(Painting by Milton Resnick)
This two-part shiur was first published online by Yeshivat Har Etzion: Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). It is posted here with their kind permission.
Introduction to the Thought of Rav Nachman of Breslov
By Rav Itamar Eldar
Shiur #16b: Silence, Part 2 – Wordlessness Before God
God will fight for you
We can deepen our understanding of God's salvation of a person who remains silent in the face of insult by examining another teaching of R. Nachman:
"The Gemara says (Shabbat 98b): Those who are insulted and who do not insult in return, who hear abuse and do not answer – regarding them it is written (Shoftim 5), "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its power." We know that there are three "kelipot:" a stormy wind, a great cloud, and a burning fire. The kelipa of Noga exists between these three kelipot and holiness. Sometimes it is included in holiness, while at other times it is included as a kelipa; it is like the soul of the oppressed, and this is sufficient for those who understand. This reflects the order of Creation, with three years of "orla" [the produce of the first three years of a fruit tree], corresponding to the three kelipot, and the "revai" [produce of the fourth year], corresponding to Noga. It also reflects "chashmal," because sometimes it is included in the "mal" lights. The secret of circumcision also parallels this construct in that there are three skins, corresponding to the three kelipot, and a fourth thin membrane, resembling Noga. All of the humiliations (cherpot) that befall a person emanate from these three kelipot. As a result, Dina's brothers told the men of Shekhem (Bereishit 34): "We cannot give our sister to a man who has a foreskin because it is a disgrace (cherpa) to us." Similarly, after Yehoshua performed a second mass circumcision for Israel, God said (Yehoshua 5): "Today I have banished the disgrace (cherpa) of Egypt from upon you." The essence of disgrace comes from orla, which represents the three kelipot. For this reason, when Yosef was born, his mother said (Bereishit 30): "God has gathered up my disgrace (cherpati)." The humiliations were gathered up with the revelation of Yosef, who signifies the holy covenant, circumcision, and the three kelipot. When washing oneself with warm water prior to the holy Shabbat, one intends for the kelipa of Noga to be included in holiness. Following his example, the three kelipot also seek to ascend and to grasp onto holiness, initiating the descent of (Shir ha-Shirim 5) "the flame of God" (shalhevet Y-ah). The flame, represented by the hot water, burns them so that they will not grasp onto holiness. Cutting one's nails prior to the holy Shabbat carries similar significance. This is what the Gemara explains regarding the expression, "those who are hurt and do not hurt in return" – he is like "chash," which is silence; "they hear their abuse and do not respond" – as explained above, "and act out of love" –sometimes a person remains silent in order make his adversary suffer, and then he is like the one included as a kelipa. However, when he remains silent out of love, he is like "chash," included in holiness. "Regarding them it is written, "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its strength"" – the sun here portrays the shalhevet Y-ah, as explained above." [Meaning that by hearing others insult them and by not responding, they are rejecting the three kelipot, which represent orla and cherpa. They include themselves in chashmal by means of their silence, which represents the chash. He rejects cherpa by not wishing to argue and to humiliate his friend. This is the aspect of mal, signifying "mila" (circumcision), which is a nullification of orla, of cherpa, and of the three impure kelipot. Together, these actions illustrate chashmal – chash mal. The statement in the Gemara, "who act out of love," refers to this silence or chashmal. It also reflects Noga, which has two aspects, as explained above: sometimes it is included in holiness, and sometimes it is included as a kelipa – within the three kelipot, which correspond to cherpa. In other words, sometimes he is silent before his friend in order to cause him great suffering. In such a case, his silence humiliates his friend greatly, and, like Noga, it is included as a kelipa. On the other hand, when he remains silent out of love, because he does not wish to embarrass and to humiliate his friend, the aspect of Noga is included in holiness. Therefore, regarding those who choose the latter it is said, "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its strength" – this is the shalhevet Y-ah, by means of which the Noga is included in holiness, representing Chashmal.] (Likutei Moharan Kama 92)
Here again, R. Nachman attributes the insult and humiliation that a person suffers to Divine concealment – this time, in the form of kelipot. The kelipot that are embodied in human beings are an expression of that aspect of existence from which Divinity is concealed that seeks to reveal Divinity (holiness) in order to draw strength from it. By paying attention to someone who insults, one bestows strength, existence, and significance upon the culprit. R. Nachman proposes silence as a way of dealing with this. As in the previous teaching, this is not a mere "method" of action, but rather a change in consciousness, in psychological position and in status.
A person connects himself to holiness by means of his silence. This time it is the kelipa of Noga that connects the person back to his source, as we saw above. Here, however, attention should be paid to how the connection helps the person to cope with the insults and humiliations. When the kelipa of Noga is included in holiness (through the person's silence), those who insult also seek to grasp onto holiness. Now, when they attempt to harm the one who is silent in the face of their insults, they are no longer in confrontation with him, or - in the words of the previous teaching – "with his honor – worldly honor." He has cleared space for a different honor that now fills him: Divine honor. As a result, when others challenge the honor of the living God now inside of him, the Divine flame emerges to defend him.
In this teaching, R. Nachman introduces another new idea. As we have said, silence is not a method of dealing with insults. First and foremost, it is meant to benefit the silent person himself by stimulating a profound inner process within him. At the conclusion of the transformation, he faces God from a completely different position: silence before God. Therefore, the silence must be accompanied by a sense of acquiescence. When a person is silent simply as a "method" to arouse greater fury in his assailant or out of a desire to conclude the argument with a sense of having "come out on top," the argument may end. However, no connection with holiness will have been effected.
This condition teaches us, above all else, that the silence is meant principally for the person himself, and that its primary effectiveness lies in his relationship with God. The insults and his way of addressing them are secondary; they are merely a reflection of the person's inner position vis-a-vis God. When that position is elevated, the insults disappear on their own, with God's help and by virtue of His strength.
The double danger
In both of the above teachings, R. Nachman describes the qualities of silence in the face of humiliation and shame. This is not so in the following teaching, in which the person remains silent in response to a similar, yet different phenomenon:
"Know that through conflict, namely dispute, upstanding people entertain the thoughts of the wicked; in other words, their heretical thoughts, which fall onto them because of this. The rectification for this is to hand over the conflict to God, so that God will fight the battle. Through this, one nullifies the aforementioned thoughts of the wicked…. In the Gemara (Yevamot 96b) we learn: "It once happened that a dispute in the Beit Midrash reached the point at which a Sefer Torah was ripped due to their anger…he said: I would not be surprised if this place has become a temple of idolatry!" Thus, dispute opens the door to idolatry and heresy, as it is written (Tehillim 140), "They devised evil in their hearts; all the time stirring up wars." By means of wars, namely dispute, they think up evil in their hearts and come to evil thoughts, namely heresy, as explained above. The rectification for this is to hand the conflict over to God, so that God will fight the battle. This is silence – i.e., he must be silent before them and must only rely on God to fight on our behalf, as it is written (Shemot 14), "God will fight for you, and you will be silent." By means of this silence, evil thoughts of heresy are nullified, thereby elevating one's own thoughts. As we are taught, "Be silent, this is how it has arisen in thought" (Menachot 29b) – through silence, thought is elevated, as explained above." (Likutei Moharan Kama 251)
R. Nachman asserts that dispute gives rise to thoughts of wicked people that fall upon, and enter the hearts of, upright people. Once again, we encounter a negative situation that involves a type of concealment: Dispute results from a concealment of truth and a concealment of unity. This time, however, the heretical thoughts of the wicked attack and dominate upright people.
According to R. Nachman's view, dispute is extremely dangerous for two principal reasons:
On the one hand, it creates cracks in the defensive wall of certainty, allowing doubt and heresy to creep in. On the other hand, it opens the door to the danger of pride.
The boundary between controversy that is for the sake of heaven and controversy that arises from ego and one-upmanship is sometimes very thin. The remedy for dispute is silence.
Attention should be paid to the fact that dispute and silence are two psychological movements that are diametrically opposed to each other. One who disputes seeks, at best, to prove that he is correct, or, in less ideal circumstances, to win the argument. He analyzes, defines, attempts to understand, and tries to probe and to criticize the opposing view. A person who remains silent forgoes everything. He neither probes, nor defines; he attempts neither to win the argument, nor even to prove that he is right. All he wants to do is to "hand the war over to God." Again, his silence is not a method. "Handing the war over to God" in this teaching does not arise from a sense of security in his correctness; it is the recognition that, instead of fighting his own war, he is fighting God's war. As soon as he absorbs this knowledge, all the cracks that the argument has created within him are repaired, and he is filled with the determination and certainty of a loyal agent. On the other hand, the sharp nails of his ego become blunted by his readiness to exit the stage, leaving the Holy One alone in the spotlight (Yeshayahu 2): "And God alone will be elevated on that day."
The Maharal of Prague also employed the Gemara’s reference to being shamed without taking revenge, but with slightly different emphases:
"It is said here that the nations of the world take notice of Israel’s sins and accuse Israel of prostitution under the wedding canopy (vis-a-vis their relationship with God). In response, Israel simply remains silent, and regarding them it is said (Shabbat 98b), "Those who are insulted and who do not insult in return…." The insulted people who receive the grunt of an action but do not act against others demonstrate that they have reached the level of complete equanimity. However, one who insults or returns insults acts with brazenness that removes him from the distinguished (elevated) state of equanimity, even if he acts only in response to the humiliation and abuse to which he was subjected. We have already explored this concept many times: material and physical things are removed from equanimity. Whereas the equalized and balanced is simple and distinguished, that which is not abandons simplicity. Therefore, "[t]hose who are insulted and who do not insult in return" choose not to act with the brazenness that can remove them from equanimity. As long as a person can withstand the pressure of insults and disgrace without responding with audacity, he remains on the level of equanimity and even acquires a distinguished level of simplicity." (Chidushei Aggadot I 44)
The Maharal states here that the level to which we aspire is the "level of equanimity," which separates a person from the material and which allows him to reach the loftiest simplicity. The Maharal's assumption here is that the transition from simplicity to complexity is the transition from complete spirituality to the material, and vice versa.
Equanimity is the psychological state that instills simplicity in a person. Equanimity derives from the word equal. A person must develop an attitude of equanimity towards the reality around him; not apathy, but equanimity – the ability to adopt anything, good or bad, pleasant or painful, within the same unity. Everything should be viewed from the same perspective, having the same beginning and end and heading towards its point of origin. This equanimity endows the world characterized by multiplicity, complexity, and variation with the complete unity that is characterized by simplicity.
Standing up to the hurling of insults and humiliations represents a clear indication of, and sometimes even a catalyst for, this spiritual state. Any attempt to respond is driven by a psychological state that the Maharal calls "brazenness:" a wish to participate, and even to emerge victorious, in the arena where materialism, complexity, and multiplicity reign. By doing so, the person immediately removes himself from simplicity and equanimity and enters the material and complex.
Likewise, dispute that a person encounters represents a huge opportunity for elevation to a psychological level of inner silence. Upon reaching it, one develops inner equanimity that testifies to simplicity and to elevation above the complex reality of insults and humiliations. Reality’s apparent ugliness indicates the existence of a huge gap between it and the supreme infinity, the supreme Keter, which is elevated above material being and which lies beyond all division.