Rav Nachman Shiur #13A: Speech III – Speaking from a position of Nullification
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
In our previous shiur we looked at the first expression of man's involvement in the revelation of Hashem's voice, focusing on his ability to influence it by accessing the hidden and concealed inner voice that exists within the recesses of his own soul. This is an inner, spiritual act that does not exceed the boundaries of the individual. The spiritual movement is one of contraction, concentration and focusing, and it finds expression in study, prayer and other "utterances of holiness." In this shiur we shall examine the other way in which man's ability to influence Hashem's voice can be expressed. This time man's face is turned outward, facing the world.
We saw, in shiur #11, that Hashem's voice is revealed in the world through each creation and its place and function within the great mosaic of existence that makes up a single great picture, expressing Hashem's lofty and perfect will which contains no contradiction or concealment. This meaning - as we have seen previously – is hidden as a result of the "falling of the worlds." It is fragmented, unintelligible and sometimes even completely obscured. In R. Nachman's terminology: speech is exiled, and sometimes even struck dumb completely.
Man, as we saw previously, observes reality and seeks to find Hashem's voice. He looks for meaning and significance. He wishes to understand the phenomena and events that affect him and the rest of the world, but – sadly – Hashem's voice within this reality is generally weak, muffled, and sometimes altogether silent.
Yet R. Nachman will not allow man to despair. He forces him to seek out Hashem's voice, placing upon his shoulders the heavy responsibility and mission of finding and redeeming the Divine voice that has been exiled and silenced:
"For at the time of Creation, worlds fell downwards (through the shattering of the vessels, as we know), and the "worlds" represent the letters. They were dispersed in many sparks, but through Torah and prayer, combinations of the sparks and letters form a world. This is a reflection of peace (shalom), for until one includes these sparks and letters in words of Torah and prayer, there is no combination or joining between them and they represent fragments and division, for each spark tries to prevail over the next. But when one brings them into an utterance of holiness, he thereby joins them and combines them, which represents peace. For it is through utterances of holiness of Torah and prayer that an elevation is achieved, by means of which peace is attained, as explained above. Through this, all the fallen worlds are repaired and renewed and it is considered as though they are created anew. And this is what our Sages, of blessed memory, taught: "'And to say to Tzion, You are My nation' – to not read "My nation" (ami), but rather "with Me" (imi), i.e., as My partner. Just as I created heaven and earth with My words, so likewise you… " For this person certainly creates heaven and earth through his words of Torah and prayer, for he recreates and repairs the fallen worlds, as explained above.
Therefore one should speak only holy words and no other utterances, in order to raise the sparks, which will repair the worlds. For the Creation was achieved mainly through speech, as it is written, "By Hashem's word the heavens were created." And because of the shattering, the sparks fell into everything: food, drink, clothing, and all the pleasures of the world. For the pleasure that one experiences, for example, in the thing that he eats and drinks is because of the sparks that fell into it, and the sparks are the letters, as explained earlier. This aspect of "clarifying" the sparks is performed every day, until the coming of the Mashiach…" (Likutei Moharan Kama 75).
Our world, the world of division, is a world of contradiction, questions and divisions. Fragments of words and ideas – individual letters which, when not joined to one another, appear to us as unintelligible contradictions – lack all meaning. All of this is the result of the falling of the worlds and the shattering of the vessels. The world of division requires repair and recreation . Here man's role enters the picture. Through the "breath of his mouth" – his utterances of holiness – he gathers the letters together.
The great innovation in this idea is that R. Nachman is not talking about a gathering of the forces concealed within man himself. The repair here is not of man himself, but of the universe. Man, through his mouth and his words, repairs the worlds and creates them anew. With astonishing daring, R. Nachman draws a comparison between the Word of Hashem, by which the universe was created, and the words of man, which renew creation. This renewal is effected through gathering all the sparks into a single, complete utterance.
Thus man, through his speech, reconstitutes the Divine utterance that was scattered with the shattering of the vessels. In this way he succeeds in "making peace" between discrete entities, in unifying opposites, in solving disputes and resolving contradictions.
How is man to achieve this? What is required of him to succeed, through his speech, in gathering all the sparks and thus restoring the significance and meaning of each thing – the Voice of Hashem that emanates from it?
The first attribute that man needs in order to gather the sparks is that of faith:
"But as a result of our many sins, speech has also been exiled, as it is written, "Tell of His glory among the nations" – i.e., the Speech of Israel is exiled. Therefore it is written, "And the glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh will see together that the mouth of Hashem has spoken." When Israel will be redeemed, then speech will also (as it were) be with the Holy One. And our Sages, of blessed memory, said: "Every person is obliged to say, 'The world was created for my sake,'" and thus he is obliged to repair it.
And what is the repair? He should see to it that the sparks within every thing are uplifted, and the sparks are letters – thus, he should uplift the letters. The letters form utterances, and by means of his speech, a great influence of good is effected for Israel. But how is one to elevate the sparks to the Holy One? When he looks at something, he should immediately believe with complete faith that that thing contains letters and sparks…" (Likutei Moharan Kama 94)
R. Nachman's advice to acquire the ability to gather sparks appears to be surprisingly simple: "He should immediately believe with complete faith that the thing contains letters and sparks." But in fact this suggestion is not simple at all.
Sometimes a person is faced with a thing or an event that seems, at best, devoid of any meaning. Moreover, sometimes it appears that the apparent meaning contradicts his faith, such that he is unable to maintain that "this has come about from Hashem."
The Divine Word to Israel as conveyed through the prophets is a gathering of the letters dispersed in reality and an exposure of them. The meaning of reality, the significance of every object and every creation, are clarified through Divine speech, which itself is composed of the same dispersed letters that carry within them the meaning and significance of all of reality. Hashem's word to Israel is a sort of "ingathering of the exiles," the letters joining to form words such that the Divine will, encompassing all of Creation, is revealed and clarified.
But when Israel is exiled, the Divine Word is exiled together with them, and the letters are not gathered up. The Divinity concealed within all of reality is not exposed, and the letters that carry this Divinity within them are left to waft in the wind. Reality is divided and fragmented, meaning is absent, and there is "no voice and no answer."
Hence, R. Nachman teaches, the responsibility is upon man to gather up the letters and to rebuild speech. And how does he achieve this? Through his faith that the thing before him contains sparks and letters.
A person's ability to look at an alienated reality, unconnected to anything holy, and to believe that the Holy One speaks to him even through that thing, and that the letters concealed in that thing makes up Hashem's complete Word, is what allows him to hear the letters that it contains. The faith that everything has meaning, that every creation has a purpose and that "everything shouts out the glory of the Blessed God, for the entire world is filled with His glory" (Sichot Ha-Ran, 52), is itself what exposes the letters concealed within a thing and give it its meaning and significance.
The world, says R. Nachman, is a mosaic of letters that make up Hashem's complete Word, and these letters are scattered throughout all of reality. There is no thing and no creation devoid of a letter that belongs to the puzzle. In the absence of any guidance, man himself must believe, and expose the hidden letter – the letter that is an expression of Hashem's Word to the world and to man through that object. R. Nachman continues:
"And when he elevates the sparks from that thing, then the thing becomes nothing, for the sparks are the vitality of the thing…" (ibid.).
The object itself, and all of reality, are a garment and a screen that hide the letter and the Word. In of themselves they are meaningless. In the absence of the letter, their significance is nullified, and in the absence of significance their existence ceases, as it says, "And all the ends (lit. "nothings") of the earth shall see it." When its significance becomes visible, when the letters are gathered up in order to compose the complete, pure and lofty Divine utterance, then the limited reality loses its life force and meaning, and the elevated redemption will come.
Thus according to R. Nachman, a person is required to listen to the letters that comprise the Word of Hashem within reality. This is no simple task. Firstly, since the letters are hidden, it is difficult to find them. The garments, as he puts it, cover and conceal. But furthermore, man is not seeking an actual utterance, a complete meaning, but rather individual letters at a time – a fragment of meaning, a tiny note in Hashem's complete Voice. This Voice gives life to the soul and allows us to maintain a dialogue with the Holy One even within an opaque and limited reality, but the level of listening and faith required of man in order to repair reality is very great.
Having discussed how a person turns outward to reality to see the letters of the word of Hashem, we will explore in our next shiur how a person can "make peace" between different things in that reality.