Thursday, October 22, 2015

“Avraham Was One”

Hashmatah: Likutey Moharan Tinyana

The following teaching is not numbered, but was included by Reb Noson at the beginning of Likutey Moharan Part II (“Tinyana”), which he first published in 1811, the year after our teacher Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s passing. Thereafter, the two parts were published together. We do not know why Reb Noson decided not to include this teaching in the sequence of the lessons, but we may speculate that by placing it at the beginning of Part II, he saw it as a general directive to all who would embark upon the path of Divine service.

This translation and original commentary (based on traditional sources) were authored by Rabbi Chaim Kramer and Rabbi Moshe Mykoff, as edited by Rabbi Ozer Bergman, for the Breslov Research Institute (BRI) English edition of Likutey Moharan, Vol. XII, pp. 2-5. We are grateful to the publisher for allowing us to post excerpts from this and other BRI books.

“Avraham Was One”
“ Echad hayah Avraham (Avraham was one)” (Ezekiel 33:24).

Avraham worshipped God only because he was “one”—because he considered himself alone in the world. He paid no attention whatsoever to people who turned him away from God and hindered him, or his father or others who would interfere. Rather, it was as if he was the only one in the world. This is the meaning of “Avraham was one.”

And it is the same for anyone who wants to embark upon the service of God. The only way for him to get started is by thinking that other than himself, there is absolutely no one else in the world. He should pay no attention to anyone who would hinder him, such as his father and mother, or his father‑in‑law, and his wife and children, or the like; or to the obstacles that he has from other people who ridicule, instigate against or obstruct his service of God. He has to be unconcerned with them and pay them no mind. Rather, he should adopt an “Avraham was one” attitude—as if he is the only one in the world, as discussed above.


Avraham was one. During the reign of King Tzidkiyahu, with most of the Holy Land in ruins, God sent the prophet Yechezkel to rebuke the Jewish people (Radak). Although the Jews were guilty of the atrocities enumerated (loc. cit.), they nonetheless considered themselves deserving of the Land. The full verse reads: “The Word of God came to me, saying, ‘Son of Man, the inhabitants of these ruins in the Land of Israel speak, claiming, ‘Avraham was one, yet he was granted possession of the Land. We are many; the Land has [surely] been given to us as a heritage.”‘ Commenting on this verse, Rashi cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s explanation of the Jewish people’s reasoning: Avraham was given only one mitzvah, circumcision yet he inherited the Land; we, who have been charged with numerous commandments, certainly have been granted possession of the Land.

Avraham worshipped God only because he was one ... alone in the world. Rebbe Nachman reads the words “Avraham was one” as alluding to what it was that enabled Avraham to stand up against an entire world of idolaters and proclaim his belief in the one, true God. In the context of our lesson, “Avraham was one” teaches that the first patriarch of the Jews saw himself as though he were alone in the world, as the Rebbe explains next.

Not his father or anyone else.... The Midrash teaches that Avraham’s father, Terach, was an idolater. After Avraham destroyed his father’s statues, Terach turned his son over to the ruler of the land, Nimrod, who had Avraham thrown into the furnace at Ur Kasdim for refusing to worship idolatry (Bereishit Rabbah 38:13). Despite great adversity, even the threat of death, Avraham was not swayed by those who sought to deter him from serving God. Rebbe Nachman explains that Avraham succeeded in overcoming all opposition because he paid no mind to everyone else—i.e., for him, it was as if these obstacles did not exist. It made no difference what got in his way; neither Terach’s power over Avraham as his father, nor Nimrod’s power over Avraham as the preeminent ruler of the region, could force him to be untrue to his belief.

And it is the same for anyone ... as discussed above. Rebbe Nachman now applies his teaching about “Avraham was one” to all those who desire to serve God and come closer to Him. Such a person must pay no heed to anyone who seeks to undermine his determination, whether through logical arguments or emotional pleas. This is true even of the opposition of those closest to him, including parents, spouse, children and in‑laws, all of whom believe they have his best interest at heart. The most important thing in life is serving God. One’s spiritual attainments are the only things that remain with a person after passing from the world. Therefore, the Rebbe teaches, a person has to adopt an “Avraham was one” attitude, as if he is alone with God in the world. Only this will enable him to “inherit the Land”—i.e., attain the World to Come.

In Likutey Tefilot, Reb Noson links this teaching with the words of the psalmist: “I look to the right and see no one who knows me. I have nowhere to escape, no one who looks out for my soul. I cried out to You, 0 God! I said, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living...’ “ (Psalms 142:5‑6). Reb Noson writes that not a day goes by without a person encountering some new obstacle to his devotions and fresh opposition to his worship of God. Let him pray that he not to be influenced by these hindrances or pay them any mind, and let him plead for mercy and assistance in overcoming all challenges to his following the true path to God (Likutey Tefilot I, #149).

Once, while discussing Avraham’s burning desire for God, Reb Noson said that Avraham was not only the first to reveal God in the world but also die first to serve Him with such intensity and sincerity. Hearing this, a disciple sitting nearby groaned. “How can we ever attain such a burning desire?” he wondered aloud. Reb Noson rebuked the disciple, saying, “You also have such a heart! But you don’t make it ‘hearty’ enough!” Reb Noson’s point was that everyone has free choice; there is no one who is not free to strive for the highest levels. This is as our Sages teach (Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah #25:2): A person must always say, “When will my deeds reach the level of my ancestors’ deeds?” (Magid Sichot).

A different time, to prove a point he was making, Reb Noson brought an example from the patriarch Yitzchak. His interlocutor objected that this was no proof, for Yitzchak’s righteousness was beyond human comprehension and comparison. “What do you think,” Reb Noson countered, “that Yitzchak did not have an evil inclination which he had to overcome? If he didn’t, he could never have become Yitzchak!” (ibid.).

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