Yeshivat Orot Shaul, Ra'anana

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Rav Nachman Shiur #18: Silence (part IV) "Be silent, this is how it has arisen in thought before Me

By: Rav Itamar Eldar

 

We concluded the previous shiur with a number of questions that arose from R. Nachman's teaching #7 in Likutei Moharan Tanina. There, we encountered silence of a different kind: a silence interpreted by R. Nachman as self-restraint and halting. That silence influences the person himself and the disciple before whom he is silent. However, the resulting influence does not bring deeper insight, as was the case in the previous descriptions. It is, in fact, something even higher: the lofty crown (Keter), known, in this teaching, as the "surrounding light," lies out of man's reach.  Even silence cannot bring him into contact with it. On the contrary: silence maintains the distance between that light and the sage, preventing it from surrounding him and from becoming a relevant challenge for him.

 

The Silence of the "Empty Space"

We should now return to teaching #64, section 3 – the point from which we began our journey to explore speech and silence in R. Nachman's thought. We may now apply what we have learned and perhaps even answer our previous questions.

"Know that if there is a great tzaddik who is like Moshe, then he must delve into these matters of heresy, even though they cannot be explained.  Through his involvement in them, he raises some souls that have fallen and that have become trapped by that heresy. These heretical questions and problems, coming from the "empty space," are like silence, because neither intelligence nor letters can resolve them. Creation took place through speech, as it is written (Tehillim 33:6), "By God's word, the heavens were made, and through the breath of His mouth, all of their hosts [were made]." Speech contains wisdom because all of speech is composed only of the five [vowel] sounds that the mouth produces. By means of these sounds, all parts of Creation came into being, as it is written (ibid. 104:24), "You have made them all with wisdom." Speech is the boundary of all things because He bounded His wisdom with the letters – these letters would be the definition for this thing, and those letters would be the definition of that thing. However, in the empty space that surrounds all of the worlds and that is empty of everything, so to speak, there is no speech – not even intelligence without letters. Therefore, the questions that arise from there are like silence. As we find concerning Moshe (Menachot 29b), when he questioned R. Akiva's death: "This is Torah and this is its reward?" He was answered: "Be silent, this is how it has arisen in thought before Me." You must be silent and refrain from trying to find an answer to this question because this it how it has arisen in thought – which is above speech. Therefore, you must be silent concerning this question, because it has "arisen in thought;" it emerges from a place where there is no speech to explain it. Likewise, these are the questions and problems that come from the empty space, where there is no speech and no intelligence. Therefore, they are like silence and one must simply believe and be silent there. Therefore, it is wrong for anyone to enter and become involved in these matters of heresy, except for a tzaddik who is like Moshe, because Moshe is like silence; hence, he is called "heavy of speech" (Shemot 4:10). Like silence, he is above speech. Therefore, a tzaddik who is like Moshe, like silence, can engage himself in these problems, which are like silence. He must engage himself in order to raise the souls that have fallen there." (Likutei Moharan Kama 64:3)

 

The empty space, which we have treated at length (the reader is well advised to review shiur #10 in order to be reminded of the key points), is that place in which, so to speak, there is no Divinity. This means, as we have seen in the past, that we are speaking about a category of questions and difficulties for which no intellectual answer can be provided. Speech, as we have seen, is the expression of Divine thought; it is the Divine revelation that finds expression in the wisdom of the object or idea that we are discussing.

 

Intelligence and the letters are the foundation upon which the created world rests: "By God's word, the heavens were made." In-depth contemplation of the world allows us to reveal the letters scattered within it and the intelligence that they embody, i.e., the Divinity that is hidden deep within the physical world. The questions and difficulties that come to the world, as we explained at the beginning of this teaching, result from God's hiding within the world. A question, for R. Nachman, signifies concealment; hence, exposing the letters and gathering them into words and ideas – into intelligence – is the way in which we expose the Divinity that reveals itself; this, in fact, is the answer that is given to the question.

Just as Divinity lies behind every creature and object, in the form of letters and ideas, so too, an answer exists to every question of this type. R. Nachman even adds that sometimes questions arise from a place in which there is only pure intelligence – wisdom – and no letters. This is a place where the very absence of words is itself the Divine intelligence and wisdom that is revealed there.[1] Even there, one may uncover aspects of Divinity.

 

Speech, as we have seen, began its journey at the time of Creation, with the first leap from "nothingness" to "existence;" a leap from Keter to Chokhma. Every encounter with "existence" must pass through the Divine Chokhma (wisdom), which is the source of all of Creation. It finds expression in each and every utterance that has ever or that will ever descend to the world.

 

However, as we saw in shiur #10, prior to the creation of "existence," there was a movement of constriction. This movement left – for a brief moment – an empty space, the absence of Divinity, so to speak, within the expanses of Infinity. This space, as we saw, is no mere "historical event;" it continues to surround created reality [2], thereby facilitating the "surrounding" aspect of the Divine Infinity that exists beyond it. The significance of its continued existence lies in the type of difficulties and questions that arise and enter the world due to the "absence of Divinity." The empty space is a CONTINUOUS Divine movement. Like any Divine movement that takes place within reality, its signs may be discerned in the physical reality experienced by mortals: in events that happen to them and in their inner experiences.

 

This reality preceded the created world; it always precedes any action that grows from within "existence." As we saw in shiur #6, any tangible action arises from constriction, which requires an emptying of space in order for the action to take place.

But the reality that this constriction creates is one that does not flow from Divine wisdom. On the contrary: Divine wisdom, speech, letters and intelligence flow from it. "From where (me-ayin – lit. “from nothingness”) shall you find wisdom," – note that it is from “ayin” – from nothingness.

 

There is neither knowledge, understanding, wisdom, words, nor letters, because these are all active expressions of Divine revelation. The empty space is the complete opposite of revelation: withdrawal and concealment. This is Divine silence.

 

Thus far, we have seen how silence facilitates the leap from "existence" to the Divine "nothingness," Infinity; from Divine wisdom to Keter. Now we see the root of this perception. The Divine transition from Infinity and complete "nothingness" to "existence" – that which is bounded, limited, and created through speech – passes through His silence; through the "empty space."

 

At the beginning of the previous shiur, we saw that R. Natan advises a person to be silent before every utterance. This silence before speaking is an imitation of God's ways. Before God's first utterance, before laying the foundation for the first "existence," before "God said, Let there be light," there was complete silence. God subjugated Himself before His Infinity and created an empty space within Himself that could contain and receive that “existence.”

 

When faced with the difficult moments and terrible questions that arise from the silence, from the empty space, one will find neither answers nor understanding. There are also no letters, no words, and no speech hiding there because all of these grow from within "existence" and from within the Divine wisdom that creates. The reality that emerges and develops from the power of the empty space lacks revelation, wisdom, and intelligence; therefore, it has neither answers nor solutions – only to remain silent. "Be silent, this is how it has arisen in thought before Me" – the thought that lies beyond speech and wisdom.

 

Silence, then, is neither Keter, nor Infinity. It is the absolute relinquishing of "existence" – and, at this stage, even of "nothingness." It leaves man with absolutely nothing at all. Silence, here, does not bring man to Keter. Rather, it allows him to grasp – at least through his senses – the wonder of the leap from "nothingness" to "existence." This occurs when he must foster the readiness to deal with a moment in life that is composed of complete silence and nothing else.

 

This readiness to reconcile oneself to complete silence is almost impossible to achieve. To experience a single moment of complete absence of Divinity without faltering, one must maintain an extremely high level of faith. It is even more difficult for a person who immerses himself (and becomes trapped) in such a reality. Therefore, R. Nachman writes here that a person must refrain from becoming involved in this type of questions. A person must not test himself with this type of silence. In general, R. Nachman asserts that people who involve themselves with the most difficult place of reality – the place of complete absence, in which there is seemingly no Divine vitality – will become trapped there: "All those who come there will not return." The Divine revelation that exists within all of reality and that, according to R. Nachman's view, saves man from doubts and heresy is nowhere to be found in this type of questions. In this place, there is neither intelligence nor speech that could gather the sparks of faith from the world and from the person himself, as we have seen that speech is able to do.

 

Only one person can and must enter this place: the tzaddik who is like Moshe, who represents silence. The tzaddik is there and he must raise up those souls that have become irretrievably trapped there. How is he to achieve this?

 

In general, when the tzaddik provides answers to the questions of those who have fallen into doubt, he himself actually exposes the Divinity that exists in the place in which they seek an answer. He reveals to them the intelligence and the wisdom that are hidden there. If there is neither intelligence nor wisdom in this place, then what is there?

 

On the one hand, says R. Nachman, the tzaddik does apply himself there: "through his engaging himself there, he raises up from there some souls that have fallen and have become trapped." On the other hand, the way in which he must conduct himself there is, "just to believe and to remain silent there."

 

It seems that there are two different ways of understanding the role of the tzaddik. Each approach assumes a different definition of the source and purpose of the silence.

 

The Consciousness Option

The first option leaves the tzaddik's silence at the level of a "message that is learned." The tzaddik cannot demonstrate to the person who has fallen the intelligence and wisdom that will solve his questions. He cannot expose the Divinity that exists there, since – so to speak – there is no Divinity there. His involvement cannot lead to a solution. The tzaddik, in this place, can only give strength and serve as an example. "I, too, do not understand;" "I, too, cannot perceive Divinity – but I still believe." He must "just believe and remain silent there."

 

The message that the tzaddik conveys to the person immersed in doubt to the point of despair is that he, too, knows that he does not carry the solutions to all of reality.  He, too, stands before the empty space in complete helplessness; nevertheless, he believes that Divinity surrounds him. This message is the solution that makes it possible to remove the questioner from his distress.

 

This understanding represents a departure from R. Nachman's general view. Until now, we have seen that doubt and its solution are not just phenomena of consciousness and do not pertain to the rational realm; rather, they represent an immanent expression of closeness and distance. R. Nachman always describes saving people from the depths of doubt as an act of revelation, of change in spiritual status, rather than just as a result of intellectual understanding and insight. The latter, according to his view, are the result of revelation; they are the garb - in the form of letters and speech – of the Divine light that is revealed.

 

Here, for the first time, R. Nachman speaks of a "message," of "understanding." There is no change in the level of closeness or distance, of revelation or concealment, for this person after he consults with the tzaddik. However, there is a change in his readiness to accept, to be reconciled. R. Nachman surprisingly disconnects consciousness here from the tangible reality; "world view" from "level." His intention is usually not to educate. Instead, he comes to tell people that the guidance that he offers, the thoughts that they think, and the teachings that the Rebbes convey to their disciples are all simply an expression of a real, turbulent dynamic between opposing forces that constantly impact the world. These include light and darkness, revelation and concealment, and distance and closeness. Any person, act, or thought is nothing more than an expression of this process. Here, suddenly, R. Nachman comes to educate! The tzaddik does not remove the veil from the light, as he usually does. He conveys a message to the fallen one: "Look at me, see how I manage! Change your perception; be prepared to reconcile yourself with silence, with your situation. Your feeling does not arise from faulty vision; you are seeing reality accurately, but you are not dealing with that reality in the correct manner."

 

If we accept this insight, I believe that we can answer the questions concerning teaching #7 with which we concluded the previous shiur.

 

The silence described there leaves a person with "surrounding lights" that do not become graspable, neither before the silence nor after it. The silence there allows a person to live in faith, despite the knowledge that he is surrounded – either from close by or from further away – by lights that are beyond time and space. "Keter" there is not graspable, just as Keter here is not graspable. It appears that silence, as it appears in teaching #7, must be viewed as a way to train, first, the tzaddik and, then, the disciple to deal with the empty space. [3]

 

One of the most obvious differences between the silence of teaching #64 and that of #7 is that, in the latter, silence does not express an ontological situation. The moments of humiliation and shame that a person faces express the reality of kelipot; those who cause the humiliation represent the hiding of the face of God (Ehyeh – as we have seen in previous shiurim). In this sense, the silence in teaching #64 is similar to these – for here, too, it expresses a tangible situation that is devoid of Divinity and devoid of speech.

 

However, the silence of teaching #7 is different. Here, a person remains silent in an artificial way. Speech exists, the answer exists, wisdom is attainable; nevertheless, the sage is commanded to remain silent, to hide, to ignore. The purpose of silence here, explains R. Nachman, is to prevent a person from being faced with surrounding lights that have no answer – surrounding lights that are above time and space. Consequently, the tzaddik must halt a few steps before reaching them. In this way, as we saw in the previous shiur, the tzaddik learns – and thereby teaches his disciple – that it is possible to reconcile oneself to the existence of that which surrounds. 

 

Using the terminology of teaching #64, we could say that, "one need only believe that the blessed God surrounds him, too." The readiness to "suffice" with that which rotates and surrounds is the meaning of the silence in teaching #7 – and, I believe, also in teaching #64, according to this understanding.

 

In teaching #64, the tzaddik already has no choice.  After reaching the "surrounding light" that is beyond time and space, he can no longer choose: "only to believe that the blessed God surrounds him, too." He must accept that which surrounds, and he must be silent. The tzaddik would not have been able to attain this level if he had not learned to be silent when he faced surrounding light that was graspable. In that case, the "surrounding" light only appeared to be surrounding, while, in truth, it contained intelligence and wisdom.  These tools endowed him with the potential to convert the light from "surrounding" light to "inner" light, from "rotating" to "filling." This is the silence that the tzaddik learned in teaching #7.

 

Silence, as a teacher and educator, aims not for insight, but rather for relinquishment and for readiness to remain silent. This is the silence described in teaching #7, in contrast to the other types of silence that we have seen. It is this silence that prepares the tzaddik to face the empty space while remaining silent and not understanding – this time it is truly impossible to understand.

 

The Ontological Option

The second direction in which we may understand the function of the tzaddik does not deviate from R. Nachman's fundamental view. Nevertheless, in order to make this claim, we must include a sort of twist.

 

As we saw in the previous section of this teaching, R. Nachman does not relinquish the attempt to solve the problem of the empty space – not only through consciousness, as we have attempted to claim above, but also ontologically. We expanded on this in shiur #10, in which the climax of this view found expression in the phrase, "one must just believe that the blessed God surrounds it [the empty space], too, and it must certainly be that there, too, there exists His Divinity." (64:2)

 

The possibility of claiming that there is Divinity even in the empty space does not arise from the view of the empty space itself, but rather from the faith and recognition that Divinity rotates around it as well. We have already noted that this is a type of "twist." We also have attempted to explain that R. Nachman seeks to assert that even God's silence, His absence at a certain moment, is part of the dialogue that He maintains with the world. In this sense, the empty space turns itself into part of God's wisdom, even though it contains no Divinity of its own.

 

The "transitional" attribute that R. Nachman discusses in this section, characterizing the nation of Israel, is the ability to face the empty space.  This includes closing one's eyes and looking at what lies beyond it: the Infinity that rotates around it – i.e., Keter.

 

At that moment, the empty space turns into a transitional stage between Infinity and existence and vice versa. Silence, according to this view, is "closing of the eyes." In other words, it requires the ability to pass through the mob of questions and difficulties without dealing with them directly. One must ignore them and just assume that they, too, have a purpose in the world. This purpose is what makes them significant – and this is their meaning!

 

The tzaddik who is silent and maintains faith has the ability to deal with the questions and difficulties – not by giving solutions, but by leaving them untouched and inscrutable, just as they are. He merely places them within the framework of the dialogue between God and man, turning them into a sort of "word of God." Here, silence brings a person to a higher conception that is beyond speech and letters, which themselves cannot give meaning to the empty space. Faith that emerges from the power of silence, bringing with it the recognition that even the empty space is surrounded, enables a person to encounter even the Infinity that rotates around the empty space. Through this encounter, a person can pass over the empty space entirely.

 

According to this understanding, R. Nachman does not deviate here from his regular view. As always, the ability to save the person who has fallen into doubt passes through the place where the tzaddik reveals Divinity to him.  However, here, this exposure focuses not on the content of the doubt, but rather on its place within the framework of God's revelation in the world from "nothingness" to "existence." The tzaddik, through his silence, indeed brings the fallen person to an encounter with Divinity: not with Divinity that exists in the place where he is (for there is none there, so to speak), but rather with the Divinity that rotates around the reality of that doubt.

 

If we accept this direction, then the silence of the tzaddik here is remarkably similar to all types of silence that we have seen, except for that of teaching #7. Those silences release a person from seeing a reality of wisdom and speech through normal vision, so that he may assume a view that takes note of the hidden shadows that rotate around the depths of doubt. A person who is silent hears the sounds. These are not regular sounds. They are muffled, emerging from complete "nothingness" and penetrating man's consciousness through anything but the senses, awareness, and understanding. They rotate around him like a crown and, from time to time, they enter through the path that his silence prepares for them. The silence has emptied him of everything in preparation for the infinite encounter with the supreme and exalted Keter within the empty space.

 

Notes:

[1] The reader is strongly recommended to review shiur #10.

[2] "Where (aye) is the place of His glory?" – see shiur #9.

[3] To avoid doubt and misunderstanding: the empty space surrounding the world that is referred to here is not the "outer space" surrounding the earth – this space is included within created existence. Here, we are speaking of an abstract space that cannot be located geographically. It surrounds all that could ever be included within the framework of our tangible reality.

[4] Support for this view can be found in the fact that both teachings mention Moshe.