Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Chicken-and-Egg Question Revisited - Part II

Based on Kitzur Likutey Moharan I, Lesson 27.
Translated, abridged and discussed by Dovid Sears
With help from the Breslov Research Institute English-Hebrew Kitzur Likutey Moharan.

This is the seventh posting in a series on peace.
Part I may be read here.

The previous section of the lesson mentioned the tradition that the laws of Shabbos were given before the Jewish people reached Mount Sinai, when they camped in a place called Marah, which means “bitter.”

Section 7 continues:
It was specifically in Marah that they received the “Shabbos of peace”—since it is the way of peace to be garbed in bitterness, as in [the verse], “Behold, for the sake of peace, I had great bitterness” (Isaiah 38:17). Just as all physical remedies come in the form of bitter medicines, so too peace, which is the cure for all things, as in “ ‘Peace, unto both those who are far and near,’ declares G-d, ‘and I will heal him’ ” (Isaiah 57:19); its way is to garb itself in bitterness.

Although it may be ironic that peace comes garbed in bitterness, this should encourage all those who pursue peace to know that they’re on the right track and to persevere.

[The reason for this is] because all diseases, may G-d spare us, stem from strife. There is a state of conflict between the body’s four basic elements, each one trying to overpower the other, and a person must see to it that they attain peace—which is the cure.

From this we see that both health and peace are primarily a matter of striking a balance between contending forces. As for the four elements, they seem to correspond to the four “humors” (maros), mentioned below in section 8 (see chart).

Similarly, spiritual sickness is a form of strife, in that there is conflict between the soul and the body, as it is written, “There is no peace in my bones because of my sin” (Psalms 38:4). [Here, too,] it is necessary to receive healing remedies through bitterness.

Sometimes, however, the disease is so severe that the patient cannot bear the bitterness of the treatments, so the doctors cease treating the patient and give up on him. In the same way, when a person’s sins—which are the maladies of the soul—greatly overpower him, may G-d save us, then he cannot endure the bitterness of the treatments, and the situation seems almost hopeless, G-d forbid. But G-d is full of mercy. And when He sees in a person that he wants to return to Him, may He be blessed, but lacks the ability to bear the bitterness of his medicines, G-d has mercy upon him and casts all of the person’s sins “over His shoulder,” so to speak, so that the person will not need to endure such acute bitterness in order to be healed. [Rather, he must endure] only as much as he can handle, as it states regarding King Hezekiah, peace be upon him, who praised the Holy One for this in the verse cited above, “Behold, for the sake of peace I had great bitterness … and You, God, have thrown all my sins over Your shoulder” (Isaiah 38:17).

We see from this that the “cause-and-effect” principle that reflects the Divine Attribute of justice is not inexorable, but that the Divine Attribute of mercy may lessen the suffering a person deserves. This is because mercy is the “highest” of the various Divine Attributes, as represented by the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu to invoke in prayer after the sin of the Golden Calf (see, for example, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero’s discussion of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in his Tomer Devorah, Chapter 1).

From this, each person will understand [the following advice] for himself—whoever wishes to take pity on his life and wants to return to G-d. For it usually happens that when a person makes the few steps to follow the paths of the virtuous and to come closer to G-d, many obstacles and hardships come upon him from all sides, each individual in own situation. Sometimes it may seem to him that it is impossible to bear such bitterness, sufferings and obstacles as these—and there are those who fell because of all this and then went away [from Judaism], may G-d save us.

In  Likutey Moharan II, 73, the Rebbe describes the challenges that a person may encounter on the path of teshuvah, and how one may reach the very heavenly gate of teshuvah only to find it locked. One must never give up, but persist until he succeeds. Similarly, see Likutey Moharan II, 48 (“The Rebbe’s Letter”).

However, one who truly wants [to return] must know and believe that all of the bitterness, suffering and obstacles that assail him come with great kindness. For according to the vast extent of his sins, he may need to endure even greater bitterness in order to be cured, far beyond his capacity to tolerate; [faced with this,] one could lose all hope, G-d forbid. However, G-d has compassion for him and does not send him bitterness and suffering beyond his power of endurance. Whatever bitterness one has, he surely can bear. For G-d does not send anyone bitterness and obstacles that are impossible to endure and overcome, even when according to that person’s deeds he deserves to suffer more.

This follows the principle of our sages, “The Holy One does not come with burdensome demands (bi-tirchos) to His creatures, but only comes [with demands] appropriate to a person’s ability” (Shemos Rabbah 34:1; somewhat similarly, see Avodah Zarah 3a: “The Holy One does not come with despotic demands (bi-trunya) to His creatures”).

Sec. 8:
The shalom that one needs to attain in one’s body involves the “four humors”; one must not overpower the other.

In kabbalistic teachings and in ancient medicine, there are four “humors” (maros) or bodily fluids: black, white, red and yellow. 

Shalom in one’s money means that “one person’s money should not come and devour another’s,” as our sages state (Kesuvos 66b).  And shalom in one’s Torah study means that it is free from troubling questions, which are forms of strife [see Likutey Moharan I, 20]. [When one attains these three types of peace], he will merit to fulfill the verse, “Yaakov came whole and intact (shalem) to the city of Shekhem” (Genesis 33:18). For through peace (shalom) there is an awakening of the paradigm of “to serve Him with a common accord (shekhem echad)” (Zephaniah 3:9, as mentioned in the first section of this lesson).      

Sec. 9
And this paradigm of bringing the entire world “to call upon G-d’s name” can be attained only through tikkun ha-bris (sexual purity). When a person observes that lustful thoughts are entering his mind, and he breaks his lust and removes his attention from them, this is his principle teshuvah, and this is his tikkun for any sexual misdeeds (p’gam ha-bris) that he may have committed in the past—whatever they may have been [see Likutey Moharan I, 26]. This is the paradigm of actual “teshuvas ha-mishkal[i.e., a form of penitence that matches the transgression, as if they were weighed against one another on a pair of scales]. Therefore, a person should not become disheartened if he sees that extremely evil and base thoughts assail him. To the contrary, this is precisely his means of tikkun and his teshuvah.

In Sichos ha-Ran 71, the Rebbe states that teshuvah entails returning to the same situation in which one sinned in the past and not repeating one’s mistake. This corresponds to the Gemara’s teaching in Yuma 86b; also see Mishneh Torah, Hil. Teshuvah 1:2; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Shaarey Kedushah II, Gate 8. The Rebbe also discusses teshuvas ha-mishkal in Sichos ha-Ran 102.

For when these thoughts occur to him and he overcomes them, precisely this brings about his tikkun and his teshuvah. With this, he brings forth “sparks of holiness” that fell through his sexual misdeeds, and then he merits tikkun ha-bris and the refinement of his wisdom and his voice. He merits [inner] peace—and through [peace] it is possible to draw the entire world to the service of G-d.

This concludes the version of the lesson in the Kitzur Likutey Moharan. In the last section of the original lesson, the Rebbe returns to the quote from the Gemara with which he began and interprets it according to the concepts presented in the body of the teaching:

The Wise Men of Athens asked, “A retzitza (chick) that dies in its shell—where does the ruach (spirit of life) leave?” He said to them, “Through where it entered” (Bekhoros 8b).

The Rebbe homiletically interprets retzitza to mean “broken” (ratzutz), as in Isaiah 36:6: “Behold you have depended upon the support of this broken reed … upon which a man will lean, and it will go into his palm and puncture it.” This represents idolatry and the nations that serve idols. The phrase “dies in its shell (Aramaic: bei’usei)” corresponds to prayer (ba’usa—a word-play). That is, instead of directing prayer to other gods, the nations of the world should call upon the name of the Creator of All.

“Where does the ruach exit?” means how can one attain tikkun ha-bris, rectification of sexuality, which is related to the spirit (ruach) of life? “Through where it entered.” That is, by experiencing the same immoral thoughts that led one to stumble in the past and now breaking those desires, instead of succumbing to them. Then one can come to Torah study, prayer, the voice of holy song, and so to peace. Thus, he will be able to bring all nations of the world to serve G-d with a common accord.

In the “Wild West,” a “peace-maker” was the nickname of a gun. By contrast, in the “Wild East” (Eastern Europe), Rebbe Nachman’s “peace-maker” is a tzaddik—one who personifies peace. This tzaddik has brought body and soul into harmony by having attained tikkun ha-bris. One who does so also attains: a “radiant face” and a “face of splendor,” which reflect his cleaving to the Torah and mastery of the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is interpreted (that is, he has mastered the “ins and outs” of the Torah); a holy voice of song and prayer; and inner peace, which corresponds to the “Shabbos of peace.” Thus, the tzaddik can bring peace to the world in fulfillment of the vision of the prophets that one day all nations will perceive Divinity and serve the Creator in harmony and unity. May it be speedily in our days.

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