Monday, June 18, 2012

Don’t Say “Water, Water!” - Rebbe Nachman on Truth: Likutey Moharan I, 51 - Part I

Photo (c) Sandra L. Grenier

Translation (bold) and Musings (tentative) by Dovid Sears

This is not only a lesson about truth, but one of Rebbe Nachman’s seminal teachings about duality, non-duality, and spiritual purification. (Some others that explore these themes from different vantage points are Lesson 4, particularly section 9; Lesson 33; Lesson 64; Lesson 65; and the story of the Water Castle in the “Tale of the Seven Beggars,” among other sources.)

Rebbe Nachman begins with a citation from the Gemara, which he will interpret according to the core ideas of his lesson:

Rabbi Akiva said: When you reach the stones of pure marble, don’t say, “Water! Water!” As it states, “One who speaks falsehood shall not stand before My eyes” (Psalms 101:7) (Chagigah 14b).

Rabbi Aviva’s warning appears in a section of the Gemara that deals with the prophetic mysteries of the Ma’aseh Merkavah (“Work of the Chariot”), which today we would call the mystical experience. The term “Merkavah” is taken from the vision described in the first chapter of Ezekiel.

Falsehood damages the eyes, both physically and spiritually, as in “roving eyes (mesakros eynayim)” (Isaiah 3:16).

In its original context, this phrase describes how the daughters of Zion would flirt with their eyes. “Mesakros” contains the same Hebrew consonants (shin-kuf-reish) as “sheker,” meaning “falsehood.” Thus, the Rebbe interprets the phrase homiletically as “deceiving eyes.”

For when the eyes are weak, they falsify, in that they do not see an object as it is. For example, something large appears as if it were small and one as if it were two, the opposite of the truth.

Note the two examples the Rebbe gives. The first relates to size (or perhaps value), while the second refers to number. And in the Rebbe’s cosmology, which is that of Chazal and the Kabbalists, the primordial reality is described as incomparably greater in size than whatever derives from it; and unity is primary, while multiplicity is secondary. So distorted vision alludes to estrangement from the Divine essence of all things.

For the eyes become weak from tears. As our Sages state: “The clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:2)—this is the vision, which departs after weeping (Shabbos 151b).

The Sages (loc. cit.) speak of the grief that accompanies old age, as one’s eyes become weak from tears.

And tears come from the excesses of the “black humor” (marah shechorah); the body naturally expels them through the eyes. 

The Rebbe alludes to the science of his day, which was rooted in that of the ancient Greeks (among others) and the theory of the “four humors” or fluids that animate the body—black, white (or clear), red and yellow. The “black humor” is also related to depression. Recent scholarship considers it likely that the Rebbe was familiar with Rabbi Pinchos Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna’s Sefer HaBris, first published in 1797, which attempted to reconcile 18th century science with the Kabbalah. This work was widely admired by Chassidim and non-Chassidim alike. However, the theory of the four humors was commonly accepted by all, even during the Talmudic period.

Many members of the Breslov community take the scientific ideas in Likutey Moharan at face value, while those who are more favorably disposed toward contemporary science read these ideas as metaphor. They are part of the setting the Rebbe creates in which to place the jewel of wisdom he wishes to reveal.

And the “black humor “is derived from the turbidity of the blood—and the turbidity of the blood is the result of falsehood. For one cannot speak deceitfully until his blood has become turbid, and one cannot speak truth until his blood has been purified.

This appears to be a bit of a conundrum. First the Rebbe states that the turbidity or impurity of the blood results from falsehood, and immediately he reverses the order. This is a pattern that recurs in Likutey Moharan. Perhaps it may be understood according to the principle given at the end of Lesson 1, that the Evil Inclination first comes in the guise of a mitzvah; only after succumbing to this spiritual “wolf in sheep’s clothing” can a person be vulnerable to undisguised evil. Similarly in the present lesson, first one must speak falsely with no intention to do so; only then, when his blood has been adversely affected by this untruth, can he yield to outright lying.

For the essence of speech is the nefesh (vital soul), as it is written, “My nefesh went out as he spoke” (Song of Songs 5:6). And the nefesh is identified with the blood, as it is written, “For the blood is the nefesh” (Leviticus 17:11). 

That is, blood is the medium of the life force.

Thus, when one speaks falsehood, he experiences turbidity of the blood, and from this comes the “black humor.” An excess of the black humor tears produces the tears, and this causes the eyes to become dimmed. This is the aspect of “They pluck the saltwort (malu’ach) among the bushes (siyach)” (Job 30:4). “Malu’ach” alludes to tears, which are salt water and which come from sichah (speech, a word-play). This is the paradigm of “Don’t say, ‘Water! Water!’ “ which is a warning about falsehood.

Reb Noson adds in parentheses: “As the quote from the Gemara concludes, “One who speaks falsehood shall not stand before My eyes.”

“Water! Water!”—denotes falsehood, which is the aspect of tears, which are salt water. Because one who drinks water quenches his thirst. However, one who drinks salt water not only fails to quench his thirst but doubles his thirst, until he needs other water to quench his thirst. For this reason falsehood is called “water, water.”

That is, the repetition of the word “water” corresponds to these two levels of thirst—and the number two is related to falsehood, while the number one is related to truth, as the Rebbe will explain.

Hence, [Rabbi Akiva said:] When you reach the stones of pure marble, don’t say, “Water! Water!” As it states, “One who speaks falsehood shall not stand before My eyes.”

The mystical quest is the quest for truth, and as such depends on truthfulness.

The coming into existence of falsehood—which is evil, which is the impure—is due to the estrangement from Oneness. For evil is opposition. For example, whatever stands opposed to a person’s will is deemed evil. However, in Oneness, opposition does not apply; rather, it is entirely good.

That is, good with no opposite term.

This is as our Sages state: “ ‘On that day [i.e., the day of the Final Redemption] God will be One and His Name will be One’ (Zechariah 14:9)—everything will be “the Good, Who does good” (Pesachim 50a).

The Rebbe quotes the same teaching from the Gemara in Lesson 4, where he cites it in full: “And they asked: And is God not One right now? To which the Sages replied: At present, we bless God for the good with [the blessing that concludes] ‘the Good, Who does good,’ while for evil, with [the blessing that concludes] ‘the True Judge.’ But in the future, everything will be ‘the Good Who does good.’ ”

This is because in Oneness, evil has no place. Therefore, in the World to Come the verse will be fulfilled, “The lip of truth [i.e., the speech of truth] shall abide forever” (Proverbs 12:19). For then everything will be entirely one, entirely good.

Thus truth is eternal, while falsehood is transitory.

Now Rebbe Nachman allusively connects truth and falsehood to the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their banishment from that idyllic realm.

Truth is one. For example, when they say of a silver vessel that it is silver, this is the truth. However, when they say that it is a golden vessel, this is false. Thus, the truth is one, because the only truth one can say is that it is a silver vessel and nothing else. But falsehood is manifold. For it is possible to say that it is a golden vessel, or a brass vessel, or to use any other term. Thus we see that falsehood is an aspect of “they chased after many intrigues” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

The first part of the verse states, “God made Adam upright, but…” Rashi (ad loc,) comments that when God created Adam he was upright in the spiritual sense. But the shift to the third person singular (“they”) in the verse suggests that when Eve was created, the two began to pursue various intrigues. There is a shift from singularity and uprightness to multiplicity and error, which led to the exile from the Garden of Eden.

Another possible hint to this theme: in the Kabbalah, silver corresponds to the sefirah of Chokhmah / Wisdom, which is the dimension of unity represented by the letter yud in the Divine Name YHVH—a unitary point. Gold corresponds to Binah, which is the plane on which division begins. Binah is represented by the letter heh in the Divine Name YHVH, which has two parts; it is also associated with the vowel-point tzayre, which is indicated by two horizontal dots under the consonant—indicating duality.

Because of this—i.e., the primacy of truth and unity—in the World to Come, evil will be nullifed, opposition will be nullified, and tear will be nullified. As it is written, “They will do no evil and they will not destroy in all of My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9)—the nullification of evil. And it is written, “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the wildcat with the kid goat…” (ibid. 1:6)—the nullification of opposition. And it is written, “And God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (ibid. 25:8)—this being the nullification of tears, which are an aspect of falsehood, as mentioned above. For then “God will be One, and His Name will be One,” because [God] is absolute good, absolute truth.

The prevailing unity of the future world recapitulates that of the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of creation, before the sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—which engendered dualistic thinking and the conflicts that characterize the reality of exile.

 Therefore, impurity (tumah) will be eliminated in the World to Come; as it is written, “And I will remove the spirit of impurity from the earth” (Zechariah 13:2).

Rashi (ad loc.) understands this term to denote the Evil Inclination. This reflects the view of our Sages that in the End of Days, God will “slaughter the Evil Inclination” (Sukkah 52a).

For then everything will be entirely one; as it is written, “Who can render the pure from the impure—not one” (Job 14:4).

That is, the Rebbe interprets this verse to mean: “Whoever would render the pure from the impure exists in the paradigm of ‘not-one’ ”—estranged from unity. Because unity by definition transcends all dualism.


We will continue with Parts II and III in the next weeks, with the help of Hashem. 

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