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Rav Nachman Shiur #12a: Speech II – Holy Utterances in Torah Study and Prayer

By: Rav Itamar Eldar


In our previous shiur we saw that the exile of the Shekhina, which R. Nachman's philosophy identifies with the exile of speech, is not only a theological-philosophical matter.  It affects man and his stance before Hashem, since he desires to encounter Hashem's voice which is hidden in reality. But it seems that we must deepen the connection between man and Divine Speech, according to R. Nachman, beyond this level.


We mentioned in the previous shiur that our first encounter with Divine Speech is in the story of Creation, when the heavens and all their hosts were created by Hashem's Word. But in the view of Onkelos (a classic translator of the Torah into Aramaic), there is another Utterance involved in the beginnings of reality. Commenting on the verse, "And Hashem God created man dust from the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul" (Bereishit 2:7), Onkelos translates "living soul" (nefesh chaya) as "ruach memalela" – a speaking spirit.


The "speaking spirit" is the soul that lives within man, and this is what distinguishes him from animals. Indeed, the category of existence to which man belongs is called "medaber" – speaker, and this level is elevated above the levels of "domem" (inanimate objects), "tzomeach" (vegetation) and "chai" (living things). As R. Nachman teaches, "For the principal difference between man and living things is the characteristic of speech, which is the definition of man – that he speaks, reflecting the phrase "Who gives a mouth to man" (Likutei Moharan Kama 225).


This advantage that man has over living things is not a characteristic that stands in its own right. The "speaking spirit" with which he is endowed is really the breath that the Holy One constantly breathes into him, and man's speech – according to the above excerpt – is really a reflection of the Divine Shekhina that resides within him.


This idea is also of great importance to R. Nachman for a different reason:


"One who desires honor is a fool. He may be understood through this parable: an important minister sent a clerk to one of his towns, far away, and this clerk assumed for himself much honor there, for the local people did not know that he was a servant of the minister; they thought that he himself was the minister. And when they needed something from him they would fall before his feet and give him much honor, and would give him all the titles of honor that belonged to the minister. Once the minister himself came there. The clerk came before him and was asked about the business of the town and why the local people were not performing their work. The minister called to a policeman and asked him about the business of the town. The policeman did not know the minister; he knew only the clerk. And so immediately he fell at the clerk's feet and gave him all the honor due to the minister, and answered his question. The clerk's face burned like the sides of a cauldron and he was most embarrassed, for there is no greater shame than being in front of the minister while he himself was being given such honor.


Likewise, the essence of honor is only from Speech, for a man's organ – such as his hand – cannot be given honor; the form of humanity is not recognizable in the hand. Even a man's face is not particularly unique, for there are animals that have a human-like face (such as a monkey, which is not counted as a human being). Therefore he is to be honored only because of Speech, for through this he is distinguished from other living things.  The essence of honor is only from Speech, and Speech is the palace (heikhal) of the King (for "heikhal" in gematria is equal to "Adonay," the aspect of Speech, as it is written, 'Adonay – open my lips….') This being the case, he seeks to receive honor within the very palace of the King, and there is no greater disgrace than this, as we are able to sense, for a servant would certainly be most embarrassed to have great honor bestowed upon him in the presence of the King himself, as we see in the above parable" (Likutei Moharan Kama 194).


Based on the assumption that he asserted in the previous teaching, R. Nachman emphasizes the fact that man's ability to speak makes him unique among all living things and gives him his greatness and stature.  R. Nachman reminds us what this speech is and what is its essence.  The "palace of the King," as we expected, is simply another name for the Sefira of Malkhut, associated with the name "Adonay," which is also mentioned here by R. Nachman. The "palace of the King" is the place where the ground is prepared for God's entry and dwelling, just as the Sefira of Malkhut is the place of preparation in the world for acceptance of the Shekhina.


The innovation inherent in these words is that R. Nachman sees even man's own mortal words as an expression of the Shekhina that exists within.  Man's ability to utter words reflects the "living spirit" that exists within him and which constantly draws its life force from its Divine source.


Just as the greatness of the clerk was just a reflection of the minister whom he represented and in whose name he spoke, so all of man's greatness lies only in the fact that he represents and speaks in the Name of the Holy One. How can man seek honor for himself, as if he was elevated in his own right, when the source of his uniqueness is God?


The first implication of this identification of speech with the Sefira of Malkhut is that Hashem's kingship is built in the world by virtue of the speech given to the souls of man in general, and the souls of Israel in particular:


"… And this is the meaning of "Your kingship is Kingship of all the worlds." This means that the attribute of Malkhut (kingship) was clothed within worlds, so that we may accept it. But there was none to accept the yoke of His kingship, and so the souls of Israel emerged to accept the yoke of His kingship – for there is no King without a nation. And from whence did the souls of Israel emerge? From the world of speech. And this is the meaning of the verse, "My soul emerged at His speech," that the souls of Israel emerge from the world of speech. And speech is a reflection of Malkhut, as Eliyahu said: "Kingdom of the mouth." And it is also a reflection of the Shekhina, for it resides with them always, without a moment's break, as it is written, "…Who resides with them within their impurity…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 78)


Speech, then, is identical with the Divine inner essence that exists within man. This is something tangible and not merely an expression or feeling. R. Nachman speaks elsewhere about the tzaddik's ability to know a person's soul and inner essence – and particularly his faith and its root – through a study of his handwriting. But there is a tool to know a person's soul that is more deeply rooted than his handwriting:


"And speech – when one speaks with a true tzaddik – is on a greater level than writing, for writing is only an ACT of the soul, from which act the tzaddik may understand the essence of his soul, but speech is THE SOUL ITSELF, as it is written, "My soul emerged at His speech." And even though speech is something that is not tangible, nevertheless because he is a true tzaddik and the speech is the very essence of the soul itself, therefore he is able to see the essence of the soul itself" (Likutei Moharan Kama 173)


The tzaddik is blessed with the ability to listen to the Divine Speech within the world, and thereby has the ability to serve as the conduit between Divinity and the world.  In other words, we may say that the tzaddik is the foundation of the world and therefore connects Tiferet with Malkhut.  Similarly, the true tzaddik also has the ability to listen to man's speech, enabling him to hear the speech itself without the garments and coverings that hide its root, and thereby see the very essence of the soul itself.


According to the above, man's status with regard to Hashem's Word is elevated from that of a passive receiver who seeks to hear the Voice to an active, and influencing factor. This activity has two aspects, the first of which is presented in the following passage:


"And this is a reflection of the exile of the Shekhina, for Speech – which is a reflection of the Shekhina – is in exile and is silenced, as it is written, "I was dumbfounded and struck silent." And this is also the meaning of the verse, "Shall your speech of righteousness (tzedek) be dumb."  Righteousness (tzedek) is the Kingship of the Holy One, as we know, and Malkhut is speech, as we have discussed above, and when it is in exile, it is silenced.  Therefore, the correction must be made in the area that was damaged i.e., through verbal confession, as it says, "Take for yourself words."  A person should always confess with all his heart before God, and then he will "return to Hashem," since all the words that he damaged will return to the Source.  This is the meaning of the declaration [found at the beginning of certain prayers], "Unification of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and His Shekhina" ("leshem yichud...") The person reconnects the speech, which is a reflection of the Shekhina with Hashem. This also explains the verse "And the glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh will see together that the mouth of Hashem has spoken."  When the Word is unified with Hashem, which is the unification of the Holy One, Blessed be He, with His Shekhina, then "the glory of Hashem will be revealed." "Glory" refers to the Shekhina, as we know. This means that the illumination of the Shekhina (which is a reflection of Malkhut) will be revealed and enlarged, for at present its light is diminished and its strength weakened, as it is written in the Holy Zohar, that the Shekhina cries out (in Shir Ha-Shirim), "Sustain me with dainty cakes… for I am love-sick." This is the love for Israel, among whom He dwells, even in their impurity, and this is the exile of the Shekhina. But as we have stated, through correcting the "partzuf" (expression) of Malkhut and the unification of Hashem with Speech, (a reflection of Malkhut the Shekhina) the light of the "partzuf" of Malkhut is revealed and enlarged…" (Likutei Moharan Kama 78)


When a person fails to speak "utterances of holiness," he causes speech to be "silenced." Divine speech, as we have explained, exists within man – even when man falls to a low level. And the lower he falls, the more the Divine speech that resides within him closes itself up, shrinks into itself and is silenced. It does not abandon the person for a moment, for "a moment in His breath…." In exactly the same way, the Shekhina is exiled together with reality; it does not return to its Source, leaving physical existence without its vitality.  A person who utters holy speech and connects it with Hashem does more than just reveal the Divine speech – the Divine presence that dwells within him. Connection of speech with Hashem is the very unification of the Shekhina with its Source – the Holy One.


The "unification of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and His Shekhina," an expression that appears in the siddur to be recited prior to the performance of certain mitzvot (counting the Omer, waving the lulav, donning tefillin etc.) is the intention that accompanies the mystics with every act that they perform.  A religious act performed by a person reveals the Shekhina, the Malkhut that exists in the world, and by means of his intentions and his consciousness the person attempts to elevate the Shekhina with which he comes into contact to its highest Source. The greater his intention (kavanna), the higher the Shekhina that he has revealed through his act is elevated. Indeed, according to this view man is endowed with great responsibility and power. His thoughts and intentions have the ability to affect "tikkunim" and to bring about unifications in the Divine reality.


The Divine speech that resides within man likewise aspires to return to its Source – to the supreme and unified reality that prevailed in the worlds before their shattering and their fall. This is a reality that means unity and meaning for all of existence, to the point of a blurring away and disappearance of the differences that separate one thing from another. When every object, every living thing, every man – "all of it declares, Glory." Only one Voice is heard in the world, and the Unity is complete.


The holy words uttered by a person, which are connected to Hashem, are reunited with their Source, and this is the "unification of the Holy One, Blessed be He" – the Divine Source – "and His Shekhina" – the Divine Speech that is placed within man.


     In next week's shiur, we will explore more specifically in what manner man can connect the Divine speech with its Source.