Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rebbe Nachman on Weapons of Mass Destruction


By Dovid Sears

More than 200 years ago, Rebbe Nachman was dismayed by advances in the technology of warfare, coupled with retrogression in the spiritual and moral spheres. He lived through the Napoleonic Wars, where the WMDs were cannonades and the first repeating “air rifles.” We can easily imagine what he would say about the world we live in today…

On the subject of wars between nations and needless bloodshed, Rebbe Nachman said, “Many foolish beliefs that people once held, such as forms of idol-worship that involved child-sacrifice, etc., have disappeared. But as of yet the foolish belief in the pursuit of war has not disappeared.” He used to ridicule certain scientists saying, “What great thinkers they must be, what great ingenuity they must possess to invent amazing weapons that can kill thousands of people at once! Is there any greater folly than this—to murder so many people for nothing?” (Chayei Moharan 546).

Yet in keeping with the ancient prophets, Rebbe Nachman also foresaw an end to war in a way by which the means would justify the end, and not the other way around:

Rebbe Nachman predicted, “The Moshiach will conquer the world without a shot being fired” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh II, 1-67).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Minhagim Related to Shabbos Clothes


From “Breslov Eikh She-hu: Breslov the Way It Is: Customs and Practices, Past and Present”
By Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears (work-in-progress)

There is no “dress code” in Breslov, and people from all backgrounds should feel no obligation to change their previous manner of dress if they become Breslover Chassidim. However, as in every Chassidic group, there are traditions that many continue to keep. For those who are interested, we have compiled a few of Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig’s customs related to Shabbos clothing, plus a few from the Tsfas Breslov community led by his son, Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig.

Reb Gedaliah was a born and bred Yerushalayimer chassid, who lived most of his adult life in Meah Shearim and dressed like the chassidim of his time and place. Reb Elazar and his siblings also grew up in Meah Shearim and dress accordingly today.


Reb Gedaliah was particular about the custom of the Arizal to refrain from wearing black garments on Shabbos. Therefore, his sons, many of his talmidim, and most members of the Tsfas Breslov community wear golden caftans, which is the minhag of old Yerushalayim; or at shaloshudes (as well as when visiting chutz la'aretz), they wear dark blue embroidered tisch bekitchehs, etc.

(Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Ben Ish Chai: Halakhos II, Lekh Lekha, 18, cites Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha'ar ha-Kavannos, Inyan Rechitzah, 63a-b, that one should wear only white garments on Shabbos. However, the Ben Ish Chai adds that at least one should not wear black. According to the Arizal, the color of the garments one wears on Shabbos in this world determines the “color” of the spiritual garments that the neshamah will wear in the World of Souls; also cf. Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar ha-Shabbos, ch. 4. The Baal Shem Tov and his followers wore white clothes on Shabbos; e.g. see Shivchei Baal Shem Tov [Rubenstein ed.], 6. Although this custom eventually fell into disuse, a few Chassidic Rebbes continued to do so, even until the present day; see Shulchan ha-Tahor, Hil. Shabbos 262:8; Zohar Chai, Vayeishev, 182b; Darchei Chaim vi-Shalom [Munkatch], Seder Erev Shabbos, 365; Divrei Torah 141:79; Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Hanhagos Erev Shabbos, p. 315. Many Sefardic Kabbalists dress entirely in white on Shabbos. For the source of this custom in the Gemara, see Shabbos 25b, 114a, 119a; Bava Kama 49b, with Tosefos; Kiddushin 73a. The Rebbe discusses white garments in Likutey Moharan I, 29:3, where he relates white garments to the attainment of tikkun ha-bris, sexual purity.)

*

Nevertheless, Reb Gedaliah did not tell people to change their levush. Therefore, some talmidim did not emulate their teacher’s mode of dress, but merely avoided wearing black clothing on Shabbos. This was particularly true of his talmidim in America. Moreover, during Reb Gedaliah’s younger years, many Chassidim in Yerushalayim wore tish beketches with some color in them. The custom of wearing entirely black garments did not become widespread in Yerushalayim until they started importing ready-made Chassidic clothes from America. This is true of dressing entirely in black on weekdays, as well.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)

*

In former times, most Breslover Chassidim did not wear a shtreimel on Shabbos, probably because of poverty rather than any shittah not to do so. (Reb Noson writes to one of his sons that he plans to buy him a “good shtreimel and a new hat” for his chasunah, even though Reb Noson himself wore only a hat or kashketel on Shabbos). Another likely reason is that during the 19th century, the Russian government imposed restrictions on Jewish garb, including who was permitted to wear a shtreimel. However, today most Breslover Chassidim wear shtreimlach.
(Re. Reb Noson’s letter, see Alim le-Terufah [Toras Ha-Netzach ed. 2000] no. 402)

*

Reb Gedaliah was very strict with himself concerning Shabbos clothes, which are an expression of honoring the Shabbos. Once he was caught in the rain on Shabbos but would not remove his shtreimel, even though he was a poor man and the costly shtreimel would be damaged by the rain.

(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man. Similarly, Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom 366, states that while visiting certain health spas, the Minchas Elazar would not remove his shtreimel even when compelled to leave the premises on Shabbos in order to immerse, and there was reason to be concerned about anti-Semitic neighbors.)

*

It is a widespread Chassidic custom to wear a zhvulkeh (also called a resh-zhvulkeh), a black satin dress coat, over one’s bekitcheh on Friday night. In Yerushalayim, many Chassidim wear a djebey, a brown satin outer garment, over their golden caftans. Reb Elazar’s custom, which many members of the Tzefas community emulate, is to wear a golden caftan with a long, dark blue suit jacket (rekel), draped over his shoulders. Many Galitzianer and Hungarian Rebbes wear a talis on Friday night (although this was not common practice among Russian Chassidim). All of these customs seem to be variations on the concept that on Shabbos one receives an extra spiritual garment, or “ohr makif.”
(See Siddur ARI-Rav Shabsai, Kavannos Kabbalas Shabbos; Darkei Chaim vi-Shalom [Munkatch] 368; Divrei Torah I, 59; et al.)

*

Reb Gedaliah wore a gray rekel over his caftan on Shabbos. Reb Dovid Shapiro mentioned that this was once a common custom in Yerushalayim. Certain Sefardic mekubalim still wear gray on Shabbos, too.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro. Cf. Chayei Moharan 525, which mentions that the Rebbe once wore a gray zhibitzel, another type of outer garment.)

*

However, the main point is not to wear black clothing, including one’s outer garment. According to the minhag of old Yerushalayim, the only times when this is proper is at one’s chasunah and on Yom Kippur, when one wears a black rekel and a kittel or white caftan.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)

*

Reb Gedaliah wore his outer garment draped over his right shoulder, with the left arm uncovered, both by night and by day. This Yerushalayimer minhag is an expression of kavod toward the Tefillin, which we do not wear on Shabbos. Others drape the outer garment over both shoulders (since the sleeves are usually not wide enough to be worn in the usual manner).
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)

*

As an expression of kavod Shabbos, Chassidim in general do not remove their jackets at the Shabbos table. Many, including Reb Elazar Kenig, do not remove their shtreimelach or hats, either. However, Reb Elazar has said that if one is not so accustomed, this is not strictly required, but rather a hiddur that one should take on when he feels ready to do so. 
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig).

*

Reb Gedaliah wore his light-colored Shabbos caftan all day long, including at the Shaloshudes meal.

*

Most Breslover women in Yerushalayim and Tsfas wear colored tichlach (kerchiefs) both during the week and on Shabbos. However, some Sefardic Breslover women wear white kerchiefs in honor of the Shabbos. (So do women in some Chassidic communities, such as Toldos Aharon in Yerushalayim.)

***

Parenthetically, when I emailed this list of Shabbos Clothes customs to Rabbi Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim for him to review, he added a story that he heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig (yibadel bein chaim li-chaim) while he and his siblings were sitting shivah for their father, Reb Gedaliah, zatzal.

It is especially relevent in light of the fact that Reb Gedaliah was makpid to wear two garments on Shabbos (a kaftan with a rekel over it, as mentioned above).

When he passed away in England, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) there performed taharah and put tachrichim (shrouds) on him. These tachrichim were made of a better quality linen than that used in Yerushalayim. When the aron (coffin) arrived in Eretz Yisrael, the Chevra Kadisha of Yerushalayim saw the unusual tachrichim, and they were unsure as to whether they were really made of linen (which the mekubalim say is important; see Chesed LeAvraham and Ma’avar Yavok). So they decided to put on their own tachrichim. But it is improper to remove tachrichim that the deceased is already wearing, so they put their linen shrouds over the ones from England. Thus, Reb Gedaliah was buried in two garments—for whatever a person wears on Shabbos is what he will wear in the next world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Project YES: Let's Stay Safe!



Received via e-mail:

The Karasick Safety Initiative of Project YES is thrilled to launch a downloadable, read-aloud video version of our best-selling safety book, Let's Stay Safe! which can be accessed here http://bit.ly/XIwDxX directly or by visiting our websitewww.kosherjewishparenting.com and  clicking on the green icon on the right side of the homepage that contains an image of the DVD. The text in that icon reads "Let's Stay Safe! Read Aloud Video NOW AVAILABLE."   
   
On the same web page, you will find a 30-second demo sample of the read-aloud safety video and our 34-minute safety video workshop to help parents understand and teach the 4 major components of an effective safety program to your kids. 
   
On the webpage or on our safety homepage  there are also links to free printed and video resources to help you keep your kids safe. Please avail yourselves of them.
   
To download the read-aloud video of the book, you will need to go through a PayPal page and make a donation to Project YES. We've suggested a $5.00 donation, but if money is tight, please feel free to give whatever works for you as any amount will get you to the download page. We've set things up so that finances would not be a barrier for anyone.      

If you are in a position to contribute a larger amount, kindly consider doing so as all proceeds will help support our efforts to keep kids safe.      

We are deeply grateful to Linda and Mark Karasick for their continued support of our Project YES Safety Initiative and we hope you find this read-aloud video version of the book helpful.  

We would like to express our deepest appreciation to Rachel and Harry Skydell for their extraordinary encouragement and support of our life-saving work.    

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank David Lenik and his crew of Better World Productions, and Duvy Perkowski and his staff at Duvys Media for helping us turn our dream of making this video available for you, into reality. 
   
Here  is a link to listen to or download an MP3 recording of an extensive (nearly 2 hours including commercials) radio interview on the Zev Brenner Show this past Motzoei Shabbos on the Weberman Trial and Sentencing. 
   
There were several spirited exchanges with supporters of Mr. Weberman during the call-in segment of the interview that are quite interesting and informative. 
   
All the best,
   
Yakov Horowitz 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rabbi Ozer Bergman to Speak in NY


"Will the Real Rabbi Ozer Bergman Please Stand Up?"


Received by e-mail from David Schweke

Exciting Judaism welcomes Breslov Scholar from Jerusalem, Rabbi Ozer Bergman, author and editor for the Breslov Research Institute. 

Reb Ozer will conduct a two week consecutive "hands on" workshops on two consecutive Tuesdays:

Dates: February 5 and February 12
Time: 7:45 pm - 8:55 pm (followed by Maariv at 9:00)

Topic: "What's Purim Have to Do or Teach about Being Happy?"

Place: Carlebach Shul
305 West 79st
Manhattan (or as Walt Whitman would say, "Mannahatta")

For a pre-view, visit: www.youtube.com/rabbibergman

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Andy Statman Trio - Concert Update


The Andy Statman Trio
(Andy Statman, Jim Whitney, Larry Eagle)

Sunday 27 January @ 4 PM
We'll make our first appearance at The Turning Point in Piermont NY (lovely little hamlet on the Hudson)

Tuesday 29 January @ 8:45 PMThe trio plays at Charles Street
with a special guest on accordion - the ever-winsome Charles Giordano

Thursday 31 January @ 8:45 PM
An Andy and Larry duo evening at Charles Street

...looking ahead...

Sunday 17 February @ 4 PM
Irvine Barclay Theater Irvine CA

Monday 18 February @ 7:30 PM
Congregation B'nei B'rith, Santa Barbara CA

Tuesday 19 February @ 7:00 PM
Kuumbwa Jazz, Santa Cruz CA

Wednesday 20 February @ 8:00 PM
Freight & Salvage, Berkeley CA
(BTW -this show will be webcast live - get access here)
the whole schedule's right here
(including spring time shows in NYC and Chicago with our good pal David Grisman)

www.andystatman.org
check out our latest recording Old Brooklyn
Facebook - The Andy Statman Trio
www.youtube.com/derechamuno
twitter: @rcanipper

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rav Itamar Eldar: Simplicity (Part 3)


This three-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

With this essay, Rav Eldar concludes his discussion of simplicity and moves on to contemplate one of Rabbi Nachman’s enigmatic “fables,” published by Reb Noson in “Chayei Moharan (The Life of Our Master, Rabbi Nachman),” sec. 98. Rav Eldar’s interpretation, which speculates as to Rabbi Nachman’s views on art, is original and insightful. However, the reader should bear in mind that there are other ways of interpreting this fable, as well. As with all of his stories, Rabbi Nachman leaves us to contemplate its cryptic meaning.

Simplicity (Part 3)

This shiur completes our discussion of the subject of simplicity in the teachings of R. Nachman. In the previous two shiurim we saw how R. Nachman values wholeheartedness and simplicity, and we noted how these traits allow a person to absorb ideas, experiences and ways of thinking that cannot be attained through logic.

An additional reason for R. Nachman's restriction of logic and rationalism to the furthest recesses of our minds is the dynamic nature of reality, as expressed in one of his stories, which we shall study below:

Once there was a king who built himself a palace. He called upon two men and commanded them to decorate it. The king divided the palace into two sections - each appointee was responsible for decorating one section - and he set a time by which they were to complete their work. The two men set off. One of them began working very hard; he learned all there was to know about painting and sculpture, and then decorated the section of the palace that had been entrusted to him very beautifully, with pictures of animals and birds and all kinds of wonderful images. The second man did not take the king's command seriously, and did nothing.

The deadline for the completion of the project drew closer. The first man had already finished his portion of the work, demonstrating great artistry. The second man began to reflect upon his situation: he had spent all of the allotted time on vanity and emptiness, and had not taken any notice of the royal command. He began to think about what he should do, for in the few days that remained until the deadline it would be impossible to correct his mistake; he could not study art and then decorate his portion of the palace in such a short time, for it was already very close to the date that had been set for the completion of the work.

He finally made a decision as to what to do. He took a black herbal ointment and painted his entire section with its brilliant black. The shine of the ointment acted like a mirror; one could see oneself in it. He also hung a curtain in front of his section, dividing between his section and that of the other man.

When the appointed date finally arrived, the king set off to see what the men had done during this time. First he saw the first section, which was decorated most impressively. The way to the second section was blocked by a curtain, behind which everything looked dark, and the king could see nothing. The second man drew the curtain aside, and the sun shone in and reflected off of all the wondrous artistry in his section, for the shining blackness reflected like a mirror. And so all the birds that were painted in the first section, and all the other masterful illustrations, all appeared in his section too, and what the king had seen in the first section was visible also in the second. Moreover, all the precious vessels and ornaments that the king had installed in the palace were also reflected in the second section, and whatever he would wish to add in the future would also be reflected there. And the king was exceedingly pleased
("The Story of Two Painters, R. Nachman of Breslov: Studies in His Stories, Yehudit Kook p. 204 [Hebrew]).

The "king," as we have previously noted, refers to the Holy One, the King of the universe. The palace symbolizes the world in which He dwells. The king approaches the two men with the demand that they paint and decorate his palace.

What is art? Different definitions for the culture of art have been offered throughout history, and its perception changes from era to era. We shall focus on two principal trends: one perceives art as a reproduction of reality. Here we may ask what purpose there is in reproducing reality, since it already exists. The answer to this question lies in an understanding of man's innate need to eternalize the moment. The trait of eternity is one of the traits of God, and man seeks to acquire this quality. People who travel around armed with an array of cameras, never missing an opportunity to snap a shot of a stone, corner or situation, express a desperate desire to eternalize pleasurable moments. (Sometimes eternalizing the moment also contains a protest against the reality that is being photographed or painted. Thus selecting certain situations as subjects, when human nature would perhaps prefer to forget or ignore them, can be a form of protest.) Painting as reproduction, not seeking in any way to add to reality but rather to present it as it is, seeks first and foremost to eternalize the moment.

R. Nachman rejects this trend, and maintains that man was granted the faculty of forgetting for a reason:

"The world generally considers forgetting as a liability. But I believe that it has great value. For if there was no ability to forget, then a person could not even begin to serve God, for he would always remember all his failures in the past, how he was completely unable to raise himself to Divine service, and all the things that happen to a person would also confuse him greatly. But since we are able to forget, all that has happened may be forgotten; what was in the past has finished and need not return to his thoughts. And so he need not confuse himself with that which was and is no more.

This matter is very sound advice in the sphere of Divine service, for in general a person experiences much confusion and preoccupation with things that have taken place in the past. This is particularly true during prayer, when all the confusion comes upon him and distracts and mixes up his thoughts with what has already been. Sometimes he is distracted, for example, with thoughts pertaining to matters of business or his family, thinking that perhaps he had not acted wisely in a certain instance and that he should have acted otherwise, etc. And sometimes he is distracted during his Torah study or his prayer with past misdeeds, that in such-and-such a matter he did not act according to God's wish.  This happens very often, as every person can testify from his own experience. Therefore the way of forgetting is highly recommended in this regard, for as soon as such thoughts pass through his mind he should remove them immediately and draw his thoughts away from such matters. And he should not entertain such thoughts again. Understand this well, for it is a very great thing" (Sichot HaRan 26).

These words may be understood on two different levels.

The first is psychological, pertaining to forgetting as a defense mechanism. During the course of his life a person experiences certain traumas and situations that are difficult to bear. The ability to forget allows him to get on with his life without constantly and continuously at every second having to deal with the difficult reality with which he was once faced.

R. Nachman, having experienced spiritual "downs," is also aware that past experience introduces skepticism and even cynicism into a person's heart. Adults often cool the enthusiasm expressed by younger people with the words, "Yes, we also thought that way when we were your age." And a person likewise may give up on his own chances of success when he is reminded of past failure. R. Natan recounts the following concerning R. Nachman himself:

He used to start each time anew. When he would fall in his spiritual level he would not despair over it; he would simply decide to start anew as though he had never tried before to intensify his Divine service; as though he was just beginning right now. And in this way he would start anew time after time; at times he would experience several new beginnings in a single day, for sometimes within the same day he would fall in his service and would start anew, even several times in a single day (Shivhei HaRan 6).

R. Nachman's ability to start anew repeatedly, and eventually to succeed, flowed from his ability to ignore and forget all the failed experiences that preceded each new beginning.

The second level that we may detect in R. Nachman's words in praise of forgetting is the existential level. Here his message seems to refer not only to failures of the past but also to successes, or just to neutral phenomena that are unrelated to failure or success.

When a person is faced with a certain situation, then so long as the past plays an active role in his consciousness, he is incapable of devoting himself completely to the situation in which he now finds himself. This is true whether the situation involves a conversation with another person, a moment of prayer, or anything else. Obviously, people who are nostalgic to an extreme degree have a tendency to avoid dealing with reality. Eternalization of the moment - even if it is a moment of spiritual elevation - impairs one's ability to face the future with all one's energy.

Therefore, a painting that eternalizes reality does not reflect the path of R. Nachman of Breslov.

Another perception of art is to see a picture as a sort of dialogue that the artist maintains with reality. This dialogue may be an attempt to understand reality in a scientific manner (e.g. Michaelangelo's Renaissance drawings of the human body), or an attempt to achieve a broader and deeper impression of reality (Impressionism), or even to express the emotion of the artist arising as a result of his encounter with the reality that he has chosen to represent (Expressionism).

Attention should be paid to the fact that in the story, neither of the two artistic creations answers to the king's command. The king does not ask the artists to paint anything at all - neither on the level of reproduction nor on the level of dialogue. He wants them to decorate his palace. Decoration itself would seem at first to provide man with the greatest possible extent of choice: he is not limited to any specific reality; not even on the expressionist level, which itself leaves the artist with a great deal of room for maneuvering. The king does not limit the artists in any way at all, and all that each of them has to do is to fill the half of the palace that he has been assigned.

Painting, according to R. Nachman's story, does not reflect man's dialogue with reality on any level. The task of the painter in the story is to reflect a person's monologue. If the palace of the king is God's world - i.e., our world - then painting represents man leaving his mark on the world. Man is seen as a creator, an inventor, and the source of bounty. If this is the case, then God makes a very great demand of man in the world. He commands him to fill the world with the work of his hands; "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and conquer it."

The first artist in the story wastes no time. He rolls up his sleeves and gets to work with great conscientiousness. He learns his trade well; he reads books on the subject, attends university courses, and enriches his knowledge in other related areas. Through his study he acquires many tools, both technical and thematic. He looks at reality and tries not to miss a single moment in which he could learn something about it. In his art work, this man tries to leave nothing out. He aspires to review all of reality, to understand everything, to contain everything. And indeed, his work is breathtaking in its beauty.

During a survey of cultural history, we encounter works that leave us breathless at the scope of knowledge necessary in order to create them. We are full of wonder at the proficiency in different spheres, at the scope and depth of knowledge. Such is the work of the first artist.

The second artist, in contrast, fails to apply himself to the king's command. We do not know the reason for this failure. Is he perhaps lazy, procrastinating from one day to the next? One thing is clear: as the day of judgment nears, the painter - together with the reader of the story - senses that something terrible is about to happen. On the familiar scale for evaluating a painting - that of leaving one's mark - he has failed spectacularly. The only way, thinks the second artist, to achieve anything in this sphere is to learn the trade and everything that it involves. This requires time, first and foremost, and at this stage "time is short and the work is great and the owner is pressing."

Here the first part of the story ends. In this section R. Nachman presents us with a worldview that is clear and easily understood. The only way in which a person can leave his mark on the world, to create a work that will fill his void, to reach the pinnacle of self-expression, is through intensive and multi-disciplinary study; through acquisition of tools and amassing of knowledge. A person who does this, fulfills the king's command, and will obviously be rewarded. A person who fails to do this, violates the king's command, and will certainly be punished accordingly.

But here we find the turning point in the story. Suddenly the second man comes to a decision, and at this moment of decision he paints his entire section of the palace with a brilliant black ointment, effectively making the walls into mirrors.

What is the significance of this act on the part of the artist? Should we regard this as a cheap, desperate trick? An attempt to escape the terrible fate that awaits him? It seems not, as the significance of shiny blackness and mirrors in R. Nachman's other writings suggest otherwise.

The color black and mirrors are R. Nachman's expressions of a psychological condition. Another example of this imagery is found in R. Nachman's description of the psychological state required of a disciple who stands before his teacher:

The matter of receiving a great sage: The moon has no light of its own at all; it merely receives light from the sun. I.e., because the moon is like a polished mirror, it receives light from the sun, and light then emanates from it to shine upon the earth. But if the texture of the moon was thick and dark and unpolished, it would be unable to receive any light from the sun. And so it is with a disciple and his teacher: they are like the sun and the moon, as is explained elsewhere. And this is true specifically if the student has the appropriate expression, i.e., an "illuminated face," which is like the polished mirror described above. But if he lacks the proper expression, i.e. if he is like a "dark face," then he is unable to receive the illumination (of the teacher), like the sun and moon discussed above, and the teacher's illumination is certainly not reflected within him, just like one who stands before anything that is thick and dark (Likutei Moharan Kama 153).

The moon's ability to receive and to reflect the light of the sun is derived from its principal characteristic of having no light of its own at all. This is the characteristic of the 'sefira' of 'malkhut' (kingdom) and therefore it has the ability to encompass or contain everything.

So it is with a disciple who stands before his teacher: he must nullify himself and regard himself as being completely insignificant in order to receive the illumination of the tzaddik, his teacher.

We learn from this that R. Nachman attributes significant depth to the actions of the second artist. He demonstrates a certain psychological state with profound self-expression, representing far more than a cheap trick.

All of this pales completely in the last scene of the story. This is the climax, where we wait to discover whether the plan was successful or not.

With regard to the conclusion of the narrative it should be noted that this story is not a creation of R. Nachman's imagination. It was a popular contemporary fable from the East. But a comparison between the legend in its usual form and R. Nachman's story demonstrates that the latter fashioned the fable into a work of art, bearing R. Nachman's personal mark.

The majority of the plot is similar in both versions, with differing nuances and emphases, but in the last scene - which is the climax of the story - the two versions part ways.

The fable recounts how, when the king looked at the two creations and understood the lazy artist's trick, he took two sacks of gold and placed them on the floor next to the work of the conscientious artist. The lazy artist's mirror reflected the two sacks of gold, just as it reflected all of the work that his colleague had invested. Then the king turned to the first artist and told him that the sacks of gold would be his reward. Pointing to the reflection of the gold in the lazy man's section, the king added: "And that will be yours."

This conclusion is something of a "happy ending," for each artist receives the recompense he deserves, and the lazy artist falls, through the wisdom of the king, into the trap that he himself laid.

R. Nachman takes this fable and destroys its moral completely. For him, the lazy artist is not punished. The king does not prefer or reward the artist who invested so much time and effort in his work; rather, both of them please him equally. Upon reading R. Nachman's conclusion, we are left with a sense of injustice. But a more exacting study increases our puzzlement, and the injustice becomes an absurdity - a central theme in many of R. Nachman's stories. (Usually the situation of absurdity contains the whole point and moral of the story, as we shall see in this instance as well).

Moreover, all the precious vessels and ornaments that the king had installed in the palace were also reflected in the second section, and whatever he would wish to add in the future would also be reflected there. And the king was exceedingly pleased.

This excerpt suggests that not only did the king accept the second artist's "work"; he even preferred it to the artistry of the first section of the palace. Its advantage lay in the fact that, as a mirror, it could contain even those images that would be placed before it only in the future.

Here R. Nachman undermines not only our sense of justice, but also our perception of art. He reveals to us the nakedness of art for its own sake. No matter how great the artist, he can only reflect in his work a given moment as it is reflected in his subjective consciousness. He may enlist in terms of both his work tools and the themes that he chooses to reflect, everything that has been achieved throughout the history of human culture, and yet, all of this will not stand up to the test of the next moment, which has not yet arrived.

Not so the mirror. An elderly person who stands before a portrait of himself as a young, strapping man looks with pain - or perhaps cynicism - at the attempt to present that image in real colors. It is an image that exists now only in memory; it contains nothing of the present reality.

But when he stands before his old mirror - the mirror that never pretended to express any message of its own, that never attempted to define or eternalize the person standing before it - he discovers its eternal loyalty to him.

The painting that hangs framed on the wall may remain there forever, whether the man is alive or dead, but its relevance ceased the moment that it was completed. The image in the mirror, in contrast, is completely dependent on him, the subject. If he is not there, neither is the image. And so long as he is there, it will show him as he is at that moment.

The value of all the cultural creations described previously - those creations that contain within them such a great wealth of knowledge and talent - becomes their liability. This is because their very significance is that they project the tools for their evaluation in the direction of the artist's knowledge and talent. Knowledge and talent, as great as they may be, are limited to the historical time and place in which they are located.

The dynamic nature of reality lends an impermanence to all of human knowledge and crowns any scientific or artistic statement that will ever be made with skepticism. A complete internalization of this fact makes all scientific endeavor insignificant. But this lack of significance, the vacuum that is created, is immediately filled. A person does not cease, as a result of this fact, to address reality. The interaction exists, but in a totally different sense. A person seeks to absorb and receive. Without tools, without boundaries, without conventions. Simply to absorb reality. To absorb the revelation of God in the world, the perfect, infinite wisdom of reality.

The attempt to define and eternalize our understanding, to nullify our complete dependence on His bounty by turning it into one's personal acquisition and property, chains man to limited tools. Thus he of necessity limits his own acheivements.

We previously described the King's appeal to man as a request that he leave his mark on the world. Now the appeal appears in a different light altogether. It is in fact the second artist, having decided on his course of action, who has truly understood the king's request. Man's basic desire to leave his mark on the world, to understand it and to eternalize this understanding, is a "one-size-fits-all" container into which all of reality is dumped.

The mirror represents reception of reality, just like the picture, but a reception in which man succeeds in nullifying himself. It is not achieved by means of man's limited tools, but rather a transparent glass in which man forgets about himself, his ability, his tools, and makes himself a perfect vessel for reception.

This is the understanding achieved by the second artist after having experienced despair. When he understands that in the reality in which he finds himself the regular tools will not help him, he is at first gripped with skepticism and despair. But thereafter he makes his decision. Having put his mind at ease he adopts a different stance and a new perception of the world, and this brings him to the psychological state that gives rise to the illuminating mirror - the most astounding creation in the world.

In the following teaching, R. Nachman appears to refer (perhaps even consciously) to the story we have studied above:

            "This is the meaning of the Gemara (Bava Batra 16b), 'Avraham had a daughter and her name was "bakol."' "Daughter" (bat) refers to the "daughter of the eye" (bat ayin), i.e., the black pupil of the eye, which is the blackness discussed above, limiting and bounding and including within itself all the great things that stand before it. For instance, if a great mountain stands before the pupil of an eye - the black part of the eye - then the whole mountain is encompassed within that pupil that sees it. For the blackness that is in the eye limits all the great things that are encompassed and seen by it, and in this way one sees and perceives the thing that one is looking at. Likewise, the lower intelligence limits and bounds the great Superior Intelligence and includes it within itself, and by means of this one sees and understands and grasps the great Superior Intelligence. And this is the meaning of the pasuk (Shemot 3), "And Hashem appeared to him in a flame of fire." Hashem wanted to endow him with Divine perception, and so He endowed him through the pupil of his eye, as explained above. This is also the significance of the teaching in the Gemara (Bava Batra 141):

"(Giving birth to) a daughter first is a good omen for (giving birth to) sons." 'A daughter first' refers to the lower intellect, which comes first (in our experience), prior to the upper intellect. And 'a good omen for sons' - 'sons' alludes to the upper intellect. As our Sages, of blessed memory, taught (Menachot 110): "'Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth': 'bring my sons' refers to the exiles of Babylon, whose mind was at ease, like sons. 'Daughters' refers to the exiles in the other countries, whose mind is not at ease, like daughters." Thus we find that 'sons' alludes to a mind that is at ease; it alludes to the upper and great intellect discussed above, which is grasped through its predecessor - the lower intellect. And therefore 'A daughter first,' referring to the lower intellect, 'is a good omen for sons' - for through it one may grasp the upper intellect. And this is the meaning of 'a good omen' - that the upper intellect is marked and enclosed therein, as in "The measure of the letters of the Torah" and "I am black but - pleasant...," as we have explained." (Likutei Moharan Kama 30, 3)

The blackness of the eye is a wonder. Although it is so tiny, it can reflect within itself even a great mountain. It has a unique property that gives it the ability to absorb things that are much greater than itself. This wondrous phenomenon of much light entering into a small vessel can take place only in the blackness of the eye - the black, which reflects self-nullification, humility and limitation. ("For the eyes are like a polished mirror; everything that stands before them is seen within them" (Likutei Moharan Kama 13, 4).

This grasp - the fact that the lower intelligence can suddenly contain within itself the Superior Intelligence that is much greater than itself - can come only after the mind is at ease, as R. Nachman teaches here, and as we have seen in the case of the second artist.

As mentioned, self-nullification - the trait of 'malkhut' (kingship), which possesses nothing of itself - bestows the ability not only to absorb things that are greater than oneself and one's grasp, as we have seen in the previous shiurim.  Above and beyond that, it brings man to a level that is beyond space and time, a level that has the power to contain all of reality from beginning to end: "And whatever he would wish to add in the future would also be reflected there. And the king was exceedingly pleased."

Jewcology: Year of Action

Received via e-mail from Canfei Nesharim & Jewcology:

Welcome to the Year of Action! Following up on our Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment, this year we will be focusing on actions to save energy and reduce food waste, practical actions called for by the Jewish mitzvah of bal tashchit

Together, we can make a difference! New actions will be posted during the course of the year. Simply go to your Savings page to take actions now.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rav Itamar Eldar: Simplicity (Part 2)


This three-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

Simplicity (Part 2)

In the previous shiur, based on the first part of the story of "The Clever Man and the Simpleton," we focused on R. Nachman's view of intelligence and simplicity. We related these concepts to a person's status vis-a-vis the world and his daily life.  The continuation of the story introduces another aspect, which is interwoven between these two.  The story continues as follows:

It once happened that the king came upon the royal chronicles and discovered that two sons were recorded, one named "clever" and the other named "simple." It was astonishing in his eyes that these two individuals were known as "clever" and "simple," and the king desired to see them.

The King thought to himself, "If I suddenly send for them and ask them to come before me, they will be very afraid.  The clever man will not be able to think properly, and the simpleton may lose his mind altogether for fright." So the king decided to send for the clever man by the agency of another clever man, and to send for the simpleton by the agency of another simpleton.  But how could he find a simpleton in the royal capital, since the inhabitants of a royal capital are for the most part intelligent? As it so happened, the keeper of the treasury was a simple man. No-one wanted someone too clever to be the keeper of the treasury lest, through his cleverness and intelligence, he spend the kingdom's assets; thus, this simple man had specifically been selected.

The king called for a clever man and for the simple keeper of the treasury, and sent them off to the two sons, respectively, giving each of them a letter of appointment.  He also gave them a letter for the governor of the region, explaining that these two sons were under his rulership and asking that the governor send them each a letter in the king's name, so that they would not be frightened. The king asked the governor also to write that this was not an official summons; rather, it was up to them to decide whether or not they wished to come.  If they so wished, then they should come, since the king desired to see them. 

The two messengers - the clever one and the simple one - set off; they reached the governor and gave him the letter.  The governor asked about the two sons, and they told him that the clever one was an exceptionally intelligent and very wealthy man, while the simpleton was extremely simple and owned just one cloak, (as we mentioned).  The governor decided that it would certainly not be appropriate for the simpleton to be brought before the king dressed in his shabby cloak, so he had suitable clothes made for him, and he placed them in the simpleton's wagon. Then he gave the letters to messengers, and the messengers traveled and reached their destinations.  They handed over their respective letters - the clever messenger to the clever man and the simple messenger to the simpleton.  The simpleton, upon receiving his letter, immediately said to the simple messenger who had brought it "I do not know what is written here; please read it for me."

The messenger replied, "I will tell you what the letter is about: the king wants you to come before him."
The simpleton begged, "Please, no foolishness!"
He replied, "This is really the truth, with no foolishness."

The simpleton was filled with joy, and ran to tell his wife.

Wife, the king has sent for me!"

She asked him, "For what reason?"

He had not even the time to answer her; in his great joy he hurried to set off immediately with the messenger.  He got into the wagon and sat down, and found the clothes that had been placed there.  His joy increased even more. 

Meanwhile, rumors were circulating that the governor was corrupt, and the king decided to replace him.  The king felt it would be better if the governor was a simple man, since such a person would govern in truth and uprightness, and lack guile and trickery.  And so the king commanded that the simpleton for whom he had sent be made the governor, and he sent orders to this effect.  The simpleton would travel via the governor's city: the guards would await his arrival and as soon as he reached the city he was to be detained and told that he had been appointed governor.  And so it was.  They waited at the city gates and as soon as he arrived, they stopped him and told him that he had been appointed governor. 

He pleaded, "Please - no foolishness!"

They answered, "Certainly - no foolishness."

And so the simpleton was made governor on the spot, with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance.  Now, his luck had begun to increase, and since luck makes one wise, he began gaining some understanding.  Nevertheless, he made no use of his cleverness. He simply governed in all his customary innocence and administered the area with wholehearted truth and uprightness; no corruption was found in him.  After all, the administration of a county does not require any great intelligence or cleverness; it requires uprightness and wholeheartedness.  When two people came before him for judgment, he would say, "You are innocent, and you are guilty," in accordance with his wholeheartedness, with no guile or deceit, and so he conducted everything in truth.  And the citizens of the county loved him greatly. 

He had advisors who loved him, and it was out of love that one of them counseled him as follows: "It is inevitable that you will be summoned before the king - after all, he has already sent for you once, and in any case it is normal for a governor to come before the king. Therefore, despite the fact that you are entirely proper and there is no corruption whatsoever in your handling of the county, nevertheless, it is the manner of the king that when he speaks, his words are inclined in a certain way: he speaks of all kinds of wisdoms and in other languages. Therefore, it is proper and polite that you be able to answer him.  Therefore, allow me to teach you wisdoms and languages."

This advice was acceptable to the simpleton, who replied: "What do I care if I learn wisdoms and languages?!"

Immediately after acquiring such knowledge, it occurred to him that his clever friend had once told him that he would never be able, under any circumstances, to exceed his clever friend's intelligence. Now he had already achieved such cleverness (although, despite the fact that he had learned wisdoms, he made no use of them at all, but rather continued to run everything with his customary innocence.)

Some time later the king sent for the simpleton, now the governor, and he went to him.  At first, the king spoke to him about his administration of the county, and the king was very pleased with what he heard, for it was clear that he governed with uprightness and great truth, with no corruption and deceit.  Thereafter, the king spoke of wisdoms and in other tongues. The simpleton answered him appropriately, and the king was pleased with this, too, saying: "I see that he is so clever, but nevertheless he governs with such uprightness!" And so the king was exceedingly satisfied, and he appointed the simpleton over all his ministers.  He selected a special palace for him, where he would live, and commanded that beautiful and grand walls be built around the palace. The king then gave him his appointment as minister in writing.  And so it was: they built him quarters where the king had commanded and he received great honor.

When the clever man received the king's letter, he said to the clever messenger who had delivered it: "Stay over here tonight, and we shall talk and decide." That evening he prepared a great feast for him.  During the feast, the clever man thought with great intelligence and philosophy, and said:

What is this, that such a king should send for such a lowly person as myself - who am I, that the king should send for me?! The king has his kingdom and his greatness, while I am a lowly, despised being in comparison with such a great and awesome king - how can it be logical that such a king would send for such a lowly one as me? If he did so because of my wisdom - what am I in relation to the king? Has the king any lack of wise men? And the king himself must also be very clever, so how can it be that he would send for me?

It puzzled him very greatly.  And then the clever man said (i.e., the first clever man; the friend of the simpleton, for all of this is what that first clever man, the friend of the simpleton, said).  After being greatly puzzled and baffled, he answered his own question, and then said to the clever messenger:

"Listen to what I have to say.  I think it is obvious and clear that there is no king at all, and everyone is mistaken in this regard, for believing that there is a king.  Look and understand: how can it be that everyone subjects himself and dedicates himself to one person - the king? There is surely no king in the world at all.

The clever messenger replied, "But did I not bring you a letter from the king?"

The first clever man answered him with a question: "Did you personally receive the letter from the hand of the king himself?"

The messenger replied, "No.  Another person gave me the letter in the name of the king."

He answered, "So you can see for yourself that what I am saying is true: there is no king."

Then he questioned further: "Tell me - are you not from the capital city? Did you not grow up there? Tell me - have you ever seen the king?"

The messenger answered, "No." (For this was true; not everyone managed to see the king, for the king showed himself in public only on very rare occasions.)

The first clever man said, "Now it is clear that what I say is true, that there is no king - you yourself even admit that you have never seen him."

The messenger asked, "Then who runs the country?"

The clever man answered, "I will tell you.  It is good that you have asked me, for I am an expert in this since I have visited many countries.  I was once in Italy, and the practice there is to have seventy advisory ministers. They ascend and rule the country for a certain period, and all the citizens of the country have a chance to hold this position, one after the other."

His words began to make an impression on the wise messenger, and eventually they were in complete agreement that there was no king in the world at all.

The clever man spoke once again: "Stay until morning; I will continue to demonstrate proof after proof that there is no king at all."

The clever man arose early in the morning (we refer here to the clever man who was the friend of the simpleton; we always refer to him as the clever man) and woke up his friend, the clever messenger. 

He said to him, "Come with me outside; I will demonstrate to you how the whole world is mistaken, and that there is truly no king at all, and everyone is making a big mistake."

They went to the marketplace and saw a soldier. They stopped him and asked, "Whom do you serve?"
He answered, "The king."

"Have you ever seen the king?"
"No."

The clever man exclaimed, "See, have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?!"

They went on to another soldier and began talking to him, until eventually they asked, "Whom do you serve?"

"The king."

"Have you ever seen the king?"

"No."

The clever man remarked, "See for yourself, it is clear that everyone is mistaken, and there is no king in the world at all."

They all agreed that there was truly no king at all.  The clever man spoke again: "Let us go and travel about the world, and I will demonstrate further how the whole world is greatly mistaken."

They traveled around the world, and wherever they went they found everyone mistaken.  And this saying, that there was no king, became a parable between them, and wherever they went they mentioned the king as a parable: "Just as it is true that there is a king, so this is true." They traveled on and on until their means ran out, and they began to sell their horses one after the other until they were all sold and they were forced to travel by foot.  And still they would study the world and find that everyone was mistaken.  They became wandering paupers, and their importance was gone, and they were not held in esteem for no-one paid them any attention, for they were regular paupers....

In the above section of the story, R. Nachman has introduced a new character - the king.  As in most - if not all - of R. Nachman's stories, the "king" here represents the King of the Universe. With the king's appearance, the focus of the story changes.  From here onwards, the principal relationship is not between man and the world, man and society or even man and life, but rather between man and God.

The section opens with the king paging through the royal chronicles, where mention is made of each individual citizen.  In the wake of his review, the king decides to call upon the clever man and the simpleton. 

In these two sentences alone, R. Nachman opens a front which, as the story develops, will become more and more openly an attack on philosophy.

God addresses man and calls on him to come to Him.  Moreover, God "desires to see him" - but He does not force him; He gives man free choice: "[T]his was not an official summons; rather, it was up to them to decide whether or not they wished to come."

The idea of God's interest in man and His desire for man's closeness stands in direct contrast to the "God of Aristotle" as expressed by many different philosophers.  We shall quote here the philosopher in Sefer HaKuzari:

And truly, God is elevated - according to the philosophers - beyond knowledge of details (individuals), for details change from one moment to the next, while there can be no change in the knowledge of God.  Thus God cannot know you, and He certainly cannot know your intentions and deeds, and obviously cannot hear your prayers nor see your movements. (Kuzari, Section I:1).

For R. Nachman, however, the foundation of the world, its basis and its point of departure are God's desire to reveal Himself to man and to rule over him.  In the words of the prophet Yishayahu:

For so says the high and lofty One who dwells in eternity and whose name is Holy: I dwell on high and in a holy place, but with him that is of downtrodden and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the downtrodden. (57:15)

This is the starting position of a religious person, and without this view it one cannot take even a step into the infinite abyss between him and God.  It is the basic assumption without which man immediately plunges into the depths of this abyss - as happens to the clever man in the story.

R. Nachman does not deny a certain degree of absurdity in God's appeal to man, and even more so in His "need" for him. Recognition that the situation is illogical finds expression in the simpleton's response to the messenger: "Please, no foolishness." He has learned from bitter experience, time after time when people have fooled him and misled him.  His innocence has been exploited over and over, and therefore he asks of the messenger, as is his custom, that he not engage him in foolishness.  As we saw in the first part of the story, the simpleton is aware of the fact that people deliberately mislead him, but in his innocence he cannot remain critical once he requests to not be mislead. When the person before him insists that his words are true, the simpleton accepts them - and falls into the trap, time after time.

This fault, which until now was a liability, now works to his advantage.  For this time, too, the simpleton suffices with his standard request, and when the messenger continues to press his message, he accepts it without question.

And so, quite absurdly, the innocence that normally would prevent the simpleton from understanding, and from absorbing and processing reality; cutting him off from what is going on around him, actually allows him to accept something completely unintelligible, the greatest absurdity that can be imagined - the great king's appeal to a lowly individual.  This idea is expressed elsewhere in R. Nachman's writings:

It is preferable to be a simple fool, believing every thing - i.e., believing even nonsense and lies - in order to believe also the truth, than to be clever and to deny everything, heaven forbid - i.e., to deny nonsense and lies.  For by means of this latter trait everything becomes foolishness in one's eyes, and he denies even the truth, heaven forbid.  'I would rather be called a fool all my life and not be considered wicked even for one hour before God' (Eduyot 5:6). (Sichot HaRan 103)

R. Nachman's recommendation that a person be "a simple fool, believing everything" in order that he also believe in the truth, is not coincidental.  Faith in the truth, as we have seen above, is difficult, even absurd, and a great degree of innocence - even simplicity - is the only way to attain it.

The price of the lack of innocence - cleverness - is, in R. Nachman's eyes, unbearable.  The significance of this price is expressed in relation to the clever man.

The clever man, too, upon hearing the messenger's words, points out the absurdity of the mighty and elevated king's appeal to a small and lowly individual.  But before he even begins to grapple with this question, which draws him into a sea of doubts, R. Nachman presents the clever man's first problem, procrastination: "Stay over here tonight, and we shall talk and decide."

The clever man does not give an immediate answer.  Decisions such as these require due consideration.  He invites the messenger to a great feast, during the course of which he will be able to decide.

Procrastination as a significant obstacle to Divine service is found almost universally in chassidic works.  We shall quote a famous excerpt by R. Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin in this regard:

The beginning of a person's entry into service of God must be in haste, as we find in the Pesach sacrifice celebrated in Egypt, which was consumed in haste, as opposed to the Pesach established for all future generations.  Because in the beginning, in order to cut oneself off from all the desires of this world to which he is bound, he must preserve the moment when God's will arises in him, and to grab that moment and hurry to escape their clutches (his earthly desires), for perhaps he will succeed.  And thereafter he can once again conduct himself temperately and at ease, as is the way of Pesach for all future generations. (Tzidkat HaTzaddik, 1)

R. Tzadok maintains that haste is required at the beginning of a person's path in serving God. For awakening the desire to serve Him is rare and fleeting, while one is immersed in the material world and its temptations, and in the routine of daily life. If one passes up the moment to shake off the dust that clings to him, the desire for spirituality will most likely slip away, leaving him immersed in his materialistic swamp.  The force pulling a person downwards is constant, so that in order to overcome this force a sudden spiritual energy is needed.  Therefore temperance and gradual progress will not help.

R. Nachman elucidates the danger of procrastination on a deeper level.  Grabbing in haste involves "unthinkingness," concerning which we learn: "Three things come through unthinkingness, and these are they: mashiach, finding what is lost, and the scorpion" (Sanhedrin 97a).  Unthinkingness is a moment when the mind is "switched off." It is clear why the scorpion's sting comes at such a moment, for the scorpion waits for a moment when a person's defenses are down.  The phenomenon of finding a lost article in a moment of inattention likewise cannot be denied: children often complain that no matter how many times they have looked for something it is inevitably found by someone who wasn't looking for it at all.  But why is mashiach, the coming of redemption, also dependent on unthinkingness?

R. Nachman would perhaps explain this teaching according to his own interpretation.  Unthinkingness is a moment in which the channels leading to a person's consciousness are burst open for that moment.  The sword of the tree of knowledge stops guarding the entrance to his mind, weighing and examining every piece of information, impression and revelation that reaches him on a scale of logic.  This is the moment when a person can digest even things that are not logical.  Even recognition of things that would not pass the test of his knowledge at that moment.  The skepticism that accompanies those who have consumed the fruit of the tree of knowledge is asleep and off guard.  At that moment everything is burst open and accessible.

Unthinkingness, clouding of the senses and blurring of definitions are a nightmare for the thinker.  These are moments of loss of control, and an educated person runs from such situations with all his strength.

This is also the fear of the clever man in the story.  Haste is appropriate to a fool, since time for consideration in any case will not give him the advantage of better judgment.  But the clever man wishes to wait, and with his delay come doubts.

The most basic doubt that gnaws at a person is, as we have said, both the root of faith and the root of heresy: the assumption that God is interested in and desires an encounter with man.  When the clever man refuses to accept this assumption - and, as we have said, logic indeed rejects such an idea - the way is paved to skepticism, ultimately leading to denial of the very existence of the king.  And here, again, attention should be paid to the details of the story.

The clever man's justified question should place the onus of proof on the messenger: "It is not logical that the king would wish to see me specifically, and therefore you, the messenger who claims so, are lying." But the clever man does not stop there - in fact, he skips this stage altogether.  The first doubt leads directly to the final and ultimate doubt - denial of the very existence of the king.

R. Nachman may be teaching us here that one doubt leads to another, but based on some of his other writings a deeper idea may be hidden here.

Denial of God's revelation to man, in  R. Nachman's view, is tantamount to denial of His existence altogether.  A God who has no connection with the world, whose whole existence is "for the record" only, as the primal cause of the chain of existence, has no relevance for man.  And if He has no relevance for man then He does not exist for him.  Why should a person believe in something that has no relevance for him? And so the conclusion is that the world has no King at all.  This is the philosopher's claim, and from this point of view religion is perceived as the "opium of the masses." The masses need a banner, a figurehead, an image that they themselves have formed in order that they will have something to serve, something to live for and something for which to sacrifice.  But in truth He does not exist.

But, as we learn in the story, such skepticism also requires certain supports.  The clever man reaches his conclusion while still sitting at the table with the messenger, but from that moment onwards he is compelled to prove his conclusion at any price - not just his revelation concerning the king, but all the errors to which human beings are subject.  This absurd wish, which leads him eventually to penury, is described by R. Nachman in one of his teachings:

"Know that there are some wicked people who toil and endeavor all their lives to remove themselves completely from God and His Torah, for the holy spark of the holiness of Israel that is still within them, although they are completely wicked, confuses them and arouses within them thoughts of teshuva and fear of the great judgment.  Because of this they have no pleasure from their sins and their desires.  And so they aspire and toil to achieve complete heresy in their minds, heaven forbid, such that they will have no more doubts to incline them towards the truth.  But this requires a very great amount of work, and several years, for the Divine spark within them gives them no rest and confuses them constantly." (Likutei Moharan Kama 274).

In these words R. Nachman turns the cards and reveals an astounding truth.  The clever man's absurd search, his stubborn wish to prove to himself and to his friend that the whole world is laboring under a misconception, and the brazenness that appears to us as intentional wickedness and stubbornness, arise specifically from the Godly, believing internal spark that gives no rest to the heretic.  The studious philosopher who wishes to anchor and strengthen his heresy is actually conducting a war against his internal Godly spark, which constantly disturbs him.

In our previous shiur we described the restlessness of the clever man in his desire to learn more and more; a tragic unease that turns him into a wanderer with no home and no permanence.  Here R. Nachman presents the philosophizing clever man's restlessness in relation to his theological views.  The philosopher, to R. Nachman's view, is engaged throughout his life in contradiction rather than in positive construction.  This is not a question of motivation.  As we have mentioned, R. Nachman himself admits that the whole world is full of absurdity, contradiction and doubts, from the tiniest particle to God Himself.  A person who chooses the path of rationalism, and who seeks thereby to encounter and solve the great questions of the world, will find himself mired in these doubts all his life:

Sometimes a person falls into such doubts and contradictions that it is completely impossible for him to know how in truth he should act, and the more he tries to find proper guidance the more confused he becomes.  For no sooner does he decide that it is clear that he should act in such and such a way, then a different reasoning arises in his mind, such that his first decision is totally negated, and proofs arise in his mind that he should act in precisely the opposite way to what he thought originally, and this is what is referred to by the "contradictions" mentioned above.  And sometimes such contradictions become so strong that he has no idea at all how to decide one way or the other.  When a person sees in himself that he has foundered in the dark for a long time and has no idea how to get out of what he needs to get out of, and his thoughts are greatly divided, heaven forbid, then this itself is his correction - that he should cry out over this very situation to God, that he has fallen so low that he no longer has any clear guidance as to how to leave the darkness for the light. (Etzot Yesharot, Etzah 4).

A person who chooses to address the questions of the world, clarify the truth, and find the errors of all the world and of all people, will sink in these doubts with no ability to raise himself up - just as the clever man is mired in mud at the end of the story.

How is one to extricate himself from this mud? There is no logical solution or rational explanation.  A person must cry out to God.  He must break the cycle of the intellect, strike it with a stick as one strikes a madman (Likutei Moharan Kama 1), and seek a totally different channel.  Knowledge of God, teaches R. Nachman, is not given to man through logical and intellectual proofs, for no end of doubts can challenge these.  Knowledge of the Creator is achieved by throwing logic aside, through innocence - even simplemindedness - which may appear to lower man's human potential, but it is in this lowly place God addresses man, and man, in this lowly place, is capable of listening: "I dwell on high and in a holy place, but with him that is of downtrodden and humble spirit."