Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Bridge

Musings on a story Rebbe Nachman once told
Dovid Sears

The Rebbe once gave over a parable about the spiritual quest (a translation of which we posted awhile ago on this website here). In brief, an impoverished chassid has a dream that a treasure lies buried near a certain bridge in a faraway city. Upon his arrival there, a guard questions him, laughs at what he hears and remarks that he too had a dream about a treasure—buried under the kitchen stove of a Jew who happened to have the same name as our protagonist. The latter goes home and finds the sought-after treasure. The moral of the story is that each of us possesses the divine truth or perception we seek within ourselves; the role of the tzaddik is to help us to bring it to light.

The Breslov version of the story appears in Kokhvey Ohr (“Maasiyos u-Meshalim,” p. 26), as preserved by Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman of Tulchin, which is accepted as a highly-reliable mesorah. (This is not one of the Rebbe’s famous mystical stories, puplished as “Sippurey Ma’asiyos,” but one of the many other stories he told to his chassidim, some of which were original while others were not.) But to a Breslover ear, accustomed to hearing about the primacy of hiskashrus li-tzaddik and the tzaddik emes as personifying the “universal mind” (sekhel ha-kollel), “collective mind” (moach ha-kollel), and all-inclusive soul, [1] this story seems a bit out of character. It seems more consistent with the teachings of the “Yid Hakadosh” and his disciple Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshis’cha, which play down these “larger than life” portrayals of the tzaddik and his mystical powers and emphasize instead his role as spiritual facilitator.

And in fact, it appears in the lore of that school of Polish Chassidus, too. In Rabbi Michael Rosen’s study of Reb Simcha Bunim, “The Quest for Authenticity” (Urim 2008), the same story is cited in the Introduction (pp. 22-23, based on Maamarei Simcha, no. 30). The poor chassid is also mentioned by name in this version: Reb Isaac ben Yekelish of Krakow.

 But maybe there is no contradiction.

After reading about the primacy of hiskashrus li-tzaddikim in the Rebbe’s works, many new mekuravim ask, “Which tzaddik was the Rebbe connected to?” Perhaps to the Baal Shem Tov, his illustrious great-grandfather, who likewise did not have a living teacher but was mentored by the spirit of Achiyah HaShiloni. Or perhaps he was mekushar to himself—like Moshe Rabbenu, who personified that all-inclusive soul.[2]

Thus the Rebbe states that “Moshe” exists within every one of us, and the consciousness Moshe represents exists within every limb of the body; “Moshe” represents the essence of each neshamah and all neshamos collectively; this is what animates everything in one’s being, body, and sphere of influence. [3]

This essence is the “treasure” we need to discover. But in order to succeed, we must search for that master teacher, the external “Moshe,” who can show us the esence of who we are—because the master teacher has actualized the potential that we all share.[4]

Maybe this is another ramification of the Rebbe’s famous declaration, “I can make you a ‘guhter yid’ [in this context, a tzaddik] just like me!”[5] Because ultimately, there is no “you” and “me.”

This is the symbolic meaning of the bridge in our story: as the Zohar states, the tzaddik is like a bridge in that he binds together “heaven and earth.”[6] He combines all worlds and all that they contain. The bridge also denotes overcoming the sense of division; it is the link between “you” and “me” and all appearances of separateness.

Thus the parable need not be read as an import from Pshis’cha, but may serve as a key to understanding the Rebbe’s nearly-ubiquitous theme of hiskashrus li-tzaddik emes. The meaning of “emes” (truth) would be that the tzaddik is one with that essence, which is the truth of existence.[7]

Accordingly, the tzaddik emes is not really external, but internal. And that’s the “treasure under the kitchen stove.”


When I repeated this dvar Torah a little while ago, someone responded by saying, “Tear up the floor!”

That’s what hisbodedus is all about. 

[1] For a fuller description of these concepts, see Rabbi Chaim Kramer’s “Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings” (Breslov Research Institute, Chapter 17 (“Tzaddik”), pp. 312-359.
[2] See Likutey Moharan I, 34:4, about the “common point” of the tzaddik, which includes all good points.
[3] See Likutey Moharan  II, 26; also ibid. II, 39 re. how the “leader of the generation, like Moshe, must illuminate even those on the lowest spiritual levels; and ibid. II, 72, re, how Moshe, who personified the collective da’as of all Israel, was able to transmit higher levels of consciousness to every individual through his gaze alone.
[4] Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal on the verse “Six hundred thousand souls are those at my foot” (Numbers 1:21)—that all six hundred thousand souls of Israel were but parts of Moshe’s soul (Sha’ar HaPesukim 2:3).
[5] Chayey Moharan, Part II, sec. 230. Also see Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender’s explanation in Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. IV, sec. 72.
[6] Zohar III, 257a.
[7] See Likutey Moharan I, 51, where the Rebbe states that the terms emes (truth), echad (one), kadosh (holy) and tov (good) are four ways of describing the same reality. 

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