Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Chicken-and-Egg Question Revisited - Part I

Based on Kitzur Likutey Moharan, Vol. I, Lesson 27.
Translated, abridged and discussed by Dovid Sears
With help from the Breslov Research Institute English-Hebrew Kitzur Likutey Moharan.

This is the sixth posting in a series on peace.

Lately we have heard much in the news about threats of nuclear war from various militant regimes (“cyclotron rattling”), as well as news of murders in public places, police killings, family shoot-outs and other acts of violence here in America. May the holy Rebbe’s teachings about peace bring the spirit of peace and reverence for life into our hearts and into the entire world. 

The Rebbe begins with a humorous Aggadic quote from the Gemara, which is part of the debate between Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and the Wise Men of Athens:

The Wise Men of Athens asked, “A retzitza (chick) that dies in its shell—where does the ruach (spirit of life) leave?” He said to them, “Through where it entered” (Bekhoros 8b).

As is customary in Likutey Moharan, the Rebbe will return to interpret the opening quote homiletically at the end of his discourse. (G-d willing, we’ll get to it at the end of Part II of this posting.)

Because it includes a bit of interpretation, we have chosen the version of the lesson in Kitzur Likutey Moharan, an abridgement first compiled by Reb Noson that lists the key concepts of each lesson. The standard edition of Kitzur Likutey Moharan also includes additional material from Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, the Rav of Tcherin, who edited and expanded Reb Noson’s original text.

To the degree that peace prevails in the generation, so is it possible to draw the entire world to G-d’s service, “to serve him with a common accord (shekhem echad)” (Zephaniah 3:9). For by virtue of the peace that exists between people, they speak with each other and together they inquire into the ultimate purpose of the entire world and its vanities. They explain the truth to one another: that in the end, nothing will remain of a person except what he prepared for himself after death, in the eternal world. [As our sages state,] “Nothing accompanies him— neither gold, nor silver, or gems, or pearls— except Torah and good deeds alone” (Avos 6:9).

That is, peace creates the climate for honest dialogue. And the main subject of such dialogue should be the purpose of life. We need to see through worldly vanities—the word used is “hevel,” which is evocative of the repeated phrase of Shlomo HaMelekh, “Havel havalim, all is vanity” (Koheles 1:1, et passim). In these few words, the Rebbe implies that each person “explains” to his friend the truth of the impermanence of creation and the illusory nature of worldly blandishments. Each person learns from the experience of the other, and this leads them to a shared perception and a common spiritual goal.

Through this [genuine dialogue], each person will cast away the falsehood of his idolatry of money and bring himself closer to the truth, drawing himself near and turning to the Blessed One and His Torah and divine service. 

The Rebbe singles out the pursuit of wealth as the main distraction from the recognition of truth, the pursuit of knowledge of G-d, prophecy as embodied by the Torah, and the spiritual life. Thus, in Rebbe Nachman’s story, “The Master of Prayer,” the hero’s greatest challenge is saving the people of the Land of Wealth (any nominations for the title from today’s world?) from the error of their idolatry of wealth, and awakening them to the true purpose of life. In the end, the money-worshippers are ashamed of the wealth they had formerly prized above all else, and can’t get rid of it quickly enough.

But when peace does not prevail, and all the more so when there is strife, G-d forbid—then people do not get together with one another, and they do not speak with one another about the purpose of life. And if they do get together at times and converse, one’s words don’t enter the other’s heart, due to the desire to win arguments, strife, hatred and jealousy. For disputation and the desire to win cannot bear the truth, as explained in [Likutey Moharan] Lesson 122. Thus, we find that for most people, the main reason for their estrangement from G-d is strife, which has now become widespread due to our many sins. May G-d have mercy.

From these words, it is clear that it is the ego that underlies strife and is the prime obstacle to peace. This nips in the bud any possibility of heart-to-heart dialogue and the mutual quest for truth. Each one of us is preoccupied with himself or herself all through our lives, and so we are unable to empathize with the other person and see his or her point of view. Then we lack the necessary climate of peace for dialogue and cannot engage in the quest for truth. Our selfish nature is also what drives us to crave riches in order to pursue power and pleasure. Thus, the ego divides us from one another and distances us from G-d.

Summary of sections 2-5:
The Rebbe goes on to explain how one can attain inner peace—which also entails “wholeness” (in Hebrew, the words shalom [peace] and sheleimus [wholeness] are related). Yaakov Avinu personifies these qualities, as suggested by the verse, “And Yaakov came whole and intact (shalem)” (Genesis 33:18)—upon which our sages remark, “His body intact, his money intact and his Torah knowledge intact” (Shabbos 33b).

This prerequisite for this wholeness is sexual purity (tikkun ha-bris), which leads to a “radiant face (he’aras panim),” a “face of splendor (hadras panim).” The “face of splendor” is that of the Torah sage, who can bring forth the hidden depths of the Torah through the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is interpreted. One who can accomplish this gains a spiritually-refined voice, so that he may pray and sing in holiness. Then, through the sound of his singing alone, without any words, G-d will save him in his time of travail. Through these spiritual accomplishments, he will attain inner peace and the ability to draw the entire world to the service of G-d.

(In the final paragraph of the original lesson, the Rebbe cites Psalms 106:4, “When He heard their song…” and states that when any nation oppresses or threatens the Jewish people, “it is good to sing the anthem of that nation.” Kitzur Likutey Moharan, sec. 5, adds: “By means of song and melody sung for the sake of Heaven, it is possible to arouse G-d’s compassion so that He will see the afflictions we are suffering at the hands of a certain nation, and He will save us from them”—seemingly without our having to engage in war.)

Reb Noson sums up section 6 in Kitzur Likutey Moharan as follows:

Through sexual purity (tikkun ha-bris), as mentioned above, one attains peace. [As our sages state on the verse,] “ ‘The Song of Songs to Shlomo (Song of Songs 1:1)’—to the King to whom peace (shalom) belongs” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:1). Because of this, right after [the Children of Israel sang] the Song of the Sea, they merited the “Shabbos of peace,” as it is written: “And they came to Marah…” (Exodus 15:21)—and they were commanded to observe Shabbos in Marah (see Sanhedrin 56b).

That is, tikkun ha-bris leads to holy song, a song of redemption and deveykus, which goes hand in hand with peace. Shabbos, too, is associated with peace, and actually is an expression of peace. The association between Shabbos, Marah (a place name that also means “bitter”) and peace will be discussed in section 7 below.

[Indeed, there is a hint to this in the verse,] “And Miriam led them in song, ‘Sing unto G-d…’ (Va-ta’an lahem Miriam shiru la-Shem)” (Exodus 15:21). The initial letters [of the first four words of this verse] spell “shalom”—[meaning] that through song, one attains peace.

[The Rav of Tcherin cross-references Zohar III, Korach, 176b, which mentions that “shalom” is one of Hashem’s names, and discusses the connection between peace and Shabbos.]

Part II of this posting will present the rest of the lesson, which delves further into the nature of peace, physical and spiritual; the need for “bitter medicine”; tikkun ha-bris and its challenges; and the goal of world peace.

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