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Rav Nachman Shiur #17: Silence (part III) "And Your Faithfulness, in the Night" (Part 1 of 2)

By: Rav Itamar Eldar

 

In the two previous shiurim, we saw how silence works wonders both for the world and for the person himself.  In particular, silence functions as a unique tool for dealing with humiliation and for responding to evil people’s heretical thoughts that sprout from dispute.

 

Silence, as a psychological movement of foregoing, uplifts a person to a level where he merits attachment to God, such that it is not he who is faced with the insults and abuse, but rather the Shekhina itself.

 

The Silence of Shabbat

 

In this shiur we shall attempt to examine this attachment that a person achieves, as well as the insights and understanding that the person may or may not acquire as a result.  Let us begin with the following words of R. Natan, R. Nachman's closest disciple:

 

"For speech is a reflection of "malkhut (kingdom) of the mouth," the essence of which is represented by its ascent on Shabbat.  During the six weekdays, which symbolize this world, it is only necessary to be silent as explained above, and as the Rabbis, of blessed memory, taught (Chullin 89a), concerning the verse (Tehillim 58): "”Indeed, then, speechless?  Justice shall you speak” – What shall a person do in this world?  He should make himself like a mute."  It is forbidden to utter anything concerning the matters of this world; only words of Torah and prayer are permissible, as our Rabbis taught (ibid.): "Could this (above verse) apply also to words of Torah? (Obviously not,)  Therefore, this comes to teach – "Justice shall you speak."  Similarly, our Rabbis taught (Yoma 19b), "”And you shall speak of them (words of Torah)” – and not of profane things."  However, since one must speak of worldly matters and of vital needs, it is impossible to refrain from mentioning them entirely.  Therefore, all speech should be connected to the Torah, such that one's speech in business, etc. should also be for eternal ends.  As our master and teacher, of blessed memory, taught (siman 29), while saying any word for business purposes, a person should have in mind to give charity.  He should act with similar intent when dealing with any speech.  In contrast, even this type of speech is forbidden on Shabbat, due to the prohibition of engaging in business transactions or in labor.  Speech that concerns profane matters is forbidden, even if truly intended for the sake of Heaven.  In fact, the construction of the Sanctuary itself is halted on Shabbat. If such an important and well-intended activity must cease on Shabbat, then how much more so all petty business dealings and related speech.  This applies even if they are conducted in good faith like the Sanctuary construction, as our Rabbis hinted (Tikunei Zohar, Hakdamah 13a).  On Shabbat, one may only use words of Shabbat.  These include words of Torah, prayer, thanks to the Blessed God, and zemirot (songs) of Shabbat.  One must thank God wholeheartedly and joyfully for granting us, in His great mercy, this gift that was hidden in His storehouse: the holiness of Shabbat.  Shabbat is higher than speech and all speech is drawn from Shabbat.  Shabbat represents the supreme silence that is higher than speech, reflecting the teaching (Avot 3), "A fence around wisdom is silence."  It also signifies Keter and the concept of waiting.  The root of speech is in thought, which is silence.  Speech is associated with wisdom, as it is written (Mishlei 2), "God gives wisdom from His mouth…."  Its root is in Keter, silence, and the idea that "a fence around wisdom is silence," because silence encompasses wisdom — speech — like a wall or fence.  One must be silent before speaking and between utterances in order to organize [one's thoughts] coherently.  Therefore, the Rabbis taught (Megillah 18a), “If a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.”  Silence is above speech, functioning as its root and its repair." (Likutei Halakhot, Hilkhot Shabbat, 7, 43).

 

"In this world one must remain silent," teaches R. Natan. If one must speak, then he must use only words of Torah and of praise for the Creator of the World.  However, one is forced to speak matters of business because such is the way of the world.  As we saw in previous shiurim, this constitutes the “sin” of Creation itself.  Ironically, one who wishes for the world to exist must pay the price.  The beggar from R. Nachman's story of the "Seven Beggars" exemplifies this very notion.  The beggar’s stutter represents an attempt to straddle the fence between using only words of Torah and praise for the Creator of the Universe, on the one hand, and feeling obliged to utilize speech regarding worldly matters, on the other.  At the very least, R. Natan teaches, a person should try to ensure that even when he speaks of worldly matters, they should be connected to Torah and to holiness.  By doing so, he can preserve the connection between the infinite light and its realization.

 

The Holy One performed a great kindness for us: After the six days of Creation, of utterances, He was silent and ceased His labor.  Just as on the six weekdays we are required to emulate God's utterances by speaking of and by engaging in worldly matters, so too on Shabbat we are commanded to mimic His silence.  We thereby merit a level that is "something of the World to Come," in which profane speech need not play a role.

 

"Shabbat is higher than speech, and all speech is drawn from Shabbat."  The silence of Shabbat elevates us to the highest level, which is the root of all others: Keter (crown).

 

The Shabbat that comes at the end of six days of activity reveals to us the root of the weekdays, actualizing the teaching that, "what ends in action begins with thought."  During the six days of Creation, the great wisdom of the Holy One was revealed, with each utterance exposing more and more of the Divine wonder of supernal wisdom.  However, the Keter that sits atop Chokhma (wisdom) (in the sefirotic system), the root of the supernal thought and will and the origin of primal blessing, is revealed through the silence of Shabbat (Zohar, Lech Lecha 135a): “It is the mystery of Shabbat, which is united with the mystery of the One so that it may be the organ of his Oneness.”

 

Through our silence on this day – both by cessation of our regular activities and by meditation that is fostered by a state of inner quiet – we encounter Keter and "bestow" it on the Holy One: "A crown (keter) will they give to you, God our God – the throngs of angels on high together with Your nation, Israel, gathered below."

 

The Divine crown (keter) is placed atop wisdom (chokhma), reflecting the teaching, "A fence around wisdom is silence.”  In fact, silence is what truly represents wisdom.  Thus, every utterance that comes to the world – including the speech spoken by mortals – emanates from the wondrous silence that constitutes its root.  Therefore, teaches R. Natan, when we choose to speak, we must be silent beforehand as well as between utterances.

 

Silence – Faith and Trust

 

This level of "something of the World to Come," to which silence brings us, is not merely a feeling or an experience.  Rather, it is an inner conception: "Through silence, one merits trust" (Sefer ha-Middot, Bitachon 14).

 

A person who acts on the assumption that he can rely upon no one but himself will not trust any outside factor.  As a result, his own abilities, talents, and will limit his realms of possibility.  Trust, as an attribute directed towards God, finds no place in the intensive activity of such a person and in his endless attempts to solve all of his problems.

 

R. Nachman tells of a man who was very wealthy.  While sitting in his store, in the manner of storekeepers, robbers came and stole his property.  He responded simply and pragmatically: "He went and gathered what was left, made himself a stall, purchased wares over again, and once again became a storekeeper" (Chaye Moharan, New Stories, 17, 97).  Nevertheless, the robbers returned and stole everything. Continuing to find solutions like any good merchant, he reestablished his store with the little remaining, together with his wife's jewelry.  To his misfortune, the robbers came and stole again, "until he became very poor, and his house was left totally empty."  Despite the hardships, the man did not give up even at this stage.  This time, he set off on the road to try his luck at trading from town to town and from village to village.  The man succeeded in overcoming his dire situation and managed to accumulate some wares.  But again, as expected, a highwayman riding a horse came and robbed him of the little that he had.  For the first time, the man’s determination faltered.  He despaired and wept: "and he went about weeping greatly, and his spirit was very bitter."  Surprisingly, just then, salvation arrived – this time through no effort of his own.  The highwayman fell from his horse and was trampled.  On his back, the man discovered ALL of the wares that had been stolen from him!

 

This story contains many messages and hopefully we will address it more fully when we discuss the trait of trust.  For our purposes here, we shall emphasize only the fact that salvation comes to a person precisely when he ceases to act.  Time after time the robbers came back, as if telling the wealthy man: "You have not yet internalized the message!  The Holy One knows that you have the intelligence and the ability to save yourself from this situation; however, what about trust, prayer, and "casting your burden on God?”  This you have not yet done!"  Thus, the man learned the hard way.  Only when he arrived at the "silence" that finds expression in despair and weeping – the silence that forgoes any possibility and any attempt of his own to solve the problem – did all his property return to him.  The message had now been absorbed and the aim achieved.  (The subject of trust and the human effort that is required nonetheless will hopefully be addressed in future shiurim.)

 

Silence in the realm of action and of human effort instills in a person the feeling that he need only rely on our Father in Heaven: through silence he will attain trust!

 

R. Nachman describes an additional conception that results from silence: "Faith comes through silence."  (Sefer ha-Middot, Faith 24).  (Although R. Nachman also teaches, "the essence of faith comes about from a person's mouth…" [Sichot Ha-Ran 142], speech in that context may play a different role – see shiur #14 on Speech, where we addressed this teaching.)

 

Silence, as we have seen above, is the readiness to forego – to forego understanding, control, and grasp of the reigns.

 

The Chassidic interpretation of the verse (Tehillim 92), "to tell of Your kindness in the morning and of Your faithfulness at night" supports this idea: When there is light, when Divine mercy is recognizable and its rays illuminate from one end of the world to the other, all that remains to be done is to tell of God's mercies (Tehillim 19): "The heavens tell about the glory of God, and the skies speak of the work of His hands."  On the other hand, when darkness falls and there is no light, when His kindness is hidden and covered, the time for the trait of faith arrives.  Only faith can overcome the doubt that replaces certainty during this turbulent time.  It serves as an anchor and as a leaning post on which to rely during the storms of the night.

 

R. Nachman's innovation is that silence is not merely a heavenly decree like darkness that descends at the end of the day.  Silence is a choice.  A person who is silent foregoes any attempt to explain, to justify, and to understand.  Although reasons and explanations may exist, he foregoes them – perhaps because the questions are always stronger than the reasons, or because the silent person consciously chooses a completely different track: the track of faith.  As soon as he puts aside his insight and abilities, they no longer serve him in dealing with reality.  Silence in thought, like silence in action, forces a person to seek support and inspiration from elsewhere.  Whereas in the world of action, he finds trust, in the world of thought, he finds faith.

 

Let Go, and Your Horses Will Run

 

In fact, R. Nachman's innovation goes much further.  This faith is not merely an inner conception and spiritual attitude.  It is a real conception that is translated into insight:

 

"When you have some question addressed at the Holy One, be silent, and through silence your thoughts alone will explain your difficulty.  When you are being insulted and you remain silent, you will merit to understand an answer to your questions, and you will merit a spirit of understanding." (Sefer ha-Middot, Faith 15-16).

 

According to this excerpt, silence starts with a foregoing of insight and of all understanding and ends with their attainment.  R. Nachman teaches that in order to acquire something, one must first relinquish it.

 

In order to understand this, let us consider a Chassidic story about the Ba'al Shem Tov and his closest disciple, R. Dov Ber – the "Maggid of Mezritch."  In his early years, the Maggid was an ardent “mitnaged,” an outspoken opponent of the Ba'al Shem Tov.  Many stories surround the eventual turning point when the Maggid became convinced of the truth of Chassidut and joined its ranks.  The following is one of them: During one of their discussions, the Ba'al Shem Tov told the Maggid of an incident that happened to him a few days before.  One morning, the Ba'al Shem Tov left his house, climbed onto his wagon, and pulled the reigns to urge the horses forward.  However, on this occasion, the horses chose to remain in their place, and nothing that the Ba'al Shem Tov did produced any effect.  Despite his continued coaxing, reproaching, and tugging on the reigns with all his might, they remained stubborn.  At that moment, a simple farmer passed by in his own wagon and observed the strange sight of the Rebbe laboring vigorously to move the horses while they refused to budge.

 

When the farmer offered his help, the Ba'al Shem Tov explained that he could not persuade the horses to start moving.  The farmer said, "I have a simple suggestion: Ease up a little on the reigns!  Let go, and see how your horses will begin to gallop."

 

The Ba'al Shem Tov turned to the Maggid with exactly the same suggestion that he had received from the simple farmer: Ease up a little on the reigns!  Let go, and see your horses run.  The Maggid let go, his horses started to gallop – and brought him to the status of highest disciple of the saintly Ba'al Shem Tov.

 

The "letting go" that removes obstacles and that allows a person to progress beyond his perceived potential is the silence that R. Nachman proposes. 

 

We are all familiar with the experience of sitting awake in the middle of the night, trying to solve some difficulty in the Gemara, in philosophy, or in another discipline.  One attempt after the next, hypothesis after hypothesis, we always arrive at a dead end.  Discouraged and exhausted from the effort, we lament the futility of continuing and prepare for bed.  Then, a moment before falling asleep, a new and original idea suddenly flashes into our mind, solving the difficulty and removing all contradictions.

 

From where does the idea emerge?  Where was it hiding, waiting for that moment of distraction in order to peep at us from between the lattices?

 

The real questions about God cannot be answered, teaches R. Nachman, because they are greater and deeper than any conception, any logical thought process, and any human insight that may be applied.  Any attempt to answer them is doomed to failure.

 

Silence, as always, means readiness to forego the conception, the logical process, and the human insight.  It removes all of these, making way for inner listening that is deeper and broader than any example or mold with which a person may address a difficulty.  This listening allows one to hear muffled sounds that are lost in the noise of the intellect and speech.  They are too fragile to be clothed in the voice and words that are audible to a regular ear, which is not tuned to the nuances of silence.  In a flash, the supernal insight, born of the supernal Keter, bursts forth.

 

Indeed, the Kabbalists – and philosophers who followed their example - were correct in asserting that Keter and the infinite have no point of contact with tangible reality, which passes through the vessels of the other sefirot: wisdom (Chokhma) and understanding (Bina), lovingkindness (Chesed) and valor (Gevura), up until kingship (Malkhut).  Indeed, Keter exists above all of these, and it encompasses and surrounds all of reality.  However, silence is an act of skipping over (dilug) like in the phrase (Shir ha-Shirim 2), “skip love over me” (dilugo `alay ahava).  In a sense, it easily skips over Yesod (foundation), Tiferet (glory), Bina and Chokhma, leaving them all behind without acquiring any trace of material reality.  Silence represents complete simplicity that transports man from the material realm, from the tangible, and from existence (yesh), to complete nothingness (ayin).  There, he encounters the Keter of the Holy One.  The magnificent hidden secret is revealed, and the answer is higher than any intellectual, scholarly conception.  (We expounded on this idea in shiur #4, in R. Nachman's story of the Two Painters.)

 

 

Translated by Kaeren Fish