Rav Nachman Shiur #14: Hashem's Word – "And He Shall Bless You As He Has Spoken To You" (Part 1 of 2)
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
In the previous shiurim we discussed man's speech, which has the power to gather, expose and elevate the letters concealed both within himself (shiur no. 12) and within the whole world (shiur no. 13).
We saw that R. Nachman presents some difficult conditions that are necessary in order that such speech can have its effect: it must be connected to thought, it must arise from an inner condition of faith and listening, and for this purpose there are acts that man must perform in order to achieve the perspective and psychological movement that will facilitate such lofty speech.
But R. Nachman himself presents another path and another aid for such speech. This aid is much less demanding, and gives additional expression to the hidden meaning of speech as a representation of "malkhut" (kingship).
Let us try to understand this teaching stage by stage:
"A pulse beats within man. Sometimes it beats within him and arouses him to Divine service, as in "the Voice of my Beloved beats," and sometimes it (arouses) him to sin, heaven forefend, for the pulse comes from the breath, and the breath comes from the air through speech. And so in accordance with the speech, so is the pulse – whether for good or for the opposite." (Likutei Moharan Kama 160)
R. Nachman mentions breath elsewhere with relation to speech:
"And this, too, represents the "Divine spirit," for the fact that a person is alive means simply that he breathes. And what is breath? That he expels and takes in air ("spirit" – ruach). And this represents the "vitality that runs and returns." Therefore, when a person cleaves to the Kingship of the Holy One and speaks words of Torah or prayer, then he expels and takes in the spirit (air) of holiness. And this is the meaning of, "I shall place a new spirit within you" – i.e., your insides, when they breathe a breath of holiness, then "I shall place a new spirit…" – i.e., the Divine spirit…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 78)
R. Nachman seeks to connect the literal meaning of the prophetic promise to its real significance. The "speaking spirit," which bears the Shekhina and the Divine Spirit, rests on the expression, "And man became a living soul," which is a result of "He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life," and that same expression carries the literal meaning of the text – actual, physical breathing.
A person's breath, which does not cease for even a moment and which requires a constant supply of oxygen to nourish it, is an expression of the "Divine Spirit" that beats within him. And the pulse that arises from this breath is therefore an expression of the person's spirituality, and can be directed towards the good or to the opposite.
Breathing, then, is an act of drawing nourishment, and speech is a creation of the space that purifies the breath. "Take a breather," we tell someone who will not stop talking.
Speech, according to the above, creates the vessel, but the vessel requires content, it requires air, and breathing is meant to bring air into a person – but where shall breathing bring air from? That "breath" that gives life to man, the "speaking spirit" – where does it come from? R. Nachman states here that it depends on the speaking person himself.
Speech is kingship that seeks to be filled with vitality. This kingship is just the preparation of the ground, but Hashem created two possibilities. There is a kingship of holiness, and there is a kingship of the "other side," and both need a spiritual source in order to exist. A person, through his speech, builds the kingship, and the breath is what expels and takes in the kingship-under-construction. As a person speaks, he determines what direction the breath will take – whether to the source of holiness, in order to give life to holy speech, or to the source of impurity, in order to give life – heaven forefend – to impure speech.
And the pulse that guides man, the spirit that beats like a drum and gives his life its rhythm and order, is built of that same speech that man places in his world so that it can wait for spirit – breath – to give it life.
The innovation here is not that speech has the power to gather living spirit from the recesses of the soul, to draw it from the source of holiness – for this we have already learned in the previous shiurim. Rather, it is in the removal of the condition that R. Nachman previously set concerning the connection between speech and thought, such that speech must emanate from intention and consciousness. This new idea finds radical expression in the following excerpts:
"Behold, I found a manuscript of the friends explaining this a little more, and this is what was written: When doubts befall a person concerning faith in the Creator, blessed be His Name, he should declare openly and wholeheartedly: "I believe with complete faith that He is the only One, the First and the Last" – for it is known that the evil inclination grows from the fallen powers, but there are holy powers in which the powers of the "shells" are sweetened, and speech represents the powers of holiness, as it is written (Tehillim 145:11): "And they shall speak of Your powers." Thus, when a person declares, "I believe…" this is the powers of holiness, and in this way he sweetens the doubts, which represent the powers of the "shells"…." (Sichot Ha-Ran 142).
"Once our Teacher, of blessed memory, spoke about the need to engage in much recitation of Tehillim, and requests, supplications, meditation etc. And Rabbi Yudel z"l asked him how to take heart (meaning, how one merits that these utterances will be accompanied with an upliftment of the heart). Our teacher, of blessed memory, answered: 'Tell me, which tzaddik gave you upliftment of the heart? The main thing is the utterance of the mouth.' In other words, to utter many requests and supplications verbally, and then upliftment of the heart will follow on its own." (Hayei Moharan 441).
Before trying to understand this idea, let us define the difficulty and problem to which it gives rise.
We are naturally inclined to view the connection between the soul and speech as one of cause and result, of potential and action, between the idea and its expression. One thinks thoughts even without speech; the function of speech is to expose the thoughts. In this sense, the uniqueness of man in comparison to animals is speech, which is an indication of thought – and thought is what truly makes man unique.
But this same connection may be formulated in two ways: One sees speech as a window to thought. Speech is no more than a removal of the curtain that stands before the invisible thoughts; it is no more than a string that man stretches between his external environment and his own heart and thoughts. The encounter between people is conducted in their hearts and their thoughts, and the connection between one heart and another is achieved through speech, which bridges the abyss between man's inner world and the reality that exists beyond the space that surrounds him.
The second approach assumes that there is a space that exists between people, whose purpose goes beyond merely separating between one person and another. This space is an arena in its own right, in which a reality is constituted and realized. This reality is an objective one, and as such it serves as a sort of "common denominator" for all people. It is a joint platform, neutral ground, upon which every foot is able to trod. Communication between people is made possible by this mutual ground, but the mutual ground facilitates communication not only by virtue of being a channel, but also by "hosting" anyone who seeks to come out of himself towards it.
In this sense a person's speech is the "ambassador" that he sends to this ground, and by virtue of the objectivity of this platform, the "ambassador" itself assumes objective reality.
What is common to these two perceptions is the assumption that there exists some connection between thought and speech, with thought representing the content and idea while speech is the expression, the application or realization of the thought.
From this point of view, speech that is not the expression of a thought, an idea or some consciousness is like a check with no cover. "Speech is the revelation of knowledge," states R. Nachman above, and therefore speech that does not arise from knowledge is simply a garment with no body inside, or – we may say – a body with no soul.
A person who calls out wholeheartedly, "I believe with complete faith…" is, we assume, a believer whose faith has developed and matured within the recesses of his soul, and who now activates it, exposes it and shares with those around him the internal processes that he has experienced. Therefore, if we discover that it is not a state of faith that stands behind these words but rather one of doubt, we will call this person a liar – or at least a hypocrite.
But R. Nachman sees the situation differently. He seems to draw the legitimacy for uttering "words with no cover" from two sources:
One we may call the psychological factor. Speech has the power to influence the heart. A person beset with doubts may call out so often that he believes with complete faith, that all this shouting will actually arouse him and strengthen him in the faith that he is seeking:
"Also, (R. Nachman) said concerning strengthening oneself through meditation and prayer and supplication, that speech has a great power to arouse a person, even though it seems to him that he has no heart, even still when he utters many words of arousal and prayers and supplications etc., the very fact that he is speaking is something of a revelation of the arousal of his heart and soul towards the blessed God, reflecting what is written (Shir Ha-Shirim 5): "My soul went out when he (it) spoke" – that speech itself is a revelation of the soul and the heart, and sometimes by speaking much, although his heart is not in it at all, nevertheless by doing so he achieves a great arousal of his heart and soul and all his being, for speech itself has great power." (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 98)
"My soul went out when it spoke" is interpreted here by R. Nachman in a slightly different manner than before: that the soul is destined to come out through speech. Speech itself has the power to arouse the heart.
We may understand this concept more deeply by means of an identification of speech with malkhut. Let us return to teaching no. 160, which we reviewed at the beginning of the shiur. Speech creates a vessel. It creates a space, a ground, that draws and absorbs living spirit. If we try to translate these concepts into psychological terminology, rather than speaking of "arousal" we may rather say that speech creates an atmosphere. The atmosphere and setting are not sufficient, but they do have the power to guide and steer the powers that will soon be poured into the reality of that atmosphere.
The same idea arises from the next teaching:
"And this aspect, i.e., "And Yosef was the ruler," is the aspect of "mela-fum" (in all the kabbalistic works, and mentioned in "Sha'arei Tzion," under Tikkun Ha-Nefesh) – the covenant of the "merkava" to "yesod," whose name YH-VH is vowelled with "melafum" (see Tikkun 70). For "melafum" is made up of the words "melo fum," teaching us that the vessel of Divine bounty – i.e., the mouth of the tzaddik, is full of the Divinity of the blessed God. For it would seem difficult to understand: why do we need prayer, if God already knows our thoughts? But because speech represents the vessels of bounty, into which the bounty is received, (as it is written) (Devarim 1): "And he will bless you as He has spoken to you." In other words, according to the speech, so is the Divine bounty. If the speech, which represents the vessels of the bounty, is perfect and complete, then the Divine bounty can flow on to Israel. For this reason it is known as the aspect of 'melo fum,' teaching that his mouth is full and perfect." (Likutei Moharan Kama 34:3)
R. Nachman questions the need to define and articulate in words the aspirations and hopes that are expressed in prayer, and the question makes sense. According to the assumption that we have noted above, that speech is simply a way to bridge the internal reality of a person and his external environment, then there should be no need for it in all matters concerning the Creator, Who knows all our thoughts and emotions. But R. Nachman's view is different: if speech represents 'malkhut,' if it is a vessel to accept Divine bounty, then there is a need for it: "And He shall bless you as He has spoken to you." The blessing here does not involve rains and food; it concerns the vitality and Divine outpouring that come to a person through Hashem's blessing. This vitality is in accordance with the vessels that are prepared for it: as is your speech, so shall your blessing be. You create the atmosphere, the aspirations, the desires, through your words, and the desires and aspirations will be fulfilled accordingly.
Speech, therefore, requires no "cover" since it is not a "declaration of capital" but rather an "outlining of vision." And where vision is concerned, the sky is the limit!
R. Nachman applies this model not only in prayer, but also in Torah study:
"For there is a 'higher unification' and a 'lower unification' – i.e., "Shema Yisrael" and "Barukh Shem Kevod Malkhuto Le-olam Va-ed" (Zohar Bereishit 18b). And every Jew must perform this himself; through this he may reach an understanding of the depth of the Torah. For one who is on a lesser level is still far from the wisdom of the Torah; only through speech can he achieve a profound understanding of the Torah – i.e., by speaking words of Torah, as it is written "Mishlei 4): "For they are life to those who express them" – to those who express them verbally (as our Sages of blessed memory taught, Eruvin 54: speech illuminates for one all those areas where he needs to do teshuva, as our Sages of blessed memory taught, Berakhot 22: "Open your mouth and let Your words illuminate.") And on each and every occasion, through each teshuva that he performs, he climbs from one level to the next, until he leaves the lower level and achieves a profound understanding of Torah…" (Likutei Moharan Kama 11:1)
What is the point of a person speaking words of Torah when he does not understand and cannot probe into its deeper meanings? Intellectual examination, mental exercise – that is what this person needs, not speech! But a person will not discover the wonders of understanding in intellectual knowledge – certainly not the wonders of Torah understanding. Speech, teaches R. Nachman, illuminates all the places where a person must do teshuva, and from one teshuva to the next a person elevates himself until he arrives at the level of connecting himself with the Divine light. And in order to receive some of the Divine light we must prepare ourselves. We must become worthy. We must build the right vessels and create the right atmosphere, and all of this is achieved through speech.