Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Pesach in Chassidic Thought: Haste from God - Part II

By Rav Itamar Eldar
Translated by David Strauss

(To read Part I, click here)

From here, based on what he said thus far, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev proceeds to explain the wise son's question:

Do not ask: If so we should eat matza all year round? Our Sages already sensed this question in the Zohar, and answered that it suffices for us to have one awakening[8] a year. The same applies in the matter under discussion. But if there is a difficulty, this is the difficulty. Why do we need two hundred and forty eight positive precepts? Surely the mitzvot are called by the holy Zohar two hundred and forty-eight pieces of advice, that is to say, two hundred and forty-eight pieces of advice through which one can come to the fear and love of the Creator. This is explicitly stated in: "So that you learn to fear the Lord, your God, all the days." For the entire Torah and all the mitzvot were given in order to come through them to the fear of God's exaltedness and to His love. But why do we need all this? Surely it would have sufficed for us to have the mitzva of matza which testifies to the renewal of the world at every moment, and in His hand is the soul of all life and the spirit of all the flesh of man. (ibid.)

            R. Levi Yitzchak's question relates to the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts, and it rests on the words of the Zohar, which speaks of "pieces of advice through which one can come to the fear and love of the Creator."[9]

            If the mitzva of matza, asks the Kedushat Levi, brings a person to recognize newness, that there is no moment, thing, or action that is not from Him, why are "additional pieces of advice" necessary in order to bring man to God?

In order to fully understand the Kedushat Levi's question, we must first understand the profundity of the idea that the mitzvot are pieces of advice how to draw near to God. The two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts allow a person to connect all his actions to God. When a person eats, the blessing recited over the food gives religious significance to his eating. The same is true when a person takes the four species, build a sukka, or brings first-fruits to Jerusalem. Each mitzva relates to a different element of reality, and allows a road to be paved from the heart of the person who comes into contact with that element to God. Therefore, the world of mitzvot relates to all levels of the world, including the lowest among them. From plowing, through harvesting, through eating, and even to the bathroom. There is no time or place in which there is no mitzva allowing a person to harness his actions to his religious life.

Matza, according to R. Levi Yitzchakis absolutely different in its objective. Matza does not wish to attach reins to particular elements or to actions. Matza exposes the fact that every particular element and action is something new from God. From the perspective of matza, there is no mundane, but rather everything is holy, for there is nothing old, and there is no nature, and everything is something new from God, ex nihilo, a new creation, Divine revelation. From this perspective, whatever a person sees before his eyes is the handiwork of God, and thus there is no need for any harness or any external aide to come and connect between the mundane and the holy, for there is no mundane, everything being derived from Him. The Torah teaches man to connect the "garments" which he encounters to God, but matza brings man to the recognition that there are no garments, the body and the garments all being one. Someone who conjoins with the Infinite does not need the vessels holding on to the Yesh and trying to have an effect in the field of action of the Yesh and the old. Thus continues R. Levi Yitzchak:

The answer to this is that since we will later eat chametz, there is a reasonable concern that we will forget this, and the awakening of Pesach will come to an end. This is the question of the wise son: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, etc.'" We have enough with this mitzva of matza, for surely it is from it that we learn to fear and love God; what need then is there for testimonies, decrees, and ordinances. To this we answer: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal Sacrifice." In other words, it is specifically after the Paschal sacrifice that we cannot eat, but later we will eat chametz and we are concerned that perhaps we will be drawn after the evil impulse. (ibid.)

            This is the way that R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev understood the wise son's question. After we have conjoined with God through the eating of matza, and after we have experienced the governance of "renewal" that infuses into our consciousness that there is no other than He, and that everything is renewed by Him, everything is a miracle, everything is Divine revelation – after all this, the wise son asks: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances?' Why is it necessary to leave this unmediated encounter and return to the world of mitzvot which is a world of garments and intermediaries. Surely we have conjoined with the Infinite, and from now on all our actions are for the sake of heaven, even without the "external garment" of mitzva.

            To this we answer: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." R. Levi Yitzchak's technical answer that we do not remain forever with the matza, but rather we return in the end to the chametz – to the old – reflects a profound spiritual position.

            Despite this understanding of Pesach, we live in a natural world, and not a world of miracles. Matza belongs to the haste of Pesach that passes after seven days, when we return to the chametz that reflects the old, the natural, the routine, the garments. The fact that we are planted in a world of garments requires that we adopt the rules of this world – i.e., the mitzvot. The parting of the Sea was indeed a founding experience that established the consciousness of "there is none other but Him," but ordinary life does not constitute "holy convocations," and in day-to-day life seas do not part.

            In the world of Yesh, the world of the old, the consciousness of matza is liable to become blurred, and when this disappears, man is left with nothing. The mitzvot anchor a person in Godly activity, so that even in the absence of the consciousness of matza, and even when a person is immersed in chametz and lives in a world of law and order, he retains a religious consciousness that is fashioned by the performance of the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts.

            The days of Pesach and the matza that reflects them are days of unmediated revelation, and in this manner, there is truly no need for any other mitzva other than the mitzva of matza that reflects the state of revelation. However, the ordinary days, which we enter immediately at the end of the holiday, are days of concealment, and in a world of concealment the mitzvot allow us to preserve our religious consciousness.

            The wise son's question, then, is a question that arises out of the experience of conjunction, reflecting the feeling that the world of testimonies and decrees has an aspect of constriction and distancing from the Infinite. We therefore answer him: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." That is to say, that while the taste of the afikoman is still in our mouths, there is in fact no need for the world of testimonies, decrees and ordinances. However, once the taste of the afikoman has passed, and chametz returns and seizes its place, we are in dire need of the world of the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts.

            R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev concludes this teaching as follows:[10]

And in a different manner, for the Creator, blessed be He, renews and gives vitality, bounty and blessing to all the worlds. Now when the created beings apprehend the Renewer and enter the gate of the Ein and are effaced from this world, it is called matza, for this is the first taste. Afterwards, however, it is called chametz when they do not see the Renewer, in the sense of a soured and stolen taste. Now when a person comprehends the Creator who renews, he can join himself to the Creator, blessed be he, without action. But when he does not comprehend [Him], he must perform mitzvot with fear and love in order to achieve conjunction. And it is difficult why I should need testimonies, decrees and ordinances. It would be preferable to conjoin with the Creator at all times, as stated above. And the answer to this is that one may not eat desert, afikoman, afiku manman being the initial letters of the words mayin nukvin, feminine waters, for by conjoining himself with His mitzvot he raises the mayin nukvin. (ibid.)

            At the end of his teaching, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev suggests another understanding of the wise son's question, but the difference between it and the first understanding lies primarily in the answer.

            Once again R. Levi Yitzchak confronts supreme apprehension, the recognition that God renews His world at every moment, with the world of mitzvot. The supreme recognition that God renews His world constitutes the unmediated conjunction with the Ein. The world of Yesh, as we saw above, is the world of nature and laws, and from this perspective, God's dynamic intervention took place only at the moment of creation, in which God turned the world from Ein to Yesh. This is the miracle, and this is the full revelation of God's will in the world.

However, from the perspective of "He who in His goodness renews the creation every day, constantly," God each and every moment turns the Ein into Yesh. This is the conjunction with the Ein that turns the entire world into a constant revelation of Divine will at every moment and every hour. It is now that God wants the sun to shine, the bird to chirp, and me to breathe. This is "the first taste" of creation, which is the unmediated encounter with the essence itself, with eternity. However, from the moment that the world "becomes chametz," the first taste disappears, and the experience of the Ein turning into Yesh hides in the thickness of the orderly and natural world, and the world appears as if it were running on its own.

The consciousness of matza, as we have seen in the words of R. Levi Yitzchak above, is the consciousness of conjunction, in which there is no need for action. Action contributes nothing when a person is conjoined with the Infinite, and perhaps just the opposite! Action is liable to distract a person from conjunction. Action involves reconciliation with the world of Yesh, and ignores as it were the Ein.

The world of mitzvot, asks the wise son according to this interpretation as well, gives up on conjunction with the Infinite. Why should we give up a world in which it is possible "to conjoin with the Creator at all times"?

This is the same question that was raised earlier; the novelty lies in the answer to the question. R. Levi Yitzchak already answered this question above, saying that the taste of the chametz is liable to impair the consciousness of matza and make a person forget the recognition of "He who renews the world every day, constantly." The tone of this answer of R. Levi Yitzchak is, however, one of bedi'eved, second best. Since a person is liable to fall from the state of conjunction, he needs the mitzvot, because they will allow him to live in the world of garments but still remain firmly planted in the house of God. The mitzvot, according to this understanding, constitute a sort of medicine that is being offered before the injury, but certainly were it possible for a person to remain in a state of conjunction, the mitzvot would be unnecessary. This is what follows from the previous answer.

Here, so it seems, R. Levi Yitzchak gives this same question an absolutely lekhatchila answer. "Afiku manman being the initial letters of the words mayin nukvin, feminine waters, for by conjoining himself with His mitzvot he raises the mayin nukvin."

The term "afiku" means "take out," and the word "man" constitutes the initial letters of the words "mayin nukvin," "feminine waters." Taking out the feminine waters is a kabbalistic concept based on the creation story. On the second day of creation, the upper waters were separated from the lower waters. This separation, according to kabbalistic teaching, is the "forced" separation between the Divine bounty which went up and the Divine bounty which is hidden in the depths of material reality. The water that seeps into the ground symbolizes God's Shekhina that is hidden in the thickness of the material world. Our aspiration in this world, teaches us the Kabbala, is to raise these lower waters and restore the connection between the upper and lower worlds.[11] This idea turns us all into Gods' agents, and we are all potentially the messiah who will redeem the lower waters, the Shekhina that dwells in exile.[12][12]

Someone who conjoins with the Infinite, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, is he who has plunged into the "upper waters." He, however, sins against his mission in this world. He does not fulfill the spiritual imperative of "Joyfully shall you draw upon the fountains of deliverance." God planted us in this world and gave us the mitzvot, the instruments through which we must act in the framework of this world, in order to redeem the disjoined world, and work to reconnect the upper and lower waters.

The transition from matza to chametz, according to this, is not necessitated by man's fall, but by God's choice that demands of man to return to the natural world, to the garments, and work within them. For this, comes the Torah with its mitzvot, in order to provide man with the tools with which to conduct his work in the world of garments. According to R. Levi Yitzchak's second answer, we are not talking about necessity, but with a mission. Man should not avoid this mission despite his desire and yearning to conjoin with the upper world. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev describes the wise son who seeks the haste, the passing over nature and processes, the total miracle that has no gradations or moderation. He asserts, however, as did R. Tzadok at the end of his first teaching, that in the end – "he can once again proceed with moderation and slowness as is the law regarding the Paschal offering brought in later generations." The redemption of reality takes place in the world of moderation and gradation, the world of processes, in which a person slowly lifts and redeems the reality in which he lives. R. Ya'akov Yosef of Polnoye writes in similar fashion:

That which it says: "For the Lord will go before you" (Yeshaya 52:12), using the name of Mercy, so that you veer not to the left, "and the God of Israel will be your rearguard" (ibid.), like Dan, the rearguard for all the camps, for He is behind you. This is a description of God who is called the God of Israel, for the name Elokim which is Justice, is behind you, so that you veer not to the right, as stated above. This means that you should follow the middle line which is graded and moderate, the opposite of haste and flight, which is the inclination to [one of] the two extremes, right or left, which is not constant, but only for the need of the hour. For occasionally one must go with haste, as from Egypt, when their governance was above nature, called haste, as I have explained elsewhere (Vayakhel, no. 4), see there. That was to the far right extreme, for they all offered themselves for the sanctification of His name, they taking a lamb that was the idol of Egypt and slaughtering it, etc. "You shall not go by flight" (ibid.), like one who sets out and must go by flight, so that he not remain there, God forbid. But the middle road is constant so that it will be able to endure. (Toledot Ya'akov YosefKi Tetze 14)

            God wanted to create the world with the attribute of Justice, but, alludes R. Ya'akov Yosef, He saw that it would not be able to exist, and therefore he mixed in the attribute of Mercy, the quality of the middle path.

            Justice is the extremes, the haste, the level that is above nature. This is the experience of the wise son who wishes to conjoin with the Infinite and pass over the natural and gradated world. But, argues R. Ya'akov Yosef, the world cannot exist in a reality of Justice, in the dynamics of extremes, in uncompromising totality – "You shall not go by flight." When a person is at the beginning of a process, R. Ya'akov Yosef agrees, he needs haste, he needs a miracle, he needs an attribute that is above nature: "One who sets out and must go by flight." And as R. Tzadok wrote, this is necessary "so that he not remain there." But this is an emergency procedure necessitated by the need of the hour.

            In contrast, "the middle road is constant so that it will be able to endure." Waiving moderation means passing over this world, and this passing over, when it persists, will lead to the world's destruction. This world is a world of chametz, and we must not remain in a state of matza, which would return the Yesh to Ein.

            R. Ya'akov Yosef is not describing a situation of "bedi'eved," "an anchor to protect against being carried away." Rather he speaks about a way of life, about recognizing that this is the destiny that God assigned to us in this world, to proceed in moderation along the middle path, to maintain the world and elevate it. There is no passing over, no skipping of stages. A moment of looking at the Ein, the miracle, the unmediated revelation, the Divine haste that is above time and above nature, and then immediately we must return to moderation, to nature, to gradation, to the middle road – the Pesach of Egypt and immediately thereafter, the Pesach of later generations.

We will answer the wise son, perhaps with a bit of pain, "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." We are all dragged along with the wise son to the parting of the Sea, to the plagues of Egypt, to the "Who, O Lord, is like You among the gods," and like the wise son, we would all like to stay there, not to fall into the little details that are so constricting and so distracting. But we are obligated by God's eternal call: "Afiku man! Take out, lift and elevate the world into which I have cast you," We are commanded to take leave of the matza and return to the chametz, out of a feeling of missing out on something, on the one hand, but out of a feeling of mission and fidelity to God's will, on the other.


            This tension between conjunction to the Infinite, on the one hand, and the Torah and mitzvot, on the other, also finds expression in the words of R. Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin:

"Blessings are upon the head of the righteous" (Mishlei 10:6). For this reason, the Talmud begins with tractate Berakhot (blessings), for the foundation of everything is "Know the God of your father" (Divrei Ha-yamim 1, 28:9), and afterwards "serve Him." For one must know whom one is serving. This is the blessing that one must recite before every act to designate all of one's actions to God, as it is stated: "In all your ways know Him" (Mishlei 3:6), as the Rambam has written (Hilkhot De'ot 3:3). This is by way of a blessing, as the Sages have said (Berakhot 48a) that the standard is a child who knows to whom one recites a blessing. This is not the case with the other mitzvot; there is no standard that a child must know to whom one dons tefilin, or the like. It is clear then that the essence of a blessing is knowing whom one is blessing, for it is for this that it was established. And this is the beginning of one's entry into Torah, as it is stated: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord" (Tehillim 111:10). The fear of heaven is through "I have set the Lord before me at all times," as the Rema writes at the beginning of Orach Chayyim. This explains why blessings all begin in the second person, for immediately at the beginning of a blessing, God, blessed be He, must be before a person's eyes, as if He were standing over him and commanding him. And the conclusion [of the blessing] is in third person, for He immediately disappears, as it is stated: "Broods over her young" (Devarim 32:11), touching but not touching, as is well known. (Tzidkat ha-Tzadik 2)

            R. Tzadok proposes an amazingly novel idea. He presents a fixed model, a systematic pattern of beginning and end, that starts with immediacy and presence, which is then followed by retreat and concealment.

This model is applied in R. Tzadok's teaching in three ways:

1.    Mitzvot
2.    Blessings
3.    Torah study

Let us examine each one independently.

Mitzvot – Every mitzva involves a blessing that is followed by an action. The blessing is what invokes God's presence: "To designate all his actions to God." The action itself is an act, but the act is meaningless if is lacks a blessing that preceded it and directed it toward God. The act of the mitzva is performed in a state of concealment, and it itself is merely a garment, but the blessing that preceded it is what directs the act toward God, opening the entire process with "Know the God of your father." In order for the act to have meaning in a world of concealment, it must open with a consciousness of revelation – this is the blessing.

Blessings – The blessing itself is composed of a beginning and an end. The beginning of the blessing makes God present – "Blessed are You, O Lord." In the beginning of the blessing, there is once again the consciousness of "Know the God of your father." The continuation of the blessing is in third person, "who creates the fruit of the land" – He; "who has sanctified us with His commandments" – He; "who has fashioned man" – He.

The substance of the blessing, which comes at its end, marks the act that is performed in the material world: the formation of man, the creation of the fruit of the land, and the like. As acts of God, however, these acts are acts of concealment. Everybody sees the apple that has been created, but the recognition that we are dealing with the hand of God is concealed. Therefore, a blessing opens with an unmediated encounter with God: "Blessed are You, O Lord." Not through His creation, nor through His commandments, but through standing before Him – "Blessed are You." Only after a person has experienced through his blessing that he is standing before God can he move on to the concealed world – "who has created the fruit of the tree," and see from the beginning of his blessing how the continuation is also a revelation, though clothed in a garment, but nevertheless a revelation of God.

The Torah – It seems that this is R. Tzadok's most novel point. R. Tzadok asserts that just as the mitzvot are a concealment, and they are preceded by a blessing which is a revelation, and just as the end of a blessing is a concealment, that is preceded by the beginning of a blessing which is a revelation, so too Torah study is concealment, but it is preceded by awareness that is revelation – "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord."

R. Tzadok teaches us that Torah study is also liable to be concealment. A person involves himself with the discussions of Abaye and Rava. He engages in the laws of neighbors, the laws of damages, or the laws of ritual slaughter. What have all these to do with conjunction with God? The wise son's question, according to R. Levi Yitzchak, still echoes in our ears. Torah study is a world of concealment, in which God does not appear in an immediately apparent manner. R. Tzadok teaches us that for this reason, as is the case regarding mitzvot and blessings, one must begin with an awareness of revelation, of God's presence, of unmediated standing before God. Every study of Torah must open with the recognition of "I have set the Lord before me at all times," so that in the course of study, concealment will not turn into disappearance.

R. Tzadok teaches us that the world in which we live is a world of concealment. And the tools with which we meet this world, through the mitzvot, through the blessings, and through Torah study, are liable to fall before the feet of concealment and they themselves will conceal and push away.

Therefore, says R. Tzadok, these all begin with an act, a psychological movement, a process of recognizing the presence and revelation of God. Blessed are You! I have set you before me at all times. All these must preceded the act that connects with this world, the world of concealment.

Israel's redemption from Egypt began with revealed miracles. The Israelites could stand at the Sea and say: "Who, O Lord, is like You among the gods." It was only afterwards that the Torah, the mitzvot, and the blessings came. Standing before God at the beginning of the process, the haste at the beginning of God's service mentioned by R. Tzadok, reflects the necessity of making God present and tasting of the hidden matza, being cast into the lofty Ein and conjoining with the revealed miracle, in order that afterwards we should be able to go down with great love and fear to the hidden spring of "feminine waters" that penetrates the thickness of matter and waits for us to draw water from it and declare the unity of God and His Shekhina.

Have a happy and kosher Pesach!


[8] The Hebrew term he'ara, in the sense of arousing and waking, causing a person to wake up from his slumber and pay attention to what is transpiring around him.
[9] Of course, regarding negative precepts there is no question, for we are dealing with fences that prevent man from falling into defiled places, and the validity of these mitzvot is certainly absolute.
[10] We have skipped over a small section in which R. Levi Yitzchak raises a second possibility regarding the wise son's question, which in large measure presents the second side of the coin regarding the relationship between nature and miracles. He says as follows: "Or else: The wise son – what does he say? 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances, etc.'… One may not eat desert [afikoman] after the Paschal sacrifice. Now all the mitzvot of this night are intended to serve as a remembrance of the miracles that He performed for us. A person apprehends the Creator through miracles when his mind is immature, but when he reaches maturity of mind, and apprehends the Creator, blessed be He, through reason, he is called wise. And [then] he says: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances, etc.' And the answer to this is that it is possible to fall into small-mindedness. One must therefore believe in the miracles and wonders that the Holy One, blessed be He, performed for us, and this taste must remain forever. This is 'One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice.'"
According to this, belief in miracles and wonders serves as an anchor in times of distance, what R. Levi Yitzchak calls – "small-mindedness." When a person is in a state of "large-mindedness" and he apprehends God with his reason, he does not need the awareness of miracles. It is precisely when he has fallen that he needs this. Therefore, the wise one who has apprehended God intellectually asks: "What are the testimonies and decrees." In other words, according to this explanation of R. Levi Yitzchak, this refers specifically to the mitzvot of Pesach that are meant to remind Israel of the revealed miracles, for a wise person has no need for them. Therefore, the Hagada answers: All "large-mindedness" may end in a fall to "small-mindedness," and then there is a great need for miracles.
It should be noted that in a great measure what is said in this section contradicts what had been said earlier. Here it is precisely the awareness of miracles that is seen as lowly recognition, this because the miracle is not understood as closeness, but as proof, and this proof is only necessary when one is not found on a high level of belief.
[11] This is connected to the idea of "For the sake of the union of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhina" (Le-shem yichud), that we saw in earlier shi'urim.
[12] Following the Kabbala, many Chassidic teachings have dealt with the role of man in general and that of the tzadik in particular, being "the agents of the Shekhina," who come to redeem it with their prayers and actions and fill in whatever is lacking in it (for example, Degel Machane EfrayimToledots.v. vaye'ater).

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