Monday, August 28, 2017

“Shema Yisrael… G-d is One”

(Painting by Hyman Bloom)

Reb Noson of Breslov, Likutey Halakhos, Hilkhos Kriyas Shema #1

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”).

This lesson was given shortly after Shavuos 5566/1806, following the death of the Rebbe’s infant son, Shlomo Ephraim, z”l,  from tuberculosis. This tragedy caused the Rebbe to “suffer inside and out” (see “Until the Mashiach,” p. 122). The lesson discusses the mystical experience as the antidote for all suffering. Through nullification of the ego, we may glimpse the Ultimate Reality, which the eais Infinite Light of G-d. This reality is described as “entirely good,” free of any dualistic counterpart of evil; and “entirely one,” free of any dualistic counterpart of “otherness.” However, as long as we live in a body in this physical world, after this experience of unity, we must inevitably return to a state of constricted consciousness; we must come back to our ordinary senses. Yet a residue or “afterglow” (reshimu) of the Infinite Light remains, which gives form to new spiritual insights, corresponding to “Torah.” These new insights slake the thirst of the soul for G-d and enable us to mitigate the sufferings experienced in this world of duality. In the following teaching, Reb Noson relates these concepts to the daily recitation of the “Shema”:

The recitation of “Shema” is the aspect of nullification to the Ultimate Reality (“bittul el ha-takhlis”), as it is written, “Hashem (Y-H-V-H) is our G-d, Hashem is One” (Deut. 6:4).  This is an aspect of “On that day [i.e., in the Messianic age] G-d will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9), as Rashi explains.

Reb Noson refers to Rashi’s commentary on Deut. 6:4, that in the future, all nations will recognize G-d and be converted to a “pure speech,” with which to call upon the Name of G-d. Thus, “His Name will be One.”). 

This is the aspect of “entirely good,” which is an aspect of “Hashem (Y-H-V-H) is the L-rd (Elokim)” (Deut. 4:39).

The Divine Name Y-H-V-H corresponds to the Divine mercy and compassion, while the Divine Name Elokim correspnds to the Divine attribute of justice.We ordinarily experience these qualities (middos) as opposites. But in the future, they will be experienced as one—that, is, as pure goodness.

As it is written, “In Hashem (Y-H-V-H) I will praise a matter (ahallel davar), in the L-rd (Elokim), I will praise a matter…” (Psalms 56:11).

The phrase “ahallel davar” could also be rendered “I will praise a word.” In either case, it means that one should praise Hashem whether one experiences Divine mercy or Divine judgment.

In Torah 65, the Rebbe quotes the Gemara’s version of this verse, which reverses the clauses (as above), so that the Name Y-H-V-H preceds the Name Elokim. Also see Likutey Moharan I, 4:2, where the Rebbe states that the perception of these two opposites as one unity is “a glimpse of the World to Come (me’eyn olam habah).”

And this is [the meaning of]: “Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One” – which is “entirely one, entirely good” [as in Likutey Moharan I, 65].  

And this is the explanation of “Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel)”—that is, “let your ears hear…” as our Rabbis of blessed memory expound (Berakhos 15a). If so, it is necessary to remain with the first letter [of the verse, even as one proceeds to recite the subsequent letters and words]. Therefore, the tikkun (remedy) for this is to gaze upon the Ultimate Reality. This is [expressed by the words] “Hashem (Y-H-V-H) is our L-rd (Elokeinu),” as stated above.

With this, Reb Noson alludes to another key element of Lesson 65, one that is most practical, but at the same time seemingly paradoxical. This is Rebbe Nachman’s directive to make the prayer one recites into a single unity—to “make echad” of the prayer. This is accomplished by remembering the very first letter one pronounces at the very moment he pronounces the second letter, and the third, and so one, continuing this way as he recites all of the words of the entire prayer. Thus, the person who prays remains at the beginning of the prayer even when he comes to the very end – and likewise performs this unification all the way in between. This enables one to experience the Ultimate Reality within the very fabric of time and division, represented by the letters and words that make up the prayer.

How is this possible? By realizing that everything that exists is part of the Divine Oneness that transcends all of time and division—even as one participates in temporal life and experiences a world of separateness and division.

Nothing every truly leaves the Divine Oneness, although this higher reality may be eclipsed by the apparent diversity and duality of creation, where every force or power seems to stand over and against its opposite. To “see through” all this and perceive the encompassing Divine Oneness enables the worshipper to make a single unity of his prayer. This requires that a person nullify his own sense of separateness and alienation from the whole. Then prayer can serve as a lens through which to perceive the Ultimate Reality; the Rebbe calls this the “takhlis,” which is by definition “entirely one” and “entirely good.” And in Reb Noson’s teaching, this is the gist of the recitation of the “Shema.”


Before we continue with our translation of Reb Noson’s words in Likutey Halakhos, it might be useful to cite a related teaching from the Baal Shem Tov on the “Shema”:

“The intention (kavanah) with which one recites the word ‘Echad (One)’ during the unification of Kriyas Shema is that one should realize that nothing exists in the entire universe but the Holy Blessed One; for ‘the whole earth is full of His Glory’(Isaiah 6:3). The gist of this kavanah is that the person should make himself as nothing; for a person’s essential nature is the neshamah (soul) within him, which is a ‘portion of G-d Above’ (Job 31:2, as cited in Shefa Tal, Introduction). Thus it is that nothing exists in the universe but the Holy Blessed One—Echad. And the primary kavanah in reciting the word ‘Echad’ is to realize that ‘the whole earth is full of His Glory,’ and no place is empty of [G-d], may His Name be blessed” (Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Va-eschanan #13, citing Likkutim Yekarim).

To be continued, im yirtza Hashem…

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