Rav Nachman Shiur #9: "Where is the Place of Your Glory?
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
In the previous shiur, we studied the first path suggested by R. Nachman for a person who has sunk into the mire of doubt and heresy. We explained that such a person has to reveal the Divine light within himself that is to be found in that very place that he has sunk to and thereby to come back to the dialogue between himself and the Creator, redeeming himself from that darkness. R. Nachman, as we learned, advises the person to speak "words of holiness" – even when he finds himself, from a spiritual point of view, in "polluted places," and thereby to connect himself with the inner point.
Sometimes, however, his fall is so great and so deep that even "words of holiness" are completely beyond his capability, and any spark of Godliness is so thickly veiled and concealed that it cannot be uncovered. There, admits R. Nachman, even words of holiness are impossible – but even so, he does not despair of the possibility of continuing to maintain constant dialogue with the Creator of the world:
…The level of teshuva (repentance) is extremely great. Even when people fall very far, heaven forefend, and each has fallen to the place where he has fallen, nevertheless – it is forbidden for him to despair. For teshuva is higher even than the Torah, and therefore there is no room for despair, for if he is worthy, his sins will be turned into something else altogether. As our Sages of blessed memory taught (Yoma 56b), "His sins will be counted as merits." This matter contains the deepest of secrets. But the general principle is that from every fall and descent in the world, heaven forefend, one may still easily return to the Holy One, for His greatness is unfathomable. The main principle is that everything depends on him, and therefore that he doesn't despair of crying out to Hashem, beseeching Him, and praying to Him constantly… (Sichot Morahan 3).
R. Nachman teaches here that a person must never despair, even if he has fallen to a very low place indeed. He finds support in the teaching of Chazal that if one becomes worthy all of one's sins can be turned into merits.
This principle, to his view, is based on two assumptions that he brings in this sicha, both of which require explanation:
i. "For teshuva is higher even than the Torah, therefore there is no room for despair…."
ii. "The general principle is that from every fall and descent in the world, heaven forefend, one may still easily return to the Holy One, for His greatness is unfathomable."
In other words, the reasons that make it possible to return to the Holy One, even from the lowest of places, are the facts that teshuva is higher than the Torah and that the greatness of the Holy One is unfathomable.
What is the meaning of these statements, and how do they make teshuva possible even from a place of great degradation? The answers to these questions are clarified in one of R. Nachman's most beautiful and important teachings. Let us examine it carefully, step by step:
…The root of all of Creation is (Hashem's) glory, for all that the Holy One created was created only for His glory, as it is written, "Everything is called in My Name, and for My glory I have created it…" And since everything was created for His glory, His glory is therefore the root of all of Creation. And even though He is all Oneness, nevertheless in Creation there are divisions, and every part of Creation contains some special aspect of glory which is its root, as explained above. And this is the meaning of the Sages teaching, "With ten utterances the world was created." Could it all not have been created with a single utterance? (Surely so,) but for the sake of reward and punishment it was created with ten utterances. Each utterance contains some special aspect of His glory, which is its root, for His glory is the root of everything, as explained above. And this is the meaning of, "In His Temple, everything declares – Glory." That each utterance clothes the glory of Hashem, for it is through this that the world was created, for the whole world is filled with His glory.
In this excerpt R. Nachman addresses the tension between Unity and multiplicity. This tension increases when we create a connection and continuity between the Infinite and the bound, delineated reality. From the transcendental persepective Divinity is Unity, while in the world that exists outside of it and far removed from it, multiplicity reigns. But from the Immanent perspective, which perceives the Divine glory as pervading everything, the glory is "all Unity." How, then, can we speak of multiplicity? Because Creation has divisions, or parts, and each part is pervaded with its unique glory, which is its root and which maintains its existence. This principle, in R. Nachman's view, finds expression in the fact that the world was created with ten utterances rather than by a single one. This to teaches us that there are different aspects to reality, but what is common to all is that their root is a Divine utterance that beats within them and gives them life at all times.
R. Nachman also hints that the purpose of multiplicity and concealment is reward and punishment. Here, I believe, R. Nachman touches on the issue of man's free choice.
In a REVEALED reality, described by the statement "there is no place that is devoid of Him," there is no choice. The Divinity that exists in everything coerces a person. "Where shall I go from Your spirit, and to where shall I run from Your face? If I reach up to the heavens – there You are; if I go down to Sheol – behold, You are here" (Tehillim 139:7-8). Even if a person wants to escape Godliness, to erase it from his consciousness, to decide that it does not exist, to ignore its utterances and commands, he is unable to do so.
But if the statement, "there is no place that is devoid of Him," is not necessarily a revealed reality; if Divinity exists in everything, but this Presence is not always revealed and visible; if a person has to attune his ear and to deepen his gaze in order to detect it, then the possibility of free choice is granted to him anew, even though "the whole world is full of His glory."
R. Nachman continues his teaching as follows:
Even in sins and evil things, heaven forefend, where there is no glory of Hashem, as it says, "I shall not give My glory to another" – i.e., His glory is bounded such that it may not extend to there, even though "the whole world is filled with His glory" – nevertheless, there is a boundary when it comes to such places, that it should not extend to there, as it says, "I shall not give My glory to another."
Here R. Nachman presents the contradiction in all its polarity. "The whole world is filled with His glory," in contrast with "I shall not give My glory to another." There are places, admits R. Nachman, where it is not possible to speak of the glory of Hashem as appearing there.
Sometimes the Divine glory waits for a person who is forced – owing to his material nature – to descend to the depths of his physicality. But despite this descent, he cannot ignore the calls that continue to echo, "The whole world is filled with His glory," and "There is no place that is devoid of Him." And it is this contradiction that R. Nachman addresses further on in his teaching:
But know that although this is so, even they must certainly receive their vitality from Hashem; even polluted places or temples of idolatry must also receive their vitality from Him. But know that they receive it from the aspect of a "sealed utterance," which is "Bereishit" ("In the beginning") – a sealed utterance that includes all the other utterances within itself, and they all receive their vitality from it. And the glory of this sealed utterance is sealed off and esoteric in the most hidden way possible, and it is from there that they receive their vitality. For from the glory and the revealed utterances it is impossible for them to receive vitality, following the principle that "I shall not give My glory to another." It is only from a sealed utterance, which is hidden in the greatest concealment, that they receive vitality. And this matter is impossible to understand, and it is forbidden to ponder it at all.
We have already seen, in previous shiurim, that R. Nachman accepts the principle of the Ba'al Shem Tov that there is no existence in the world for any creature or any object without Divine vitality. As such we must conclude that even polluted places and temples of idolatry receive vitality from Hashem. Godliness is to be found in them too. But R. Nachman differentiates between the source of Divinity that exists in Creation as a whole, as we have seen in the previous excerpts, and the source of Divinity that exists in those polluted places.
While the source of glory in the world is in the ten utterances by means of which the world was created, the source of Godliness in polluted places is in a "sealed utterance." The source for this expression is to be found in the Zohar, and R. Nachman provides no further explanation for it. However, from the above excerpt we may deduce three things concerning it:
1. It is higher than the glory.
2. It is entirely esoteric, and it is impossible to make any substantial statement concerning it.
3. It includes all the other utterances, and they all receive from it.
We are speaking here of abstract Godliness that is not garbed in its own form and substance. It is unintelligible, undefined, and cannot be garbed in substance.
And therefore, if a person should fall, heaven forefend, to the aspect of polluted places, and falls to great doubts and quandary and confusion, and then begins to look at himself and sees that he is very far removed from Hashem and asks and seeks, "Where is the place of His glory?" – then since he sees that he is far from Hashem's glory because he has fallen to such places, heaven forefend, then this itself is the essence of his repair and ascent, following the principle of "a descent for the purpose of ascent," as discussed in the holy writings. For "where" (ayeh) is the place of His glory – by this itself he returns and ascends to the Supreme Glory, which is called "Where" (ayeh), and which – by virtue of its great concealment and hiddenness – keeps such places in existence. And now, by having fallen to there and then having asked, "Where (ayeh) is the place of His glory?," by means of this he returns and cleaves to there, and revives his fall, and ascends the most absolute ascent.
This is the significance of a burnt offering that atones for wayward thoughts of the heart, as our Sages of blessed memory taught, "It is written, 'And what rises (ha-oleh) upon your spirit' – that a burnt offering (olah) atones for thoughts of the heart." For there is an aspect of "My heart flutters (seharhar)" – for there is a shell (kelipa) that bends and winds the heart in many bends and turns and confusions, and this is the "kelipat noga," and therefore it is called "seharhar," which means "around." It winds around about, "and the 'noga' is around it," for this is a translation, as quoted – and therefore it is written in the language of the Targum (translation of Tanakh into Aramaic). And when a person falls to there, representing the polluted places, and then seeks and cries out "Where (ayeh) is the place of His glory," then this itself is his repair, for he returns to the Supreme Glory, which is called "ayeh," as explained above. And this is the meaning of the burnt offering, as in (Yitzchak's question to Avraham, as they walked together to the binding of Yitzchak as commanded by Hashem,) "Where (ayeh) is the sheep for the burnt offering?" For the aspect of 'ayeh' is the aspect of the sheep for the burnt offering – to repair and atone for wayward thoughts of the heart, which come about from polluted places. For it is through the 'ayeh' that he is repaired and from there that he ascends. And this is the meaning of what is brought at the end of the "tikkunim" of Creation, "bara tayish" – "He created a goat" (a permutation of the letters of the word "bereishit," in the beginning), i.e., the sheep for the burnt offering, which is achieved through 'ayeh', which reflects "bereishit," the sealed utterance.
The impossibility of understanding, of defining, of sensing and seeing are the characteristics of the "sealed utterance," and these are what characterize the Godliness that is to be found in such polluted places – the Divinity whose source is in the sealed utterance.
R. Nachman contends that there is a reality in which Godliness is not only hidden, but actually impossible to find. He calls this reality, in kabbalistic terminology, the "kelipa" (shell) – or, more accurately, the "aspect of the kelipat noga." We shall not discuss the exact definition of these terms and the place they occupy in the process of the coming-into-being of the world according to the kabbalistic teachings of the Ari z"l. We shall limit ourselves to a few general points.
Firstly, the coming-into-being of the kelipot (shells) is a result of shattering and falling. Hence we are speaking of a reality that is an expression of a catastrophe that took place. It is possible that in a harmonious reality – if such a reality were to develop – there would be no room for this type of entity to come about. This disharmony and shattering, however, are not a sort of "work accident" in the coming-into-being of the world, but rather a function of the structural tension between the "lights," i.e., the Infinite Divinity, and the "vessels," i.e., the limited reality. Nevertheless, the manifestation of the emergence of the kelipot remains a description born out of shattering and disaster.
Secondly, even though this catastrophe took place, the impression within limited vessels of the harmonious reality (in which Godliness is easily detected), remains even in the shards left over after that shattering – and especially in the "kelipat noga" mentioned by R. Nachman. But it is a muffled echo a hidden spark that sometimes is undetectable at all.
It is about this very reality that R. Nachman is speaking. It is a reality that man encounters out of shattering, fall, and tremors. And here begins the challenge.
The kelipot, as we shall see in future shiurim, are the source of every negative reality in which Divinity is concealed. And in this category we find different types of concealment, which give rise to different ways of dealing with the task of revealing that Divinity. In the previous shiur we encountered a reality in which Divinity hid itself in such a way that the substance and the significance were recognizable, and by means of words of holiness they could be sought out. Now R. Nachman describes a reality of kelipot, in which the manner of concealment is different from that which we have seen thus far.
The person now stands in a place where he is unable even to speak words of holiness. A place where it is impossible to find that inner point. Utterances of holiness have a positive significance of Divinity. They are comprised of sentences, and the sentences are made of words, which are comprised of letters, that have definitions and boundaries. However, teaches R. Nachman there is a place where a person opens his mouth, and all that emerges is the "hidden aleph." A letter with no sound, with no definition. This is not silence, insists R. Nachman. We shall encounter silence in the next shiur, but here we are dealing with an utterance. A "sealed utterance" is devoid of specific significance, but still remains an utterance.
This is a state of inability to understand, to define and to locate the Divinity concealed within the polluted reality, but once again R. Nachman turns that very inability – the total concealment, the absence of encounter – into part of the dialogue, by insisting that that is the essence and nature of the Godliness that exists in that place. Its nature is such that it allows for no encounter, that it cannot be defined, seen, heard or felt. Not because it doesn't exist there, heaven forbid, and not even because it is decreed that man cannot encounter it, but because that is its nature. When a person internalizes the invisibility and intangibility, processes them and is distressed by them to the point of calling out "Where?" (ayeh), then at that moment he encounters the supreme Godliness whose nature is 'ayeh.'
In this context R. Nachman mentions the binding of Yitzchak and his apparently innocent question, "Where is the sheep for the burnt offering," which – with perspective – turns into a shout echoing between heaven and earth. Avraham, on his way to slaughter his son, does not comprehend and does not identify with the command. Godliness, the significance that stands at its foundation, is completely hidden. The sense of "ayeh" is the heart of the "akeda." The faith that the Holy One is to be found behind this command is the aim. The Holy One has no interest in any more than this. He has no wish for Yitzchak as a sacrifice. He desires the sense of "ayeh" from Avraham and his son. A sense of lack of understanding, giving rise to the cry, "Where is Your mercy? Where is Your promise?" There is no response! Avraham and Yitzchak must be content with the cry that assumes and believes that the Holy One is nevertheless concealed and hidden behind this command. That is the essence of the command. Once this aim has been achieved, there is no longer any need for the "akeida," and the ram takes Yitzchak's place. In R. Nachman's words, "Bara tayish - He created the ram (i.e., the sheep) for the burnt offering that was performed through this 'ayeh.'
Even heresy, when it turns into a cry, when it is directed towards the Holy One, becomes part of the dialogue between man and Hashem. As we saw in the previous shiur, in certain places the utterances of holiness reveal the Divinity that is concealed there, and the nature of that Divinity is the nature of those utterances - they are the inner point. In other places it is the lack of possibility for utterances of holiness, the lack of ability to define or to locate the Divinity, that itself is the inner point. of that place. That inability itself, when directed towards Hashem, is the encounter and dialogue with that point.
In last week's shiur, we saw that Rav Nachman believes that sometimes it is the lack of possibility for utterances of holiness - the lack of ability define or to locate the Divinity itself becomes the inner part of that place. Inability itself can become an encounter and dialogue with that point when it is directed toward Hashem. R. Nachman conveys the same idea, through his wonderful use of metaphor and symbol, in one of his sichot:
...A difficulty is posed by the first letters [kuf, shin, yud and alef] of the words, "Hear, O God, my voice when I cry out" [shema Hashem koli ekra] (Tehillim 27:7). In all circumstances, Hashem hears his voice, and that is his salvation. It appears to me that there is something missing there. The whole point is that the cry in his heart is itself a reflection of faith. Despite all of the great heresies and questions that arise in him, because he cries out, there must certainly still be in his heart a spark and point of pure faith, for if (heaven forefend) he no longer had any spark of that faith at all, he would not cry out. Hence the cry itself represents faith. Understand this? Also, through the cry one merits to achieve faith. For the cry itself is a reflection of faith, as mentioned, but the faith here is extremely limited. Through the cry itself, one may merit to achieve faith – i.e., to raise and enlarge the faith until all his questions leave him. And even if he does not merit to achieve this, nevertheless the cry itself is very good, as mentioned above (Likutei Moharan 146).
R. Nachman, who is well known for his use of the wisdom of the Hebrew letters, reveals that the word "kushia" (a difficulty) is made up of the first letters of the words "shema Hashem koli ekra" (Hear, O God, my voice when I cry out). In a previous shiur we saw that the response given to problems, Divinity is to be found, for within the utterances of holiness all of man's situations of distress are answered, Now R. Nachman teaches us that Divinity is to be found already in the problem or difficulty itself, when it turns into a cry of "ayeh." This cry exposes the most inner point, which is indefinable. It is not the response to difficulties, nor is it the solution to problems. It is, all in all, a cry. A cry that expresses the hidden and most primal foundation to be found in existence – the concealed and Infinite foundation.
Let us return to the continuation of this teaching:
And this is a reflection of teshuva, for the crux of teshuva is when a person desires and seeks after Hashem's glory, and sees that he himself is far removed from His glory. He longs for it, and asks in distress "Ayeh (where is) the place of His glory?" This itself is his teshuva and his repair.
We are now able to fully understand the concept of the past shiurim. The Torah, to R. Nachman's view, belongs to the aspect of Hashem's revealed glory, which extends to the edges of the polluted places but does not enter them. It is not appropriate for Hashem's glory to dwell within impurity. The Torah takes pains, as R. Nachman emphasizes, to observe the distance between Hashem and man between Hashem's loftiness and the lowliness of material beings. In this way the Torah truly represents that glory that does not dwell in murky places. But as we have seen, there is a revelation that is higher than Hashem's glory, and this revelation finds expression in a spiritual movement on the part of man: teshuva.
Teshuva, teaches R. Nachman, is based on the fact that "there is no place that is devoid of Him," even polluted places. There is a Godliness that is even higher than the glory of Hashem presented in the Torah. It is a light that is not revealed a Godliness that is undefined, and hence conflicts less with different realities. The higher the Godliness, the more the differences that are clarified in the process of revelation are blurred. And when there are no differences and no boundaries, then Godliness can dwell even within impurity and live with it. But it should be remembered that the essence of this Godliness is that it is devoid of boundaries and definitions. This Godliness establishes teshuva, which allows man, even in those places, to revive himself with the Godliness that is to be found there. For this reason R. Nachman encourages us by teaching that since teshuva is higher than the Torah, a person is able to revive himself in that place where Hashem's "Torah" glory cannot reach, but Hashem's sealed and hidden glory is to be found there. It is specifically the loftiness of this glory and its elevation beyond any definition or realization that gives it the ability to dwell in polluted places.
This paradox, whereby the highest thing is able to dwell in the lowest place, represents a fundamental principle in man's life. For this reason, for example, R. Nachman's tzaddik can descend to the lowest places without suffering harm. Similarly, the most elevated teacher is the one who is able to teach the lowest students (as we saw in shiur #6). The divisive reality and its contrasts and contradictions is a function of the descent and incorporation of ideals. The higher one climbs, the greater the degree to which the contradictions are gradually nullified and unity is gradually strengthened, until we reach Infinity, the dwelling place of Unity where Hashem is One and His Name is One.
And there are many other matters contained in this, for when a person walks upon a path, or when he goes upon a path of spirituality, then the Torah goes before him, as we learn, "It will guide you in your ways." For it contains many aspects, since each person follows his own teaching. And before any Torah there is an aspect of doubt, as in the case of innovative teachings of Torah. Before one can create a new Torah thought, there are first certain doubts and confusions before he clarifies and explains the matter properly. And these doubts represent the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which itself represents "noga," and when he reaches the Torah itself, this represents the tree of life...
R. Nachman considers it important to emphasize, specifically on the basis of bringing the polluted places into the realm of Godliness, that a fathomless divide nevertheless extends between these places and others. A person strive toward the tree of life, to the place where Godliness exists not only in concealment but also in revelation. As we saw in the first shiur in this series, the purpose of existence as a whole is revelation, and therefore a person must aspire to this, even though it is possible to encounter God in polluted places:
And this is the meaning of the statement, "If a person says to you, Where is your God? Tell him – in a great book of Rome," for even though they are full of gods and idolatry, even so Hashem is concealed there. And the principle is that if one falls to there, heaven forefend, then when he begins to ask, "Where is the place of your glory?" by means of this he revives himself through the vitality of holiness. For the vitality of the kelipot ("shells") comes only from concealment, since Hashem is concealed there in the most hidden way possible, to the point that He is not recognized there at all. But immediately when one asks, "Where is the place of His glory?" then it is clear that there is after all an awareness of Him, only that it is concealed and hidden, and hence [he asks] the question. By means of this itself he revives himself in the place of his descent, for it is a reflection of the "sealed utterance," from whence they receive their vitality, only the vitality of the kelipot is from the concealment. But he revives himself through the vitality of holiness in the place of his descent, by means of the seeking and searching "Where is the place of His glory?" And thereafter he merits to ascend from there altogether, towards holiness itself, i.e., to the place of revelation of Hashem's glory, for the essence of holiness is that Hashem's glory be revealed. Blessed be Hashem forever, amen and amen. (Likutei Moharan Tanina 12).
R. Nachman draws an analogy between the two questions, "Where is your God?" and "Where is the place of His glory?" If we understand him correctly, that he seeks to identify these two aspects with each other, then he proceeds here beyond that which we saw shiur #8.
In that shiur, R. Nachman directed the person who asks "Where is your God?" seize the motive for the question as part of the dialogue between himself and his Creator. This question, to R. Nachman's view, arises from the fact that Hashem has hidden His face from that person. "Where is your God?" is an expression of the situation in which he finds himself – a situation of concealment.
Now R. Nachman seeks to go a step further, asserting that in one moment the question can change from an expression of concealment within the dialogue between the person and his Creator to an expression of encounter between them. R. Nachman's innovation here is that sometimes it is not the answer to the question that represents the encounter, but rather the question itself that can become an encounter. The "where" of "Where is your God" transforms the question into asking where is "the place of His glory."
Although in these places it is impossible to find Hashem, nevertheless here too there is a great repair through the fact that one seeks and inquires from there about Hashem, and asks and implores, "Where is the place of His glory?" And since he sees himself very far removed from His glory, he is distressed and asks and seeks even more, "Where is the place of His glory?" And because he seeks inquires and longs for Hashem's glory, and is imploringly crying out, "Where is the place of His glory?" – through this itself he ascends the essence of ascent, for he merits to ascend to the aspect of "ayeh" which is the very most supreme holiness. And this is the essence of teshuva, that one should constantly seek and aspire to, "Ayeh is the place of His glory," as discussed above, for through this his descent turns into a great ascent. And this is the meaning of, "Descent is the essence of ascent," as discussed in all the holy works – study this in the texts and understand it well, for it is profound." (Likutei Etzot, Hit-hazkut, 30).
Indeed, it is profound!
Concealment, heresy and even the inability to encounter God are all part of the continuous dialogue between the Holy One and man. The ability to return, to engage in teshuva, is a part, and perhaps even the result, of the dialogue. Hashem never ceases to shine His light within the recesses of reality and of man, and man himself is always able to connect himself, to encounter and to grasp that point. Sometimes he does this through providing the answer to a question, other times through the utterance itself – and sometimes even by means of the cry that pierces and tears apart the heavens, which arrives and drags the person with it – right up to the Throne of Glory. To the place of His glory – concealed and hidden from all – "Where (ayeh) IS the place of His glory!"