Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Amazing Grace (“Chein”)

(Painting by George Inness)

Thoughts on Likutey Moharan, Torah 1 (“Ashrey Temimey Darekh”)
By Dovid Sears
L’ilui nishmas Avigdor ben Shmuel, a”h                                                                 

“For now, due to our many sins, the true chein vi-chashivus (grace and worth) of Israel has fallen…” –Rebbe Nachman

Rebbe Nachman also states that the tzaddikim possess this true chein (Likutey Moharan II, 67)—which is a lofty thing in itselfbut is of critical importance to the rest of us.

It is often the case that our very yiddishkeit depends on the chein of the tzaddikim. For if we are inspired by thatchein, we will strive to emulate those who possess it; and the opposite is also true. If we become disillusioned, we risk falling away from yiddishkeit completely, G-d forbid.

When I was a new arrival to Borough Park in 1987 (having “emigrated” from Providence, RI), I attended a Friday night get-together with visiting Breslover teacher, Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer, shlit”a, of Yerushalayim. In the course of conversation, I asked Reb Moshe about the issue of manhigus, leadership in Breslov today, when Rebbe Nachman is no longer a physical presence among us. I remember well his words of caution:“Reb Noson states that in every generation there are‘one or many’ outstanding manhigim.[1] It is possible that there is one preeminent leader, even today. But how can you be sure if you have found that individual? By investing all of your emunas chakhomim in one manhig or mashpia, you put yourself in sakana bi-ruchniyus, spiritual jeopardy. Because if you later become disillusioned with that leader, you may become disillusioned with yiddishkeit altogether, chas vi-shalom! Therefore, the wisest thing to do is to learn from every teacher who seems to have the right qualifications, until you find the one you connect with the best. But don’t take even that individual to be the unique leader,above all others,until you are absolutely sure. As for me, I still haven’t come to that degree of certainty about any of the great teachers I have known in Breslov.”

We see this danger today, when we hear of mekurovim, spiritual seekers who came to Breslov from other Orthodox communities or from the secular world, but who later fell away from Breslov due to their disillusionment with certain leaders who seemed to have chein, but who didn’t live up to their expectations.

Chein is an extremely powerful force. When a person, or a symbol of a certain way of life or belief-system, has chein, that chein carries along with it a whole world. For example, if a young person becomes attracted to the chein of a music star, they will be attracted to everything associated with that star—his or her style of dress, public persona, way of walking and talking, political or religious or secular beliefs, life style, etc.

When I was a teenager (far from the Chasidic world I live in today), I knew a sixteen-year old budding blues guitar prodigy. His father was what was known as a “Little League Dad,” who drove his son to band practice, bought him a Fender Stratocaster and an amp that could make your hair stand up on end, and encouraged him in every way. Nevertheless, our local guitar prodigy became a drug addict—not because of a troubled home life, but because that destructive habit went along with the music he loved and the famous musicians he admired, and he was just a kid who didn’t know better.

When the things of true value lose their chein, this loss puts a person in great spiritual jeopardy. For something else with a different sort of chein inevitably will come along to take its place. As my teacher Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig once remarked, “No one lives in a vacuum. A person has to derive vitality from somewhere…”

Permit me to share another memory: I grew up with a Jewish kid who suffered from low self-esteem, which he blamed on his Jewishness. This was probably due to the conspicuous Jewishness of his immigrant parents (who alsohad an unhappy marriage),combined with his feelings of being a social “outsider.” So he always misbehaved in Talmud Torah, and couldn’t wait to leave home and somehow find a niche for himself in the non-Jewish world. He later married a non-Jewish girl, and the wedding was held in a prestigious New England prep school—a place that did possess chein in his eyes. As Rebbe Nachman states in our lesson, “Now the main chein is elsewhere…”

One obvious reason why Jews may feel a lack of chein in their Jewishness is the rejection and persecution we have often suffered as a minority group living in non-Jewish societies. As I write this, we are recovering from the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the fast of Tisha beAv. One part of the trauma of Tisha beAv reflects the consequences of our failings in relationship to G-d; the other reflects the sufferings we have endured at the hands of our fellow human beings, and the emotional baggage that we still bear in our hearts from these horrendous experiences. Anti-Semitism has surely taken its toll on the “chein vi-chashivus” of being Jewish.

(There are other reasons, as well, such as the greater influence of the dominant culture. And in some cases, people become “turned off” to Judaism because they were emotionally hurt by their Jewish teachers—which in a way is even worse than being abused by anti-Semites.)

On the positive side, Rebbe Nachman teaches us that true chein is found in the Torah, which is compared to an “ayeles ahavim vi-ya’alas chein (a beloved doe and a graceful roe)” (Proverbs 5:19). Chazal explain that this is because the Torah confers chein (“she-ma’alah chein,” a word-play on “ya’alas chein”) on those who study her wisdom–and upon the tzaddikim in particular.[2] What is this chein that the Torah confers, and how does this work?

The chein of the Torah, according to Rebbe Nachman, is composed of two qualities represented by the letters ches and nun, which spell the Hebrew word “chein.”

The letter ches corresponds to Chokhmah / Wisdom, which is the “chiyyus,” the wondrous life-force that miraculously brings everything into existence; in Rebbe Nachman’s words in this lesson, it is the “sekhel she-b- khol davar,” the animating divine intellect that lies within each created thing. It is our task to seek out that Chokhmah.

The letter nun corresponds to Malkhus de-Kedushah / Holy Kingship, the last of the ten sefiros, which receives the “light” of the other nine that precede it in the order of emanation. Malkhus receives the lofty light of Chokhmah, and thus is empowered to overcome the Malkhus of the “Sitra Achara”—the “Other Side” of creation that opposes the holy. This conflict between the two types of Malkhus provides us with freedom of choice.

When the ches and the nun symbolically combine and form the word “chein,” the Chokhmah / Wisdom that is hidden within all things is brought to fruition in the world. This is the chein of the Torah—the Primordial Torah that is the “blueprint of creation,”[3] which is ultimately destined to become apparent to all. Then, as our lesson continues, “The light of the moon”—Malkhus—“will be like the light of the sun”—Chokhmah—“and the light of the sun will be like the light of the Seven Days of Creation”[4]—which alludes to the “Light that is hidden away for the tzaddikim in the Future World.”[5] This is the “light” that will enable us (albeit in a more highly evolved state) to perceive the G-dliness within everything and the divine intention within everything, past, present and future—indeed, beyond time.

This is the true chein that we all seek, whether we know it or not. It is the chein of that which possesses true value and delivers its promise of spiritual fulfillment.

The Torah attests of itself, “ki hu chayeikhem … for it is your life” (Deut. 32:47). It is the mystery of the divine life-force within all thingsand within ourselves. When we are granted a glimpse of this chein, what other chein can there be?

[1]Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Shluchim 5:12. Reb Noson uses the phrase “echad o rabbim.” Since no two tzaddikim are on the same level, it would seem that there should be one preeminent manhig in Breslov (“echad”). However, if the generation is not worthy, there may be many leaders (“rabbim”), each with his own special gifts, but no one who is “head and shoulders” above the rest.

[2]Eiruvin 54b.
[3]Bereishis Rabbah 1:1.
[4] Isaiah 30:26; Siddur, “KiddushLevanah.”
[5]See Chagigah 12a; BereishisRabbah 3:6; Rashi, Genesis 1:4.

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