Monday, December 3, 2018

Death of a Salesman

Likutey Moharan I, 14, sec. 12

Translated and with (tentative) commentary by Dovid Sears
Dedicated to my Yiddishist-socialist maternal grand-father, Isadore (“Zeke”) Silverman, Yitzchok ben Chaim, a”h—who nevertheless told me my first “Chassidisheh ma’asehs” about the Rebbe Reb Boruch’l and his legendary badchan, Herschel Ostropolier.

In the first part of Lesson 14, Rebbe Nachman connects prayer with universal peace, and “shalom bayis” (peace in the home) with inner peace. Then in section 12, he relates these issues to the festival of Chanukah, which we look forward to celebrating soon.

And this corresponds to the mitzvah of the Chanukah candle. The mitzvah is [ideally] fulfilled by lighting near the doorway of one’s house [Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 671:5). Because the lighting of the candle is an aspect of the illumination of [God’s] glory, as in “The earth was illuminated by His glory” (Ezekiel 43:2).

Lesson 14 begins with the concept that in order to draw peace into the world it is necessary to elevate God’s glory (kavod), which is associated with the sefirah of Malkhus, to its “source,” which is yirah—fear and awe of God’s majesty. Rav Nachman of Tcherin, in his commentary Parpara’os le-Chokhmah on Likutey Moharan, explains that Yirah is related to the “gevuros” (forces of constriction) that originate in the sefirah of Binah (Understanding). Binah is also described as the paradigm of the “ohr makif,” or “encompassing light.” This too is the light of the Chanukah candles. (See Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal, on the kavannot related to reciting the berakhah over the Chanukah candle: Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, chap. 4, s.v. u-tekhaven le-shem kadosh “nachal.”)

The Rebbe finds an allusion to this connection between glory and fear in the verse: “To fear the Glorious Name” (Deuteronomy 28:58). That is, when glory is elevated from its fallen state—i.e., we no longer honor and glorify unworthy people and undeserving endeavors—and becomes reunited with holy fear and awe, then it is as it should be. (Compare this idea to that of elevating the fallen “chein,” or grace, in Torah 1.)

Contemporary Breslov scholar Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Bar-Lev, in his Orach Mishor on Likutey Moharan, Vol. 2, on this lesson (sec. 1), explains the elevation of glory to yirah to mean: “One deepens the sense of God’s glory in his heart until he comes to ‘yiras ha-romemus’ (the higher degree of yirah) — one’s heart is filled with intense awe due to God’s tremendous exaltedness.”

Note: Fear and awe have different connotations than the Hebrew word “yirah,” which is the awe produced by experiencing God’s majesty and mystery, as described above. Therefore, for the rest of this essay we have left “yirah” untranslated.

The Rebbe goes on to explain that this elevation of glory to its source, yirah, is only possible through what our Sages call “Toras Chesed,” the “Torah of kindness”—when one studies in order to teach others (Sukkah 49b). This enables God’s fallen glory to ascend to its proper station.

And this is the essence of God’s glory: when those who were distant from God draw near. The Rebbe cites the Zohar (II, 69a): “When other nations come and recognize the Blessed Holy One, then God’s Name ascends and is glorified above and below…”

Yisro, Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, is the example the Zohar gives. Formerly High Priest of On and a royal minister in Pharaoh’s court, Yisro had served every form of avodah zarah and then rejected them all in order to serve the One God of Israel. When he did so, retroactively all of those erroneous beliefs were corrected. In the Zohar’s words, “The Blessed One’s Name was glorified from every side” (ibid.). “Every side” means through the entire array of the sefiros (which the Kabbalah associates with the various directions, hence the term “sides”).

The Arizal observes that there is a deep connection between Moshe Rabbeinu and Yisro, indicated by the fact that the Giving of the Torah takes place in the weekly Torah reading associated with Yisro. (They also had a connection from previous gilgulim.) The conversion of Yisro represents the transformation of “darkness to light,” and is an integral part of Moshe’s task of disseminating the knowledge of God.

Therefore, the mitzvah is to light it near the doorway of one’s house. “This is the Supernal Entrance,” which is the aspect of yirah—an expression of the Zohar, which variously asserts that yirah is the gate to wisdom, faith, and all forms of spiritual ascent (see Zohar I, 7b, 11a-b; Zohar Chadash, Ki Sisa, 75b [bottom]); that is, one returns the glory to its source, which is yirah, as stated above.

Glory is compared to light (as in Ezekiel 43:2, above), and the “Supernal Entrance,” which is yirah, is compared to the doorway of one’s home. Thus, the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candle or candles is a manifestation of this spiritual paradigm.

And when does this glory ascend? When we bring people to return to God, and [thus] make baaley teshuvah (penitents) and geirim (converts). For this is His main glory, as stated above—in section 2 of this lesson.

This is why the time for lighting the Chanukah candle, which is the illumination of glory, is “from the time the stars appear until the foot ceases from the market-place” (Orach Chaim 672:1).

We have translated the Shulchan Arukh’s figure of speech literally, since it will figure in Rebbe Nachman’s teaching soon. It means the time when everyone has gone home. (This used to be when it became fully dark outside, but now that we have electric lights everywhere, “the foot ceases from the market-place” a lot later—especially here in New York City, where it never seems to take the night off.) Our Sages designated this time-frame for the mitzvah in order to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, when the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple burned for eight days with only enough oil for one. (The number eight hints to Binah, which is the eighth sefirah in ascending order.)

“From the time the stars appear”—this alludes to “Those who bring the many to righteousness [will shine] like the stars” (Daniel 12:3). That is, they bring the many to righteousness and make baaley teshuvah and converts.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 8b) interprets this verse as variously descriptive of a judge who adjudicates according to the truth; a charity-collector who thereby facilitates the giving of tzedakah; and a teacher of children, who are thus enabled to grow up to be devout Jews. The Rebbe extends this principle to those who help others return to God.

For through this, God’s glory shines forth and returns to its source, which is yirah. As a result, one attains peace, and strife is eliminated.

And this is the meaning of “until the foot ceases from the market-place.” (The market-place is one of the haunts of the “External Forces”—i.e., the powers of evil, as stated by Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal (Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, chap. 4, s.v. vi-da ki anu madlikin osah im shekiyas ha-chamah [end]). “Regel,” the “foot,” indicates “the whisperer who separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

Rebbe Nachman quotes this verse in section 9 of the present lesson, in a complicated drush that links the compartments (kinim) in Noah’s Ark with the bird-offerings (kinim) that purify the leper, who because has spoken lashon hara (evil speech) is “the whisperer who separates close friends”; but he is redeemed and purified by the bird-offering, which equals Noah’s Ark (teyvah), which equals the word (teyvah) of prayer. And prayer puts an end to strife and brings universal peace, which is why the Shemoneh Esreh prayer ends with the blessing for peace.  

[This denotes] those who engage in slander and strife, who go around—“meraglim,” a construct of “regel”—and speak defamatory words and slander, and who foment dispute and strife between a man and his friend and between husband and wife; as in the phrase “who does not slander—“ragal,” which has the same consonants as “regel”—with his mouth” (Psalms 15:2).

This is why it is necessary to light the Chanukah candle near the entrance—that is, to cause the glory to shine and to restore it to its source in yirah, until one attains peace and negates and puts an end to the “whisperer who separates close friends.” This is [suggested by] “until the foot ceases from the market-place”: until those who speak slander and gossip, which was ragal—a play on the words “habitual” and “foot,” which share the same consonants—on their tongues, are eradicated, and peace is increased in the world.   

And through peace, we attain prayer, by means of which we attain universal peace—peace in all the worlds.

That is, the Four Worlds of Atzilus/Emanation, Beriah/Creation, Yetzirah/Formation and Asiyah/Action. Harmony is restored on all levels.

Then, when they [i.e., “all the worlds”] attain universal peace, all business activity (masa u-matan) will be eliminated from the world. This is because all business activity in the world comes from an absence of peace; because it is impossible for the will of the seller and buyer to be the same, since one wants to sell and the other wants to buy. And if their desires were the same, no business transaction would be possible.

The Rebbe could have mentioned the desire of the seller to charge more than the buyer would like to pay (and vice-versa). But this would have only underscored the tension between the seller and buyer and the possibility of exploitation. Instead he goes straight to the discrepancy between the basic desires to sell and to buy, even if when there is no haggling over the price.

One wonders: If true peace depends on the elimination of even the opposite and complimentary desires to sell and to buy, how would people living in such an ideal world receive their sustenance? The answer is that sustenance would have to come directly from Hashem—as it did for the Generation of the Wilderness under the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. Or Adam and Chavah in the Garden of Eden. Or the future Messianic World. (And perhaps this is the “holy spark” that animates the socialist dream of a more equitable world.)

Thus it is that all business activity and trade proceeds only from conflict, in that there is no peace between the [two opposite] desires. This is [implicit in] “There was discord between the shepherds of Avram’s flocks and the shepherds of Lot’s flocks; and the Canaanite was then in the land” (Genesis 13:7).

Rebbe Nachman is making a homiletical connection between the mention of conflict and that of the Canaanites—which he reads as “merchants.”

“Canaan”—this is the paradigm of the merchant, as Rashi explains on the verse “As for Canaan, deceitful scales are in his hand” (Hosea 12:8). That is, due to the aspect of discord and strife, as in “There was discord…”—in consequence “the Canaanite was then in the land”; there are merchants and business activity in the world.

However, in the future [i.e., the Messianic Age], there will be wondrous peace in the world, as in “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid goat…” (Isaiah 11:6, 9). Then business activity will cease, as it is written, “And the Canaanite will be no more” (Zechariah 14:21).

This is also the aspect of “until the foot ceases from the market-place”; that is, it is a mitzvah to light the Chanukah candle until the there is no activity in the market-place. This is the aspect of peace, which is brought about by the restoration of glory, as stated above, to the point that business activity is eliminated. This is indicated by “until the foot ceases from the market-place”—not a foot shall remain in the market-place because due to peace, all business activity will cease.

That is, the light of Chanukah, which goes hand in hand with the perfection of glory and all-encompassing peace, will shine until there is no strife. Then “the hustle to make a buck” and all the stress and exploitation and often dishonesty that goes along with it will cease, and we will receive our sustenance directly from God. May we behold this light of universal peace as we gaze at the Chanukah lights.   

No comments:

Post a Comment