Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Moshe Entered the Mist

Moshe Entered the Mist Likutey Moharan I, 115
Translated by Rabbi Moshe Mykoff
Annotated by Rabbi Chaim Kramer
© Breslov Research Institute

In this online version, we have presented the translation in bold and the commentary in non-bold typeface, except for headings.

Vayaamod Ha’am Meirachok (The people kept their distance) and Moshe entered the mist where God was.” (Exodus 20-18)

The verse quoted from Exodus refers to the Revelation at Mount Sinai. The Israelites heeded God’s command and kept their distance from the mountain while Moshe ascended and entered the mist to receive the Torah. This lesson speaks about ascending and entering into God’s service, symbolized by receiving the Torah.

When a person who has spent all his days in materialism afterwards becomes inspired and wants go in the ways of God, the attribute of judgment then denounces him and prevents him from going in God’s ways. It also arranges obstacles for him.

Attribute of judgement … obstacles:
“Taste and see that God is good” (Psalms 34:9). That is, all that is good can be found wherever one finds God and comes close to Him. When a person has lived a materialistic life and then wishes to return to God, the attribute of judgment contests his benefiting from any good. “After all, he has not been good! Why should he be allowed to taste and enjoy anything good (God/spirituality)?” This is why even when people want to serve God, they encounter obstacles.

Yet, God “is one who desires kindness” (Micah 7:18), and He hides Himself, as it were, in this obstacle {see below}. Thus, someone who is wise will look at the obstacle and discover the Creator there. As we find in the Yerushalmi (Ta’anit 1:1): If anyone should ask you, “Where is your God?” answer him, “In the great city of Rome.” As is said, “One calls to Me from Seir’’ (Isaiah 21:11) . But someone who is not wise, when he sees the obstacle, he immediately retreats.’

Seir” is the domain of Esav, under whose descendants, Edom/Rome, the Jewish people are exiled. God says that the prophet calls out to Him from the darkness of exile in Seir/Rome, asking when the Final Redemption is to begin. God’s answer appears in the next verse (v. 12): The time is at hand, provided the people of Israel repent (see Rashi). The Talmud Yerushalmi (loc. cit.) learns from here that even in Rome—the darkest exile, in which it seems that holiness and spirituality can never be found—even there, God is present. When a person asks, “Where is God?” answer him, “He is right next to you. No matter how dark it is where you are, God is there, waiting for you to return to Him.” This is the meaning of what Rebbe Nachman says, that because of His desire to do kindness, the Creator hides Himself in the very obstacles which He places before anyone seeking to come close to Him. All a person has to do is persevere and truly look for God in wherever he is at that moment!

Rebbe Nachman discusses this passage from Ta’anit in a number of lessons. See Likutey Moharan I, 33, and II, 12.

Now, an obstacle corresponds to cloud and mist. This is because a cloud and a mist are darkness, [and] ChoSheKh (darkness) connotes an obstacle. As is written (Genesis 22:16), “and you did not ChaSaKh (hold back).”

ChoSheKh ... ChaSaKh:
God’s angel called out to Avraham and praised him that he “did not chasakh (hold back)” Yitzchak from being sacrificed to God. The word chasakh connotes holding back, much as an obstacle holds a person back from serving God. Its root is the same as the word choshekh, the darkness or obstacles to vision created by clouds and mist. These are the dark and confusing moments of life, when a person feels that God is hidden from him.

Reb Noson explains often that, in reality, the main obstacles to spiritual development are obstacles of the mind, mental blocks. A person has awesome inner strength, he says, but his mind becomes “cloudy,” confused and distraught because of his many problems. These obstacles of the mind are always the greatest opposition one finds to fulfilling his desire to serve God (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhat HaPeirot 4:4). Reb Noson writes that in his attempts to visit the Holy Land, he encountered awesome and numerous obstacles. Yet, the greatest of these obstacles were those of his own making—i.e., his own doubts and confusion (Yemey Moharnat II, 25).

This is the explanation of the verse:

The people kept their distance—For when they see the mist, the obstacle, they keep their distance.

This is because most people lack the da’at (holy knowledge) to realize that God is in the obstacle. Rather than seeing past the mist, they keep their distance.

and Moshe—He corresponds to the da’at (holy knowledge) of all Israel.
The Ari teaches that Moshe Rabeinu was the personification of da’at (Eytz Chaim 32:1). Because he possessed holy knowledge, he knew to continue searching for God despite the obstacles.

entered the mist where God was—In other words, into the obstacle, which is precisely where God is hidden.

Reb Noson appends the following:

We heard more on this from [Rebbe Nachman’s] holy lips. He added an explanation of the earlier point, that God Himself hides Himself within the obstacle. He said:

God “loves justice” (Isaiah 61:8), and He also loves Israel. Yet, his love of Israel is greater than His love of justice (Zohar Ill, 99b).

The passage from the Zohar quoted in the text discusses Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment. It teaches that even though justice demands a properly adjudicated judgment, and “God loves justice,” nevertheless, God’s love of Israel is greater than His love of justice. Therefore, He commanded the Jews to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah using a ram’s horn. This recalls how Avraham, at God’s bidding, selflessly offered Yitzchak on the altar, and then, again at God’s bidding, replaced him with the ram that had become caught in the nearby thicket (Genesis 22). Sounding the shofar thus arouses God’s mercy so that He overrides justice and invalidates the prosecutor’s arguments.

We can see from this that when a person overcomes obstacles to his spiritual development, he draws mercy into the world. Thus, overcoming obstacles not only brings him knowledge and enables him to draw closer to God, but also mitigates decrees as a result of his good deeds (Rabbi Nachman of Tcherin, Tefilot v’Tachanunim I, 11).

Therefore, when the attribute of judgment denounces someone who is not worthy of drawing closer to God and prevents him from entering the path of life, so as to draw closer to the true tzaddik and the true path; and [what is more,] God Himself loves justice—when this occurs, God is obliged, as it were, to agree to arrange obstacles for him so as to keep him from the path of life. [These obstacles are] commensurate with what he deserves based on his evil deeds, in accordance with judgment and justice. For the Holy One cannot disregard the judgment, because God loves justice, as mentioned above.

However, since in truth God loves Israel, and that love for Israel is greater than the love for justice, what is the Holy One to do? For He is obliged, as it were, to agree to the obstacles which keep the person from the truth, because of the judgment and the justice that is upon him—for He loves justice. This notwithstanding, the ultimate truth is that God's will and desire is that this man nevertheless draw closer to Him. This is because, as mentioned, He loves Israel more than justice.

Therefore, God grants permission for obstacles to be arranged for him. But He Himself hides Himself, as it were, within the obstacles. And one who is wise will be able to find God within the obstacles themselves. For the truth is that there are no obstacles whatsoever in the world.

How can Rebbe Nachman say that there are no obstacles, when there is hardly a Jew alive incapable of personally attesting to their existence? The person who wants to purchase Tefillin but finds himself without money to do so, he knows about obstacles to spirituality. So does the person who works to comprehend some difficult Torah insight, but for whatever reason finds it beyond him. Or what about the obstacles to our spiritual development which we create for ourselves through laziness, anger, hard-heartedness and the like; not to mention those from parents, children, friends, etc., of which the Rebbe himself often spoke (see Likutey Moharan II, Foreword)? When Rebbe Nachman says that “there are no obstacles in the world,” he means the following: Consider the purpose of these obstacles. Seemingly, they are intended to distance the person from God. But if God hides Himself in the obstacle, expecting the person to find Him there, they do not accomplish their purpose. Only a person who backs off when he encounters the obstacle will be defeated. The person who truly seeks will no doubt say to himself, “Can this be an obstacle to drawing close to God if God Himself is right next to me?” Therefore, in truth—for those seeking God—there are no such things as obstacles.

In the very force of the obstacles themselves, God is hidden. Thus, specifically through the obstacles themselves one is able to draw closer to the Holy One, for God is hidden there, as mentioned above.

Specifically through the obstacles themselves:
Although it might seem so, this is not at all a superfluous comment. Previously, Rebbe Nachman explained that a person who is wise will find God in the obstacle. He will know that God is hidden there and will look for Him despite the “clouds” and “mist.” What the Rebbe adds and emphasizes here is that precisely because God is hidden there, the obstacle itself becomes a vital key and vehicle for drawing closer to Him. This is similar to the relationship which man's soul has with his body. In order for the soul to develop and reunite with God on a spiritual level higher than the one it had at its origination, it must be challenged and tested. The stage for this testing is this world and the soul's entry into it via the physical body with all its accompanying needs, attachments and desires—all of which seem to present obstacles to spiritual development. “Using the body as a medium, the soul is able to form structures in the physical world that reveal Godliness concealed beneath the surface. These activities bring Godliness into the soul itself, benefiting it when it eventually leaves this world and returns to the higher spiritual realms” (Under the Table, Tsohar Publishing). The same came be said of all the obstacles in which God is hidden, waiting to be found.

“Specifically through the obstacles themselves” can also be understood in light of what Reb Noson writes about opposition to the tzaddik (see Lesson #114, note 10). He explains that this opposition conceals the tzaddik’s great light, making it possible for the common person to draw close to the tzaddik without being overwhelmed by a light that is too great for him. As a result, anyone who so desires can benefit from the tzaddik by virtue of this concealment. In the same way, obstacles to spiritual development protect the person who seeks to come close to God, so that he is not suddenly overwhelmed by the great light of the Holy One. Rather, the “clouds” and “mist” help him create vessels with which to gradually absorb and benefit from that light.

Thus, this is the meaning of “and Moshe entered the mist”—the obstacle—“where God was.”

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