Rav Nachman Shiur #17b: Silence (part III) "And Your Faithfulness, in the Night" (Part 2 of 2)
By: Rav Itamar Eldar
Inner Light and Surrounding Light
The above sits well with all that we have learned thus far about silence. However, in another teaching, R. Nachman addresses the concept of silence with a seemingly different approach and different results:
"By means of a person engaging in talking to his fellow, to inculcate knowledge and fear of heaven and to gather students, the "surrounding lights" enter – i.e., he merits to understand and to know what he would not have understood and have known otherwise [see Avoda Zara 35b]. What a person understands and perceives with his intellect is "inner" because it penetrates his mind. On the other hand, what fails to enter his mind – i.e., what he cannot understand – is "surrounding." Since it surrounds his mind because he cannot understand it, he remains unable to assimilate it. Therefore, it remains surrounding. However, when he engages in speaking to people and inputs his knowledge into them, his mind is emptied [as it were] of the insight and knowledge that he had. As a result, the surrounding knowledge enters, enabling him to understand all that eluded him previously. There are many perspectives to this surrounding; what is surrounding for one person is internal for the next. This indicates that the latter is on a higher level. Similarly, there is knowledge that is surrounding for one person, but, for another, is lower even than the level of inner knowledge. By speaking to his fellow about fear of heaven and by inputting his knowledge into him, a person’s own surrounding knowledge is able to enter his mind. This process pushes individuals higher and higher. Each person, in accordance with his own situation and level, ushers his surrounding knowledge into his mind by speaking to his fellow and disciple and by inputting his knowledge into him." (Likutei Moharan Tanina 7, 6)
In order to understand this teaching, we must grasp two more concepts from Kabbalistic terminology that R. Nachman employs: "inner light" and "surrounding light."
"Surrounding light" is the idea that encompasses and surrounds man but that cannot be perceived or defined by intellectual tools. Although he is aware of and familiar with the idea, it remains above him and beyond his understanding.
The "inner light" is the same idea which, at a certain moment, for whatever reason, is grasped by a person's intellect and "enters his mind." That difficulty and incomprehensible idea are solved; they are infused with meaning that enables complete understanding.
"But above all are the supreme surrounding lights of the "chakham" (sage) of the generation, who is the rabbi of the generation. By means of the rabbi, the sage, of the generation engaging in speaking to his disciples and inputting his knowledge into them, his "surrounding" knowledge enters [his own mind]. His surrounding knowledge is like long life because it reflects the World to Come, referred to as "one long day" (Kiddushin 39; Chullin 142). In fact, the World to Come is above and beyond time. All of the time of This World, including all that was and all that will be, is nothing compared to one day or even one moment of the World to Come, which is "one long day." There, there is no time because it is above and beyond time. The ordering of time that exists there is based on the perception of the surrounding lights: there are surrounding lights that are like days, and there are surrounding lights that are like years, as it is written (Shemuel I 1), "the periods of days," and (Shemot 34 and Divrei ha-Yamim II 24), "the periods of years." The surrounding lights that exist there organize time and constitute the essence of the pleasure and enjoyment of the World to come. Happy is he who merits to attain them." (ibid.)
It is important to note that, until now, R. Nachman related to these concepts as relative. That which is considered "surrounding" for one person may be "inner" knowledge for another. "Surrounding," then, is an expression of the subjectively unintelligible. "Inner" is an expression of the subjectively intelligible. However, in the above excerpt, R. Nachman reaches the objective.
The supreme surrounding knowledge of the sage and teacher of the generation is not composed simply of ideals that are higher than the surrounding light of other individuals; his knowledge is a qualitative leap beyond theirs. This is the transition from minutes, hours, days and years, to "one long day"; from time to the "timeless"; from the realm of the bounded to that of the free and undefined. This is, in fact, the transition from the finite to the infinite and from existence to nothingness. (The idea that time expresses the transition from the Divine reality to This World finds expression in the following words by Rabbi Chaim Haikel of Amdor, one of the closest disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch: "”Slow to anger (erekh apayim)” – among the Thirteen Attributes there is the attribute of "erekh apayim." This implies that we are subject to time, while the Blessed God is above and beyond time – this is "apayim" – two "panim" (faces). Since the Holy One wanted us to experience His "faces," He made the length of his light subject to time. This perhaps resembles the construction of a general principle from two writings – i.e., the structure of the Father (God) constrained by changes (intricacies of finite time).” (Chaim ve-Chesed, Ki Tisa 47))
"Be Silent, It Has Arisen in Thought Before Me"
The surrounding lights of the generation’s leading sage are not subjectively "surrounding." They are based not upon the subject who has not yet succeeded in comprehending them, but upon their intrinsic nature. His lights are "surrounding" because they essentially lack boundaries and definition. Hence, their inability to be perceived and comprehended is immanent to them.
At this stage – and only at this stage – it is proper to mention the Divine sefira that expresses the property of surrounding in its essence. It encircles "chokhma," surrounding it without penetrating it: Keter. Indeed, R. Nachman introduces the next section by mentioning this sefira: "This sage, who merits these surrounding lights, is like an outpouring of Keter."
"The sage of the generation must know which surrounding knowledge he must preserve, and which surrounding knowledge he need not preserve. As such, there are things that he is not entitled to reveal to his disciples. If he reveals these things, then other surrounding knowledge will enter into his mind. However, some surrounding knowledge need not enter. For instance, in the course of a discussion with his student concerning some literal understanding of the Gemara with its commentary and Tosafot, the rabbi may arrive at some difficulty that had been surrounding knowledge for him. Immediately, the moment that this question comes into his mind, he mentions it to his student. In the midst of explaining it, a solution pops into his mind. Thus he suddenly perceives a different surrounding knowledge, the explanation of the question, which he then tells his student. When he reveals the explanation, yet another surrounding knowledge comes into his mind. This new insight causes the difficulty to become apparent elsewhere, making the question broader and more powerful than it was previously. Therefore the blessed God tells him, "Be silent over the explanation" – i.e., that he should be silent and should not reveal the explanation. He can thereby prevent encountering an even more difficult question than the one he faced originally. This is the meaning of, "Thus it has arisen in thought" – i.e., that immediately when the inner thought is revealed, another, new thought arises as more surrounding insight enters. Therefore, one must remain silent, in order not to entertain more surrounding thoughts unnecessarily. This is the meaning of, "Be silent, thus it has arisen in thought." (Likutei Moharan Tanina 7,8)
R. Nachman describes an interactive process of learning in which a question turns into an explanation, making way for a new question. This system thus elevates the teacher and the disciple from one insight to the next and from one level of understanding to the next.
The process is infinite. There is no explanation that does not give rise to a new question in its wake. Likewise, there is no insight that does not herald a new idea that has not yet been conceived. Each link in the chain is joined to the next. This process is inherent to man and to his learning.
Other thinkers have also addressed this spiral movement and its meaning:
"For a Jew, the order begins with yearning to perceive and to hear the voice of the blessed God, after which he merits to hear it. Subsequently, he must bring that insight into the depths of his heart. It may stimulate him to pay closer attention and to strengthen his desire to hear – as a result, he will merit hearing more. And so on endlessly. Since (Job 5) "man is born to labor," there is no rest in This World. Rest is reserved for the righteous in the World to Come. In This World, only intensive labor propels a person from one level to the next. This is the meaning of what is written (Bereishit Rabba 39), “burning courtyard (bira doleket)”: Avraham learned that everything must be in its resting place and at its root. However, the blessed God replied that His blessed will is that in This World there will be only effort and no rest. This is the meaning of (Bereishit 12), "[the land] which I will show you" – he knew that although he would not achieve it in its entirety in This World, he would always yearn for it throughout his life. This is the meaning of (Tehillim 45), "Hear… and lend your ear…." I heard from my father z”l that "burning courtyard (bira doleket)” is related to the word "inflammation" (daleket) because everything always yearns for and pursues perfection." (Sefat Emet, Lekh Lekha, 634)
The "Sefat Emet" establishes that every insight that a person attains must be accompanied by a dual experience. On the one hand, a person must sense the pleasure of the insight and the joy of having doubts removed; on the other hand, he must be filled with anticipation for the next level and insight, which he has not yet attained. This teaching seems to be aimed towards both the intellectual and spiritual planes. It is an endless process, because "he knew that although he would not achieve it in its entirety in This World, he would always yearn for it throughout his life."
R. Nachman seeks to halt this process, at least on the rational level. Firstly, R. Nachman teaches, the path is not infinite. This is so not because it is possible to attain the absolute solution and the secret of existence, but because the ascent of the path of insights and understandings ultimately reaches a dead end. After reaching a certain point, there is no way to continue. Nevertheless, stopping there is equally impossible. The "surrounding" thoughts that are "beyond time" are questions that reality, entirely linked to time, cannot contain. It is this dead end that R. Nachman seeks to avoid.
At this point, attention should be paid to a most interesting point. The halting that R. Nachman demands of the sage is not in the face of the surrounding light – the question. He does not instruct the sage, standing before the question, to stop and not to seek the answer. Instead, the silence that he demands of the sage is directed towards the inner light. He is required to store the insight within himself, refraining from revealing it and from actualizing it. Although the sage knows the answer to the disciple’s question, he must not reveal it.
The demand that a person halt before the "surrounding light" is understandable, even if not universally agreed upon. R. Nachman could have said "Do not question that which is too wondrous for you and do not try to understand. Even if you succeed in understanding the present link, it is connected to the next one in the chain, and so on, until the abyss that lies beneath it.” But R. Nachman's demand is different: “Indeed you have understood, and your insight is truly a worthy one. However, do not share it with your disciple and your friend. In other words: ignore it!”
This type of halting has a dual meaning. Firstly, it concerns the person himself: stopping oneself from continuing to question includes a dimension of foregoing. The question is before me, the tools to seek a solution are in my hand, but I choose not to utilize them. However, the demand that one overcome his understanding and insight and not make use of them requires not only that a person forgo the continuation of his quest for understanding. It also requires that he refrain from attaching any importance to it. Holding a treasure in my hand without using it demonstrates that I could manage without it.
This silence demands that a person change his scale of measurement. An insight or an answer to an incomprehensible difficulty becomes – in the case of one who ceases his questioning – incomprehensible. Nevertheless, in his innermost heart, hidden under many layers of coverings, the aspiration towards understanding them may still resonate. In contrast, the insight that represents the answer to questions that linger in the dark corners of one's mind remains unwanted and dormant. These questions are shamed time after time as a person passes by them without paying any attention to them.
Secondly, it affects the disciple. A teacher who tells his student, "I don't know; let's stop trying to figure it out, because it's endless," leaves the student frustrated. Answers should and must be sought; nevertheless, often they will not be discovered. On the other hand, a teacher who tells his student, "I have an answer! A good answer, even. But it's not important what the answer is," – such a response changes the student's way of thinking: "Be silent, for thus it has arisen in thought before Me."
(I heard from Rav Amital that in a 'sicha' that he once gave at a high school, one of the students asked why we don tefillin. Rav Amital answered that he did not know. As he was leaving, the Rosh Yeshiva of the school accompanied him and asked why he had not given the student an answer: "After all, many different reasons are given for this mitzva, and the Rav is surely well acquainted with them!" Rav Amital answered: "The message that I have been wearing tefillin for dozens of years without knowing the reason is far more important and meaningful than any explanation that could be given for wearing tefillin.")
In this sense, silence here – as in the other instances – brings about a psychological revolution within the silent person. It changes his perspective of reality, as well as that of his students. It teaches him to stand squarely before the difficulties and questions that arise within him in a different way.
However, there is a fundamental difference between this silence and its predecessors from previous shiurim. All of the types of silence that we discussed previously are instances of foregoing which, ultimately, bring a person to greater attainments: the highest honor (teaching #6), connection to holiness by means of the "kelipat noga" (teaching #82), elevation of heretical thoughts (teaching #251), acquisition of the traits of trust and faith (Sefer Ha-Middot), and finally – the explanations for all questions that emerge as a result of a person’s silence.
Here, for the first time, the person is left only with his silence, without obtaining any higher achievement. The sage erects a fence that keeps the "supernal surrounding light” far away and that prevents it from enclosing his mind. This is a foregoing with no compensation; it is a withdrawal with no conquest. The letting go is not meant to cause the horses to gallop forwards: "Be silent, for thus it has arisen in thought before Me" – that is all! Here, there is not only no way to touch Keter, but also an attempt to avoid wearing it upon one's head.
What is the aim of this silence? Does it take the form not of an insight but of a message? Is it an educational, methodical act, meant simply to serve as a device for bringing about a change in consciousness? In this teaching, is R. Nachman telling us only how to avoid an improper perspective? Or, is he really proposing a new “pair of glasses,” which enable deeper understanding and achievement of greater heights?
We shall attempt to answer these questions in the next shiur.
Translated by Kaeren Fish