Tuesday, December 26, 2017

“Behold, I am Sending an Angel Before You”

(Painting by Marc Chagall)

Reb Noson of Breslov, Likutey Halakhos, Hilkhos Har’sha’ah 3:13
Based on Likutey Moharan I, 15
Posted in honor of Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit, 10 Teves
Translation by Dovid Sears

Connecting to a true tzaddik who can guide us on the spiritual path and initiate us into the depths of Torah wisdom is an essential part of the quest to come closer to Hashem.  Indeed, Chazal advise us to seek instruction from a teacher who is comparable to a “malakh Hashem Tzeva’os,” an “angel of the L-rd of Hosts” (Moed Katan 17a)—a teacher of the highest spiritual caliber. Nevertheless, it is possible for the seeker to go astray in relating to an angel, and implicitly to a holy teacher who is like an angel, as Reb Noson explains here.[i]

A central principle of this teaching is the contrast between the essential Divine Oneness (“Echad”) and the multiplicity that is reflected by the world we ordinarily experience. It is this factor of multiplicity that may lead to a fundamental error in our perception of things, and ultimately to idolatry and heresy.

After the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf and sought many divine powers (harbeh reshuyos), G-d told Moses, “Behold, I am sending an angel before you…” (Exodus 23:20)—He gave over His power, so to speak, that the angel might lead the Israelites. Moses did not desire this, as it is written, “And he said to Him, “If Your Presence[ii] does not go [with us], do not take us up from here.” Because as soon as G-d delegated power to another being, even a holy angel, since the power was transferred and thus estranged from the Divine Oneness (Echad), this gave [the unholy forces] something to grasp onto, G-d forbid. Thus it became possible, G-d forbid, for power to reach the destructive angel, [which represents] the “fallen fears”[iii] that now are empowered to do harm, G-d forbid.

This possibility only exists through the “many powers” and dominions which proliferate due to transgressions, G-d forbid. [This is reflected by the verse,] “Because of the sin of a land, its princes are many…” (Proverbs 28:2). From [the “many powers”] the klippos[iv] and the Evil Inclination obtain their grasp; and their main grasp is through the heresies which come about only because the Blessed One sometimes empowers a shaliach (emissary or agent) or an angel. As a result, the various heresies and forces of constriction (dinim) are brought into existence, which declare that there are two divine powers, G-d forbid.

As our Sages state of “Acher” [the “Other One,” namely, Elisha ben Avuyah, the heretical Mishnaic sage], who erred through this: “Acher, what did he see [in his mystical vision]? He saw the Angel Metat,[v] who was divinely empowered to sit and record the merits of the Jewish people… and he inferred [that there are two deities]” (Chagigah 15a).

Therefore, when G-d wished to dispatch an angel and give it the power to lead the Israelites, He warned the Israelites to take great care not to go astray through this, G-d forbid. Thus, it is written, “Behold, I am sending an angel before you… Beware of him … and do not rebel (tamer) against him” (Exodus 23:20, 21). On this verse, our Sages expound, “Do not exchange Me (temireni, a word-play on tamer) for him” (Sanhedrin 38b).  For you must beware that you not go astray in the way Acher went astray, by straying into heresies, G-d forbid, since G-d empowered the angel —“for My Name is within him” (ibid.).

For in truth, he possesses no power of his own whatsoever, G-d forbid; whatever he does is only according to My power and as My agent, “for My Name is within him.”

Thus we see that the greater the degree to which power is delegated, even within the bounds of the holy, even [when delegated] to holy angels, this may lead to the forces of evil obtaining a grasp, G-d forbid.

[i] Also see Rebbe Nachman’s words in Likutey Moharan I, 31, sec. 3: “ ‘If the Rav (master) is like an angel of the L-rd of hosts [seek Torah from his mouth]’– for the Rav also must possess the two powers of the Torah, the ‘elixir of life’ and [the opposite], so that it will be possible [for the seeker] to receive according to his will: ‘the righteous will walk in them [i.e., the ways of the Torah], while sinners will stumble in them.’ If one longs to serve G-d, may He be blessed, he will be able to receive from the Rav a straight path by which to serve G-d. But if not, and there is something amiss in his heart (tina yesh bi-libo), he will accordingly be able to find in the Rav something with which he may ‘cut off his roots’ [‘kitzetz bi-netiyos,’ an allusion to Acher, who saw the angel Metat in a vision and concluded that he was a deity unto himself], and become a complete heretic, G-d forbid.” Also see section 4 of the same lesson concerning “the four who ascended to the Pardes (Orchard)” and the error of Acher.

[ii] Literally, “Your Countenance,” which the Targum renders as “Your Shekhinah (Presence).”

[iii] “Fallen fears” are all ego-related fears, which devolve from the “holy fear,” which is fear and awe of Hashem.

[iv] Literally, “husks.” In Lurianic kabbalah, klippos are the forces in creation that conceal the holy, the way the outer husk or rind conceals the inner part of a fruit. They are most dominant in the World of Asiyah (Action), which is the lowest of the Four Worlds.

[v] It is customary neither to pronounce this name in full (Metatron). Various ancient texts point out that “Metatron” has the same gematria as “Shaddai,” a Divine Name. This informs the verse mentioned above, “For My Name is within him” (Exodus 23:21).

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