Rav Nachman Shiur #14b: God's Word – "And He Shall Bless You as He Has Spoken to You" (Part 2 of 2)
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
If R. Nachman were to find himself in the deathly silence of a university library – even in the wing housing Torah works, with students bent over the tables studying Torah, Mishna and Gemara - he would certainly declare that no flow of Divine bounty could exist there. The silence that reigns in such places arises from the need to concentrate, facilitating an undisturbed application of mental focus. There is complete silence: nothing disturbs the intellect in its quest to grasp and to understand.
Compare this with the rowdy atmosphere of a beit midrash. One hears innumerable voices; the singsong accompaniment to logical processes is the ever-present background, and this is the starting point. All that one needs to do is to open a book, to mingle with the river of voices, to become one with the environment, and to wait eagerly for the Divine bounty of wisdom and insight to begin – even before I begin to read (let alone understand) a single word of the book that lies before me. Surely this cannot be what R. Nachman means!
But the legitimacy for "speech without backing" would seem to be based not only on its ability to arouse and to create an atmosphere, but also on another significance that finds expression in the following words:
The essence of joy exists in the heart, as it is written (Tehillim 4), "You have given joy in my heart." And the heart cannot rejoice unless one removes crookedness from his heart, so that his heart will be straight, and then he will merit joy, as it is written (ibid. 97), "and joy to the straight of heart." Crookedness of the heart is removed by means of thunder, as our Sages, of blessed memory, taught (Berakhot 59b): "Thunder was created only in order to remove distortions of the heart."
Thunder is a reflection of the voice that a person forcibly brings forth during his prayer; from this, thunder is created (Zohar, Pinchas 235b): "When a voice goes forth and is mixed with rain clouds, the creatures hear a sound and it is thunder." The essence of thunder is from strength, as it is written (Iyov 26), "Who can gaze at the thunder of His strength?" For this reason (upon hearing thunder) we recite the blessing, "…Whose power and strength fill the world."
"Strength" here represents power and valiance, that a person emits his voice with great power, and this voice collides with the rain clouds, representing "mechin," for from there (the rain) descends drop by drop, as it is written in the Zohar (Pinchas 235b): "A well of living waters and waters from Levanon ('min levanon') – 'from the whiteness of mecha.'" When it collides with the rain clouds, the creatures hear a sound, and this is what we mean by thunder. This reflects what is written (Tehillim 77), "The sound of Your thunder in Galgal" – i.e., in the circle (galgal) of mecha: when it encounters the circle of mecha, the sound becomes thunder and is heard by the creatures. This is what is meant by (Tehillim 49), "My mouth shall speak wisdom" – meaning, the speech that comes from my mouth collides with wisdom (chokhma), which is the circle of mecha, and by means of this, "the thoughts of my heart will speak understanding" (ibid.). In other words, by arousing the thunder, the heart is also aroused, as they said, "The voice arouses the intentions…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 5:3)
Speech, according to R. Nachman, is like thunder that pounds upon the sphere of chokhma (wisdom), and from there arouses the heart. Again we find an expression of R. Nachman's view of the triad: intellect, heart, speech. Just as we have seen the revolution that R. Nachman introduces through his assertion that intellect is not the starting point for insight in relation to Torah study, we can see it also in relation to one's position before the Holy One.
For the purpose of comparison, let us sketch the Rambam's perception of the equation connecting wisdom, heart, and speech in relation to one's Divine service. The Rambam, as mentioned in a previous shiur, maintains that the way to acquire love for and fear of God is through contemplating the world, understanding its wonders, and appreciating its complexities. This insight leads a person to admire the Creator, thereby stimulating him to love and to fear Him. When a person understands, loves, and fears, he is able to open his mouth in prayer, praising and blessing and glorifying Him. The order of the process is therefore: thought > arousal of the heart > speech.
R. Nachman's order radically differs. For him, speech is like thunder that pounds upon the sphere of wisdom, from which drops then slowly flow – like the rain that comes after the thunder. These drops revitalize the heart and arouse it. Thus, the order is: speech > thought > arousal of the heart.
The difference in order is in fact the distinction between the concepts themselves. R. Nachman's speech is unlike the Rambam's speech, and, likewise, R. Nachman's thought totally diverges from the Rambam's thought. The thoughts that are aroused as a result of observation and study are not the same thoughts that are aroused as a result of the powerful, forceful speech of prayer.
According to the Rambam's perspective, thought is subjective; it is simply the subject's contemplation of the object. In the terminology of the ancient philosophers, we may say that it is "acted upon." It observes and receives impressions, and the more it absorbs and understands, the stronger will be the identification between it and the perfect object, which is all of existence, and ultimately God. At the root of this approach is a monotheistic view that draws a clear separation between man and the world, on the one hand, and God, on the other.
For R. Nachman, as we have seen on several occasions, no such separation exists – and if it does exist, it does so only in appearance. For this reason, no distinction between subject and object is possible. Therefore, for R. Nachman, the intellect does not receive impressions from reality, but rather acts upon it. Again, in the terminology of the ancient philosophers, the intellect is not "acted upon," but rather "acts." This pantheistic point of departure assumes that God does not act upon the world. Instead, He exists within it and from within it.
R. Nachman, like the Rambam, elevates the intellect above all else: "A Jew must always examine the intellect of every thing," he declares in the first teaching of Likutei Moharan. But for him the intellect is itself the Divine bounty that shines forth in the world and in man; it is not a tool for examining the objective world, as the Rambam maintains.
This is the starting point of the distinction that we drew above, according to R. Nachman, between the library – based on the Rambam's approach – and the beit midrash. (Obviously these terms here are used as typological models – not every library, and not every beit midrash, has these characteristics.) This is R. Nachman's point of departure in this teaching.
Intellect does not understand, it does not study – it only influences. In order to effect this influence, to break through the cloud that is bursting with its plentiful rain, comes speech. Here, the second source for the legitimacy of "speech without backing" emerges.
Thus far, we have seen that speech is uttered in order to arouse and in order to create – a sort of psychological tactic along the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But according to what we have just said, we return to what we learned in shiur 8, regarding teaching #78, about the power of speech to remember and to remind. Let us review R. Natan's understanding of this teaching:
This teaching also shows that speech goes with a person even to polluted places, like a mother who goes with her child wherever he goes, and therefore speech is called "the mother of children." This is the meaning of (Yirmiyahu 31), "For whenever I speak of him, I shall surely remember him" – i.e., that even if a person is located in a place, even in the lowest of low places, even in polluted places, nevertheless by means of speech he is able to remind himself of the blessed God.
In other words, even if he is in such a place, if he strengthens himself, even there, to utter holy words of Torah and prayer and meditation, then he may remind himself of God even there, in those lowly places, which represent polluted places, even if he has fallen to the place to which he has fallen. For speech does not allow him to forget God, as it is written, "For whenever I speak of Him – I shall surely remember Him." So long as he speaks about God – and this is holy speech – then this speech will not allow him to be forgotten by God, for the speech mentions and reminds him to strengthen himself through God in that place.
Understand this well, the great power of speech; it is wonderful and awesome guidance for one who truly seeks not to lose his world completely, heaven forbid. (Likutei Moharan Kama 78)
Speech, as we have seen in previous shiurim, is simply an expression of Divine presence within reality, including man. A person who is beset with doubts is, in R. Nachman's view, simply a person whose world of faith is hidden and concealed within him (as we saw in shiur 10). From this perspective, R. Nachman's permission for a person beset with doubts to call out, "I believe with perfect faith," arises from his unequivocal assertion that such perfect faith does actually exist in some concealed place within him. The cry simply breaks through the barriers and masks that cover it.
"For so long as I speak of him I shall surely remember him." Speech reminds a person that the Divine word exists within him, but it also reminds him that his task is to expose the faith that is already there. This is not something new. The prophecy fulfills itself not because the atmosphere creates a reality, but rather because it is a true prophecy.
The cloud is full and bursting with waters of salvation. Man observes the cloud that hangs over his parched land, over his doubts, and contemplates what is necessary to break it open. There is no need to import water from Turkey or to harness the best that modern technology and human intellect have to offer in order to create desalination plants. The doubts will be removed neither by external sources, nor by intellectual application and insight. One crack of thunder, one break in the cloud, and the arid land will be flooded with the waters of salvation. The thunder is the voice – speech; the stronger the speech and the louder the cry, the greater the chances that the wellsprings of the influencing intellect will burst through. Then the great faith will be exposed, removing all doubts – which signify no more than the darkening and concealment of the inner faith that beats within man.
(Translated by Kaeren Fish)