Monday, December 9, 2013

Honesty as a Mystical Experience

(Painting by Rembrandt)

Honesty as a Mystical Experience

Likutey Moharan I, 93
Dovid Sears
(with the help of the BRI English Likutey Moharan)

In a previous posting, Giving and Spiritual Transformation, we discussed part of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in Likutey Moharan, Torah 13, as follows (Likutey Moharan in bold and our comments in timid):

The “Levites’ Song” corresponds to the paradigm of doing business with emunah (faith): one rejoices in his portion and does not run after riches. For melody is equivalent to doing business [Hebrew: masa u-matan, literally, “picking up and giving”]. As it is written, “Pick up a tune, and give [i.e., beat] the hand-drum” (Psalms 81:3).

The Hebrew words for “pick up” and “give” are related to masa u-matan, the “give and take” of business. Obsessed with reaping large profits, a person may approach business as a fierce battle; or on the contrary, he or she may approach it as merely a way of making a vessel for God’s blessings. One who chooses the latter course will primarily rely upon God, not upon clever strategies in which material ends too often justify unethical means. This is masa u-matan bi-emunah, doing business in a way that reflects faith in God. The “Levites’ song,” which in context of this lesson expresses the balance of the opposite energies of joy and stringency, Chesed and Gevurah, is present there, in the give and take of honest exchange.

“Joy” [of the Levites’ song] corresponds to one who is happy with his lot (Avos 4:1).

This alludes to the “music of life”: one lives in harmony with the Divine will, accepting good and bad with equanimity, and withdraws from trying to manipulate the world through various strategies. This music is joyous because it is free of the fear and insecurity that lie at the root of ego. Moreover, by relying upon God, one cleaves to Him; and it is written, “Might and gladness are in His Place” (I Chronicles 16:27). Then, Rebbe Nachman teaches, Divine Providence is complete. Effortlessly, one is strong; effortlessly, one is joyous.


The connection the Rebbe draws between the sublime music of the Levites in the Holy Temple (which represents the essence of holy song), and the extremely mundane activity of doing business seems to be quite a leap. But we can understand this better in light of another teaching from the Rebbe about masa u-matan bi-emunah, conducting one’s business affairs honestly: Likutey Moharan I, 93.

Whoever does business with emunah fulfills the positive mitzvah of “you shall love G-d” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This mitzvah is the root of all positive mitzvos; as it is written in the Tikkuney Zohar on the verse [describing Isaac’s instructions to his son Esau], “Then prepare a tasty dish for me, the way I love it” (Genesis 27:4)—from the positive mitzvos.”

In his commentary on this lesson in the BRI English edition of Likutey Moharan (Vol. IX), Rabbi Chaim Kramer observes that the Tikkuney Zohar reads Isaac’s instructions as if they had been uttered by G-d, expressing Divine preference for the positive mitzvos: “Then prepare a tasty dish for Me”—from the holy sparks [contained in the physical world]—“the way I love it—by performing the positive mitzvos, which are the aspect of love and kindness, and not as I detest—through the prohibitive mitzvos, which are the aspect of fear (Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 21, 52a, according to Matok Midvash, ad loc.).

And how does one perform the mitzvah of “you shall love G-d?” As the Gemara states on the verse “you shall love”—that the Name of Heaven should become beloved through you (Yoma 86a). How? When a person has read [the Written Torah] and studied [the Oral Torah] and attended Torah scholars, and he deals with people pleasantly, and he conducts his business with emunah—what do people say? “Fortunate is the one who taught him Torah”(ibid.). Thus, Heaven’s Name becomes beloved through him, and he fulfills the positive mitzvah of “you shall love,” which is the root of all the mitzvos.

With this, Rebbe Nachman stresses that facilitating love of God in others is the root of all the positive commandments of the Torah, and this is the way G-d wishes that we show our love for Him. Thus, love of God is not only a subjective experience, attained through contemplation, but also entails action, bringing others “into the loop.” This teaches us the central importance of kiddush Hashem, honoring God’s Name by following the Torah in the fullest possible manner, and not a chillul Hashem, descrating God’s Name by failing to live up to the Torah’s ideals.

The Rebbe goes on to state that this has a mystical dimension, as well:

Moreover, by doing business faithfully one reaches a level that transcends time. As the Gemara concludes (ad loc.): “Concerning him [i.e., the individual who brings others to love G-d] Scripture says, ‘Israel, in you I take pride’ (Isaiah 49:3).

That is, by doing business honestly, a person becomes worthy of God’s taking pride in him and calling him “Israel.” Now he is living up to his name and his Divine mission.  

The Rebbe explains why such honesty in business elevates the person “above time”:

Israel exists “in [the Divine] thought,” as in the teaching of our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 1:5): “Israel arose in [G-d’s primordial] thought.”

Kabbalistically, the level of G-d’s primordial “thought” is associated with the sefirah of Chokhmah (Wisdom), which is the first of the ten sefiros, and corresponds to the first letter “yod” in the four-letter Divine Name Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh (YHVH).

This alludes to G-d’s designation of the Jewish people as “My firstborn, Israel” (Exodus 4:22). According to the Arizal, the letters of the name “Israel (Hebrew: Yisrael”) may be rearranged to spell “li-rosh,” meaning “the first is Mine.” In this lesson, this is indicated by “Israel arose in thought” (see Sefer HaLikkutim, Acharey Mos, 16).

Therefore, every Jew is essentially bound up with the Divine thought, which is his point of origin. And one can realize that spiritual potential primarily through facilitating love of G-d in the world, which as the Rebbe stated above, is the root of all the positive commandments of the Torah.

And thought transcends time.

This alludes to expanded consciousness (Rav Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Tefilos vi-Tachanunim I, 4), which is associated with the sefirah of Chokhmah and nondual awareness (see Likutey Moharan I, 234).

Reb Noson adds in conclusion:

By conducting one’s business activities faithfully one can pray with a clear mind. For prayer too transcends time, in that it is “something that stands at the heights of the universe” (Berakhos 6b). By attaining “love” one can attain expanded consciousness, so that one may pray with a clear mind.  

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