Based on Likutey Moharan I, 277
Sections 1 and 2 (beg.) (bold type)
Translated and annotated by Dovid Sears (bold guesswork, regular type)
With the help of the Breslov Research Institute edition of Likutey Moharan (Vol. XI)
This is the fifth posting in a recent series on peace. The previous postings, based on Likutey Moharan I, 14, discussed the cultivation of inner peace and how this fosters universal peace. The present teaching addresses the actual conflict situation.
Nonviolent Resistance (And Maybe Even Assistance)
[The Rebbe begins this lesson:]
Know! When a person encounters opposition, he should not take a stand against his enemies, saying, “Whatever he does against me, I will do against him.” For this causes that his enemy accomplishes what he seeks—to see happen to him what he wants to see happen to him, G-d forbid.
The Rebbe is intriguingly vague about the nature of what the enemy “wants to see happen to him (lir’os bo)”—or literally, “in him (bo).” He doesn’t mention “defeat” or “victory” or “destruction.” This suggests that there may be a deeper meaning than the enemy simply trying to defeat the person he attacks. What is it that he wants “to see happen to him” or “in him?”
On the contrary, it is proper to judge them according to the scale of merit [in keeping with the Mishnah (Avos 1:6), “Judge everyone according to the scale of merit”] and to do them every favor, in an aspect of “let my soul be like dust to everyone.” [This is part of the prayer of Mar, son of Ravina, cited in the Gemara (Berakhos 17a). It is also part of the daily prayer service, in the paragraph following the Shemoneh Esreh.] [One who does so is] like the ground upon which everyone treads, yet [in return] she gives them all good things: food, drink, gold, silver and precious gems, all of which comes from the dust. Similarly, even though they oppose him and seek his harm, he nevertheless should do [the enemy] every good, like the earth, as mentioned above.
This is analogous to the case of a person who digs under his neighbor’s house. [The Rebbe uses the word “chaver,” which can also mean a comrade, friend, or colleague. This suggests that the conflict is between an “enemy” and a “friend”; the hatred is only “one way.”] If [the person in the house] takes a stand and likewise digs in the direction opposite [that of the aggressor], then certainly the [first] digger will easily accomplish what he seeks.
However, when one person digs and his neighbor remains inside [his house], pouring dirt and making a mound against [the digger], he reverses the other’s plan, and the enemy is unable to accomplish his purpose.
Similarly, one should not take a stand against his enemies by responding to them in kind. This is comparable to digging just like the enemy, which would make it easier for [the enemy] to achieve his goal. However, through the paradigm of dust, as in “let my soul be like dust,” one reverses his enemy’s plan. Then, “he who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)—because he falls and remains in the pit that he dug for his neighbor, due to the dirt that was poured on it. For [the aggressor’s] neighbor stands there pouring earth against him by virtue of the aspect of “let my soul be like dust,” as stated above.
On the face of it, this sounds like the victim of aggression is acting kindly as a self-serving strategy, not out of genuine compassion for his benighted enemy, due to the latter’s hidden “good points” (as in Likutey Moharan 282, “Azamra”); or in order to turn the “bad energy” of the conflict situation around to the positive (as in Avos di-Rabbi Noson, cited below). However, I suspect that if we can understand what the Rebbe means by “what the enemy wants to see happen to him” or “in him,” this will give a fresh perspective on the nature of the aggressor’s fall “into his own pit.”
[Section 2 begins:]
And all this is when his opponents are evil people. However, when the opponents are tzaddikim, surely their intention is only for the good; in this way, they elevate and pick him up, and they mitigate [heavenly] judgments against him. [This case] is like a person who is digging under his neighbor and tosses him a nice gift.
That “gift” would be the hamtakas ha-dinim, the “sweetening” of heavenly judgments against the tzaddik who is the object of the seeming antagonism of other tzaddikim. Those dinim may have been incurred by some slight errors or human flaws on the part of that first tzaddik; or because he accepted upon himself the punishment incurred by the sins of those he seeks to elevate and bring closer to Hashem; or because he is about to ascend to a higher level. (There is a kabbalistic principle that before a soul may ascend to a higher level, that soul is judged anew.) In Torah 64 (which we will mention again below), conflict between the tzaddikim is actually for the benefit of creation. Whatever the reason, the intention behind the opposition of one or more tzaddikim to another tzaddik is only for the latter’s benefit. They present him this “gift” of sweetening heaven’s judgements out of the goodness of their hearts.
We find something like this [in the Gemara] concerning tzedakah (charity)—that many Tannaim tossed their tzedakah [into the premises of the needy] in secrecy, so that the receiver would not know [the identity of the benefactor] (Kesuvos 67b). So it is with the dispute of the tzaddikim, which is how they benefit him in a secret and hidden way. [End of excerpt.]
I’d like to offer a few speculations about the meaning of this teaching. These are just my own thoughts, and there are surely other ways of understanding the Rebbe’s words. I may be entirely mistaken. But the Rebbe encouraged us to plumb the depths of his teachings, even though our understanding would inevitably be imperfect. (As the Rebbe once said, “Interpret my teachings any way you like, but don’t change se’if katan [sub-section] in the Shulchan Arukh!” Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. II, 1-131).
From a kabbalistic perspective, the root of all conflict is suggested by the language of the Arizal in his description of creation (Eytz Chaim, beginning; the Rebbe also cites this description in the first paragraph of Torah 64): When Hashem desired to create the universe, He constricted the Infinite Light “to the sides” from a central point, leaving a “Vacated Space” (“Chalal ha-Panui”). This constriction “to the sides” alludes to the eventual emergence of the dualistic nature of creation. “Zeh le-umas zeh asah Elokim … God created one thing opposite another” (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Thus, we experience a world of opposites: darkness and light, night and day, hot and cold, active and passive, giving and taking, self and other, good and evil, etc.
When a person encounters opposition, he should not take a stand against his enemies, saying, “Whatever he does against me, I will do against him.” For this causes that his enemy accomplishes what he seeks—to see happen to him what he wants to see happen to him, G-d forbid, G-d forbid.
What does the enemy, which is the Sitra Achara (“Other Side”) wish to see happen? That the other should lose the perception of unity and fall into a mentality of separation and duality, “us against them.”
The Rebbe’s solution is to turn this divisive, oppositional energy around completely—as his example demonstrates. The enemy digs a tunnel under the first person’s house, either to “undermine” the latter’s “shalom bayis (domestic peace),” as in Torah 14; or to disturb his “bayis,” in the sense of his consciousness of Godliness, as in Torah 10. The solution is to fill the “ditch,” i.e., the rift between them, with “dirt”—meaning humility, nullification of ego and gratuitous kindness.
This reminds us of the saying, “Don’t fight fire with fire, fight fire with water!” But that would mix our metaphors. The Rebbe uses the symbol of dust for a specific reason: “let my soul be like dust to everyone,” as mentioned above in the lesson. The dust of the earth has both properties of abject humility and selfless generosity, in that the earth sustains life.
Healing too comes from the lowly element of earth, for the mystery of Divine life is inherent there. (The Rebbe discusses healing at greater length in the same lesson.) By contrast, pride is linked to mortality. Thus, the Gemara depicts Hashem saying of a proud man, “He and I cannot dwell together” (Arakhin 15b; see Otzar ha-Yirah, “Emes va-Tzedek,” in the section “Ga’avah vi-Anavah,” #12).
With this higher da’as, this sense of Divine unity, of one who doesn’t respond in kind, it is possible to turn the conflict situation around. As the verse declares, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21).
The Talmudic sages say even more: “Who is the mighty warrior? He who turns his enemy into a friend” (Avos de-Rabbi Nasan #23). The war is “won” by transmuting hostility into its opposite, friendship and unity.
The Rebbe adds: Then, “he who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)—because he falls and remains in the pit that he dug for his neighbor, due to the dirt that was poured on it.
That is, the harmful intention of the aggressor negates itself. All that is left is the abundant dirt of humility and kindness, which the enemy-turned-friend now shares.
However, when the opponents are tzaddikim, surely their intention is only for the good; in this way, they elevate and pick him up, and they mitigate [heavenly] judgments against him.
In Torah 56, the Rebbe discusses makhlokes le-shem Shamayim, “argument for the sake of Heaven.” Outwardly, this may look like conflict, but in reality it is peace; in fact, it is a higher peace than the simple peace of agreement. This is because—paradoxically—it includes opposite polarities of one truth. The classic Talmudic formula for this concept is the machlokes le-shem Shamayim between Shammai and Hillel, who generally represent the Divine middas ha-din (judgment) versus the middas ha-chesed (kindness). Therefore, the Rebbe points out (ibid., sec. 8), the name “Moshe”—who personifies the highest da’as (knowledge)—is an acronym for M”achlokes-SH”ammai-H”illel. That is, the highest knowledge is the unification of opposites.
Like the disputes between Shammai and Hillel, the conflicts between tzaddikim are also not what they may seem to be. The Rebbe states of the opposition of the tzaddikim that “their intention is only for the good.” But underlying this good intention is the principle that their apparent differences are just two sides of one truth—like the constriction (tzimtzum) of the Infinite Light to the “sides” in the Arizal’s description of creation. When viewed from within the Vacated Space, there seem to be “sides.” But if we could view everything from beyond the boundaries of the Vacated Space, we would see that there is only the unitary and absolutely simple Infinite Light which surrounds the Vacated Space. From that perspective, there are no sides. All is one.
So it is with the opposing views of the tzaddikim. Although they may appear to be logically contradictory (“either/or”), both are true—and “truth is one” (Likutey Moharan I, 51; ibid., 251).
After describing the nature of the conflict between tzaddikim, and calling such opposition a “gift” to the apparent victim, the Rebbe using the following example from the Gemara:
We find something like this concerning tzedakah (charity)—that many Tannaim tossed their tzedakah [into the premises of the needy] in secrecy, so that the receiver would not know [the identity of the benefactor] (Kesuvos 67b). So it is with the dispute of the tzaddikim, which is how they benefit him in a secret and hidden way.
What does this add? The enemy in the first type of conflict digs a tunnel, wishing to take away something from his victim. The intention of the tzaddik in the second type of conflict is only to give,which the Rebbe compares to an act of tzedakah. This suggests another spiritual lesson we can learn, beyond how to deal with strife. The two types of opposition represent the “desire to take (koach lekabel)” versus the “desire to give (koach lehashpi’a).” Our core challenge in life is to transform the self-centered “desire to take” into the “desire to give” (as the Baal ha-Sulam stresses throughout his works). For those who succeed in doing so, even what looks like opposition is purely an act of love.