Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Giving and Spiritual Transformation, Part II

By Dovid Sears

Review: In Part I, we learned that in order to cause Divine Providence to become fully revealed in our lives, we must overcome the craving for wealth. This is accomplished through tzedakah, usually translated as “charity,” but which in an extended sense might be rendered as “giving” or “altruism.” Rebbe Nachman relates tzedakah to a teaching from the Zohar: ”A ru’ach (wind, or spirit) descends to cool off the heat of the heart; and when the ru’ach descends, the heart receives it with the joy of the Levites’ song.” This implies that man is a miniature Holy Temple, and that tzedakah is an expression of the spirit of giving which tempers our desires and produces “holy music.” Rebbe Nachman extends the metaphor of holy music to include the spiritual state in which we conduct our business dealings. If we do so with emunah / faith, trusting in God and not succumbing to greed or dishonesty, this challenging aspect of our lives, too, becomes a kind of music and a source of joy.

Now Rebbe Nachman continues his exploration of the Zohar’s analogy:

This is the paradigm of the sacred incense (Ketoret), which binds the heat of the heart with the ru’ach.

Compounded of eleven ingredients according to a carefully-guarded formula, the Ketores (sacred incense) accomplished the nullification of harsh decrees. For example, the Torah tells us that when a plague broke out among the Israelites in the desert, Aharon the High Priest ran into the camp with his fire-pan of incense, putting a stop to the plague (Numbers 17:11-15).

The Zohar (ibid.) notes that the word Ketores is similar to katar, the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew kashar, meaning to “tie” or “combine.” By combining fire with sweet fragrance, the Ketores fuses the influences of Gevurah and Chesed, tempering harsh decrees.[1] Thus, Ketores shares the properties of tzedakah and the “wind” that tempers the heat of the heart, transmuting it to gladness and song.

Rebbe Nachman brings two scriptural verses to support this comparison:

This is the meaning of “incense gladdens the heart” (Proverbs 27:9). It also corresponds to “They shall place the fragrance of incense in Your nostrils (be-apekha)” (Deuteronomy 33:10). For the paradigm of incense nullifies the paradigm of “By the sweat of your brow (af) you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).

With this, Rebbe Nachman discloses a new vista of meaning. Adam was cursed with struggling for his livelihood when he was banished from the Garden of Eden. By stating that sacred incense nullifies this curse, Rebbe Nachman implies that tzedakah (which a moment ago he equated with the incense) opens the invisible gates that were locked after the first sin. Cultivating a giving spirit not only tempers harsh judgments, but also restores Paradise Lost.

One might ask: what is so special about tzedakah that it can bring about such an encompassing tikkun (spiritual rectification)? Tzedakah possesses this potency because it bears within itself something of the Garden of Eden. The will to benefit another person springs forth from the “Garden of Eden” within the giver, which is the original condition of the soul. This is characterized by dissolving the division between self and other: no ego. (Thus, Rebbe Nachman asserts that only the essential humility of a person will arise at the Resurrection of the Dead not the deluded “I,” which is self-importance.) [2]

This is an aspect of the revelation of Mashiach. Then the craving after money will be nullified, as it is written, “On that day, man will cast away his gods of silver and gods of gold” (Isaiah 2:20). This reflects the paradigm of “The breath (ru’ach) of our nostrils (af), the Mashiach [literally, ‘anointed’] of God” (Lamentations 4:20).

“As long as the idolatry of money exists in the world, burning anger (charon af) exists in the world” (Sifre on Deuteronomy 13:18). To the extent that this idolatry is nullified burning anger is nullified, as in “the breath of our nostrils, the Mashiach / anointed of God” (op cit.).

The craving for wealth is bound up with the perception of nature as an autonomous entity, inexorably governed by its own laws. Therefore the pursuit of wealth gives power to God’s attribute of Gevurah, strict judgment, and arouses “burning anger” (af). However, Mashiach bears the ru’ach of giving which nullifies the idolatrous craving for wealth and the Divine wrath it brings in its wake. Indeed, this altruistic spirit is the Mashiach.

Then loving-kindness (Chesed) is drawn into the world, as in “He performs chesed for His Mashiach / anointed one” (Psalms 18:51).

After the “burning anger” (af) has been nullified, Chesed can flow into the world. This is the underlying Divine intention in creation.[3]

When this lovingkindness is revealed, divine knowledge (Da’as) becomes manifest. This is the “rebuilding of the House,” indicated by the verse, “And as for me, according to Your abundant kindness, I shall enter Your House” (Psalms 5:8).

The Talmud (cited below) equates the Holy Temple and Divine knowledge / Da’as, supporting this assertion by pointing out that each term appears in a scriptural verse, couched between two Divine Names. This suggests that Da’as is the inner aspect of the Holy Temple.

Just as the Holy Temple will be restored during the Messianic Age, this exalted knowledge will be the crowning touch of the Redemption. Freed from the illusion of external appearances,[4] all humanity will perceive the essence of reality, which is Godliness. As the prophet states: “And God’s Glory shall be revealed, and together all flesh will see it “ (Isaiah 40:5).

As it is written in the Zohar (III, 220b): “And the right side . . . has been readied for building the Holy Temple.” This is because Divine knowledge is the paradigm of the House, as our Sages of blessed memory state, “When one possesses Da’as, it is as if the Holy Temple were built…” (Berakhos 33a).

The “right side” denotes the attribute of Chesed. Thus, the act of tzedakah, as a paramount expression of lovingkindness, nullifies all harsh judgments and “builds” the Holy Temple, causing Da’as / Divine knowledge to illuminate the world. Then we will see that everything is miraculous, and nature is but a lens through which to perceive Divinity.

The Sages of the Talmud taught that the Final Redemption will come about only in the merit of tzedakah.[5] Surely we hasten the Redemption with every penny we give to a worthy receiver; but when we do so in a true spirit of generosity, without self-serving motives, we actually experience a glimmer of the Redemption.

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[1] See Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Parpara’os le-Chokhmah, ad loc.

[2] Likutey Moharan II, 72. Rebbe Nachman also defines nullification of the ego as the final spiritual hurdle to be overcome in his path of hisbodedus / secluded meditation and prayer. See Likutey Moharan I, 52 (re. “eizeh davar,” with Reb Noson’s explanation in brackets).

[3] Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar ha-Klalim, 1:1; cf. Likutey Moharan I, 64.

[4] Cf. Likutey Moharan, I, 1, which discusses seeing past externals in order to glimpse the sekhel she-bekhol davar, the animating Divine intellect within all things.

[5] Shabbos 139a; Sanhedrin 98a; also see the explanation of this in Likutey Amarim-Tanya, Igeres ha-Kodesh, Letter 9.

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