Painting by Kikuo Saito
Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Kiley Beheimah 3:1
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)
In Memory of Harry and Selma Swatsburg
This teaching from Reb Noson (of which we have translated and slightly abridged only the first of eight sections) is based on Likutey Moharan I, 61.
A few mystical concepts central to this lesson and Reb Noson’s related chiddushim (original ideas) are: the constriction of the Infinite Divine Light in the creation of the universe, known as tzimtzum—which is not only one primary event, but is ongoing throughout creation continually; another is din (or the plural, dinim), which can mean both judgement (whether heavenly or earthly) and the metaphysical forces that delimit, determine and give form to the various elements of the spiritual and physical realms; a third is sekhel, which can mean the human mind, but also the “Divine Mind” which conceives creation in all its diversity and animates everything, as in the verse, “How great are Your works, O God! Kulam bi-chokhmah asisah… You have made them all with wisdom” (Psalms 104:24). In kabbalistic contexts, “sekhel” usually alludes to the sefiros of chokhmah, binah vi-daas, Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. The term also alludes to the Divine Reality hidden within every speck of existence. Reb Noson discusses both meanings.
Reb Noson begins by “setting the stage” with these concepts in his preface, and then goes on to discuss Bezalel, the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, and by implication, human creative activity. Reb Noson’s words are in bold, while I have added a few brief explanatory remarks in standard typeface.
All creative acts (melakhos) in the world are constrictions (tzimtzumim)—and all determining forces (dinim) are related to the intellect (sekhel) that corresponds to each constriction. For every tzimtzum and din is derived from a particular sekhel, since [according to a fundamental Kabbalistic principal] “everything is clarified in thought” (Zohar II, 254b).
Here sekhel seems to have a double-meaning: the primary meaning is the metaphysical concept of the “Divine thought” that determines each constriction and din, thus to produce a certain manifest reality—in this case a melakhah, or creative act—while the secondary meaning would be the state of mind of the person performing that act. “Everything is clarified in thought” alludes to the Zohar’s metaphysics, which describe the World of Thought, World of Speech and World of Action as being part of a continuum from above to below. The rectification of a fault or disharmony on the lower levels must be completed on the highest level of the World of Thought, for this is its “root.”
All of these “intellects have no power to mitigate (literally, “sweeten) except by receiving from the Sekhel ha-Kollel (“Collective Intellect” or “Universal Mind”).
That is, all manifestations of the Divine plan and purpose within the multiplicity of creation, which are called “intellects,” have no power to temper the dinim, which are the forces that produce separateness and division, except by receiving Divine illumination from the Sekhel ha-Kollel, which is the“Collective Intellect” or “Universal Mind.” In Likutey Moharan I, 61, the lesson on which this teaching from Reb Noson is based, the Sekhel ha-Kollel is identified with Chokhmah Ila’ah, the “Supernal Wisdom” or “Highest Wisdom,” which is the all-encompassing Divine plan and purpose in creationas a whole. All “lower” or more specific wisdoms, related to the countless diverse forces and elements of creation, are offshoots or tributaries of Chokhmah Ila’ah.
The Sekhel ha-Kollel includes all intellects and all constrictions in the universe. This is the paradigm of the Foundation Stone, the Holy of Holies, which “sweetens” all constrictions and all forces of division and harsh judgments.
Again in Likutey Moharan I, 61, the Rebbe alludes to the principle that the earthly realm corresponds to the heavenly realm. Accordingly, the highest degree of holiness in this world—and the channel for all Divine hashpa’os, or influences—is the Foundation Stone (Even Shesiya) and the Holy of Holies (Kodesh ha-Kadashim) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This is where the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) enters on Yom Kippur to beseech G-d’s forgiveness for the entire Jewish People. Chazal also describe the Foundation Stone as the source of all blessings, which flow through “underground channels” to “water” the rest of the earth. This is analagous to Chokhmah Ila’ah, which animates and empowers all other wisdoms and “intellects” in the hierarchy of creation.
All labors and creative acts in the world are aspects of the constriction of the Divine Light.
Reb Noson alludes to the concept of the tzimtzum of the Infinite Divine Light (“Ohr ha-Ein Sof”) described by the Arizal in the beginning of the Sefer Eitz Chayyim. Rebbe Nachman refers to this description in Lesson 61, Lesson 49, and elsewhere in Likutey Moharan.
For this is the essential craft or skill inherent in any given labor: to bring about the specific constriction that will produce the means to accomplish a particular activity. And all constrictions related to the Thirty-Nine Labors require perfection (tikkun) and “sweetening,” thus to spiritually refine them from the “impurity of the Serpent” associated with the sin of Adam and Eve, due to which humanity was afflicted with the Thirty-Nine Curses.
Chazal take the Thirty-Nine Labors entailed by the construction of the Mishkan to represent the paradigm of all creative labor. These are the primary categories of the labors or creative acts scripturally forbidden on Shabbos. The Thirty-Nine Curses (re. this term, see Zohar Chadash, Tikkunim, Vol. II, 91a) were the consequence of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
These curses account for the strenuous efforts entailed by all Thirty-Nine Labors, as the verse states, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Therefore, each person should sanctify himself and conduct his business or other occupation or labor with the greatest holiness, for the sake of G-d, thus to spiritually refine all endeavors and creative activities, which are part of the Thirty-Nine Labors, to refine them from the “impurity of the Serpent.” And the primary “sweetening” and refinement of the Thirty-Nine Labors, which are the paradigm of the tzimtzumim, is accomplished through the specific intellect that corresponds to each creative act and tzimtzum.
For each specific creative act contains a certain sekhel. There is no craft or labor that doesn’t entail some form of intellect and wisdom, and this sekhel has its source Above in the holy Divine Intellect.
That is, every craft or labor has its ultimate source in the Divine will and wisdom, which imbue it with existence.
Therefore, it is necessary to perform that creative work or business transaction with great holiness, thus to bind the intellect inherent in the act with its source, namely, the corresponding specific intellect Above. By doing so, one mitigates the tzimtzum, since “no din is sweetened except in its source” (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Heikhal ha-Ketarim 13:11)—that is, through the related specific intellect that is its supernal source.
This is the paradigm of what the Torah states about Bezalel, who was the head of all artisans engaged in the holy work of the construction of the Mishkan: “And I shall fill him with the Divine spirit, with wisdom (chokhmah), with understanding (binah), and with knowledge (da’as) and all skilled work…” (Exodus 31:3). For Bezalel knew the wisdom, understand and knowledge related to each and every creative labor, as suggested by the Torah’s phrase, “to conceive designs [or ‘thoughts,’ a double-meaning], to work with gold, with silver, and with copper…” (ibid. 31:4). That is, he knew the Divine wisdom and sekhel related to each task. With this, he was able to mitigate the tzimtzum of that labor. For Bezalel knew how to combine the letters through which heaven and earth were created (see Zohar II, 152a); from these letters all things are created, in turn.
From the Ten Divine Utterances by which the universe was created the kabbalists understand that the “letters” of the creative Divine Speech are what animate and delimit all elements of creation—in the spiritual “worlds” (Atzilus / Emanation, Briah / Creation, Yetzirah / Formation) and in this lowest physical world, which is part of the World of Asiyah (“Action”). Bezalel was granted the knowledge of these sublime mysteries, which enabled him to fashion the vessels of the Mishkan.
They comprise the sekhel related to each and every created thing, as the verse attests, “By the word of G-d the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth, all of their hosts” (Psalms 33:6). Each verbal utterance contains wisdom and intellect, for speech reveals knowledge (da’as); as it is written, “From His mouth [come] knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6)—that is, the wisdom and intellect through which a given thing comes into being. As the verse states, “You have made them all with wisdom” (Psalms 104:24).
Bezalel knew the letters through which heaven and earth were created—meaning the letters and intellect related to every constituent thing in the creation of heaven and earth. All of them are in the category of tzimtzumim, in that G-d constricted each and every element that came into existence with its specific form and appearance. Thus, [Bezalel] engaged in the construction of the Mishkan, because from it is from the Mishkan that the Thirty-Nine Labors [forbidden on Shabbos] are derived (Shabbos 49b). And the Mishkan and the Holy Temple are the aspect of Da’as (Knowledge), which is the aspect of the holy—for the [essence of the] mind (sekhel) is called “holy.”
In a related vein, see Tanya, Chapter 53, citing Zohar II, 83a, that “the Torah comes from Chokhmah Ila’ah.” Since the Ark and Tablets (luchos) were present in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple, the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) was manifest there. However, this was not the case with the Second Temple, which did not contain the Ark and Tablets (luchos), concerning which Chazal state that the Shekhinah was not manifest there (Yoma 9b).
Therein are incorporated all wisdoms and all “intellects,” for they all receive from the Sekhel ha-Kollel, which corresponds to the Holy of Holies and the Foundation Stone (Even Shesiyah). For all constrictions and all creative labors are elicited from the Even Shesiya, which “waters” [“hoshetes,” a homiletical word-play] the world, and from it are elicited all the tzimtzumim related to all creatures and all creative acts in the world.
Based on Reb Noson’s teaching and the various sources upon which his ideas are based, we see that the essence of all human creativity—In its primary context, which is the holy—is a “spin off” of Divine creativity, namely the “letters of the creation of heaven and earth.” By contemplating these theurgic mysteries, Bezalel, the “head of all artisans,” was able to create the vessels of the Mishkan. Through the sacrifices and various rites of the Mishkan and Holy Temple, these wondrous vessels brought about the spiritual elevation of all levels of creation: domem (the “silent”), tzomeach (the vegetative), chai (animals) and medaber (the “speaker,” i.e., the human) (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Ta’amei HaMitzvos, Mitzvas Korbanos).
In some small way, we too participate in these tikkunim through our worldly activities, when we perform them according to the Torah and with the requisite kavanah (holy intention). And this principle must extend to the various forms of artistic creativity, if the artist is privileged to find the hidden spiritual core in the midst of the creative enterprise. Then the artist too may participate in the secret of “Bezalel”—“bi-tzel E-l,” which means “in the shadow of the Divine.”