Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reb Noson on “Nullification Within the Infinite Light”

(c) Dovid Sears

From The Tree that Stands Beyond Space
based on excerpts from Likutey Halakhot, as found in Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin’s anthology, Otzar HaYirah (“A Treasury of Awe”).


The Divine Call

Even when a person has fallen to a low spiritual level and is surrounded by darkness, G-d has mercy and sometimes grants him exalted perceptions. This is meant to arouse the person and draw him back to G-d, as the verse states, “Draw me close, we will come running after you…” (Song of Songs 1:4).

This is why the state of exaltation soon dissipates. The illumination was only a hint of the blissfulness of the Divine light, so that one would choose to pursue it of his own accord. Such experiences are echoes of G-d’s constant call to each person to return to Him.

Nothing But G-d

Anyone can experience the Infinite Light, at least for a limited time. Just close your eyes and meditate on the fact that nothing exists but G-d, until you forget yourself completely. Then automatically all your sufferings will cease.

Wherever You Stand

King David declares: “Even when I shall walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalms 23:4). According to the Arizal, even in the lowest levels of the World of Action (Asiyah), an emanation of the Infinite Light is present, concealed in the many “garments” of materiality. Thus, one who wishes to cleave to G-d may do so anywhere, in all circumstances without exception. All that is necessary is a strong resolve.

Just Close Your Eyes

When spiritual darkness and harsh judgments threaten to overwhelm you, whether concerning matters of Divine service or everyday life, the best advice is simply to close your eyes and nullify yourself, realizing that the Ultimate Reality is absolute Oneness and absolute goodness, beyond all dualism. Then all your sufferings will depart.

Everything Depends on You

When the soul comes to perceive the Infinite Light in a manner of “reaching, but not reaching,” all the worlds, above and below, attain their ultimate unification.

All of My Goodness

Through self-nullification in the light of the Infinite, the soul transcends the realm of the Sefiros, transcends all Divine Names; as the Sefer Yetzirah asks, “In the presence of Oneness, what can you count?” However, it is impossible to remain in this state of self-nullification for long without expiring altogether. Therefore, one must return to the mundane, in a manner of “the Living Angels advanced and retreated” (Ezekiel 1:14).

Then one receives new life-force from the “afterglow” (reshimu) of the Divine Light - and in so doing, elicits a manifestation of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy through which all harsh judgments are tempered.[1] It is this afterglow of the Divine Light to which the Torah refers in describing the revelation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy to Moshe Rabbeinu; as the verse states, “I will cause all of My Goodness to pass by your face...” (Exodus 33:19). This is the radiance that shines upon the face of whoever experiences the Divine Light, when he returns from the state of self-nullification.

These Thirteen Attributes of Mercy also correspond to the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is expounded—for the entire Torah proceeds from this residue of light. This is called “all of My goodness,” because through this illumination one comes to know that everything is One, and everything is good.

Gazing Above

When G-d decreed destruction upon the world at the time of the biblical flood, He told Noah to build an ark, instructing him: “Make a window for the ark, and to a cubit finish it from above” (Genesis 6:16). By entering the ark, Noah desisted from gazing upon the temporal world and raised his eyes above, toward the ultimate spiritual goal. Similarly during the battle with Amalek, whenever Moshe’s hands were raised, Israel looked heavenward and prevailed. For the main victory over all harsh judgments, sufferings, and confusions is accomplished by gazing beyond the world’s limitations and nullifying oneself to the Ultimate Reality.

The Early Chassidim

“The Early Chassidim (members of an ancient pietistic sect) used to meditate for one hour before praying and one hour afterward” (Berakhos 32b). They meditated one hour before praying in order to direct their minds and hearts toward G-d, so that they might enter into the encompassing Divine Oneness. For this is the perfection of prayer. They meditated one hour after praying in order to draw forth an afterglow of the Divine Light, causing it to permeate their minds and hearts. From this residue of spiritual illumination, their Torah insights were formed, and they gained the vessels to receive Divine beneficence and blessings. Thus, our sages added, “Since they were Chassidim, their Torah was preserved, and their labors were blessed” (ibid.).

G-d Is One

The entire reason for the creation of humankind is “in order to know G-d” (Zohar II, 42b). This knowledge is a consequence of the experience of self-nullification within the Infinite Light, and the subsequent return to mundane consciousness. The afterglow of Divine Light enables the mind to grasp that G-d is both transcendent and immanent—“Hashem (YHVH) is Elokim”—that everything is One, and everything is good. This is the root of the entire Torah. And the main purpose of the Torah and its commandments is to sanctify the physical, so that it, too, may become a vessel to receive this residue of Divine Light.

When the body is spiritually damaged by any transgression, one cannot properly attain this state of transcendence. Even when one does reach such a state, the experience lasts only briefly; due to the body’s spiritual deficiency, it cannot receive the afterglow. Following these peak experiences, one still tends to forget about G-d. Therefore, in order to sanctify the body that it may receive the Divine radiance, G-d gave us the Torah’s commandments. Through studying and performing them, the light can be bound to us firmly, and we can remember G-d at all times.[2]

To be sure, this itself presents a formidable difficulty. In truth, only the great tzaddikim who have sanctified themselves completely can fully attain these lofty spiritual perceptions. Closing their eyes completely to the illusory attractions of this world, they purified and removed themselves from all physical desires, even permissible desires, to the utmost degree. Nevertheless, the Merciful One gave all Israel the Torah through Moshe, the “Master of All Prophets.” By virtue of our intrinsic spiritual connection to Moshe Rabbeinu, we, too, can remember G-d by fulfilling the Torah’s precepts and purifying our bodies, at least sufficiently to experience some degree of illumination from the afterglow of Divine Light.

Self-Nullification

Self-nullification is attained by removing your awareness of physical sensation altogether, even such involuntary sensations as eyes movements, until your body is perfectly at rest. Your eyes are still, your lips are still, your limbs don’t move, all physical sensations cease; for the body has become nullified completely to the Infinite Light, to the Ultimate Reality that is absolute Oneness, absolute goodness.

However, after returning to ordinary consciousness, you must bind the afterglow of Divine Light to your heart and soul, as well as to all your physical senses; for through them you may become attached once more to the things of this world, and forget the holiness of transcendence. Even your wealth and material possessions must be permeated with this residue of Divine Light, for they are the bearers of your material desires—until you have nullified everything in your love of G-d.

This corresponds to the prayer: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad... Hear O Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The ”Shema” prayer is the very paradigm of self-nullification and dissolution into the Divine Oneness; for when reciting these words we should willingly offer up our lives for the sanctification of G-d’s name. Thus, it is customary to close our eyes while reciting the “Shema” prayer, in order to remove our eyes from all worldly attachments. Then we recite the passage: “And you shall love the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might...” (ibid. 6:5-9), which our Sages interpret to mean “your wealth” (Berakhos 54a). For it is necessary to nullify everything in your love of G-d.

Waters of Deliverance

The Prophet refers to G-d as the “Hope (mikveh) of Israel, its Deliverer in time of trouble” (Jeremiah 14:8). [The word mikveh can also mean a ritual bath used for spiritual purification.] By immersing in the waters of a mikveh, one receives the afterglow of Divine Light that follows the experience of self-nullification. For these are the “waters of deliverance” from all suffering and affliction that cleanse us of all impurity.

Counting to One

The Tikuney Zohar states: “You are One, but not one that can be counted...” (Hakdamah). Then it describes the Ten Sefiros and the parts of the human form to which they correspond. The encompassing Divine Oneness that cannot be counted is grasped through self-nullification—then the afterglow of Divine Light that shines into Creation is expressed through the Ten Sefiros.

Meditation and Prayer

When you find it impossible to nullify yourself and focus your vision on the Ultimate Reality, this is due to spiritual agitation produced by your worldly attachments. To overcome this, you must pray to G-d and cry out to Him exceedingly. In truth, these two practices are interdependent. For the perfection of prayer is attained through meditation and self-nullification. And the ability to fix your attention on the Ultimate Reality and nullify the ego depends upon the words of prayer. [Moreover, the benefits of such gazing affect every area of life and spiritual practice.] For just as you gaze toward G-d, so does G-d watch over you from above. As our Sages say of the celebration of the festivals in Jerusalem: “Just as He comes see you, so does He come to be seen by you” (Chagigah 4b).

Advance and Retreat

G-d created everything so through their Divine service and their deveykus (cleaving) to G-d, Israel, the holy nation, would spiritually elevate all of Creation. When this task is complete, everything will return to its original Source and become reincorporated within the Infinite One.

However, as long as the world exists, this deveykus must be in a manner of “advance and retreat.” G-d wants the world to endure, so that we may serve Him through the mundane. Indeed, this is G-d’s entire pleasure and delight.

Labor Pains

Sometimes a person’s former wisdom and spiritual perception seems to elude him. Then it is good to cry out to G-d in a loud voice, both during prayer and Torah study. Through this, one gives birth to higher intellect.


All translations © Breslov Research Institute

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[1] The Hebrew word echad (“one”) bears the numerical value of thirteen (the letter alef equals 1, ches equals 8, and dalet equals 4). Thus the number thirteen is a symbol for an essential unity that transcends dualism and division.
[2] ”Remembering” in Rebbe Nachman’s usage denotes our grasp of the essential nature of reality, which is G-dliness. Spiritual deficiency inevitably brings about a state of “forgetfulness” (Likutey Moharan I, 54).

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