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Rav Nachman – Shiur #19 Shabbat and Yom Tov – Two Aspects of Divine Providence (Part 2 of 2)

By: Rav Itamar Eldar

R. Nachman distinguishes between two perceptions of reality.

 

One emerges from those who claim that "there are laws of nature… and it is as though everything operates according to nature." The second perception of reality maintains that "there is no natural obligation," and that everything happens according to God's will. These two perceptions represent opposite positions in the ancient philosophical debate as to the degree of Divine involvement in the world.

 

The scientific view perceives a world that is defined within the framework of an orderly system according to which it operates. This view claims that Creation has no need for any external intervention; it operates through inertia, according to the laws laid down at its conception. The concept of Divine will is irrelevant on every level, from the apple that falls from the tree, through a person whose life is cut short, to the rise and fall of nations and empires. Everything happens in accordance with the law of nature and as a result of the interaction between the elements and laws that operate in the world. [5]

 

In contrast, the second approach views all of reality as a revelation and expression of God's will. Every natural law that seems like a law in our eyes is nothing more than another expression of that Divine will. While the first approach seeks to banish Divine will from reality, the second highlights it as the central force.

 

It should be noted that the second approach includes a wide range of different views concerning the relationship between the laws of nature and miracles.

 

Some Islamic sects attempted to negate completely any system of laws within reality and to assert that, in fact, all of reality is a miracle. According to this view, the fact that an object will fall to the ground again and again is an expression, not of a fixed law of reality, but rather of God's will that it fall each time. This perspective completely negates the division between nature and miracle. [6]

 

R. Nachman, too, wants to assert that God's will stands even behind a law of nature.  Nevertheless, he does not want to ignore the existence of that law completely, as the following lines prove:

 

"In truth, we cannot understand what nature and Divine providence are, because, in truth, even nature is God's providence. It is impossible for a person to understand two things as one; i.e., that nature is really God's providence." (Likutei Moharan Tanina 17)

 

On one hand, R. Nachman distinguishes between miraculous Divine providence and nature; on the other hand, it is clear to him that "in truth, even nature is God's providence." This perception, according to R. Nachman's perspective, will definitely generate awe – in a most concrete sense.

 

Man naturally seeks to find some system of laws within reality and to plan and act accordingly. Man learns the rules of reality in order to know of what he should beware and what he may use for his benefit. He will not jump off a tall building because he is familiar with the law of gravity. Similarly, he is aware of the natural consequence of having a body composed of soft tissue colliding, at great speed, with another body that is harder. However, with the second approach, R. Nachman introduces a new factor within the framework of natural laws. We may say even more: in a certain sense, R. Nachman diminishes that which appeared to us as the only system of law. He pushes it aside to make way for a new law: the Divine will. R. Nachman does not encourage people to jump off a roof because everything depends on God's will and because it is He Who grants and withholds life. Rather, he demands that people pursue the Divine system of law, which is the dominant one, at least to the same extent as to which they subject themselves to the rules of nature. R. Nachman calls this Divine system of law: "reward and punishment."

 

Awe of reward and punishment is not mentioned in this teaching as a reason for observing and performing the commandments. Rather, it emerges from and reflects a worldview in which God stands at the center of the world and behind the events taking place in it.

 

Here, we return to loving kindness.

 

In the previous section, R. Nachman discussed two types of Divine loving kindness. The first, as we said, is based upon the mutual dynamism that has existed between God and the world ever since the moment of Creation. There is (Shemot 20:6): "in six days God made the heavens and the earth," in contrast to (Shemot 20:8), "six days shall you work and perform all of your labor." God does, indeed, send forth His loving kindness and cause the grass to grow; He does sow righteousness and send salvation – but these come only in the wake of man's deeds. Through his actions, man arouses the Divine outpouring of abundance; he prepares the ground and pulls down the blessings. This is the natural reality as it operates in accordance with the laws of Creation that were established during the six days of Creation.

 

It is no accident that we mention the verses related to Shabbat in relation to this understanding. Shabbat recounts to us and reminds us of the six days of Creation and it asks us to join the Master of the universe in that process. A careful reading of the verse, "Six days shall you work and perform all your labor, and on the seventh day – Shabbat for the Lord your God," reveals that there is not only a prohibition of work on the seventh day, but also an obligation to work on the other six days. R. Nachman comments on the connection between the Mishkan and Creation, which is connected, in turn, to the thirty-nine categories of creative activity – the prototypes of all melakhot that man performs within the act of Creation. The connection between the Mishkan and Creation passes through Shabbat, during which man ceases from the thirty-nine categories of creative activity.  Through this cessation of activity, he declares that God is the Creator of the world.

 

Shabbat, then, is the revelation of God's loving kindness to the world within natural reality.  This is the reality in which God speaks (plays His role) through Creation, through nature and its laws - which have existed since the primal six days of Creation, and within which man operates during the six days of work.

 

It seems to me that the doubt expressed by R. Nachman in the final paragraphs arises from this perspective. The mistaken assumption that "everything operates according to nature" may arise from the experience of the six days of Creation. If I plough the earth, if I sow seeds, if I irrigate the wheat as it grows – then there is no need for an angel whispering, "Grow!" to explain the whole process. Shabbat indeed testifies that it is God's will that stands behind Creation and that maintains it. However, His presence there is not apparent because it is garbed in man's actions – God will play His role only in response to, and while hidden behind them. "Six days shall you work and perform all your labor!" When God's presence is not apparent, its existence is easier to ignore and to negate.

 

In addition to the first type of loving kindness in section 3, there is also a corresponding, second type. Here, God does not wait for human acts. He does not require any garments; He appears in the world directly and unconditionally. This loving kindness is also based on the creation of the world, as R. Nachman teaches in section 3. This time, however, R. Nachman focuses not on the six days, but rather on that which preceded them:

 

"How did the blessed God create the entire world from oblivion, when nothing existed that would give rise to an awakening from below? Nevertheless, He created such worlds all out of His loving kindness, with no awakening from below at all, reflecting that which is written (Tehillim 89:3): "A world of kindness shall be built." Since the blessed God was able to create such worlds with no awakening from below at all, but rather out of His loving kindness, He can certainly maintain and sustain these worlds solely on the basis of His loving kindness."

 

The foundation of the loving kindness that is released from man's physical action is built upon the free will that stands behind the creation of the world, which occurred without being stimulated by a human deed.

 

Attention should be paid to the fact that R. Nachman notes this also as the basis of the perspective to which he aspires in sections 4-5; the same understanding that gives rise to awe and faith in reward and punishment: "The blessed God created everything by His will with no obligation whatsoever.  Furthermore, He sustains and gives life to all because of His own will, without any natural obligation to do so. By recognizing this, [man] arrives at awe."

 

R. Nachman teaches that the only path by which to reach the Divine loving kindness that is not dependent on Creation and on man's labors is by recognizing that "everything is done by His free will." This recognition grows from and, in turn, stimulates awe. It includes a dimension of ignoring Creation, the laws of nature that God Himself set down, the six days of Creation, and the six days of work that come in their wake.  In addition, it provokes a complete confrontation with the Divine will that is exposed and revealed to all.

 

For this purpose, Shabbat is not sufficient, because Shabbat operates on the assumption that God operates through nature and causes it. Therefore, we need something more, and this is what R. Nachman addresses in the next section:

 

"6. Revelation of the [Divine] will occurs by means of the festivals; each of the festivals declares, asserts, and reveals His will – that everything operates only according to His will, reflecting the expression (Vayikra 23), "a holy convocation" [or "declaration of holiness" – mikra kodesh].  The holy festival declares and proclaims the Divine will. On each festival, the blessed God performed wondrous signs for us, which are the opposite of nature. This revealed the Divine will – that everything happens by His will and that nothing is subjugated to nature. On Pesach, there was the exodus from Egypt, which God orchestrated with wondrous signs. On Shavuot, there was the giving of the Torah, which God executed with wondrous signs as well. On Sukkot, there were the surrounding clouds of glory. Thus, each festival declares, asserts, and proclaims the Divine will, thereby embodying the title “mikra kodesh.” For this reason, the festivals are called “regel” (pilgrimage festivals, lit. “leg”), reflecting awe. Since the festivals embody revelation of the Divine will, they bring us to awe. However, we do not always hear the call of the festival, which reveals the Divine will. This we discern in the joy of the festival: each person’s joy during the festival directly reflects what he feels and hears of its call, proclaiming the Divine will. When the Divine will is revealed – that everything is by the will of the blessed God – then we know that all of the subjugation, exile, and persecutions to which the nations subject us – God will avenge us for all of them and will redeem us from their hands. However, when we believe, God forbid, that everything operates according to the dictates of nature, then there is no notion of vengeance. In that case, everything operates solely according to the laws of nature, God forbid. This is as it is written (Tehillim 58:11), "The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked." Note that feet are mentioned here – i.e., through the "three times a year" (Devarim 16:16), which are the festivals through which the Divine will is revealed, "the righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance." As it is written (ibid.), "So that man may say: Indeed, there is reward for the righteous; indeed, there is a God Who judges the world." In other words, it is revealed that there is a God Who judges by His will and that there is reward and vengeance for the righteous. As a result, "the righteous man shall rejoice" – this is the joy of the festivals. It emerges due to the revelation of the Divine will by the voice that proclaims the Divine will on the festivals."

 

While Shabbat is the cornerstone of loving kindness that grows from the ground of the world of action, and of the 39 categories of labor and their subcategories, the festivals are the infrastructure for that same loving kindness, but in a revealed and independent form. In R. Nachman's language: the revelation of the Divine will.

 

The three pilgrim festivals, eternalizing the miracles and wonders that God performed for Israel, are simply God's call and proclamation. He breaks the silence of nature and its framework of laws to declare, "I am here!" They are “mikra’ei kodesh” – calls, declarations, and proclamations of the Holy One.

 

On festivals, the Divine will removes the garb of nature and its laws and stands, in all its power, before the natural reality that bows before it. Thus the sea was split in two; thus the quiet of the mountain was shaken with thunder and lightning; thus the clouds of glory adorned the desert.

 

This explains what R. Nachman meant in a conversation recorded by R. Natan:

 

"Then, he told R. Yudel that he wished to travel to Eretz Yisrael, and R. Yudel blessed him. Our teacher said to him: "You must certainly want to achieve some great thing there. May the blessed God help you to merit to achieve there that which you want." After nodding his head in recognition of the blessing, he said, "I could achieve my aspirations, desires, and intentions in Eretz Yisrael; I could also achieve them here through prayer and supplication alone, without needing to travel to Eretz Yisrael. The only difference is that when I merit to be in Eretz Yisrael, I achieve what I want by means of coverings. In contrast, here, outside of the land, I cannot achieve what I want through coverings, but rather only without coverings. This is the difference between the sanctity of Shabbat and the sanctity of a festival." Subsequently, he opened for R. Yudel the siddur of R. Yitzhak Luria and showed him, in the kavanot, that this is the difference between Shabbat and festivals: whereas on Shabbat, the light is clothed in coverings, on a festival, the light remains without coverings, as we know." (Chaye Moharan, His Journey to Eretz Yisrael 7, 135)

 

R. Nachman creates a fascinating equation between Shabbat and Eretz Yisrael, on the one hand, and the festivals and the diaspora, on the other. The former represent light clothed in garments, while the latter signify light without garments. He bases this innovation on the kavanot of the Ari z"l.

 

This appears to fit in with what we have said. R. Nachman asserts that the Divine reality in Eretz Yisrael is a reality clothed in garments. In Eretz Yisrael, we are commanded to work the ground, to build a kingdom with an army, to conquer territory, and to set borders. The material world in Eretz Yisrael is significant, and it plays a role in the spiritual system that is created there. This is, if you wish, the "behaving in the natural manner" of R. Yishma'el.

 

In exile, however, things are different. There, God has nothing but the “four cubits of halakha,” and the encounter with Him cannot pass through that which is beyond those four cubits. There, working the ground becomes the yoke of making a living, and recruitment into the army becomes the "law of the land." It is exactly in such a reality that the encounter with God must be an unmediated one, without passing through the garments of "natural life." [7]

 

The same relationship exists between Shabbat and festivals. Shabbat is the climax of Creation. It testifies to the Divine light that stands behind Creation but, as we have seen, it is clothed in the garments of nature. In contrast, the festivals’ entire purpose is to proclaim those moments in history in which the barriers of nature were broken through, the garments of natural laws were removed, and the Divine will was revealed in all its purity.

 

R. Nachman teaches us that the festivals are not individual moments in history, but rather examples that demonstrate the general law. The joy of the festival, says R. Nachman, should bring a person to change his worldview, his perspective on reality. From now, the sun that rises tomorrow morning is motivated not by the six days of Creation – or, perhaps, not only by the six days of Creation – but also by the recognition that the One Who split the sea for the Children of Israel on Pesach, Who covered the nation with the clouds of glory, Who was revealed to them with thunder and lightning – He is the One Who causes the sun to rise.

 

It is this recognition that enables a person to bear the troubles that befall him and the harsh yoke of exile and subjugation, and to say: "May He Who performed miracles for our forefathers and Who redeemed them from slavery to freedom soon redeem us." This is neither naive optimism, nor a false reading of the map. Indeed, from the perspective of natural laws, the future sometimes looks gloomy. Every strategic forum that assembles itself seeks to gather all possible data in order to decide on policy. Military advisers, specialists in world politics, Middle East experts, and perhaps even people who supposedly understand the psychology of national leaders will be invited. This is the law of nature, this is Shabbat, this is Creation. R. Nachman does not deny their existence. Sometimes, the Holy One even demands that we exhaust their possibilities before He will begin to shower His unconditional loving kindness upon us. Nevertheless, based on R. Nachman's view, all of this is less than ideal.

 

One expert is missing from the impressive list: the Jew of the festival, who stood, just a moment ago, with his goblet in hand and declared, with wholehearted faith: "It is this that carried our forefathers and us. Not only one got up to destroy us, but rather in each and every generation, they stand up against us to destroy us, but the Holy One delivers us from their hands!"

 

(To be continued in the next shiur…)

 

Notes continued:

[5] It should be noted that there are countering approaches, some of which influenced some Medieval Jewish philosophers. While this approach attempted to draw all of nature into the framework of the miraculous, others wanted to bring miracles into the framework of nature, including them too as part of the system of laws laid down at the time of Creation. The motivation behind this approach was a negation of will and change in God. The scope of this shiur does not allow for further elaboration.

[6] This view has several implications, and it arouses many questions as to R. Nachman's attitude towards exile as opposed to his attitude towards Eretz Yisrael. The issue is difficult to understand, but we shall not elaborate here.