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Rav Nachman Shiur #12b: Speech II – Holy Utterances - Torah Study and Prayer

By: Rav Itamar Eldar



In last week's shiur, we discussed how the holy words uttered by a person are connected to Hashem and are reunited with their Source.  This is the meaning of the expression, "unification of the Holy One, Blessed be He" - the Divine Source - "and His Shekhina" - the Divine Speech that is placed within man.  In this week's shiur, we will explore exactly how man connects the Divine Speech with its Source.


R. Nachman teaches:


"The Torah is both hidden and revealed, and the Holy One is likewise both hidden and revealed. In other words, what is revealed to us is the garment and the externality, and what is hidden from us is the inner essence. And every person must goad himself to attain that inner essence, that which is hidden from him. But how shall he reach that which is hidden from him? Through prayer for its own sake, which binds thought to the utterance of the prayer with a very strong and powerful connection, for the Holy One desires the prayers of the righteous (tzaddikim). And why? For the Holy One seeks lovingkindness, and always wants to bestow His influence and blessings. But His influence can descend only through a vessel that is called "I" (ani), as it is written, "And I shall bless them." And this vessel is created by each and every Israelite when he prays in such a way as to connect his thought with his speech, for every one among Israel is called righteous (tzaddik), as it is written, "And Your nation are all tzaddikim." And the tzaddik is called "alef" as in (the first letter in the hebrew word "ami"), while the letter "nun" (the second letter) is called speech, for speech is Malkhut through the "kingdom of the mouth," and Malkhut is called "nun," as it is written, "Yinon is His name," which Rashi explains is an expression of Malkhut.  The "yud" (the third letter) is created through the thought that connects to the speech, as explained above, for thought is called "yud," as it is written, "Then Moshe sang (lit. "will sing" – yashir)" [see Rashi, who explains that the "yud" signifies his thought].  Thus the vessel "ani" is formed, and the Divine influence descends, and the desire of the Holy One is fulfilled, for He seeks to perform lovingkindness, and therefore He desires their prayers…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 73)


The seeking out of that which is hidden and the reception of Divine influence, which are the connection with the Supreme Source, are achieved through the forming of a vessel called "I" (ani). This "ani" is simply another name for the Sefira of Malkhut. The preparation of Malkhut to receive the Divine influence brings about the exposure of that which is hidden. That which is revealed already exists, and it has significance in its own right as one detail that contains a single and fragmented Divine utterance, but the hidden meaning that connects this revealed aspect with the Divine essence and substance that embrace all of existence is the hidden influence, which we seek to reveal by preparing the appropriate vessel.


This vessel, to R. Nachman's view, is formed through the joining of the "alef," the "nun" and the "yud" to form "ani" – "I." The "alef" on its own is simply the individual Israelite who carried within him the potential to be a "merkava" (mystical chariot) for the Shekhina. This potential finds expression in the "nun," which, standing alone, represents the holy utterances that are concealed within him. They represent Malkhut and the Shekhina, which, as we have seen are the Divine vitality that exists within him.  Yet a person who does not utter them and is not aware of their existence cannot facilitate the connection of the "alef" and the "nun." In modern terms, the lack of connection between the utterances of holiness concealed within a person and the person himself is a repression of the subconscious.


A person who does speak such utterances – in his Torah study, in his prayer and in his proper business conduct – joins the "alef" and the "nun," but he hereby changes only the exposure of the Divine light that is concealed within him. He has not yet done anything for the unification of the Holy One. The "connection of speech with thought" means the ability to concentrate and have certain intentions in one's speech. The unification of a person's thought with his speech means a connection of the "yud" – which represents that which is hidden, a single point – with speech. Thus the "ani" is formed, and this "ani" is simply the voice of Hashem, waiting for the proper environment to be created for the acceptance of His influence when He can say, "I shall bless them."


The connection between thought and speech appears, both in this teaching and in others, as a most important precondition for the realization of the desired action – the unification of the Holy One and His Shekhina As Rav Nachman writes,


For not every speech is called "Speech." Speech that is not heard and accepted is not called speech, as it is written, "There is none that says, nor are there any words, if their voice is not heard." The main criterion for whether speech is accepted concerns the good that it contains, for everyone desires good. Therefore, when the speech contains good then the cleaving (of speech and "da'at") is heard and accepted. But when there is no good in it, it is not accepted. How are we to make our speech good? By taking our speech from our "da'at" (knowledge) which therefore will make it good. But when speech comes without "da'at" then it contains no good, reflecting what is written, "but without "da'at" the soul (nefesh) is not good." The soul (nefesh) is speech, as it is written, "And the man became a living soul," which is translated (by Onkelos) as "a speaking spirit." (Likutei Moharan Kama 29:1)


Although later on we shall encounter a much more conciliatory tone, here R. Nachman presents a very strict definition concerning man's speech.  Speech that does not cleave to "da'at" is not properly called "speech." When a person utters words but his mind is not attached to them, then he cannot succeed in effecting the desired action through his speech. The speech itself gives life to man, but it cannot act without being connected to its Divine source, and this connection is made through "da'at."


Often a person will find himself mumbling his prayers without concentrating on what he is saying. Or it may happen that he reads words or ideas while he is studying, but his mind is concentrating on something else.  To this person Rav Nachman exhorts, "Let your ears hear what comes forth from your mouth." R. Nachman wakens him from his sleep! The act of speech as connecting man with his Creator demands intention and consciousness. To the degree that man's thoughts are with his words, so his unity is greater, and this unity is just a representation of the unification of the Holy One and the Shekhina that resides within the person.


R. Nachman's innovation does not lie in the claim that one must concentrate on his prayers and his study. Rather, it is located in his assertion that man, through his speech and his intentions, serves as the arena for a tangible Divine event. Speech is not just saying words, but rather taking up the Divine vitality within oneself.  "Kavanna" is not just concentrating, but rather the paving of a way, the preparing of the ground; it is an act of mediating between the Shekhina that resides within oneself and the Supreme Source that is the root of all the worlds and all the revelations.


This connection between speech itself and thought is brought in a marvelous teaching which, in R. Nachman's symbolic style, represents a cry of infinite yearning:


"For each and every utterance is a whole world, and when a person stands in prayer and utters words of prayer then he is gathering beautiful blossoms and flowers and roses.  It is like a person passing through a field and gathering up beautiful roses and flowers one by one until he has an entire bunch, and then he collects another bunch, and joins them together, and so he goes on gathering many beautiful bunches of flowers. Likewise a person progresses in prayer from one letter to the next, until several letters join together to form speech. And likewise he progresses in whole words, and then joins the words together. And then he goes on and collects more, until he finishes a complete blessing. And then he gathers more, progressing from "avot" to "gevurot," and from "gevurot" to "kedushot" (the various blessings of the Amida prayer), and so on. Who can imagine the greatness of the glory of the "bunches" and collections that a person gathers with his words of prayer.


When the speech emerges, it emerges from the soul, as it is written, "And the man became a living soul," translated as "a speaking spirit." The speech is heard by his own ears, as our Sages taught – "Let your ears hear what emerges from your mouth," and then the speech asks and begs of the soul not to separate from it. "For how can you separate yourself from me, in light of the great bond and love that exists between us? You see the glory of my beauty, my aura, my grandeur and splendor.  How can you cut yourself off from me and separate from me?" How much more so when he completes a word, then the whole word makes this request, caressing and embracing him, not letting it leave. And in truth, the person must still say much more – several blessings and other utterances, until the end of the prayer service; hence the rule that one must unify into a single unit all of the prayer and sounds that he utters, such that all the utterances of the prayer are to be found there, and such that from the beginning of the prayer until the end it is all one. And when he reaches the last word of the prayer he is still clutching the first word of the prayer, so that he may thereby recite the entire prayer but nevertheless not separate himself from even the first letter thereof." (Likutei Moharan Kama 65:2)


This excerpt illustrates what we said above – that "intention" or "concentration" (kavanna) in R. Nachman's thought goes beyond the generally accepted meaning of identification with the words being uttered. This understanding of the term recognizes no significance in the connection between the intention and the word after the word has already been uttered. For R. Nachman, on the other hand, speech and thought are tangible and therefore the connection between them must likewise be real. When the person moves on to the next utterance, the utterance that has just left his mouth refuses to return to its exile because it has been redeemed through connection with the person's thought (representing and expressing the Supreme Divine source).  The person at prayer, according to R. Nachman's description, strolls about in the field of his soul, gathering from it flower after flower. Each letter joins its fellow and each word follows its neighbor, and all are simply Divine sparks concealed within the person's soul. When they leave his mouth, it is a reflection of "My soul emerged at His utterance."


Each word of prayer, when connected to "da'at," manifests the vitality trapped within man that seeks its freedom and strength through an encounter with its Divine source.  When a person is conscious of this encounter, he is unable to abandon it – just as the gatherer of flowers is unable to cast away a flower that he has just picked.


A chassid was once asked why he took so long over his prayers. He answered, "As soon as I utter a single word of prayer I am so attached to it that I am unable to leave it. It is only with great sorrow and with enormous effort that I abandon it and move on to the next word."  R. Nachman teaches that one need not abandon the previous word, leave the encounter behind, and separate the cleaving spiritual entities. "One must make a single unit of all of the prayer!"


Further on in this teaching, R. Nachman explains how one attains this situation of making a single unit of all of the prayer. He asserts that this situation is in fact the purpose of all of existence: "On that day Hashem will be One and His Name One."  This purpose is the realization that "the One is all good." Whatever happens to a person, whatever historical events may take place – all is part of His goodness. Even a person's suffering is a part of His goodness and his desire to bestow good.


This recognition is generally far removed from man's range of vision. When the world reaches its ultimate perfection however, then it will be clear to all. R. Nachman comments that the instinct to squeeze the muscles of the eyes to close them when sensing pain is a symbolic expression of man's attempt to focus his vision somewhere that is beyond his range of vision.  He writes, "For we see in our own experience, that when a person wishes to look at something that is far away from him, he closes his eyes somewhat, thereby limiting and "squashing" his vision in order to direct it towards the distant object that he is trying to see." This instinct is meant to focus one's vision in the direction of the object that one wishes to see, so that one is not distracted by all the other things that exist in between. "Therefore he must close his eyes and limit his vision, directing it to the necessary place, in order that other things not confuse him." A person who is suffering seeks to view the purpose of his suffering, and there is no way other than limiting his vision: "In other words, he must close his eyes very tightly, so that he does not look at the desires and vanities of this world at all, and then he may see and grasp the light of this purpose that is all good, and then his suffering is dissipated."


The ability, then, to make all of the prayer into a single unit is bound up with the ability to limit one's vision. We may even be so bold as to take R. Nachman's teaching a step further and to suggest, following his train of thought, that when people close their eyes in prayer it is meant not only to prevent them from being distracted by what is going on around them, but also to prevent the distraction that may be caused by the transition from word to word, from one blessing to the next. When a person prays for knowledge in the blessing "You endow man with knowledge," he has already forgotten the praise he just gave his Creator for His holiness and the holiness of the angels that praise Him every day. And when he begs the Holy One to bring him back in complete repentance before Him, his thoughts of repentance once again distract his mind from the knowledge that he so longed for just a second before.


The shutting of the eyes and the concentration of one's thoughts on the Unity of Hashem and His goodness that is revealed both in knowledge and in its absence; both in healing and, heaven forefend, in the illness, in the dew of blessing and the satisfying goodness of the land as well as in drought and desolation, may we be spared – all of this prevent any possibility of being distracted by the transition from one blessing to the next, and from one utterance of praise to the next. This achievement comes, according to R. Nachman, "at the time of nullification, when a person nullifies himself before the ultimate Purpose which is all good, all One."  Addressing speech that gathers sparks, he teaches elsewhere,:


"One must speak (words of) Torah or prayer until his body becomes nullified and of no regard. This is the meaning of the pasuk, "And they became one flesh" – that the body becomes one with the speech, such that it itself is like nothing…" (Likutei Moharan Kama 75)


Intention, concentration – kavanna – is therefore not enough, according to R. Nachman. It does have the power to create the encounter between the Holy One and the Shekhina.  If this encounter takes place on the level of the reality of our world of division, it is only temporary, for even if the Shekhina has merited a moment of grace in which it meets ultimate understanding and meaning (in R. Nachman's terms, "the Purpose"), the barriers return to separate it from Divinity. For one moment a person looks at an object that is before him and connects it to Hashem, and in this wondrous moment the object disappears, leaving the vitality that is embedded in it.  Yet when he turns his gaze to a different object, to a different request, the "kavanna" that connected them disappears, and the object returns to its course, material tangibility. The state of ignorance from within which he pleads, "You endow man with knowledge," remains the same ignorance.  The distance from which he begged, "Bring us back in complete repentance before You," remains the same distance, while the illness that gave rise to "Heal us, Hashem, that we may be healed" continues to weigh upon him.  The Divine speech concerning all of these returns to the hidden recesses of his soul, waiting for the next moment of grace.


In order to shatter and break through the barriers of physical reality, a person must close his eyes and focus his vision on the ultimate Purpose. At that moment all the blessings and praises lose their particular significance and become together a window, allowing his speech to rise up and cleave to its source. ("Prior to prayer one must attach his spirit to the Creator, and then by virtue of this cleaving the words will leave his mouth of their own accord," Sefer Ha-Middot, Tefilla 76.) The person cleaves to Hashem from the very first word of his prayer, as he takes his three steps forward and opens his mouth with the first utterance: "Adonay, open my lips…." From that moment onwards, he adds utterance to utterance, letter to letter, power to power; he gathers them all together as a single person, as a single bunch, as a single crown – and presents them to Hashem:


"Again: when a person prays with "kavanna," i.e., when he connects his thoughts to his speech, attuning his ears and listening to what he is saying, then the powers are drawn into the words of his prayer.  For all the powers are always waiting and looking out for an opportunity to be drawn and to enter into holy speech. Therefore when one prays with "kavanna," all his powers are drawn into his prayer and he merits to pray with great power even though he is not forcing himself, for the powers are drawn of their own accord into the words of his prayer when he prays with kavanna." (Sichot Ha-Ran 66)


A person at this level feels that each word of the prayer does nothing to change its content, nor to influence his focus. All in all it simply adds another blossom to the great bunch of flowers that he is gathering. And then there is no forgetting and no regressing. There is no distraction and no barrier – and, in fact, no way back. From such a prayer man cannot withdraw and take hi three steps backwards.


R. Nachman himself seems to shy a little from the path that he is laying for the person at prayer, and he himself withdraws:


"But it is impossible to be constantly fixed in that situation of self-nullification, for then one would leave the boundaries of humanity. Therefore the nullification must be a reflection of the principle of ‘running and returning'…." (ibid.)


Whether we want it or not, whether we have merited or not, the moment of forgetfulness will come. A human being, chained as he is in physical matter, is unable to leave the boundaries of his own humanity, and therefore the bunch of flowers is bound to be dispersed. The barriers will come down again, the utterances that have been gathered up will again drift away. This is the crux of man's suffering, asserts R. Nachman. All the suffering that he experiences results from the withdrawal that man, a creature of flesh and blood, is forced to perform.


Three steps forward, longing and cleaving, a sense that "Now I will remain at my post before Him for all eternity," and then three steps backwards. Three times a day, seven days a week, year after year – running and returning. "For that is all of man!"