Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“Shema Yisrael… G-d is One” - Part 2

(Drawing by Hyman Bloom) 

Reb Noson of Breslov, Likutey Halakhos, Hilkhos Kriyas Shema #1
We have used the recent Even Shesiya edition of Likutey Halakhos, Orach Chaim, Vol. 1, which contains many new source references, for which we are grateful.

Translated and annotated by Dovid Sears (comments in italics)

In Memory of Hyman Bloom
L’illui nishmas Chaim ben Yosef Yehuda
Yahrtzeit: 6 Ellul

Based on Likutey Moharan I, 65 (“Vayomer Boaz el Rus… And Boaz said to Ruth”).

To read the first part of this teaching, click here.

Reb Noson continues:

Our Rabbis (Berakhos 13a) also derive from this verse that [the mitzvah of] reciting the “Shema” may be fulfilled in any language; for “shema (hear, or understand)” implies “in any language that you understand.” [According to Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in Lesson 65, this is] because one must nullify himself to the Ultimate Reality, which is “entirely one” and “entirely good,” and no evil exists there at all; the evil associated with other languages falls away and is negated, and only the good that was garbed within those languages remains.

The principle behind this is the tradition (e.g., Rashi on Genesis 2:23, citing Bereishis Rabbah) that Hebrew is the original language of creation and other languages are distortions of Hebrew, due to the confusion of languages during the generation of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7-9). This is closely related to the Zohar’s mystical teaching that “the Holy Blessed One and the Torah are one” (I, 24a; II, 60a) and “The entire Torah comprises one Divine Name” (III, 35b, 76a, 90b, 153a, 159a)—and the Torah was given in Hebrew.

For certainly every language contains hidden good, except that it is concealed by evil. Therefore, it would seem proper to refrain from reciting anything holy in languages other [than Hebrew, the holy tongue]. However, the recitation of “Shema” represents bittul [nullification to the Ultimate Reality], which is “entirely good.” Thus, it is permissible to recite it in any language; as it is written [of the Tefillin], “And they shall be ToTaFoS between your eyes” (Deut. 6:8)—regarding which our Rabbis expound: “TaT means ‘two’ in Caspian, PaS means ‘two’ in Phrygian” (Menachos 34b).

That is, “ToTaFoS,” although it appears in the Torah, is not a Hebrew word, but a combination of two words in two foreign languages, each meaning “two.” Thus, “ToTaFoS” is an unusual way of saying “2 +2.” This is a reference to the four slips of parchment and the four separate sections of the Tefillin worn on the head. This teaching of our Sages exemplifies how good may be found in other languages.

This reflects the paradigm of the “good” of the Holy Tongue that is garbed in the language of the nations, as our master [Rebbe Nachman] writes.

Rebbe Nachman invokes this concept in Likutey Moharan I, 33, in his discussion of the unity that underlies the apparent duality of the sacred and the profane, the “good days” versus the “bad days.”

This teaches that through the recitation of “Shema,” which exemplifies self-nullification [to the Ultimate Reality, which is “entirely one” and “entirely good”], the good is revealed, i.e., the letters of the Holy Tongue that are garbed in the languages of the nations.

With this we may reconcile the law debated by the Poskim (halakhic authorities) (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 57:6, with the related commentaries of the Turei Zahav and Magen Avraham)—as to how our Rabbis saw fit to expound “and when you lie down and when you arise” (Deut. 11:19) to mean that the time-frame for the recitation of the night-time “Shema” is the entire night, i.e., the entire period when people commonly lie down, while the time-frame for the recitation of the daytime “Shema” is only the period when people commonly arise, which is the beginning of the day, but not the entire day (Berakhos 2a).

For the gist of Kriyas Shema is bittul (nullification of the ego)—which is associated with night, in that it is related to shutting one’s eyes. For then people are resting and not chasing after worldly pursuits, and as Rebbe Nachman writes elsewhere, the state of bittul is primarily attained at night (Likutey Moharan I, 52).

In Torah 52, the Rebbe outlines his path of hisbodedus—secluding oneself to commune with Hashem, and to nullify all of one’s negative traits and desires until one succeeds in nullifying the ego altogether. Then one will instantly experience what is called in that lesson the “Imperative Existent”’ this corresponds to the “tachlis” in Lesson 65 (which we have translated as “Ultimate Reality,” although it also may be rendered the “Ultimate Goal”). Hisbodedus is ideally practiced in an isolated place at night, where there are no distractions or disturbances.

Night is also associated with dinim, heavenly judgments, which are related to suffering.

The Gemara quotes Rabbi Ami that there is no death without sin, and no suffering without wrong-doing (Shabbos 55a).

And due to suffering, one comes to the aspect of bittul, as Rebbe Nachman writes there [i.e., in Lesson 65]. [That is, because one wishes to transcend suffering, one strives to attain nullification of the ego and thus experience the Ultimate Reality, which is “entirely one, entirely good.”

This is the aspect of “When I sit in darkness, G-d will be a light for me” (Micah 7:8). [That is,] specifically when I dwell in darkness, G-d will be a light for me. For particularly at those times when darkness and harsh judgments and sufferings prevail, G-d forbid—whether in matters of divine service or in physical matters—the principal solution to the problem is to close one’s eyes and nullify himself to the Ultimate Reality, which is entirely good. And through this, all sufferings cease.

Reb Noson also implicitly alludes to Rebbe Nachman’s description of this practice in Sichos ha-RaN, #279, which  anyone can accomplish, at least temporarily. Reb Noson restates this teaching in Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Netilas Yadayim Shacharis 1:3 (as excerpted in Otzar ha-Yirah: Emes va-Tzedek, “Bittul el Ohr Eyn Sof,” #1), which I translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space” (BRI), p. 33: “Anyone can experience the Infinite Light, at least for a limited time. Just close your eyes and meditate on the fact that nothing exists but G-d, until you forget yourself completely. Then all your suffering will cease automatically.”

Also see Reb Noson’s explanation of “sitting and not acting in thought” in Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Shabbos 6:8, which I translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” pp. 71-72.

And this is the aspect of sleeping specifically at night. For the night is [the optimal time for attaining] the state of bittul; as the verse states, “Into Your hand I consign my spirit” (Psalms 31:6).

As mentioned in the Gemara in Berakhos 5a, it is proper to recite this verse before going to sleep.

As brought in our holy books (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eytz Chaim, Sha’ar Kriyas Shema al ha-Mitah, chap. 10), this is recited with closed eyes—because the state of bittul is primarily attained with closed eyes. Therefore, the main time for sleep is at night, because due to the dominance of the forces of din (judgment), we close our eyes and nullify ourselves to the Ultimate Reality, which is an aspect of sleep.  

And this is why we first recite the “Shema” before sleep (Berakhos 4a; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 239:1). For Kriyas Shema is an aspect of bittul, as mentioned above, and therefore, it’s time-frame is the entire night, which is the optimal time to attain bittul.

However, the day is not the designated time for Kriyas Shema, except for the period when most people arise [i.e., during the first three halakhic hours of daylight, which is the first quarter of the day; see Orach Chaim 58:6]. That is, [the only proper time for Kriyas Shema during the day is] before people disperse to pursue the things of this world, this [limited time-frame] being an aspect of “closing the eyes” [to mundane desires]. But afterward, it is no long the appropriate time to recite the Shema.

This is why our Sages defined the proper time-frame to be as long as most people are still asleep, that is, until the hour when the children of kings arise from their beds. Until then, everyone has not yet awakened, and some are still desisting from worldly pursuits. However, after three hours, when all have arisen, it is no longer the appropriate time to recite the Shema.

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