Rav Nachman Shiur #15a: Silence (Part 1a) – Serving God with Silence
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
In previous shiurim, we addressed R. Nachman's conception of the great powers of speech. In this shiur, we shall encounter the limitations of speech, and introduce a new reality that is beyond its reach.
CREATION AND SPEECH
The first Divine utterance is the first act of God's revelation in the world. This revelation carries a price:
The beginning of creation occurred so that His trait of kingship (malkhut) could be revealed. However, due to His overwhelming illumination, it could not be received, and [God] was forced to constrict it within the worlds. This is the meaning of (Tehillim 145), "Your Kingship is a kingship of all worlds" – that the trait of His kingship was clothed within the worlds, in order that it could be received.
But there was no one to receive the yoke of His kingship. Therefore, the souls of Israel emerged to receive the yoke of His kingship, because there is no king without a nation. And from where did the souls of Israel emerge? >From the world of speech, as it is written (Shir Ha-Shirim 5), "My soul went out at His utterance." The souls of Israel emerged from the world of speech, and speech is kingship, as Eliyahu states: "Kingship of the mouth…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 78)
Revelation of the infinite within a finite reality requires boundaries, limitation, definition, and constriction. The process of constriction, as we noted in shiur 6, is an act of din (judgment). It inevitably includes an aspect of halting, which prevents the Divine bounty from flowing and spreading.
Indeed, the six days of Creation are marked by the boundaries and definitions that God sets down in His speech. The heavens extend so far, followed by the expanse of earth. The sea will stretch to where the land begins. These are fowl and those are fish. Fish belong in the water; fowl belong in the heavens. This is an impure animal, this is a pure animal, this is a man, etc. Even the assigning of names signifies a delineation of boundaries and definitions that further determine the essence of created items.
All of the worlds were created only for Israel, in order to bestow great good upon them. And when they are unable to receive (this good) because of their sins, God is sorrowful, as it is written (Yishayahu 63): "In all their troubles He is troubled." However, due to the clarity of the light of kindness, it cannot be received as it is; there must be a constriction of holiness. In other words, when God wishes to shower much good, He must speak: "Let it be so," as it is written (Tehillim 33): "By God's word the heavens were made." The letters are constrictions: the letter "alef" extends to here, the letter "tav" is bounded here…. (Likutei Moharan Kama 94)
The "let it be so" that R. Nachman discusses is the Torah's record of God's speech: "Let there be light," "Let there be a firmament," "Let us make man," etc. The words that the Holy One utters delineate the infinite kindness that He wishes to bestow upon Israel and allow for a revelation that may be viewed, heard, and felt. The letters comprising the words that connect to form speech are the framework into which the Divine light is poured. Ultimately, they represent the medium through which the dialogue between man and God takes place.
Speech, then, contains within it two opposites. On the one hand, it represents revelation, desire, and knowledge – all of which are symbolized by flowing, unrestrained movement. On the other hand, it is rooted in limitation, constriction, and boundary – preventing Divine bounty from pouring out freely.
Speech must be elevated to its root, which is the hand – the five fingers of the left hand. These correlate with the five "gevurot" (powers), representing the five sounds of the mouth. The essence of speech is through the five sounds of the mouth, which are the gevurot, as it is written (ibid. 106), "Who can utter the powers (gevurot) of God." It is through gevurot that speech is formulated (ibid. 145): "And they will speak of your powers…." (Likutei Moharan Kama 38:3)
The root of speech, then, lies in the attribute of gevura (power), for it is only through gevurot that speech is created. In the order of sefirot, gevura comes immediately after chesed, bounding it and limiting it. There is no chesed in the world without gevura. A world that is entirely chesed would be a world without bounds, in which there is no "I," no "you," and no "he" – where all is one.
R. Nachman expounds upon the connection between the five sounds of the mouth and the five gevurot in the following teaching:
One can make the whistling breath – the simple, whistling sound that emerges from the trachea – into speech, by means of the five sounds of the mouth, which shape the speech. The major difference between man and animals is the shaping of speech: Man is defined as a "medaber" (speaker), reflecting what is written (Shemot 4): "Who gave a mouth to man." The crux of this difference is the shaping of speech. Whereas man shapes letters and speech through his whistling and voice, animals and birds do not. This defines man as he who is able to shape his speech…. (Likutei Moharan Kama 225)
R. Nachman, as usual, connects an abstract idea to its physical, practical expression. For example, in a previous shiur, we learned how the relationship between speech and breathing, on one hand, and pulse, on the other, helps us to understand the relationship between speech, soul, and spirit. Similarly, the biological form of speech can teach us about its spiritual essence.
Speech is a voice emanating from the throat, to which R. Nachman refers as a "whistling." The sound is formed by the five expressions of the mouth. R. Nachman's words take this concept even further: "By means of the five expressions of the mouth, which shape the speech." The shaping and defining of the voice is what solidifies the unintelligible and abstract whistling into a defined vessel, thereby making it intelligible. Only upon achieving this level of structure can it facilitate communication between people.
Man is defined, according to R. Nachman, by his ability to shape that whistling, fostering the building of the world. As a result, man is compared to God once again. Just like God, man shapes, molds, and defines the infinite thought through his speech. In this way, man participates in the creation of the world, combining the opposing forces of revelation and contraction. This experience accompanies him in the most basic act that defines him as man: speech.
THE SIN IN CREATION AND IN SPEECH
Each word that emanates from our mouths, especially those words expressing a thought, mood, or experience, carries with it a great amount of content and significance. Simultaneously, it leaves behind all that could not fit into its boundaries. Thus, in a flash, the great advantage of speech transforms into its disadvantage:
For our Sages taught: What is the goat offered (as a sacrifice) on Rosh Chodesh different, inasmuch as it is declared to be "for God?" The Holy One says: This goat will serve as atonement for My having diminished the moon! (Shevuot 9a)
Had this not been written in the Gemara, we could never have suggested such an idea! The very creation of the world represents a certain kind of sin: a compromise between the supreme ideal and the limitations of reality, concerning power:
So said the Holy One: If I create the world only with the attribute of mercy, sinners will abound; if I create it only with the attribute of judgment, the world cannot exist. Rather, I will create it with both the attribute of judgment and the attribute of mercy. (Bereishit Rabba 12)
The world was created by God's word, and this speech was a "chet" (sin), so to speak, from the word "hachta'a" – to miss the mark, to fail. The world created by God's word cannot fully reflect the Divine attributes and the Divine will that are concealed on high. As a result, the first utterance turns into a sort of "chet" – a missed target.
R. Nachman was well aware of this problem. In fact, he grapples with it in one of his most extraordinary stories – "The Seven Beggars." Although we mentioned the story previously, we shall now return to it once again to examine R. Nachman's treatment of this "chet."
(Translated by Kaeren Fish)