Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Pursuit of Perfection

First published in Tzaddik Magazine, Tzefat, Israel

This essay was adapted from Likutey Even, Haskamat HaBoker, pp. 9-11, by Reb Ephraim ben Naftali (1800-1882), which he published anonymously during the last year of his life.  Likutey Even was republished in the author’s name in Jerusalem by Reb Gedaliah Aharon Kenig in 1963. Reb Ephraim’s father, Reb Naftali, was one of Rebbe Nachman’s closest followers and lifelong friend of Reb Noson. Reb Ephraim was sent by his father to learn from Reb Noson, and subsequently became one of his closest disciples. On the opening page of his book, Reb Ephraim writes that through the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, “God helped me to collect holy stones from pure yearnings and desires for holiness to make an Even Sh’leimah—a complete stone.”

Ratzo V’Shov: Running and Returning
From the first day of the Omer, we begin a steady process of spiritual ascent that culminates on the fiftieth day with Shavuos, marking the Giving of the Torah. Shavuos is the “Fiftieth Gate,” representing complete union and nullification with God’s Infinite Light— a level of intense longing, called “Desire of Desires.” However, the truth is that it is impossible to attain this level completely in this life.

The Omer counting is marked by a dynamic called ratzo v’shov—“running and returning.” Based upon the Merkava Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, this mystical concept pervades Kabbalistic thought, and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings in particular.  Although we are “running” for forty-nine days towards Shavuos, paradoxically, the light of the Fiftieth Gate can only be attained through the idea of “return”—shov. This is because through “running” alone, one would soon cease to exist—destroying the possibility of creating a vessel in which to receive the highest light. Therefore, we refrain from counting the fiftieth day, Shavuos, since we must restrain the soul’s all-consuming desire for God.

Even Moses himself was unable to attain the level of the Fiftieth Gate, since to do so, he would have had to nullify his being completely and shed every vestige of corporeality. Thus, after Moses ascended Mount Sinai, corresponding to the dynamic of “running,” he had to hold himself back, and descend to the encampment of Israel below, corresponding to the aspect of “return.”

Since God desires our service in this world, we, too, must remain in the category of shov—“return,” despite the great desire to break through and run forward as we near the Fiftieth Gate. Only in this manner may we perceive God’s Infinite Light—an experience for which Shavuos, of all the holidays, is the unique paradigm—and through the spiritual “vessels” formed by our mitzvot and good deeds, we may come to know His unity. Then it is possible to realize that everything that happens to us comes from God; therefore, everything is truly good. With this knowledge comes our complete acceptance of God’s sovereignty over all Creation.

© 2001 Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma
Limited copies of the original Hebrew text, Likutey Even, are available from Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma Institutions.

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