Friday, May 4, 2018

Where is Olam Hazeh? - Part 2

Painting by Dovid Sears

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

This is the second installment of our translation of the Tcheriner Rav’s commentary on this excerpt 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!”

To read the first installment, click here.

The Tcheriner Rav continues:

3) The Rebbe’s intention in stating, “It is possible that there is also an Olam Hazeh as well, in some world somewhere. But here, we see that it is Gehinnom…” could be explained [as follows]: The entire essence of Olam Hazeh, which creates the possibility of calling it “Olam Hazeh”—as something apart and disconnected from Olam Habah—is only from the perspective of the doubt and the possibility of designating it as such, for the sake of free will.

That is, the Rebbe’s remark, “It is possible that there is also an Olam Hazeh as well, in some world…” is not just a touch of “dark humor” in his description of this world with all of its suffering as “Gehinnom.” Rather, it hints to a deep concept: that the very existence of Olam Hazeh as a separate reality is based on a person asking himself the question: “Is there an Olam Hazeh?” That is, can we experience this world as neither an extension of Olam Habah nor of Gehinnom, but as neutral ground, a reality unto itself, where it is possible to live “The Good Life?” Asking this question allows us to have free will.

One who misuses his free will and truly separates Olam Hazeh from Olam Habah, G-d forbid, actually experiences Gehinnom in this world, and his life is full of suffering. However, one who binds his thought firmly to Olam Habah will live a good life in Olam Hazeh, as well. In truth, his life in this world will also be an aspect of the life of the World-to-Come; as in [the blessing of Chazal], “May you experience your [Eternal] world in your [present] life,”[1] and in the teaching, “Better is one hour of teshuvah (repentance, or return to G-d) and good deeds in Olam Hazeh than the entire life of Olam Habah.”[2]

That is, through teshuvah, one may experience “Olam Habah” here and now, in Olam Hazeh.

Study Chagigah 15a concerning “Acher” [“The Other,” i.e., Elisha ben Abuyah, the sage who became a heretic], who “cut off his plantings” [i.e., lost his faith]; then he said, “Since I have been banished from that world [Olam Habah], let me enjoy the pleasures of this world [Olam Hazeh]!” Because he cut off his “plantings” from their root, he became corrupted afterward, to such an extent that he imagined that gratification might be found in Olam Hazeh [alone], without Olam Habah, G-d forbid—when the truth is the opposite. For the angel Metat[3] rules over the days of the week,[4] which represent Olam Hazeh, However, in truth, “My Name is within Him” (Exodus 23:21); see Chiddushey Aggados [Maharsha] there, and understand.[5]

The Tcheriner Rav means to say that just as the angel Metat is not a separate power, but is animated by the Divine Name within him, so Olam Hazeh (symbolized by the six weekdays) is not a separate reality, but only an "antechamber" (prozdor) and an extension of Olam Habah, if one has the eyes to see this truth.

With this, we can understand the teaching of Chazal in the Mishnah (Berakhos 9:5),[6] that all blessings recited in the Holy Temple were concluded with the phrase “min ha-olam … from the world.”

That is, the text of each blessing recited in the Holy Temple would conclude with “Blessed are You Hashem, G-d of Israel, min ha-olam…” followed by “Barukh chonen ha-da’as … Blessed is He who grants knowledge,” or whatever the ending of the specific blessing might be.[7] Those who heard the blessing would respond, “Barukh shem kevod malkhuso le-olam va’ed … Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever,” instead of “amen.””[8]

However, due to the damage caused by the heretics[9] who said, ‘There is but one world,” this was emended so that the blessing would conclude, “min ha-olam vi-ad ha-olam … from world to world.”[10]

This formula makes it known that Olam Hazeh is nothing compared to Olam Habah, unless it is like an antechamber to the “banquet hall,” as we have said.

“At first, they would conclude with the words “min ha-olam … from the world”—because the two worlds are actually one. “However, due to the damage caused by the heretics”—these words need to be explained. [That is,] even though there are two worlds, Olam Hazeh is unworthy of any consideration at all, unless it is connected to Olam Habah.

Study what is written in Sichos ha-Ran, sec. 40, regarding the four aspects, which are the Hyle (hyuli); the Transcendental (nivdal); the Celestial (galgal); and the Lowly (shafal). They make up the [four aspects of the] “revolving wheel” [of creation], which in its source is entirely one. And the primary revelation of this [mystical truth that creation is a “wheel of transformation”] is in the Holy Temple, which exemplifies the paradigm of “the superior below and the inferior above.”

In the above-mentioned talk, Rebbe Nachman expounds upon the Chanukah Dreidel as a symbol of the impermanence and constant change of all elements in creation, which is thus like a spinning top, or a wheel of transformation. The four aspects of creation correspond to the four letters traditionally written or inscribed on the Dreidel: nun, gimmel, heh and shin. (In the Rebbe’s teaching, Nun stands for “Nivdal,” the Transcendental; Gimmel stands for “Galgal,” the heavenly constellations, or the celestial realm; Heh stands for “Hyuli,” which is the state of pure potential prior to creation, and which might be said to be the state of “neither the chicken nor the egg”; and Shin stands for “Shafal,” the lowly material plane of existence.) Then Rebbe Nachman relates this concept of the “Cosmic Dreidel” to the paradigm of the Holy Temple and to the Final Redemption, when this truth will be universally comprehended. (We have translated Sichos ha-Ran 40 with a tentative commentary of our own in a separate posting here.)

4) With this, it is all the more understandable that the blessings in the Holy Temple concluded with “min ha-olam … from the world,” as mentioned above. For [the Holy Temple] was where the revelation of this occurred: that the paradigm of Olam Hazeh is utterly bound up with the paradigm of Olam Habah, in a state of complete unity. Because the Blessed One, who transcends everything, constricted Himself (so to speak) and caused His Shekhinah (Presence, or Divine Immanence) to become manifest below in the Holy Temple, which existed in this physical world. Likewise, the Korbanos (sacrifices), taken from physical things, ascended as a “gratifying fragrance” to G-d, and as the holy Zohar states,[11] “the ascent of the Korbonos was unto the Eyn Sof (Infinite One).”

So it is clear that everything is bound together in one unity, and that is why they used to say “min ha-olam … from the world.” (And that is why in the Holy Temple, permission was granted to pronounce the Essential Divine Name [HaVaYaH], reflecting the verse, “Wherever My Name is mentioned, I will come unto you” (Exodus 20:21), as our Sages state.[12] According to Rashi’s explanation (ad loc.) [i.e., that the Name HaVaYaH may only be pronounced in the place where the Shekhinah is manifest], this is an aspect of Olam Habah—for then, the Name [HaVaYaH] will be pronounced the way it is written, as our Sages state.[13]

“However, due to the damage caused by the heretics”—who declared that there is only one world [Olam Hazeh], denying the existence of Olam Habah, which is an inner spiritual reality, and asserting that there is only the materiality of Olam Hazeh. Therefore [the Sages] amended the blessings to conclude “min ha-olam vi-ad ha-olam … from world to world.”

That is, although they appear to be two worlds, this is only for the sake of free will. However, in truth, Olam Hazeh is not considered to be anything compared to Olam Habah; for whichever way you choose, if one separates it completely from Olam Habah, G-d forbid, it is certainly worthless; what is worse, it is Gehinnom! Thus, [Olam Hazeh] cannot be called a “world” [unto itself] at all (“for it would have been better never to have been created”[14]).

The main point is that the name “Olam” [in “Olam Hazeh”] truly applies when it is connected and bound to Olam Habah. Then, “in the place where the masculine is mentioned, the feminine is not mentioned” (Zohar, op. cit.); for then, it is incorporated into Olam Habah in a state of complete unity.[15]

To read Part 3, click here.

[1] Berakhos 17a. Alternately, “May you see your world [i.e., may your needs be provided] in your lifetime [in this world], and may your end be the life of the World-to-Come” (Rashi, ad loc.).
[2] Avos 4:22. Another interpretation of this Mishnah is that our divine service in this world of bechirah / free will and conflict is most precious to Hashem, and therefore of greater worth than the “reward” of Olam Habah, when “the tzaddikim will sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the ziv ha-Shekhinah (the spiritual illumination of the Divine Presence)” (Berakhos 17a).
See Likutey Moharan I, 21:4, which explains that our divine service through bechirah (free will) depends on the inability to understand the paradox of Divine foreknowledge (yediah) and human bechirah; the resolution of this paradox will be internalized in the future, when “the tzaddikim will sit with their ‘crowns’ (i.e., higher spiritual states, or makifin) on their heads (literally ‘bi-roshehem,’ ‘in their heads,’ meaning that they will grasp such paradoxes).” Then they will transcend the human level and attain that of the angels. This lesson is available online here.
[3] In full, “Metatron.” It is customary to abbreviate the names of angels and to avoid pronouncing them, unless they are the same as those of human beings (such as Michael, Gabriel, etc.). This is because, according to the kabbalists, mentioning the names of angels can be a way of invoking them.
[4] See Likutey Moharan I, 11:5, based on Yevamos 16b (Tosafos, s.v. pasuk zeh sar ha-olam amru); Zohar I, 126a (Midrash ha-Ne’elam).
[5] Maharsha (loc. cit.) explains that “Acher” perceived Metat as a divine power unto himself, not because of an “innocent mistake” but due to his own spiritual flaw. In fact, the verse explicitly states that Metat’s wondrous power was entirely due to the Divine Name that had been vested within him.
[6] In the Gemara, Berakhos 63a.
[7] An example of such a blessing in Hebrew:
אתה חונן לאדם דעת, ומלמד לאנוש בינה, חננו מאתך דעה בינה והשכל
ברוך אתה ה' אלהי ישראל מן העולם ועד העולם ברוך חונן הדעת

[8] See Rashi on Berakhos 54a, s.v. kol chosmey berakhos she-bi-mikdash (citing Ta’anis 7b).
[9] Chazal affirmed the immortality of the soul as a fundamental Jewish belief, based on Scriptural analysis. The heretical Sadducees (Hebrew: Tzadokim), who rejected the Oral Law, did not believe in the Afterlife because this doctrine is not overtly stated in the Torah.
[10]  The Tcheriner Rav refers the reader to Rashi on Berakhos 63a, citing the Tosefta (27).
[11] Paraphrase of Zohar I, 65a.
[12] The Tcheriner Rav cites Sotah 38a, which discusses Birkhas Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. In the Holy Temple, the Divine Name HaVaYaH was pronounced as it is written. However, use of the explicit Divine Name was discontinued after the passing of Shimon HaTzaddik (fourth century BCE) (Yoma 39b).
[13] The Tcheriner Rav cites Berakhos, chapter 9, which appears to be a scribal error. There, the Gemara discusses the blessings recited in the Holy Temple, as cited above; however, the pronunciation of the Divine Name as it is written (Yud-Heh or HaVaYaH, and not as Alef-Dalet or A-D-N-Y) is mentioned in Pesachim 50a.
[14] Eiruvin 13b. The Gemara attests that for two and a half years, Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai debated the issue of whether it would have been better if man had not been created, and they finally agreed that it would have been better had he not been created. Various reasons are offered for this conclusion (e.g., see Maharsha, ad loc.), although the Gemara does not discuss the nature of the debate at all. Rebbe Nachman explains that it would have been “better had man not been created” to be from the standpoint of the inevitable suffering of all living creatures in this world. But from the standpoint of Olam Habah, creation is certainly “very good,” as the Creator deemed it to be, for there the ultimate goal of creation is attained (see Likutey Moharan Tinyana, 39).
[15] The Tcheriner Rav references the Zohar, Hakdamah (1b-2a), concerning the verse, “Raise your eyes above and see who (mi) created these (eileh)” (Isaiah 40:25) … These letters (mem-yud) combined with these letters (alef-lamed-heh) and formed the Name E-L-H-Y-M.” The Tcheriner Rav adds, “See there, for it is relevant to our subject.” This somewhat cryptic passage of the Zohar may be read here.

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