Friday, January 8, 2021

Two Unifications

(Painting by Dovid Sears)

From Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer’s Mayim Amukim on Likutey Moharan

Translated by Dovid Sears, with my comments in italics

In memory of my cousin and lifelong friend, Judd Magilnick: Yitzchak Zvi ben Yehoshua Moshe, a”h


Topic: Likutey Moharan, Part I, Lesson 13 (section 1):

For there is a Yichuda Ila’ah (Upper Unification) and a Yichuda Tata’ah (Lower Unification), which correspond to “Shema Yisrael” and “Baruch shem kevod malkhuso l’olam va’ed…”


“Shema Yisrael” is the scriptural verse that declares our faith in God’s unity (see Deuteronomy 6:4), while the declaration “Baruch shem kevod… (Blessed be the name of His Glorious kingdom forever and ever)” is recited by rabbinic decree immediately afterward, based on the Gemara in Pesachim (56a).


The Zohar (I, 18b, and elsewhere) relates the Upper and Lower Unifications to the Shema and Baruch Shem. This is discussed at greater length in the Tanya, Shaar HaYichud vi-ha-Emunah, especially in chapter 7.


Contemporary Breslov teacher Rabbi Moshe Kramer explains:

The “Shema” expresses our faith in God’s unity—that there is nothing but God (“ein ode milvado”), and nothing exists apart from God.


The simple sense of this verse (Deuteronomy 4:35) is that there is no other deity but the One God. However, the mystical reading of this verse is that in a profound sense, nothing exists but God. This is discussed in the writings of Rav Moshe Cordovero (though not citing this verse), the Maharal of Prague (Shabbos HaGadol drosha, published in some editions of his Haggadah), and the Shnei Luchos HaBris of Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, among many other sources, especially (but not exclusively) in Chassidic works.


And the entirety of creation is nullified to God, to the point that it cannot be named altogether, as was the case prior to creation. As we say in the Morning Prayer: “You are [God] prior to the creation of the world, and You are [God] following the creation of the world.’ This indicates the nullification of the existence all worlds to the Blessed One.


The plural term “worlds” primarily denotes the Four Worlds discussed in the Kabbalah: Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action. But in this context, Reb Moshe also alludes to all levels of creation entirely, even those mysterious realms above these Four Worlds, which are sometimes described as “pure lights (tzachtzachos).”


Rav Kramer mentions that all creation is nullified to the extent that “it cannot be named altogether,” because the Lower Unification does reflect the concept of naming, as he will discuss.


As for the Yichuda Tata’ah, which is related to “Barukh shem kevod malkhuso l’olam va’ed,’ this indicates the Divine Kingship, and our faith that God fills all creation. For He creates, animates, governs, and oversees all the world; and [with this declaration, we affirm] our knowledge that God rules over all that exists, above and below. For “there is no king without a nation.”


This familiar saying is found in Rabbeinu Bachaya, and many other later sources, seemingly based on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 3 (though not precisely with this phrase).


 And God created the worlds “something from nothing” (ex nihilo), for the sake of His glory, as it is written, “For My glory I have created it…” (Isaiah 43:7). That is, [God created everything] for the purpose of revealing His Divinity in the midst of the worlds.


When we speak of God’s “glory” in this sense, we mean Divine illumination. As the Torah states, “And His glory … appeared at the summit of the mountain…” (Exodus 24:7), and “God’s glory filled the Mishkan (Exodus 40:35). This manifestation of God’s glory is for the purpose of our coming to know Him. As the Zohar states, everything exists for the purpose of coming to know God (‘b’gin d’ishtimodin lei”). And knowledge requires that there be a knower and a known. Hence this is described as a unification (yichud) of two things that had previously seemed to be separate from one another.


This is what is explained in the discourse (section 5), that Yichuda Ila’ah, the Upper Unification, is an aspect of Shabbos, while Yichuda Tata’ah, the Lower Unification, is an aspect of the Six Days of the Week.


For Shabbos alludes to the mystical “secret” of the cessation and nullification of [all] the worlds to the Blessed One. And this is a foretaste of the Shabbos of the Future—when there will be fulfilled, “And God will be exalted alone, on that day” (Isaiah 2:17). For then the truth will be revealed that “there is nothing but [God] alone,” and all existence is nullified to the Blessed One.


[This Lower Unification is related to] the six days of mundane activity, which represent the manifest reality of creation, its mode of conduct and its animating force, by means of the “garbing” of the Divine within it, through various “garments” and constrictions (tzimtzumim), until creation appears to be a separate thing and an autonomous existent.


This is the “secret” of the Thirty-Nine Melakhos (creative activities) of the Six Days of the Week, which [the Talmudic rabbis] derive from the labors associated with the building of the Mishkan, in an aspect of “the design of the Mishkan is modeled after the design of the Work of Creation” (Tikkuney Zohar, Introduction, 13a).


That is, our mundane labors, being related to the creative activities associated with the Mishkan and the Holy Temple, are symbolically a reflection of the Divine Work of Creation, concealed in our human labors. Thus, our weekday activities are also part and parcel of the Divine creative activity, which is a wondrous subject of contemplation.


These two unifications may be found on all levels. For it is known that concerning all spiritual levels, each level is comparable to the infinite (eyn sof) and the emanator in relation to the levels below itself, which are produced by it, and which are in the category of separate entities compared to [their higher level]. Therefore, the paradigm of these two unifications applies on all levels [of the cosmic hierarchy].


For all levels are null and void in comparison to the level above them, from which they are emanated. This is the paradigm of the Yichuda Ila’ah.


Thus, we may think of the Upper Unification as a spiritual elevation from “below to above.”


On the other hand, the higher level enlivens and presides over [the lower levels, in their devolution from their source], until they appear to be autonomous entities—except that the higher level [nevertheless] illuminates them, and imbues them with life, as is understood from our holy books.


This garbing of Divinity within the lower levels in the hierarchy of creation is the paradigm of the Yichuda Tata’ah. Thus, we may think of the Lower Unification as a spiritual descent from “above to below.”


Through these two unifications in particular, the Divine Glory is revealed—which is the ultimate purpose of creation. As our Sages state: “Everything that the Blessed One created, he only created for His Glory, as the verse states, ‘Everything that is called by My Name, I created for My Glory…’” (Pirkey Avos 6:12, citing Isaiah 43:7).


For with the Yichuda Ila’ah alone, there is no existent other than [God] whatever. In that case, to what and to whom would God reveal His Glory [i.e., illumination]? For “glory” applies only to [the relation between one being and] another; see Biur HaLikkutim on this lesson, section 19. And with the Yichuda Tata’ah alone, it would lead to an even greater degree of separation [from God] and concealment [of God].


Therefore, by combining these two unifications [related to the Shema and “Baruch shem…”], the glory of the name of His kingship is revealed: that God is the Creator, Who rules over and enlivens all the worlds, in order that it be known that “the Lord is God [HaVaYaH hu haElokim], and there is nothing else but Him.”


That is, the duality of the world we experience exists only for the sake of this wondrous “knowledge (da’as)” that the true reality is Divinity alone.




I would add that not only does this teaching provide us with kavannos, or meditative intentions, for reciting the Shema and Baruch Shem, but it gives us a perspective for everything we experience in everyday life. Both unifications are always present, if only we are attuned to them. Everything exists in a constant state of unity with God—and at the same time, everything possesses a degree of autonomy and selfhood sufficient for the recognition of the divine life that indwells within all the worlds and throughout the diversity of our experience. May we all attain this realization.

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