Monday, April 23, 2018

Where is Olam Hazeh?

Painting (c) Dovid Sears

Part 1
By Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, Rav of Tcherin, zatzal
Parpara’os le-Chokhmah II, 119
Translated by Dovid Sears

From Likutey Moharan Tinyana, Lesson 119 (end):
Rebbe Nachman declared: “Everyone says that Olam Hazeh (‘This World’) and Olam Habah (‘The World to Come’”) exist. As for Olam Habah—we believe that there is a World to Come. It is possible that there is also an Olam Hazeh as well, in some world somewhere. But here, we see that it is Gehinnom (Hell); for all beings experience great suffering constantly.” Then he said, “There isn’t any Olam Hazeh at all!”

(“Olam Hazeh” has a double meaning: “This World” is the primary meaning, but the term can also be used to mean “the good life.” For example, a person might say, “I like my Olam Hazeh,” meaning my “creature-comforts.” Rebbe Nachman seems to be using the term with this double-meaning.)

The Rav of Tcherin (one of Reb Noson’s younger talmidim, who later rose to great prominence in Breslov and in the broader Chassidic world) discusses this short teaching at length in his classic commentary on Likutey Moharan, Parpara’os le-Chokhmah:

1) According to my limited understanding, it seems that [the Rebbe] means to say that in truth, since we surely believe in Olam Habah, how is it possible to separate and create a division between Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah? For whatever befalls a person in this world, whether bodily, spiritually or financially, and whatever one experiences in thought, speech and action every day, all this is only for the sake of the ultimate goal (tachlis), which is Olam Habah. As we find explicitly in Likutey Moharan, Lesson 54, a person must contemplate deeply and increase his comprehension to understand the “hidden messages” (remazim) that exist within everything in this world, thus to draw nearer to the service of Hashem. This is what [the Rebbe] calls “binding one’s thought to the World to Come in a detailed way”; for Olam Hazeh is called the “feet” of the realm of Kedushah (holiness); study what is written there.

In that lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains that there is no essential division in the realm of Kedushah; rather, the lower levels (i.e., the “feet”) are concealed in the “garments” of this coarse, material world, while the higher levels are expressed through Torah and mitzvos, where holiness is more openly revealed. Yet they are essentially one. The concept of “binding one’s thought to the World to Come in a detailed way” means contemplating the holiness hidden within the countless details of the world of our ordinary experience.

It is self-understood from this that just as the feet of a person are also part of the human form, and it is impossible to separate them at all, because they make up one whole—likewise does this principle apply, and thousands and myriads of times more so, to the spiritual form (so to speak). For indeed, everything is part of one, simple unity, without the least division, G-d forbid.

This is also alluded to by the words of Chazal, who taught: “This world is like an antechamber to the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall!” (Rabbi Yaakov in Pirkey Avos 4:16). Thus we find that the fundamental situation of a person in the “antechamber,” together with all of the intentions with which he prepares himself there, all this is only to enable him to enter the “banquet hall.” And it is self-understood that since the main reason why a person comes into Olam Hazeh, with everything that happens to him here, is only for the sake of that good goal, which is Olam Habah. If so, it is impossible to divide [the two worlds] at all.

This is comparable to what we see physically, concerning the bond between the body and soul. Although the body is coarse matter that is visible and discernable to all, and the soul is spiritual and utterly invisible, nevertheless, the essence of a person is the soul, and the body is mere flesh.[1] And as soon as the soul departs, the body is like nothing, and whatever happens to it, happens. However, as long as the soul is bound to it, the body too is part of the whole person. But it is impossible to divide them at all, even for a second, because then the body would return to the dust, as it was formerly, and the soul would return to G-d.[2]

2) Study the lesson “Ki Teitzei”, Likutey Moharan Tinyana, 82, [which states] that it is necessary to combine the paradigm of Disorder (“Shelo ki-Seder”) with that of Order (“Ki-Seder”) … and then everything will reflect the paradigm of Order (“Ki-Seder”).

In that lesson, Rebbe Nachman expounds on the concept of Chazal that Adam and Eve were created back-to-back, as a single androgynous being, Adam being conscious and Eve unconscious. The tikkun for this condition was brought about when the Creator put Adam to sleep, separated Eve from his body, healed the wound, and awakened Eve. When they were able to face each other and know each other, they became one again, but now in a conscious way. (This seems to be the source of the romantic idea that one’s true mate in life is his or her “other half.” This concept appears in the writings of the Arizal, as well.) The Zohar observes that at first, only Adam is mentioned, not Eve, who is included within Adam prior to her separation from him. Rebbe Nachman relates Adam and Eve to the two paradigms of Order (“Ki-Seder”) and Disorder (“Shelo ki-Seder”)—when things go along smoothly and harmoniously, as opposed to when they are contrary to one’s will. According to the Hebrew alphabet, where the letters are also numbers, the letters that form the word “Adam” are in mathematical order (1-4-40), while the letters in “Eve” (or “Chavah”) are in reverse order (8-6-5). Thus, at first, Disorder/Eve is included and subsumed within the paradigm of Order/Adam.  Only after they are separated is there a possibility for conflict and strife. (Rebbe Nachman goes on to state that the resolution of such strife is nullification of the ego; see there.)

Similarly, in connection with our subject, Olam Habah corresponds to the paradigm of Order (Ki-Seder), since it is the “World of Truth,” and both the small and the great are present, and there, everything reflects the paradigm of Order. Olam Hazeh is the paradigm of Disorder (Shelo ki-Seder), an aspect of “[I saw] an upside-down world: the tzaddik suffers, while the wicked prospers; the superior is below and the inferior is above.”[3]

However, all this is for the sake of free will. For this reason, G-d veiled the holy light in this world, and concealed it greatly, in an aspect of “Indeed, You are a self-concealing G-d” (Isaiah 45:15)—to the extent that it is possible for man, according to his free will, to create a rift between Olam Habah and Olam Hazeh, and to consider something that is merely part of Olam Hazeh to be of primary importance, G-d forbid.

This is what it means to divide between Disorder and Order. Then, to be sure, everything will go the wrong way for him, his life will be constantly full of suffering, and “all his days will be a vexation of the spirit.”[4] For when Olam Hazeh isn’t connected to the aspect of Olam Habah, G-d forbid, it is actually Gehinnom, the antithesis of Olam Habah, which is the aspect of the Garden of Eden. Then there certainly will be no gratification for him in Olam Hazeh, as well. 

That is, in addition to the suffering of Gehinnom itself, his Olam Hazeh will be an extension of Gehinnom.

Rather, the essential perfection (sheleimus) of Olam Hazeh is when it is connected to and utterly bound up with to Olam Habah. Then one’s Olam Hazeh, too, will reflect the aspect of Order and Olam Habah. For [as the Zohar states], “Where the masculine is mentioned (Adam, Order), the feminine is not mentioned (Eve, Disorder)” [inasmuch as their primal unity is restored].

For in truth, everything that takes place in in Olam Hazeh goes the way it should, “ki-seder,” according to Divine Providence, with each and every individual, according to his aspect, and for his eternal benefit in Olam Habah. One who is worthy to grasp this truth and to believe it with perfect faith certainly will live “The Good Life,” even in Olam Hazeh.[5]

Click here for Part 2.

[1] The Tcheriner Rov refers the reader to the Tikuney Zohar, Tikkun 31 (76a): “The ‘body,’ which is this lowly world, is [like] a sandal for the soul [which is befouled by the impurity of Olam Hazeh.” 
[2] Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12:7.
[3] Rabbi Yosef, son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, in Pesachim 50a.
[4] Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes, chap. 2, passim.
[5] The Tcheriner Rav adds, “As is understood from Likutey Moharan I, 4 (“Anokhi”) and I, 65 (“Vayomer Boaz el Rus”), and other lessons.”

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