellect: the da’as for which the Holy Temple was and is destined to be the unique channel.

The Cosmic Dreidel

Rebbe Nachman begins his teaching by attacking philosophy, even philosophical works written by of some of the great medieval rabbis, and asserting the primacy of simple faith: the basic Jewish belief that God creates and sustains the world, and will renew it in an entirely wondrous manner in time to come. He states:

Concerning the order of creation, the philosophers ask: why is a star a star, or a constellation a constellation? For what misdeed were lower things, such as the various animals, consigned to lower levels? Why isn’t the opposite the case? Why is the head a head, and why is the foot a foot, and why isn’t the opposite the case?

Questions like these are discussed at length in their books. However, in truth, this is “vanity and a disturbance of the spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). We do not need to question God’s ways, because “tzaddik vi-yashar hu . . . He is righteous and just” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

In truth, the entire world is a wheel of transformation. It is like a dreidel, a toy top that spins around and around. Man becomes angel, and angel becomes man; head becomes foot, and foot becomes head, and similarly all other aspects of creation. Everything goes in cycles, revolving and being transformed. All things exchange forms, lowering the higher, and elevating the lower.2 For all things share one root.

There are transcendental beings such as angels, which have no connection to the material. There is the celestial realm, whose nature is very subtle. Finally, there is this lowly world, which is completely corporeal. Although to be sure, each of these three isderived from a particular place, nevertheless, they all share one root. 

Rebbe Nachman’s reference to “particular places” that share a common root reflects the kabbalistic concept that every aspect of the Four Worlds of Asiyah/Action, Yetzirah/Formation, Beriah/Creation, and Atzilus/Emanation has its root in the “global template” of creation. The Zohar calls it Adam Kadmon, “Primordial Man,”3 which, of course, is not any sort of man at all, in the ordinary sense of the word. This awesome and purely abstract reality defies our grasp. We can’t imagine what Adam Kadmon truly is, aside from that it is the substratum of creation. However, what we can say is that all levels of creation reflect the archetype of the human form, beginning with Adam Kadmon. The array of the ten sefiros, too, conforms to this principle. As the Tikkuney Zohar states, “Chesed/Kindness corresponds the right arm, Gevurah/Might corresponds to the left arm, Tiferes/Beauty…”4 and so forth. Thus, Rebbe Nachman acknowledges that every phenomenon has its corresponding noumenon, which he terms its “particular place” in the metaphysical worlds, which devolve from Adam Kadmon. On this highest plane, all things share a common root.
Therefore, all creation is a wheel of transformation, revolving and oscillating. Right now, something may be on top, like a head, and another on the bottom, like a foot. Then the situation is reversed. Head becomes foot, and foot becomes head. Similarly, man becomes angel, and angel becomes man.

Our sages teach us that angels were cast down from heaven to this lowly world. They entered physical bodies and became subject to all sorts of worldly lusts.5 Many times angels were sent on missions to this world and clothed themselves in physical bodies.6 We also find the opposite, cases where human beings became angels.7 For the world is a revolving wheel. It spins like a dreidel, with all things emanating from one root.

The feet of some are also higher than the heads of others; for in the supernal worlds, the lowest level of an upper world is higher than the highest level of a lower world. Yet everything revolves in cycles.

That is, the hierarchy in creation is dynamic: nothing remains fixed, nothing exists exactly as it did a moment ago, everything is in a constant process of transformation; yet there is an encompassing unity within which all things are subsumed. This oneness is beyond hierarchy, beyond division altogether. It is the prima materia, the foundation of all diversity, as Rebbe Nachman will soon explain. This oneness is what in another lesson Rebbe Nachman calls emes, the true nature of things.8 It is also the domain of the holy, where Creator and creation meet.9

Although the universe is unimaginably intricate and complex—and in the Baal Shem Tov’s conception, reflects divine providence in its every detail10—nevertheless, the essence of all things is Godliness. In this sense, we may say that “all is One.”

It should also be noted that Rebbe Nachman describes each level of creation in terms of its relative coarseness and materiality. Transcendent beings are beyond materiality; the celestial realm has only the subtlest material aspect; and the earth is altogether physical. In kabbalistic terms, this reflects a process known as tzimtzum, constriction of the divine light, and each level of creation, in general and in particular, may be described as a “garment” for that which precedes and transcends it. Thus, the hierarchy is one long scale, like a musical scale, of devolving substantiality, level after level. However, this scale is but the modulation of one “sound.” That sound includes all notes, and is present within all notes, a concept which Reb Noson develops further in his Likutey Halakhos.11

The next section of our discourse relates the symbol of the dreidel, tying in this seemingly “innocent” custom, which is not mentioned in the Talmud or any primary sources, to the core issues of Chanukah:

This is why we play with a dreidel on Chanukah.

Chanukah is an aspect of the Holy Temple.12 The primary concept of the Temple is the wheel of transformation. The Temple represented the paradigm of “the superior below and the inferior above.”13

That is, what is inherently bound up with a higher level of the cosmic hierarchy becomes revealed on a lower level, and what is inherently bound up with a lower level of that hierarchy becomes spiritually elevated. As the Rebbe goes on to explain:

God lowered His Presence into the Temple, which is “the superior below.” The converse is also true. The entire pattern of the Temple with all its details was engraved on high,14 which is the paradigm of “the inferior above.” The Temple is therefore like a dreidel, a spinning top, for everything revolves and is transformed.

The Temple refutes philosophical logic. God is beyond every transcendental concept, and it is unthinkable that He should constrict His Presence into the vessels of the Temple. [As King Solomon declared,] “Behold, the heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain You—how much less this House!” (I Kings 8:27).

Yet God caused His Presence to dwell within the Temple, thus destroying all philosophical logic.

Philosophy cannot explain how man can have any influence on high. Nor can it explain how a mere animal can be sacrificed and rise as a “sweet savor”15 and source of gratification before God, “Who spoke and His will was fulfilled.”16 How is “will” applicable to God? However, God showed that the truth contradicts their logic. For in fact God brought His Presence below into the Temple, and the animal ascended as a sweet savor. Philosophical logic is crushed by the dreidel, the spinning wheel that brings “the superior below and the inferior above.”

The power of the hyle, discussed in their books, stands between potential and actual.17 Before anything comes into existence, it must exist in potential. Coming from potential to actual, it must first pass through the in-between stage of the hyle. All manifestation thus emerges from the hyle.

Thus, the hyle is the source of all creation.18 The three categories of creation—transcendental, celestial, and physical—all proceed from this common root. As they change form from transcendental to physical and vice-versa, they all revolve around this root, within which they are one.

This description suggests that the hyle is not just a stage through which everything must pass in the voyage from potentiality to actualization, but is a realm unto itself; an encompassing reality, which stands above and beyond the hierarchy of creation altogether. It is like the absence of color that contains all colors, the silence that contains all sounds.

The letters on the dreidel are heh, nun, gimel, and shin.
Heh stands for hyle.
Nun stands for Nivdal, the transcendental.
Gimel stands for Galgal, the celestial.
Shin stands for Shafal, the lower, physical plane.
The dreidel thus includes all creation. It goes in cycles, alternating and revolving, one thing becoming another.

Chanukah means “dedication,” referring to the dedication of the Holy Temple, the paradigm of “the superior below, and the inferior above.” This revolving wheel is the dreidel.
Rebbe Nachman now turns to contemplate the Redemption. The political victory of Chanukah was occasioned by the miracle of the one flask of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) that burned for eight days. This miracle was a foretaste of the Redemption. Then, too, all oppression will cease, the Jewish people will be restored to their ancient homeland in peace, and the miraculous nature of reality will be perceived by all. 

Thus, Rebbe Nachman asserts:

Redemption, too, will express this alternating cycle, as in the paradigm of the Holy Temple: the superior below and the inferior above.
When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea after the redemption from Egypt, they sang, “You brought them and planted them on the Mount of Your inheritance . . . the Temple that Your hands established” (Exodus 15:17). Redemption was for the sake of the building the Holy Temple, which embodies the wheel of transformation. For when the superior are below and the inferior are above, which is the ultimate goal—this shows that everything is one.

This is the meaning of the letters on the dreidel. They correspond to the initial letters of the verse “You redeemed the staff of Your inheritance, Mount Zion…” (Psalms 74:2).
Gimel is Ga’alta − “You redeemed”
Shin is Shevet − “the tribe”
Nun is Nachalasecha − “of Your inheritance”
Heh is Har Zion − “Mount Zion”
This is the paradigm of “You brought them, You planted them on the Mount of Your inheritance.” It is the aspect of the Holy Temple, symbolizing the wheel of transformation, which is the essence of redemption.

Thus, the Redemption is not only a matter of liberation from the oppression of other nations. It is also a spiritual phenomenon: liberation from inner conflict and our most basic misconceptions about reality and the self, a correction of our deep confusion about nature as an autonomous force, and an awakening to the miraculous and the divine. It is this erroneous way of thinking, the true “exile mentality,” that Rebbe Nachman attacks with his critique of philosophy.

Spinning the Dreidel

To sum up the discourse, Rebbe Nachman describes creation as a “wheel of transformation,” giving three basic models for this concept: the Holy Temple, the Chanukah dreidel, and the Redemption. However, in describing the Redemption, Rebbe Nachman stresses not so much the political aspect, not even the ideal of world peace that the prophets extol, but our spiritual liberation. This is brought about through the revelation of da’as, or divine intellect. The core of that da’at is the paradoxical knowledge of how all things proceed from Oneness, are permeated with Oneness, and throughout all possible transformations, remain subsumed within Oneness. This is symbolized by the Chanukah dreidel, spinning to the delight of little children whose innocence and simplicity renders them still capable of wonder and delight. For all creation is a cosmic dreidel, spinning on its axis in eternity—and if we have eyes to see, we too can gaze upon it with wonder and delight.

Afterthoughts

Answering the Philosophers

“The head becomes a foot, and the foot becomes a head . . . All things exchange forms, lowering the higher, and elevating the lower.” This is actually Rebbe Nachman’s answer to the materialist philosophers cited at the beginning of the discourse. In truth, nothing is a fixed entity; all existence is impermanent. There is no “head” or “foot” in an absolute sense. One may ask: if this is such an important point, why did Rebbe Nachman state it in passing, as if it were a side issue?

Perhaps he meant to imply that these philosophers do not deserve a direct answer − because their questions are already answers. They’re not even listening. Rebbe Nachman’s words are only intended for those of faith; therefore, answering the philosophers is truly a side issue.

Dreidel Ethics

“All things are different—but in their root, they are the same.” There is a wonderful teaching from the Baal Shem Tov related to this concept that I like to repeat whenever I have a chance.

“Do not consider yourself superior to anyone else,” the father of Chasidism states. “In truth, you are no different than any other creature, since all things were brought into being to serve God. Just as God bestows consciousness upon you, He bestows consciousness upon your fellow man. In what way is a human being superior to a worm? A worm serves the Creator with all of his intelligence and ability; and man, too, is compared to a worm, as the verse states, ‘I am a worm and not a man’ (Psalms 22:7). If God had not given you a human intellect, you would only be able to serve Him like a worm. In this sense, you are both equal in the eyes of Heaven. A person should consider himself, the worm, and all creatures as friends in the universe, for we are all created beings whose abilities are God-given.”19
If all creation is essentially one, proceeding from one source, as Rebbe Nachman also states, we must show compassion and respect for all of God’s works. We’re all spinning in the same dreidel!

The Dreidel and the Snake

The letters heh-nun-gimel-shin traditionally inscribed on the four sides of a dreidel bear the gematria of the word nachash/serpent.20 The verse states, “Now the serpent was cleverer than all the animals of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). Archetypally, the cleverness of the nachash is the root of materialist philosophy and intellect as a power unto itself, cut off from that which is higher than intellect, as Reb Noson explains.21 The Holy Temple is the antithesis of what the Zohar calls the “corruption of the serpent.”22 Hence, according to Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, the dreidel is a tikkun for the gematria of the four letters it bears.

Moreover, kabbalistic sources point out that the gematria of nachash/serpent is the same as that of Mashiach/Messiah.23
Nachash:
Nun = 50
Ches = 8
Shin = 300
Total = 358
Mashiach
Mem = 40
Shin = 300
Yud = 10
Ches = 8
Total = 358
12

This is because the Mashiach will bring about the ultimate tikkun of the serpent and of our conventionally warped way of thinking.xxiv He can do so because he has slaughtered the “serpent” within himself (which is another way of reading all of those dragon-slayer stories), transforming the very epitome of selfishness to pure altruism. He is thus empowered to similarly elevate the rest of the world.

---

1 Berakhos 33a.
2 Exodus Rabbah 31:14; also see Shabbos 151b, Sukkah 5:6, Kesubos 10:6.
3 Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 19 (42a); Tikkun 69 (115a-b); Tikkun 70 (120a, 133b). This concept is discussed at length by the Safed kabbalists; e.g. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, Sha’ar Erkhei ha-Kinuyim 23:1; Rav Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Drush Iggulim ve-Yosher (11a-13a); ibid. Sha’ar Drushei Nekudos 1 (34a); ibid. Seder Atzilus 3 (17a), et passim; Arba Me’os Shekel Kesef, Drush Adam Kadmon, beg. (9b, 44b), et passim. The archetype of “Adam Kadmon” also suggests that the purpose of creation is man.
4 Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah, “Pasach Eliyahu.”
5 These include the “Benei Elokim/Sons of the Lord” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-2; Abraham’s angelic visitors in Genesis, chap. 18; Lot’s guests in Genesis, chap. 19; and the stranger identified with the angel Gabriel who directed Joseph to his brothers in Genesis 37:15-17 (according to Rashi); also see Genesis Rabbah 26:7; Zohar III, 208b; et al.
6 Yoma 37a; Yerushalmi Berakhos 1, 5, 9, et passim.
7 One example is Enoch in Genesis 5:24; see Targum Yonasan, ad loc. Another is Elijah in II Kings 2:1.
8 Likutey Moharan I, 51, which equates the terms echad (one), tov (good), kadosh (holy), and emes (truth) as descriptive of non-dual reality.
9 Ibid.
10 Tzava’as ha-Rivash 4, 84, 120; Sha’ar ha-Osiyos, Hashgachah Peratis; Shivachey Baal Shem Tov 150; et al. These and other such teachings are translated in my anthology, The Path of the Baal Shem Tov (Jason Aronson 1997).
11 Reb Noson Sternhartz, Likutey Halakhos, Peryah vi-Rivyah 3:21.
12 In the original, Rebbe Nachman speaks of both the Mishkan/Tabernacle and the Holy Temple. The connection between Chanukah and the Temple as a mystical paradigm is discussed further in Likutey Moharan II, 7:11. This lesson, too, was delivered on Chanukah. Reb Noson states that the makifin, or “surrounding powers,” mentioned in that lesson are an aspect of the dreidel, since these surrounding powers encompass and constantly change.
13 Pesachim 50a; Bava Basra 10b.
14 Tanchuma, Pekudey 1; Zohar I, 80b.
15 Genesis 8:21, et al.
16 Rashi, Zevachim 46b.
14
17 Nachmanides mentions the hyle in his commentary on Genesis 1:1-2; also cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Drushey A-B-Y-A, 1; Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim, Bereshis, Ma’amar 4, et al.
18 In an addendum to this teaching, Reb Noson adds that the hyle is equivalent to Chokhmah, which may be parsed “ko’ach-mah,” the power of “mah” (meaning “what is it?”). This may actually denote the sefirah of Keser, not Chokhmah.
19 Tzava’as ha-Rivash, 12.
20 Cf. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Imrey Pinchas (Bnei Brak 2003), vol. 1, “Chanukah,” 68, who states that the letters on the dreidel equal “Mashiach / Messiah.”
21 Likutey Halakhos, Shabbos 6:8; ibid. Shilu’ach ha-Ken 5:18; et passim.
22 Shabbos 146a; cf. Zohar I, 52a.
23 Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (RaMCHaL), Adir Bamarom (R. Yosef Spinner, ed.), vol. I, p. 339, citing Zohar III, 119b, re. the verse: “Kolah ki-nachash yelekh / [Egypt’s] voice will go forth like a snake…” (Jeremiah 46:22). At the end of the paragraph, RaMCHaL mentions that “nachash” is numerically equivalent to Mashiach. Conceptually, this connection is found in numerous kabbalistic sources, e.g., Hashmatos ha-Zohar, end of Bereshis (Livorno ed., p. 15b of the hashmatos), which describes the final battle between the nachash and Mashiach. I am grateful to Rabbi Avraham Sutton for locating these sources. Subsequently I came across another mention of this gematria in Sefer Ohr ha-Ganuz, Va-eschanan, Ofan Ches (69a) by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Hakohen, a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch.
xxiv Another connection between the nachash and Mashiach is that both are symbolically associated with the feet; see Sichos ha-Ran 93; Likutey Halakhos, Keriyas ha-Torah 1; ibid. Hoda’ah 6:4; ibid. Ribis 5:14; Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Me’or Eynayim, Likkutim, Ma’amar “Vi-naid’ah nirdefah la-da’as es Hashem” (end); et al.

Chanukah and Overcoming Avarice


Excerpt from "
Chanukah with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov":
Even someone who is supported by charity must beg or sell his clothing in order to buy Chanukah candles.

Avarice

The history of mankind may be the story of the victory of the strong over the weak (war), of the many over the few (democracy), of the wicked over the innocent (crime), but the underlying dynamics of human history boils down to avarice. The rise and fall of nations may be connected with the strong the many, and sometimes the wicked, but the basic driving force for power is avarice.

The Greeks were no different, although they pursued their goals under the facade of "culture." in order to impose avarice upon the Jewish people, they issued three decrees: no Sabbath, no New Moon, and no circumcision.

The weekly Sabbath rest reminds the Jew that his sustenance comes from God. Observing the Sabbath thus precludes avarice, since it declares that no effort will help without God. The New Moon dictates the Jewish calendar, and subsequently the festivals. just as the Sabbath rest precludes avarice, so does observing the festivals. Circumcision signifies sexual purity, the lack of which induces avarice, because controlling one's passion for sexual gratification weakens the passion of avarice (Likutey Moharan I 23:2‑3; Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u’Metziah 3:6).

Avarice defiles the mind. When one's mind becomes filled with thoughts of money, there is no room left for wisdom. Thus the Greeks defiled the Temple oil, because oil is symbolic of wisdom (ibid. 3:7).

Furthermore, the desire for money and material gain is really the source of all sadness. The more you want, the more you need, and the more you feel you lack. A criminal will rob and kill someone, in order to fill his perceived lack, and nations go to war for the same reason. Thus, those who succumb to avarice are surrounded by a dark cloud of moroseness (Likutey Moharan I, 23:1) – because they find no contentment in what they possess. Therefore, tradition says, the Greeks are compared to darkness (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4).

In order to counter avarice, in order to dispel these clouds of darkness, you must open your heart and hand (Likutey Moharan I, 13:1). You must become a fitting vessel for God through which to channel His boundless bounty. You must allow yourself to experience the gratitude that comes from accepting that bounty. Lastly, you must allow yourself to experience the love that comes from sharing your bounty.

Chanukah symbolizes this.

The victory was wrought through the priests. The priests symbolize charity, because they are given the priestly gifts that epitomize charity. So after Judah Maccabee—the priest led his army to victory, he donated all the spoils of war to charity (Yosefun).

To relive this victory over avarice, over the dark clouds of moroseness, we light our candles after sunset, rejoice, and give Chanukah gelt—charity (Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u'Metziah 3:8).
In fact, so great was this miracle—the miracle of victory over avarice—that even someone who has nothing to give must beg or sell his belongings to purchase candles. That will be considered his charity.

Bringing Down the Light


Excerpt from "Bringing Down the Light":
Rabbi Ephraim ben Naftoli

Tefilot HaBoker:
Prayers of the Dawn, Tefilah 4

No matter to what depths we have fallen, the tzaddikim can rescue us by "shining" down the light of Divine perception to heal our souls.


Help us, O Lord our God, help us to receive the holiness of the days of Chanukah in sanctity and purity, and with true joy. Grant us the privilege of lighting the Chanukah candles every night, as You have commanded us through our holy rabbis of blessed memory—to begin by lighting one candle on the first night, and to add another candle on each succeeding night, until the eight days of Chanukah are complete. For You have already made known to us through our holy sages that through the holiness of the Chanukah candles, we imbue our minds with perceptions of Godliness. The
tzimtzumim (constrictions) of the Infinite Light which they represent produce the spiritual illumination transmitted by all holy lights and candles. This is the paradigm of “eliciting abundant holiness and igniting flames and radiant lights.”

Shine upon us the light of the holy anointing oil, enlightening us with perceptions of Godliness in a miraculous and wondrous way. Thus may we illuminate and kindle the holy candles which contain all spiritual unifications and transmissions of Divine consciousness, so that their light will reach even people like us who occupy the nethermost rung, which corresponds to “below ten handbreadths.”


Through the tikkunim of the miracle of Chanukah, may we too experience this light through the power of the preeminent tzaddikim who transmit perceptions of the supernal light to us, even in our lowly condition. They heal us from sicknesses of the soul which threaten to overwhelm us, to the point that “our souls abhor all food, and we have reached the gates of death.” For we know in our hearts how fiercely these sicknesses attack us, and how every day our souls grow weaker, due to the multitude of our sins. However, in Your great mercy, You ennoble us with the holiness of this awesome mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. Through this mitzvah, the true tzaddikim transmit the radiance of Divine perception even to such spiritual invalids as us, and they bring down this lofty light into the darkness that pervades our bodies because of our evil deeds. These tzaddikim “shine” to us, so that we might take to heart their holy words; they enliven us with their words, and in so doing, transmit the holy light of the Chanukah candles to the depths of darkness.


May we firmly believe that without a doubt, we can go forth from darkness to light with this mitzvah, in the merit of the true tzaddikim who illuminate the earth and all who dwell upon it! Fulfill in us the verses: “Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil, for You are with Me.” “Though I sit in darkness, God is a light unto me.”

Instill compassion into the hearts of the true tzaddikim toward the entire Jewish people and toward me, so that they will mercifully draw all of us closer. May they lower themselves to our level, shine their lights upon us, and reveal flashes of Divine perception, even to people like us, and may they succeed in healing our souls. May they fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick by attending our ailing souls every day! Thus they will give us,new life and revive us with spiritual delicacies, until we finally return to You in perfect teshuvah when we accept and follow all their holy advice, which is a powerful remedy for our souls.

Illuminate our souls with the wondrous radiance of Divine perception in the aspect of Chanukah! Revitalize our wisdom in holiness, and grant us life from the Light of the Face as a result of our rejoicing in the mitzvot. Gather together the mitzvot that we perform on the Three Pilgrim Festivals and in their merit, may we participate in the rededication of the Holy Temple, which is the channel for the illumination of the Light of the Face!

“The Light of Your Face, O Master, lift up to us.” “May God favor us and bless us; may He cause His Face to shine among us, selah.” “Shine Your Face upon Your servant; save me in Your kindness,” so that through the lighting of the Chanukah candles I will be privileged to draw the Light of the Face from the Holy Temple in order to enliven the sefirah of Malkhut, and thereby receive perceptions of Godliness.

“Let Your Face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your ordinances.” “And every created thing shall know that You created it, and every formed thing shall understand that You formed it; and everything that possesses the breath of life in its nostrils shall declare: The Lord, God of Israel is King, and His dominion extends over all!”


In Your mercy, grant us the opportunity to give tzedakah, especially during the days of Chanukah, so that through us Your Face will shine. And by virtue of the tzedakah that we give to the poor when they come to our homes, may we receive the Light of the Face of the Living King.


In the merit of this tzedakah, may we draw closer to the true tzaddikim who reveal Your light by making the necessary tzimtzumim and vessels to illuminate even our souls, which are so far from holiness that by right we should be treated as outcasts. Nevertheless, with great self sacrifice, they labor all their days out of compassion for us and for all Israel — even those who are most distant—in order to bring us closer to God. They reveal new and wondrous tzimtzumim by which it is possible to reach anyone who wishes to enter the realm of holiness.


Have mercy on us and allow us to come close to tzaddikim like them. In Your mercy, put an end to the dispute, which was produced by our sins, surrounding those tzaddikim who strive to reach out to us. For this is why there is such great opposition to them, even from other great tzaddikim: The Divine attribute of judgment garbs itself in these opposing tzaddikirn because of their fierce holiness, which prevents them from being able to tolerate the world, due to our transgressions and unworthy deeds.


Although the truth is with them, You have already made known to us that in Your beneficence, You do not desire to reject us, God forbid. On the contrary, You always wish to judge us favorably, despite the foulness of our sins. You always wish to show compassion toward us, even to the “worst of the worst.” Therefore You create ways of fixing our damage, and garb the lights of holiness in such wondrous garments and constrictions that these lights can shine to us as well.


Thus the tzaddikim. continue to transmit the Divine light to lower levels, in increasing degrees of holiness, more and more every day, and they continue to elevate all fallen souls, imbuing them with perceptions of Godliness through holy tzimtzumim, until finally they will heal all afflicted souls in the world. Therefore have mercy on us and abolish all strife surrounding these true tzaddikim, and allow us to draw close to them. Let them remove all the shame and disgrace that has befallen us due to our sins, bring us back in complete teshuvah, and draw us close to You in truth!

The Mysterious Guest

Painting by Francisco de Goya

The Mysterious Guest
Chayey Moharan, Sippurim Chadashim (“New Stories”) 85
Translation and Commentary by Dovid Sears

On the first day of Chanukah 5569/1808, in the evening after lighting the first candle. Rabbi Nachman told this story:

A visitor came into a house and asked the head of the house, “From where do you obtain a living?”

"I don’t have a steady livelihood at home,” his host replied. “However, the world provides me with what I need to live.”

The guest asked him, “What do you study?”

The host answered him.

They continued conversing, until soon they were engaged in a true heart to heart discussion. 

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness. “I will teach you,” said the guest.

The host was surprised. He began to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t a human being at all!” However, he looked again, and saw that the guest was talking to him like a human being.

Immediately afterward he had a strong sense of faith, and he resolved to believe in him. He started calling him “my teacher,” and said to him, “First of all, I would like to ask you to teach me how to conduct myself with due respect toward you. Not, I scarcely need add, that I could actually detract from your true honor, God forbid; but even so, it is hard for human beings to be as meticulous as they should be in these matters. That is why I would like you to teach me how to behave with due respect.”

“For the moment, I don’t have the time,” he replied. “Another time I will come and teach you this. Right now I must go away from here.”

“I also need to learn from you about this,” said the host. “How far must I go when I accompany you on your way, as a host is obligated to do when his guests depart?”[I]

“Until just beyond the entrance,” he replied.

The host began to think to himself, “How can I go out with him? Right now I am with him among other people. But if I go out with him alone—who knows who he is?” He questioned him and then told him, “I’m afraid to go out with you.”

“If I can learn with you like this,” the visitor retorted, “then now, too, if I wanted to do something to you, who would stop me?”

The host went with him beyond the entrance. All of a sudden, the visitor seized him and began to fly with him!

It was cold for the host, so the other took a garment and gave it to him. “Take this garment,” he said, “and it will be good for you. You will have food and drink and everything will be good, and you will live in your house.” And he flew with him.

In the midst of this, the host gazed, and suddenly he was in his house. He couldn’t believe his own eyes that he was in his house; but he looked, and there he was, speaking with people, and eating and drinking in a normal manner. Then he looked back, and lo and behold, he was flying, as before. Then he looked back and he was in his house. This went on for a long time.

After awhile, he flew down to a valley between two mountains. There, he found a book which contained various combinations of letters: alef, zayin, chet, which is dalet, etc. Vessels were depicted in this book, and inside the vessels were letters. Moreover, inside the vessels were the letters of the vessels, by which one could create such vessels. He felt an intense desire to study this book. 

In the midst of this, he gazed, and lo and behold, he was in his house. Then he gazed, and there he was, in the valley.

He made up his mind to climb the mountain; perhaps he would find an inhabited place there. When he came to the mountain, he saw a golden tree with golden branches standing there. Hanging from the branches were vessels like those depicted in the book, and within those vessels were other vessels by which one could create such vessels. He wanted to take some of the vessels away from there, but he was unable to do so, for they were inextricably entangled in the branches.

In the midst of this, he gazed - and lo and behold, he was in his house. This was most amazing to him. How was this possible? How could he be both here and there at the same time? He wanted to discuss this with other human beings, but how could one speak about such an astounding phenomenon to other people, something that they surely would not believe?

In the midst of this, he looked out the window and saw the same guest. He started begging him to come to him. However, the guest replied, “I don’t have time, because I am on my way to you!”

“This itself is a wonder in my eyes!” he cried. “Look, I am right here—what do you mean, that you are on your way to me?”

The guest explained, “The moment you decided to come with me, to accompany me beyond the doorway, I took the neshamah (higher soul) from you and gave you a garment from the Lower Garden of Eden.[II] The nefesh (vital spirit) and ru’ach (lower soul) remain with you. Therefore, whenever you attach your thoughts to that place, you are there, and you draw an illumination from that place to yourself. And when you return here—you are here!”

I do not know which world he is from, but this much is certain: it is a world of good.

So far, it is not over, it is not finished.

Commentary

Before we start skating on thin ice, it must be said that there are no classical commentaries on this story in the Breslov literature. Therefore, all of our remarks are speculative. No doubt, the story lends itself to many other lines of interpretation, as well.

Guest and Host/Ohr Makif and Ohr Pnimi

The “mysterious guest” has at least two levels of meaning: most obviously, he represents the tzaddik. He also represents the ohr makif, or “encompassing light,” which in general alludes to the sefirah of Binah.[III] This is the level of perception or being that is perpetually beyond one’s grasp - for as soon as it is internalized, another ohr makif takes its place.[IV] Thus, Binah is in a constant state of flux.

The Baal Shem Tov relates Binah to orei’ach, the Hebrew word for guest.[V} Orei’ach (spelled alef-vav-resh-chet) can be divided into ohr-chet, meaning “light of eight.” This alludes to the eighth sefirah in ascending order, which is Binah. Whenever one shows hospitality, this creates a channel for internalizing the light of Binah:

The Baal Shem Tov, taught: When a guest arrives, he brings his host Torah insights - for the Torah insights the host receives from Above correspond to the nature of his guests.[VI]

The guest is a vehicle for the ohr makif. However, every level of perception is an ohr makif in relation to the level below it, which is called ohr pnimi, the “inner” or “manifest light.” The ohr pnimi corresponds to the host.

Sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that the light of the Chanukah lamp represents Binah, the transcendent level, as it illuminates Z’er Anpin, or “Small Face,” the structure comprising the six lower sefirot that animate the natural order.[VII] In less technical language, a ray of the limitless “shines” into the finite. Rebbe Nachman’s allegory of the guest and the head of the house alludes to this kabbalistic model, as well.

“From where do you obtain a living?”

The guest inquires as to the host’s source of livelihood. This is because the tzaddik is the parnes, provider of sustenance. Thus the guest, who represents the tzaddik, is entitled to ask his host this question.

Only two biblical figures are explicitly called “tzaddik”: Noah and Joseph. The Midrash explains that both deserved this title because they provided others with food.[VIII] In Noah’s case, he fed the entire world in his ark until the floodwaters subsided; in Joseph’s case, he provided grain to all Egypt and surrounding lands. Similarly, the Talmudic tzaddik Rabbi Chanina confered his great spiritual merit upon the world so that all creatures might receive sustenance, even those deemed completely unworthy.[IX]

Rebbe Nachman deals with this concept of the tzaddik as provider in many teachings, especially Likutey Moharan II, 7 (“For a Compassionate One Shall Lead Them”). There he states that the world receives livelihood by virtue of the tzaddik, albeit through the fusion of two levels inherent within him. The higher is represented by the tzaddik’s “son”; the lower is represented by the tzaddik’s “disciple.” However, these terms are mean to be taken more symbolically than literally. The perception of the son is expressed by the Ministering Angels who ask: “Where is the place of His glory?”—indicating the transcendent level, the aspect of “not knowing,” the ohr makif/encompassing light. The perception of the disciple is related to the antithetical declaration, “His glory fills the world” - indicating the immanent level, “knowledge of God,” the ohr pnimi/inner light.

In truth, these two perceptions are one, and each completes the other. Those in the category of the “son,” who have attained the higher level (“Where is the place of His glory?”), must be protected from total self-nullification in God’s transcendent aspect. They are like holy moths that would readily self-destruct in their desire to reach the light. The knowledge that “His glory fills the world” grounds them, creating the possibility of a perception of God. Thus, they may experience the mystic’s awe before the infinite mystery of the Divine.

Those in the category of the “disciple,” who occupy the lower level (“His glory fills the world”), are protected from total self-nullification in God’s immanence. They are like people who immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath) and stay under the water too long. These “disciples,” too, must experience awe of God, because the trace of wonderment they are granted—the admixture of “Where is the place of His glory?”—creates the existential distance needed for their perception. Otherwise, everything becomes “white on white,” lacking all contrast.

Thus, process and spiritual growth are made possible through this fusion of the perceptions of God’s transcendence and immanence; and livelihood is drawn forth to the world from the tzaddik who has grasped the secret of this dualism, and as such, serves as the channel for God’s will to continually create and sustain the world. This is the concept of “tzaddik yesod olam . . . the tzaddik is the foundation of the universe” (Proverbs 10:25).

“The world provides me with what I need to live”

Because the ohr pnimi derives its life force from the ohr makif, the host actually receives his livelihood from the guest. However, the host remains unaware of this. All he knows is that somehow his needs are fulfilled. Thus, he replies, “I don’t have a steady livelihood at home, but the world provides me with what I need to live.”

This answer suggests that either the host lacks initiative, or he fails to appreciate the true source of his sustenance, or both. In Likutey Moharan II, 7, the lesson cited above, Rebbe Nachman says that to be a provider, one must have a certain malkhut, a certain authority (although he seems to use the term in more than one sense), adding “one can’t be a shlimazal”—an incompetant person, or a “loser.” If so, what is our host? What is he telling us about himself with his vague reply? At this point in his life, at least, he seems to be a passive sort of fellow. 

This alludes to the paradigm of how the world was sustained prior to the Giving of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman states in Likutey Moharan II, 78, that before the Torah was given, humanity was involved only in derech eretz, mundane pursuits. From this, the Midrash infers, “Derekh eretz (which can also mean simple human decency) preceded the Torah.”[X] Since the Torah is the source of life—as it is written, “For they [i.e., the commandments] are your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20)— from whence did the world derive its sustenance? The answer: from God’s gratuitous kindness.

The Talmud states that the twenty-six generations prior to the Giving of the Torah correspond to the twenty-six repetitions of the refrain “for His kindness is everlasting” in Psalm 136.[XI] However, the Torah certainly existed prior to its revelation; indeed, the Midrash tells us that all things came into being through the Torah, which preceded creation.[XII] The Torah was merely hidden. And where was it hidden? In the Ten Creative Statements recounted in the first chapter of Genesis, with which God continually animates the universe.[XIII] Thus, our host says that he is sustained “by the world,” that is, by the Torah that is hidden in the world, although he does not yet perceive it.

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman also identifies the tzaddik as the channel for sustenance. He is the holy “prustok” (peasant or simpleton) who at times must desist from studying or fulfilling the commandments of the Torah in order to engage in worldly activities. At such times he receives vitality from what the Midrash calls the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts,” the gratuitous kindness with which God sustained the world prior to the Giving of the Torah.[xiv] Then he, in turn, can confer this gratuitous kindness upon the true simpletons—the rest of us in our present unenlightened state, enabling us to survive until we, too, become worthy of receiving life directly from the holiness of the Torah.

Perhaps the guest in our Chanukah story is the holy prustok, and the host represents the spiritually benighted masses that unwittingly receive life and sustenance through him. This is what gives the guest the “right” to inquire as to his host’s means of livelihood. The guest wants him to realize that he is being sustained by the tzaddik who is privy to God’s Treasury of Unearned Gifts.

“What do you study?”
Torah study, too, is the guest’s business, inasmuch as it reflects the influence of Binah/Understanding. The first letter of the Written Torah is the bet of Bereshit (“In the Beginning”); the last letter is the lamed of Yisrael (“Israel”). Together, they spell lev (heart), which the Zohar designates as the seat of Binah/Understanding.[xv]

A heart-to-heart discussion
It is said: “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.”[xvi] Because the guest/tzaddik personifies the heart, he can reach the heart of the other. He channels the ohr makif into the heart of the host, who reciprocates by expressing his longing for greater levels of illumination. This is one of the main benefits of our attachment to tzaddikim.

Rebbe Nachman once observed, “I have three types of followers: those who come for my shirayim (leftovers);[xvii] those who come to hear my Torah teachings; and those who are ‘baked’ in my heart.”[xviii] Of course, every aspiring follower wants to be in the last category. But how can this be accomplished? Say the Breslover Chasidim, “When the Rebbe is ‘baked’ in our hearts!” This is implied by the “heart-to-heart discussion” in our story.

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness

This arousal is due to influence of the guest, who has put the host in touch with the deepest will of the heart: longing and yearning for the holy.

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[i] Sota 46b. Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 16:43 states that a disciple who escorts his Torah teacher receives divine blessing. The same text adds (16:46) that when one escorts a traveler embarking on a journey, the traveler will be protected from harm.
[ii] The Zohar (I, 138a) describes the Garden of Eden as having a higher level for the neshamah, which is the seat of thought, and a lower level for the ru’ach, the seat of the emotions.
[iii] See Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman, Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah, who associates Rebbe Nachman’s teachings with the sefirah of Binah.
[iv] Likutey Moharan II, 7:6.
[v] Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayeira, 4, citing Toldot Yitzchak, Likutey ha-Shas.
[vi] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Vayeira.
[vii] Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, 4. The three “upper” sefirot are Chokhmah / Wisdom, Binah / Understanding, and Da’at / Knowledge, corresponding to three aspects of the mind. The six “lower” sefirot are: Chesed/Kindness; Gevurah/Strength; Tiferet/Beauty or Harmony; Netzach/Eternity or Victory; Hod/Splendor; and Yesod/Foundation; corresponding to the two arms, torso, genitals, and two legs. The seventh and last sefirah is Malkhut / Kingship, which is a partzuf unto itself, corresponding to the feminine archetype. 
[viii] Tanchuma, Noach, 5.
[ix] Ta’anit 24b; cf. Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz, Avodat Yisrael, Likkutim, Ta’anit.
[x] Leviticus Rabbah, 9:3.
[xi] Pesachim 118a.
[xii] Genesis Rabbah 1:2, 8:2; Zohar I, 134a, II, 161a‑b.
[xiii] This idea echoes a fundamental Chasidic teaching. On the verse, “Forever, O God, Your word stands in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89), the Baal Shem Tov explains that “Your word” alludes to the Ten Creative Statements that bring the universe and all it contains into existence. If the “letters” of these divine statements were to depart for even a moment, everything would revert to nothingness; see Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer ha-Tanya, Sha’ar ha-Yichud vi-ha-Emunah, chap. 1; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereshit, s.v. bereshit bara, 7.
[xiv] Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:1; Tanchuma, Va’eschanan, 3; cf. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Ohr Yakar, Vayelekh, 1:15 (p. 27), who relates the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts” to the sefirah of Keter.
[xv] Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah, “Patach Eliyahu.”
[xvi] A rabbinic maxim quoted by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisrael, p. 156.
[xvii] Based on earlier rabbinic precedents, it is customary for a Chasidic Rebbe to distribute to his followers portions of the foods from which he has partaken. These leftovers are known as “shirayim.” This communal eating creates a spiritual bond among the participants, causing the holiness of the tzaddik to extend to all, bringing healing and blessing; see Rabbis Mordechai Scharf and Yisrael Menachem Mendel Brecher, Yesod Olam, 11:5-7, citing various sources.
[xviii] Oral tradition cited by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh, vol. II, 1-102.