(c) Dovid Sears
Letting in the Light, Part II
Likutey Moharan I, 172
In Part I we discussed the Rebbe’s teaching on going beyond the ego, particularly through hisbodedus. Here we will explore some of its implications in terms of tzedakah and the mitzvos, citing a section of Reb Noson’s Likutey Halakhos and a mystical insight from Rav Kook.
The Art of Giving
Reb Noson uncovers still another dimension of this lesson's meaning by relating the negation of the shadow to tzedakah, giving charity, and by implication, performing all the commandments.[i]
The charity one gives to a needy person is a most lofty thing; as our sages taught, it is comparable to fulfilling the entire Torah.[ii] For through tzedakah, one removes the "shadow" and reveals G-d's glory. All deficiencies are the result of the shadow, which blocks the light. However, giving charity eradicates poverty and deficiency. Through this, one removes the shadow that disrupts the light of G-d's beneficence.
Thus, the verse states in reference to tzedakah, "With righteousness (tzedek), I shall behold Your face" (Psalms ). When the shadow departs, the "light of G-d's face," so to speak, is revealed. This is the aspect of "The entire earth is full of His glory" (op cit.). This, too, is the meaning of the verse, "But unto you who fear My Name, a sun of righteousness (tzedakah) shall shine" (Malachi ) - for when the shadow departs, the light of the sun shines brightly. All this is accomplished by tzedakah.
Therefore, tzedakah brings about atonement for sin, as it states, "Redeem your sin through tzedakah…" (Daniel 4:24). Sin creates a dividing barrier, a shadow that interferes with divine illumination, occluding the revelation of G-d's face according to the severity of the transgression. All harmful effects of sin are the result of this obstruction of the light. However, tzedakah draws down heavenly beneficence, directing it to the place of impoverishment and deficiency and removing the shadow. Thus, by undoing the effects of sin, tzedakah brings about atonement.
This is why giving tzedakah is equivalent to fulfilling the entire Torah. The encompassing purpose of the Torah is to reveal G-d's glory, as it is written, "For My glory I created it…" (Isaiah 43:7); in the holy Zohar's phrase, [the purpose of creation is] "bi-gin de-ishtimodin lei . . . in order to know Him."[iii] Through the performance of all the commandments, the barrier, which is the shadow, disappears, allowing the light of G-d's glory to shine through; and this is especially true of tzedakah.[iv]
The act of giving nullifies the root of all negative traits: ego. It represents the shift from the illusion of the self as “something special” – that is, an autonomous entity, seeking its own gratification – to the perception of true reality: the interconnectedness of creation. And it expresses the ethic of striving to benefit all creatures that goes hand in hand with this perception. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570):
Divine wisdom gives life to all things. As it is written, 'Wisdom gives life to those who possess it' (Ecclesiastes ). Likewise, one should teach the ways of life to the entire world, obtaining for them life in this world and the World to Come, and providing them with the means to live. This is the rule: one must be flowing with life toward all beings.[v]
The mitzvos, too, express this paradigm of giving. The kabbalists compare the mitzvos to "620 pillars of light."[vi] Each mitzvah is a channel for the divine light, bringing about an accord between G-d, Whose will it expresses, and man, who receives an influx of spiritual illumination in fulfilling G-d's will. Performing the mitzvos thus accomplishes the unification of the highest and lowest of the ten sefiros, or divine powers that make up the infrastructure of the universe. Keser, the "Supernal Crown" (which bears the gematria of 620) is the source of G-d's primordial will; thus it is conceived as hovering above all manifestation. Malkhus, "Kingship," reflects the fruition of that primordial will on the lowest plane of creation.
Because it transcends all form and limitation, Keser is also associated with the aspect of ayin (nothingness) in relation to the rest of the sefiros. Man, being "created in the divine image" (Genesis ), possesses powers analogous to those of the Creator. Thus, through our performing the positive and negative mitzvot, the aspects of both doing and non-doing, all expressions of human power, return to the true source of power, which is the divine will. In the phrase of the holy Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572), the ani ("I") reverts to ayin ("nothingness").[vii]
When we give tzedakah or fulfill the mitzvot with bittul - no ego - we become spiritually reoriented. We understand that we are inextricably bound up with the entire universe, and with the One Who continually brings everything into existence, every moment. We realize that the "self" is but a note in a chord in the silent symphony of all creation. This perception is the Song of the Future World of which Rebbe Nachman speaks in the last discourse of his life:[viii] the Song of the Four Letter Name YHVH permuted as yud, yud-heh, yud-heh-vav, yud-heh-vav-heh, corresponding to the Four Worlds: the Song of Oneness that we are all waiting to simultaneously sing and hear.[ix]
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the seminal Jewish thinkers of the 20th century and a great admirer of Rebbe Nachman, also speaks movingly of this “Fourfold Song” and explains it as an expression of compassion:
There is one who sings the song of his own soul, and within his soul he finds everything: full spiritual satisfaction.
Another sings the song of his people. He leaves the circle of his individual being because he finds it without sufficient breadth, lacking an idealistic basis. He aspires toward the heights, and attaches himself with ethereal love to the community of
entirely. Together with her, he sings her songs. He suffers in her afflictions
and delights in her hopes. He contemplates sublime and pure thoughts about her
past and her future, and probes with love and wisdom of the heart her spiritual
There is another whose soul expands until it goes beyond the boundary of
the song of humanity. His spirit extends to the wider vistas of humanity as a
whole, and the splendor of the divine image [in which man was created]. He
aspires toward man’s collective goal and looks forward to his higher
perfection. From this source of life, he draws the subjects of his meditation
and intellectual inquiry, his aspirations and visions. Israel
There is still another who rises toward even wider vistas, until he links himself with all existence, with all creatures, with all worlds; and with all of them he sings his song. Of one such as this, tradition has said that whoever sings “Perek Shirah” [a rabbinic work mentioned in the Talmud which attributes various Scriptural verses to the various birds and animals] every day is assured of a place in the World to Come.
And then there is one who ascends with these songs in one great symphony, and they all lend their voices. Together they sing their songs with sweet delight, each transmitting vitality and life to the other: a sing of happiness and joy, a song of mirth and exultation, a song of gladness and joy!
The song of the self, the song of the people, the song of humanity, and the song of the universe all merge in him at all times, in every hour. And this unity rises in its fullness to become the song of holiness, the song of G-d, the song of
, in its
awesome strength and beauty, in its truth and greatness. Israel
The name “
for shir E-l, the “song of G-d.” It is a simple song, a twofold song, a
threefold song, and a fourfold song. It is the Song of Solomon (Hebrew:
“Shlomo”), whose name means “peace” or “wholeness.” It is the song of “the King
unto Whom wholeness belongs”(Shabbos Zemiros).[x] Israel
[i] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi observes that throughout the Jerusalem Talmud, tzedakah is simply termed "the mitzvah (commandment)" (Likutey Amarim-Tanya, chap. 37). Thus, tzedakah implicitly includes all of the mitzvot; see Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Sefer haMiddos, Tzedakah II, 14; Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, Chayei Nefesh, chap. 23.
[ii] Yerushalmi Pe'ah 1:1.
[iii] Zohar II, 42b.
[iv] Reb Noson Sternhartz, Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Tzedakah 3, s.v. vi-zeh bechinas mitzvas tzedakah.
[v] Tomer Devorah ("Palm Tree of Deborah"), chap. 3.
[vi] Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer haTanya, Igeres haKodesh, Letter 29, 149b (p. 298), citing Pardes Rimonim 8:3, et al.
[vii] Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha'ar Drushey A-B-Y-'A, 1. "Ani" is spelled alef-nun-yud. Rearranged, these letters also spell "ayin"; also cf. Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, Likkutim Yekarim, 154; Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Me'or Einayim, Likkutim, s.v. Ma'amar "Tik'u ba-chodesh shofar." The latter teaching relates this to the paradigm of the soundings of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah: the first long sound represents the transcendent divine essence, which precedes creation; the broken sound represents the realm of multiplicity; and the third long sound represents the return to the divine essence.
[viii] Likutey Moharan II, 8 ("Tik'u / Tokhachah").
[ix] This is called the Shem be-Achorayim, or "Divine Name That Goes Back to the Beginning." That is, each of the four "phases" of the Name begins with the first letter yud, in a pattern of 1, 1-2,
1-2-3, 1-2-3-4. These four
phases correspond to the Four Worlds, and collectively represent what the Zohar
calls "The Song That Will Be Awakened in the Future" (Tikuney
Zohar, Tikkun 21, 51b).
[x] Rabbi David Cohen, ed., Oros haKodesh (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1985) Vol. II, “Be-Achdus ha-Koleles,” 30 (pp. 444-45). Cf. Reb Noson’s homiletical interpretation which compares the Fourfold Song to four levels of simchah (joy): the simple song corresponds to the spark of faith that is “hardwired” into the soul of every Jew; it is a “simple” song because in the depths of his being, every Jew believes in the absolutely simple Oneness of G-d. The doubled song corresponds to one’s faith in the true tzaddikim. The tripled song corresponds to one’s discovery of the good points that one still possesses, despite all of one’s past failings; and the quadrupled song corresponds to one’s present ability to latch onto the good and to accept with joy the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” In doing so, one’s life becomes an expression of the fourfold Song and a vehicle for the four letters of G-d’s Name Y-H-V-H (Likutey Halakhos, Minchah 7:53).