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Rav Nachman Shiur #24: Dispute of Holiness

By: Rav Itamar Eldar

We concluded the previous shiur with R. Nachman's distinction between opposition to a tzaddikcoming from wicked people and opposition to a tzaddik coming from other tzaddikim who disagree with him.

We saw that in both cases, we are dealing with the directing hand of Providence that comes to protect the tzaddik from denunciations. But, we also saw that the opposition of the tzaddikim and that of the wicked have entirely different motivations.

R. Nachman said that the wicked man's objective is to kill the tzaddik, whereas the purpose of thetzaddik who opposes his fellow tzaddik is "for the sake of Heaven." That is to say, for the sake of the disputed tzaddik. This idea requires clarification, and there are several teachings which deal directly with this issue:

Know that when a person encounters opposition, he should not take a stand against his enemy, saying, "Whatever he does to me I will repay in kind." For this causes his enemy to achieve his goal; it enables [his enemy] to see happen to him, God forbid, what he wanted to see happen to him.

On the contrary, it is right that he judge them favorably and do for them every good. This is the aspect of "Let my soul be like earth to everyone" (Berakhot 17a) – like the earth, everyone treads on it, yet it provides them with every good: food, drink, gold, silver and precious stones; it all comes from the earth. Similarly, even though they oppose him and seek his harm, he should nevertheless do for them every good, like the earth, as explained above.

This is analogous to the case of a person who digs under his neighbor's house. If [his neighbor] positions himself so that he likewise starts digging in his direction, then the person [who began the] digging will certainly reach his goal with ease. However, if one person digs and his neighbor positions himself inside, pouring earth and creating a mound in his way, then he overturns the other's plan. The enemy is then unable to accomplish his goal.

Similarly, one should not take a stand against one's enemies, working against them, for this is the aspect of digging just like the enemy, making it easier for them to reach their goal. However, by means of the aspect of earth, the aspect of "Let my soul be like earth," he overturns his enemies' plan, as explained above. Then, "He who digs a pit will fall into it" (Mishlei 26:27). He falls and remains in the pit that he dug for his neighbor as a result of the earth that was poured in it. For his neighbor stands there pouring earth in his way, by means of the aspect of "Let my soul be like earth," as explained above.

This is all when his opponents are wicked people. However, when those who oppose him are tzaddikim, then certainly their intention is only for good, as they elevate and raise him up by this and mitigate the judgments against him. It is like a person digging under his neighbor to [secretly] throw him a nice present. We find something similar in connection with charity. There were a number of talmudic Sages who would hand out charity secretly, so that the one receiving it would not know (Ketuvot 67b). The same is true of the opposition of tzaddikim, which is actually their secretly giving him good in concealment, as mentioned above.

This is what David requested: "When evildoers [merei'im] rise up against me, my ears hear it. The tzaddik flourishes like a date palm [tamar]" (Tehillim 92:12-13). For just as there is a date palm of holiness, the aspect of "the tzaddik flourishes like a date palm," contrasting it is the date palm of the Sitra Achra. This is the aspect of "leaven the size of a kotevet"; a kotevet is a date – i.e., the date palm of the Sitra Achra. This is because se'or [leaven] is the encompassing of and strength behind the judgments, for it is the aspect of the name Elohim when squared and expanded, as is brought. This is why it is called tamar, suggesting temura [inversion] – i.e., theSitra Achra, which is called temura, for the inversion of wisdom is foolishness, the inversion of life [is death]…, as is brought (in Sefer Yetzira).

Now, the source of the judgments and the Sitra Achra is dispute of holiness. This is because the Sitra Achra is an aspect of dispute, their source being dispute of holiness. And judgment is mitigated only at its source. Therefore, by means of the disputes of the tzaddikim, which are the dispute of holiness, the judgments are mitigated at their source, as explained above. Through this, "the tzaddik flourishes like a date palm," for the date palm of the Sitra Achra has been mitigated and nullified by means of the dispute, which is the mitigation of the judgments at their source.

Thus it is that the opposition of tzaddikim is a great benefit. Yet, since the Sitra Achraand the judgments – which are bona fide dispute – evolve from and are connected there, it is therefore possible to imagine that the opposition of tzaddikim is likewise the bona fide dispute of hatred, God forbid, because they are connected there, as explained above. However, the truth is that it is only for the good.

This is what David requested, that when tzaddikim oppose him, he should hear from it only good, for certainly their intention is for good, as explained above.

This is: "When evildoers [merei'im] rise up against me" – i.e., the dispute of thetzaddikim, who are brothers and rei'im [friends]. This is the aspect of "two friends who never part" (Zohar III, 4a), for they certainly are filled with love. And when they rise up against me, "my ears hear it. The tzaddik flourishes like a date palm" – that he should hear from the opposition only the good they do for him with this; this being the aspect of "the tzaddik flourishes like a date palm," of mitigating judgments, as explained above. Nor should he mistakenly think that it is, God forbid, bona fide opposition, so as not to allow them a connection with this opposition, for this opposition is only for the good, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 277)

In this teaching, R. Nachman makes two points:

The first point relates to the question how one should deal with the opposition of wicked people, and the second point concerns the relationship between the opposition of the tzaddikim and the opposition of the wicked. We shall deal with the first point in brief, for we have already dealt with this issue. Our primary concern at this point will be the second point.

R. Nachman explains that in contrast to the natural instinct to respond in kind and wage war against one's opponents, a person should adopt the quality of "Let my soul be like earth to everyone." He uses an analogy to explain what he means. When a person digs under your house, wishing to cause you to fall into a pit, do not respond by digging in his direction. For if you do that, you will help him achieve his goal by undermining your own foundations – for the sake of which he himself is digging towards you.

The wicked man who opposes you wishes to undermine your position, to demonstrate to the whole world that your honor is imaginary, the honor of kings of flesh and blood. When you go out to defend your honor, you prove to him and to the entire world that he is right. You are fighting your own war, it is your own honor that you are defending. Consequentially, you reveal the bitter truth that your honor is not the result of your position, but the objective. A person who, in the face of controversy, allows himself to be like earth, destroys the foundations of the entire course on which the wicked man has set out. Through this spiritual process of readying himself to accept abuse and humiliation, a person learns to move honor from his list of objectives to the list of accompanying results.[1]

This type of confrontation, however, relates exclusively to the controversy from the wicked. R. Nachman teaches us that there also exists an entirely different type of controversy, i.e., the controversy coming from tzaddikim: "When those who oppose him are tzaddikim, then certainly their intention is only for good, as they elevate and raise him up by this and mitigate the judgments against him." What judgments is R. Nachman referring to,[2] and how are they mitigated by the opposition of the tzaddikim?


R. Nachman brings two key concepts into the discussion: dispute of holiness, as opposed to dispute of the Sitra Achra.[3] The latter, according to R. Nachman, includes the judgment that comes upon a person within the world in which he lives. Judgment refers to the tendency of severity that judges a person without compromise, without forgiveness, and without consideration. Lovingkindness and mercy are absent from this tendency, and any such expression which a person encounters over the course of his life is a direct result of this tendency – it should be said, this Divine tendency – that is found in the world.

This tendency, according to R. Nachman, includes the opposition of the wicked whose entire purpose is to cause a person to fall and die[4] without mercy or compassion. Attention should be paid here to the course R. Nachman is taking: One of the basic principles in R. Nachman's thought[5] is that there exists no phenomenon in the world - difficult, evil and incomprehensible as it may be - that does not have a spiritual-Divine root. For every phenomenon acting in the world requires vitality that will provide it with the power of movement that is required for action, and vitality and power of movement flow solely from the source of the life of the universe. The dispute of the Sitra Achra, then, requires a "source" in the world of holiness upon which it can draw.

The root of this dispute – which includes the dispute of the wicked – is the dispute of holiness, the dispute of the tzaddikim. But it is here that things get complicated. When this dispute, that of thetzaddikim, emerges from potentiality and achieves expression, it "mitigates the judgments" and nullifies them. This nullification, explains R. Nachman, is the quality of "the mitigation of the judgments at their source." R. Nachman adds the warning that one must remember and be aware that this dispute of the tzaddikim is a dispute in holiness, whose entire objective is to benefit thetzaddik, even though it appears that this dispute is also only one of hatred. Why so? Because the dispute of the wicked connects itself to the dispute of the tzaddikim and draws upon it, the dispute of the tzaddikim being its source.


First, we shall try to clarify the concept of "mitigation of judgments." Judgment, which we described above, refers to the bitter existence found in the world, and the mitigation of that bitter existence is accomplished through its reconnection to the Divine lovingkindness that acts upon the world. Moreover, the argument that every instance of judgment has a positive spiritual source that aspires to benefit the world, changes that existence both from a subjective perspective and from its objective definition.

When a person reflects upon a Divine decree that fell upon him, and he succeeds to see how this decree serves the Divine will to benefit him in the end, the act of judgment is mitigated. When a mother sees a hand waving a knife over the body of her child, threatening to carve it up, she feels the full weight of judgment and evil arising from that act. But when she sees that the hand holding the knife is the hand of a doctor seeking to save her child's life, the act of judgment at once turns all into an act of lovingkindness.

Mitigation of judgment, however, acts not only on the subjective plain, but on the objective plain as well.

The prophet Yeshayahu cries out: "Woe to Ashur the rod of My anger; for the staff in their hand is My indignation" (Yeshayahu 10:5), and thus, all at once, he changes his entire perspective regarding that threatening enemy. That enemy, however, who derives his strength from the Divine decree, is totally unaware of the source of his power, and even seeks to liberate himself from that source and stand independently.

The stronger the relationship between judgment and Divine lovingkindness, the more the judgment is mitigated. This will find expression in the fact that its action will be "for the sake of Heaven." It will use its strength in fitting measure in order to achieve the Divine goal, and it will not breach the borders that had been set for it within the framework of Divine lovingkindness to repair man and the world.

As we have seen, R. Nachman maintains that the dispute of the righteous is the source of the dispute of the wicked. False opposition (i.e., a dispute whose entire objective is to sully and denounce the tzaddik) cannot possibly grow, and can certainly not take hold, without some point of truth giving the wicked opponents the strength and some point of connection upon which they can construct their false edifices. Therefore, the dispute of the tzaddikim which is the true opposition to the tzaddik "triggers" the development of an aftergrowth – false opposition to him. R. Nachman asserts, however, that the increase in the dispute of the tzaddikim serves the tzaddikand protects him from the dispute of the wicked in that it mitigates it. And as we have seen, this is true on two plains – the objective as well as the subjective.

The dispute of the tzaddikim which is for the sake of Heaven - that is, for the sake of the tzaddik, as R. Nachman explains in teaching no. 88 (cited in the previous shiur) – increases and reveals the lovingkindness which causes the disputes of the tzaddikim to develop. This radiates upon the dispute of the wicked, which draws its strength from the dispute of the tzaddikim.

First of all, it allows the tzaddik himself to see and understand the dispute of the wicked. He understands that this is not evil for its own sake, evil which he cannot deal with, evil which he cannot understand why and where it comes from. It is part of a true process; it is a means intended to serve the true process which he sees and the nature of which he understands.

Second, objectively speaking as well, following the increase in the dispute of the tzaddikim, the dispute of the wicked really loses of its strength. It ceases to serve as the mouthpiece of the true opposition, for now the dispute of the tzaddikim speaks on its own behalf. Moreover, the whole world sees and understands that we are dealing here with something far more serious and profound than the cheap form that the wicked gave to their opposition.[6]

R. Nachman is not outlining here an idea that is merely theoretical. It seems that he actually sees that when other tzaddikim stand up against a certain tzaddik, and out of love and a sense of partnership they try to clarify the truth and argue with him, all the wicked people who sully and slander him become altogether insignificant. And furthermore, the whole world stops taking them seriously, for it understands that that they are "hitching a ride" on the true process found here, or at the very least, they are merely serving as a means to stir up opposition against the tzaddik.When this opposition arises, however, they disappear and are swallowed up in it, and then the judgments are mitigated at their source.

Here we come to R. Nachman's warning which finds expression mainly at the end of the teaching: "Nor should he mistakenly think that it is, God forbid, bona fide opposition, so as not to allow them a connection with this opposition, for this opposition is only for the good, as explained above." R. Nachman attaches very great weight to the manner in which the tzaddik relates to his opponents. It is not by chance that R. Nachman understands that David prayed that he should be able to distinguish between the dispute of tzaddikim and the dispute of the wicked.

This distinction is important precisely because the dispute of the wicked draws upon the dispute of the tzaddikim, and its entire objective is to create the impression that it itself expresses the true spark of the opposition to the tzaddik. Relating to true dispute as the dispute of the wicked plays into the hands of the dispute of the wicked, in that it creates an identification between the real thing standing behind that dispute and the dispute of the wicked, which the tzaddik himself insists upon seeing as one. This danger lies in wait for the tzaddik when other tzaddikim oppose him, and he must take care not to call such opposition "the dispute of the wicked." Granting legitimacy to such opposition is precisely what will save the tzaddik from the opposition of the wicked that seeks to cast him down and cause him to fall.

R. Nachman teaches us that in such a case, the tzaddik must act against his instinct that seeks to refute the opposition towards him, by attempting to neutralize the substantive factor and demonstrate that it is untrue. In that way, argues R. Nachman, the tzaddik digs a pit for himself, for the truth is evident, and when he includes the wicked under the wings of this truth, he gives them, as R. Nachman formulates it, "a connection to the dispute of holiness."[7]


We have seen that the opposition to a tzaddik on the part of other tzaddikim is "for the sake of Heaven," that is to say, for the sake of the tzaddik. Such opposition is "a dispute of holiness." It seems that we must further clarify this idea of a dispute of the tzaddikim which is for the sake of the tzaddik. Why is there such a thing as dispute of holiness, and how can opposition to a person be for his sake? For this purpose, let us examine the following teaching:

Dispute is the opposite of da'at [knowledge]. Nevertheless, there is dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, which in truth is very great da'at, even greater than the da'at of peace. For in fact, such dispute is great love and peace, as our Sages, of blessed memory, said (Kiddushin 30b): "Et vahav besufa (Bamidbar 21:14) – they did not move from there until they became lovers [ohavim]." This is the meaning of what our Sages, of blessed memory, said: "Dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end [sofa] prove constructive" (Avot 5:17). This is the aspect of love, as it is written: "Et vahav besufa,as explained above.

This corresponds to Moshe, because Moshe is the aspect of da'at, which is the aspect of dispute [makhloket] for the sake of Heaven. Thus, MoSHeH is an acronym of Makhloket Shamai Hillel, for they are the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven.

The redemption from Egypt therefore came through Moshe, because the essence of redemption is through da'at, as it is written: "And you will know that it was God who took you out of Egypt" (Shemot 16:6), "so that they might know" (Vayikra 23:43).

And this is the aspect of "the cake" – i.e., the matzot – "that they took out from Egypt." Matza is the aspect of dispute, as it is written: "The men who contend with you [matzutekha] will be as naught" (Yeshayahu 41:12).

This is the meaning of "that they took out from Egypt." Specifically, "that they took out," because in Egypt, da'at was in exile; there was certainly no dispute for the sake of Heaven, which is dependent upon da'at, as explained above.

This is: "In the cake that they took out from Egypt" – i.e., the matza, which is the aspect of dispute; "that they took out from Egypt" – for there the da'at was in exile; "they tasted the taste of manna" – because after they took the aspect of dispute out of exile in Egypt, they had in them the taste of manna, which is the aspect of greatda'at, which is the aspect of dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, as explained above.

This is the aspect of "bread [lechem] from Heaven" (Shemot 16:4), which refers to the manna. It connotes battle, as it is written: "Battle [lecham] my opponents" (Tehilim 35:1), the aspect of dispute. In other words, the manna, which is da'at, is the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven, as explained above.

Therefore, Datan and Aviram, who took issue with Moshe, who is da'at, also blemished the manna by leaving some over. This is because the manna is the aspect of da'at, the aspect of Moshe, as explained above.

Thus, it is written in the Holy Zohar (II, 183b), that "matza is a cure." For matza, which is the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven/da'at/peace, as explained above, is a cure. This is because peace is a cure, as it is written: "Peace, peace, to the far and to the near – says God – and I will heal them" (Yeshayahu 57:19). For in the main, illness, Heaven forbid, stems from an absence of peace – i.e., dispute among the elements, with one of the elements overpowering the other. But peace is a cure.

This is why matza is called "poor man's bread," because poverty is but a lack of da'at(Nedarim 41a). This is the aspect of a sick person as it is written: "Why do you appear so drawn, O Prince" (II Shmuel 13:4). But matza, which is dispute for the sake of Heaven, heals impoverished da'at, as explained above. This is the meaning of "poor man's bread"; it is a cure for poverty, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 56, 8)

At the beginning of this passage, R. Nachman sets down two axioms which seem to contain within them an internal contradiction:

R. Nachman first asserts that dispute is "very great da'at." Here we face the absurdity that R. Nachman taught us in the first shiur dealing with dispute (21). While it may seem that dispute results from the lack of knowledge (as argued by R. Sa'adya Gaon, the Rambam, and others), R. Nachman asserts that dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven is indeed the result of a lack of knowledge, but the higher level of dispute which is for the sake of Heaven is indeed "very greatda'at."[8] How, then, can dispute, which appears to give expression to the absence of truth, be "very great da'at"?

To this we may add R. Nachman's second assumption, made at the beginning of the passage, that dispute for the sake of Heaven is "great love and peace" - even more than peace itself. Once again the absurdity cries out! R. Nachman cites the rabbinic dictum regarding the expression, "et vahav besufa," which teaches that the disputes of Torah scholars begin as war, but end in peace. Is he speaking about the peace that comes at the end of a dispute when the issues are resolved, or is he speaking about a different type of peace?

In order to understand these things, we shall examine the terminology used by R. Nachman. He identifies dispute for the sake of Heaven with Moshe, which is the aspect of da'at, and also with the dispute between Shammai and Hillel (for which Mosheh is an acronym), which is a dispute for the sake of heaven, which will in the end prove constructive. This aspect is also identified with themanna, which is also the aspect of da'at, according to R. Nachman, and also with matza, which is the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven that comes to repair the poverty, that is, the absence of da'at, by way of the taste of the manna contained within it. He identifies dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven with Datan and Aviram, those who opposed Moshe who is the aspect of da'atand left over of the manna (according to Chazal), which is also the aspect of very great da'at. This will be the starting point of our discussion.

The miraculous manna descending from Heaven expresses the miraculous Providence acting upon the world, independent of the laws of nature. In the natural world, a person who wishes to eat bread must subordinate himself to the natural mechanism that was established in the wake of Adam's sin. In order to taste bread, he must plow, sow, water, reap, grind, and bake. Not so in the case of manna, which ignores all these laws, and expresses the Divine Providence which is not controlled by the hand of nature. This finds expression not only in the fact that the manna falls from Heaven every day, but also in the manna's qualities.

R. Nachman speaks of the taste of the manna, regarding which Chazal said that there is no taste in the world that could not be tasted in the manna. This quality is not "high quality taste," but rather a direct result of the manna's heavenly aspect. Bitter, sweet, sour, sharp, etc. – constitutes opposites. The bitter cannot be sweet, and the moist cannot be dry. The fact that opposite tastes cannot be unified is one of the qualities of nature which does not allow opposites and contradictions to coexist in the same object. I must decide what I wish to add to my food – sugar or salt. This is a limitation of nature regarding the taste of food and all other areas of life which require us to make a decision, and turn our backs on the rejected choice. "For in the main, illness, Heaven forbid, stems from an absence of peace – i.e., dispute among the elements, with one of the elements overpowering the other…."

The full range of tastes contained within manna is itself an expression of Divine sublimity, in which opposites become one and contradictions are resolved. The bitter and the sweet contradict each other only because of insufficient connoisseurship, or if you wish, because of the limited capacity of "poor man's bread," the product of nature, to contain opposites. This is not so regarding bread originating in Heaven, which is not subject to the limitations of nature. For this reason it represents true peace.

Matza too provides a platform to contain the taste of manna – the taste of all tastes. Here however there is already a jump, for matza is not "bread from Heaven." What then is there inmatza that allows for the supernatural quality of containing all the tastes?

R. Natan, in Likutei Halakhot, notes that, symbolically speaking, bread contains the four elements: earth – flour; water – water; fire – the oven; and air – the rising of the dough. Matza, explains R. Natan on the basis of R. Nachman, is bread that is missing the element of air. It represents man's standing before God without air, without his spirit, without his ego and self – this is self-nullification! We have already learned that the quality of self-nullification, which is the aspect ofmalkhut, is what allows the containment of all: "It has nothing of itself," and therefore, "it has everything." In this world, the only way to contain all the opposites, to apprehend everything, is to leave the natural world that envelops us behind and stand before God without any baggage, without any preconceived ideas, with no ideas whatsoever.

Thus stands matza, which, while it was indeed created in nature, gave up all of its lofty traits and faced the world as "poor man's bread." From the moment it succeeded in doing so, it merited the greatest knowledge, knowledge of all the tastes.

As the poverty of matza, so the poverty (aniyato) – and as Scripture states, the humility (anvanato) – of Moshe. This poverty/humility is mentioned against the background of Moshe's struggle with Eldad and Meidad who prophesied in the camp, and the undermining of Moshe which came in the immediate wake of their rebellion, as expressed in Aharon and Miriam's speaking about Moshe.

"Has He not spoken also with us," argue Aharon and Miriam, seeking similar status for themselves. Before Scripture clarifies to Aharon and Miriam the immeasurable difference between their prophecy and the prophecy of Moshe, it makes an important declaration: "Now the man Moshe was very humble, more so than all the men that were upon the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). Obviously, this is not by chance. Moshe's ability to attain the prophecy about which it was stated: "With him I speak mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord does he behold," grows out of the quality which distinguishes him from all other men – humility.

The great da'at which was given to Moshe was given to him in precisely the same manner as the taste of the manna was given to matza, because of his ability to leave behind his whole personality: to give up his ego, to give up his spirit, and stand before the Creator as an empty vessel. Moshe is then filled with the supreme da'at,[9] which is the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven, because at its level, it can contain all dispute and all contradictions. Elsewhere, R. Nachman writes about dispute as follows:

For when there is dispute, peace must be made, and this is "He who makes peace," the aspect of ha'ala'at mayin nukvin ("the ascent of feminine waters")[10]. For when a certain difficulty falls upon a person, it has the aspect of dispute, for his heart is rent. He does not understand the matter, for it appears to him as if the things contradict and disagree with each other.

The resolution is the aspect of making peace, for by way of the resolution he makes peace between those things that appear to disagree with and contradict each other. This is the aspect of ha'ala'at mayin nukvin….

For at the time of creation the worlds fell downwards (through the breaking of the vessels, as is known). The worlds are the aspect of letters, and they were scattered into many sparks. By way of ha'ala'at mayin nukvin of Torah and prayer, the sparks and letters join, and a world is fashioned.

This is the aspect of peace, for before these sparks and letters are brought into words of Torah and prayer, they are not conjoined and connected. They are the aspect of broken shards and dispute, because every spark overcomes the other. But when they are brought into speech of holiness, it joins and connects them, this being the aspect of peace. For by way of the speech of holiness of Torah and prayer, it becomes ha'ala'at mayin nukvin, through which it becomes peace, as above. For in this manner all the fallen worlds are repaired and renewed, and it is regarded as if He created them anew….

This aspect of clarification of the sparks takes place every day until the coming of the Messiah, until the verse is fulfilled: "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives" (Zecharya 14:4) (as is brought in the writings of the Ariz"l. (Likutei Moharan Kama 75)

In this teaching, R. Nachman explains that dispute results from the separation of the Divine light into sparks; it directly follows from the breaking of the vessels, about which we have spoken above. The whole, harmonious, and unified Divine light became separated and divided in the wake of its dissonant encounter with the vessels of the material world. Man was then charged with the mission to see how the various parts form a whole and how separation is merely a garment and screen for comprehensive unity.

The ability to reflect upon our contradictory world and find the unity that lays hidden within it is acquired through words of Torah and prayer that stem from self-nullification ("And they must speak [words of] Torah and prayer, to the point that the body is null and naught, and this is the aspect of 'And they shall be one flesh,' that the body should be one with the speech"). These words gather together the sparks and provide a person with a perspective that allows him to see how the contradictions and opposites form a grand, variegated truth, one that is unified in perfect unity.

R. Sa'adya Gaon and the Rambam were right - R. Nachman would argue – when they said that dispute results from a lack of knowledge. But that lacking does not result in an inability to clarify which of two opinions is the truth, as they understood the matter. Rather, it causes an inability to understand how two sides of a dispute can coexist. This is the dispute between Hillel and Shammai, as will be explained in the next passage, the beginning of which we shall try to summarize.


R. Nachman explains that in order to come to the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven, the disputants must perform several acts of refining, the purpose of which is to reach a state in which everything that is said in the context of that dispute is for the sake of Heaven. The meaning of "words coming from Heaven" is explained at the end of the passage:

All the words that they receive from there – i.e., from the aspect of hands[11]/heaven/thunder[12] – since they are received from Heaven, one ought not demean the receiver, even if the law is not in agreement with him. Thus, indeed, "both opinions are the word of the Living God" (Eruvin 13b).

As for the law not being in agreement with him, this is something we are incapable of understanding and comprehending, for this is the aspect of thunder. From there he received the words, of which it is said: "God thunders amazingly with His voice" – i.e., they are truly "the wonders of He who is perfect of in knowledge" (Iyov 37:16). It is impossible for us to comprehend this, because it is the aspect of the incomprehensible ways of God – i.e., the aspect of one tzaddik experiencing good and a second tzaddik experiencing misfortune, one wicked person experiencing good and a second wicked person experiencing misfortune. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace, could not comprehend this, and concerning this he asked: "Please, let me know Your ways" (Shemot 33:13).

tzaddik experiencing good is the aspect of the tzaddik with whom the law is in agreement; a tzaddik experiencing misfortune is the aspect of a tzaddik with whom the law is not in agreement. A wicked person experiencing good is the aspect of the wicked person who is close to the tzaddik with whom the law is in agreement; a wicked person experiencing misfortune is the aspect of the wicked person who is close to the tzaddik with whom the law is not in agreement.

Even Moshe could not comprehend this, because they are the aspect of the ways of God, the aspect of thunder; they are "the wonders of He who is perfect in knowledge," which are incomprehensible.

Therefore, when they receive words from Heaven, from the aspect of the hands, the aspect of thunder, as explained above, one ought not demean [the receiver], even if the law is not in agreement with him. This is the aspect of dispute for the sake of Heaven, for in fact "both opinions are the word of the Living God," just that it is impossible to comprehend this because it is "the wonders of He who is perfect in knowledge," the aspect of thunder, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 56, 10)

The dispute between Hillel and Shammai is a dispute for the sake of Heaven, about which it was said: "Both opinions are the word of the Living God." R. Nachman understands this statement in its plain sense. The source of the position of each of the two disputants is Heaven, that is to say, each of them gives expression to Divine truth, even though we in our blindness are unable to understand how the two can coexist in Him who is perfect in knowledge. We do, however, know with certainty that both are true.

Just as with regard to the taste of the food, so too here, R. Nachman understands that the very existence of dispute does not result from a lack of knowledge, as this was understood by R. Sa'adya Gaon and the Rambam. The diverse opinions are true opinions, and the dispute will remain forever. In the end of days, when the wisdom of Him who is perfect in knowledge will become clarified, the dispute will not cease, for in the end it will prove constructive. Our need to rule in accordance with one opinion and act in that manner does, however, result from the limits of nature and the limitations of our intellect.

Therefore, asserts R. Nachman, we must not demean either party in the dispute, even him whom we rule against. For we do him an injustice when we rule against him - injustice that is forced upon us and that results from the limitations into which we have been placed, but injustice nonetheless – a righteous man experiencing misfortune! This is the way R. Nachman designates the disputant with whom the law is not in agreement. If you wish, "one who is right (tzodek, rather than tzaddik) but nevertheless experiences misfortune," for his words are the words of the Living God, and we sin against him when we rule against him.

It seems to me that R. Nachman is not merely using the loaded idea of "a tzaddik experiencing misfortune" in a metaphorical sense. In his usual manner of presenting his ideas while inserting into his exposition countless allusions, here too Rav Nachman intimates to us that the blindness that prevents us from tasting sweetness and bitterness at one and the same time is the same blindness that prevents us from seeing how the words of Shammai and those of Hillel can coexist. It is also the same blindness that prevents us from understanding God's Providence, which is full of difficulties and contradictions, the most extreme of which is the question of "a tzaddikexperiencing misfortune."

Let us note that the controversy that grows out of our inability to understand the contradictions and opposites in God's Providence is relevant not only to the disagreements between two Torah scholars which reflect the inability to understand that Rav Nachman is talking about. Even the opposition raised against the tzaddik, which would seem to be unconnected to the search for Divine truth and the attempt to understand it, Rav Nachman sees as sometimes reflecting our limited understanding and the blindness that prevents us from understanding the full Divine truth:

The fact that difficulties may be raised against the tzaddikim is inevitable, because the tzaddikim resemble their Creator, as was stated. And just as difficulties may be raised against God, blessed be He, so too perforce difficulties may be raised against the tzaddik, because he resembles Him.

It is fitting and proper that the Creator, blessed be He, should be raised and elevated above our understanding, because of which there are difficulties. Were His providence to conform to our understanding, then His understanding would be like our understanding, God forbid. (Likutei Moharan Tanina 52)[13]

This contradiction was incomprehensible even to Moshe Rabbenu. His humility, however, allowed him to bring down and hand over that heavenly knowledge with all of its contradictions. Hillel, Shammai, and their disagreements are all contained in Moshe's name and essence, though he too was unable to resolve the contradictions and understand their meaning.[14] "Be silent, thus it has arisen in My mind" – was the answer that Moshe received to his question regarding God's Providence in this world.

It seems to me that when Rav Nachman speaks of the disagreements between Hillel and Shammai, he uses them as a heading for the very existence of the Oral Law.

In our first shiur, we mentioned the teaching in which Rav Nachman speaks about "making many books," which is a direct result of the controversies in the world. Rav Nachman writes there that in order to receive illumination from the heavenly wisdom that is the root of all wisdom, we need the Oral Law:

The Torah issues forth from the heavenly wisdom, for "the Torah issues forth from the heavenly wisdom" (Zohar, Beshalach 62). But it can only receive from the heavenly wisdom when it is perfect. And the perfection of the Torah is through the Oral Law, for the Written Law has no perfection other than through the Oral Law. Therefore, by way of the aforementioned books, which come into being through controversy, having the aspect of "And would that my adversary would write a book" (Iyov 31:35), and the aspect of "making many books to no end" (Kohelet 12:12) – through this the Torah is perfected. (Likutei Moharan Kama 61:6)

Elsewhere (in a passage that we shall examine below), Rav Nachman explains that a dispute of holiness is a Tannaitic or Amoraic dispute found in the Gemara. It may be possible to illustrate this idea by sharpening the distinction between the study of Halakha and the study of Gemara, and between the spiritual experience that accompanies each of them.

When studying Halakha, the student strives to arrive at the final conclusion. All the possible explanations that arise along the way are unimportant for achieving this objective. Even if we deal with them, we do not search for the rationales underlying positions that in any event have been rejected.

When studying Gemara, every position, even those that have been absolutely rejected, so that anyone who follows them today violates positive and negative commandments, receive the full respect that is due them. The same effort that is invested in understanding the position that has been accepted as law is also invested in the position that has been rejected. The study of Gemara, by its very nature and doctrine, trains a person to recognize that "both opinions are the word of the Living God." Put differently, in the study of Gemara, the emphasis is placed on the first part of the rabbinic dictum: "Both opinions are the word of the Living God," whereas the study of Halakha stresses the second part of that dictum: "But the law is in accordance with Bet Hillel."

A Talmud scholar is able to accommodate any opinion and to examine the truth in any ruling. Controversy is the daily bread of any serious scholar; it invigorates him and provides him with the spiritual challenge to reveal the Divine light that illuminates the world in total opposites. "On the one hand" and "on the other hand" are the basic patterns with which the Talmud scholar approaches the world, and indeed the two sides of reality reveal themselves before him.

The posek, in contrast, must be decisive. We might say that the posek must be able lehafsik – to stop the flow, to restrain the attempt to reach the depths of reality – and come to a decision. Divine truth may indeed lie hidden behind the words of Bet Shammai. There is no doubt that their words come from heaven, but nevertheless – the law is in accordance with Bet Hillel. From now on the position of Bet Hillel is everything. The diversity of the world is gone; it has been replaced by absolute truth. But, as opposed to the positions of Rav Sa'adya Gaon and the Rambam, Rav Nachman would say – absolute, but partial!

A dispute of holiness is true. The higher it rises towards "heavenly wisdom," the more constructive will it prove in the end, in that it reflects lofty and complex Divine truth. Complex from our limited perspective but in actuality really very simple.

When tzaddikim oppose a tzaddik, their dispute reflects inner and necessary Divine truth. Atzaddik must not nullify the words of those tzaddikim who oppose him, for "both opinions are the word of the Living God."


Deciding the law, then, contains within it something that misses the very essence of a dispute of holiness – that is, a dispute for the sake of Heaven. Yet in the passage that follows, we may detect a slightly different understanding of the relationship between the deciding of law and the idea that "both opinions are the word of the Living God":

For the primary formation of the dispute of the evil yetzer, its root is from a dispute of holiness which descends from level to level, until it reaches the bottom. From that is formed the dispute of the evil yetzer, having the aspect of "their heart is divided" (Hoshea 10:2), which casts heresy within him, and conceals from him the roads of reason so that he knows not how to respond. A dispute of holiness is a Tannaitic or Amoraic dispute in the Gemara, the one [Sage] forbidding [something] and the other permitting [it], and when it descends downwards, a dispute of the evil yetzer is formed from it. And when he repairs the dispute of holiness, the dispute of the evilyetzer becomes nullified by itself, for its entire existence is from there. A dispute of holiness is repaired through halakhic rulings, for a halakhic ruling involves making peace and deciding the dispute between the Tannaim or Amoraim. By studying halakhic codes, a person connects with the peace of holiness, and repairs the dispute of holiness, and then the dispute of the evil yetzer in his heart is nullified. Then he can serve God with his entire heart, with his two yetzers, and the gates of reason are opened before him, so that he knows how to respond to heresy. All this is accomplished by the aforementioned decision and the peace. This is [alluded to by] the letters of the word shalom ("peace" – shin, lamed, vav, mem) – the first letters of the words "and know (veda - vav) what (ma - mem) you will answer (shetashiv – shin) a heretic (le'apikorus – lamed). For through peace, he will know how to respond to the heretic in his heart. This is (Tehillim 119:7): "I will give You thanks with uprightness of heart (leivav), when I learn your righteous judgments." The wordleivav (i.e., rather than leiv) is precise, with two yetzers. When? "When I learn your righteous judgments," that is, through the study of the halakhic codes. (Likutei Moharan Kama 62, 2).

Rav Nachman uses the same model that he had presented above regarding the relationship between the opposition of tzaddikim to a tzaddik and the opposition of the wicked to the tzaddik, and applies it to the relationship between the disputes between Tannaim and Amoraim and the controversy raised against a person by his evil yetzer. He asserts that the root of the evil yetzer,which he classifies as dispute, is in the Tannaitic and Amoraic disputes found in the Gemara.

Occupation with that dispute, which can provide a person with the taste of the manna – i.e., the higher intelligence to understand how the world in its entirety, with all its contradictions and opposites, constitutes the word of the Living God - can also sow within him the seeds of doubt and heresy. The infinite toleration for the truth hiding behind every opinion and every idea can develop into an absence of commitment toward and skepticism regarding every idea, for in all matters a person can also say the exact opposite. Why then should one particular side obligate me?

The absence of an absolute foothold provides the evil yetzer with a moment of opportunity to grab hold of that very weakness and construct edifices of heresy. This it does in precisely the same manner that the wicked who oppose the tzaddik hang on to the holy dispute of thetzaddikim and rest upon its truth.

It is precisely here, Rav Nachman proposes, that the balance between "both opinions are the word of the Living God" and "the law is in accordance with Bet Hillel" must be upset in favor of the latter. Rav Nachman asserts that "a halakhic ruling involves making peace and deciding the dispute between the Tannaim or Amoraim." Just as it is impossible to light, on the first day of Chanuka, eight candles in accordance with Bet Shammai and also one candle in accordance with Bet Hillel - so too it is impossible to leave the absence of resolution in the Gemara in the hands of the evil yetzer which will exploit the vacuum that has been created for its own purposes.

The resolution may perhaps not benefit "the tzaddik experiencing misfortune," but it allows a person to reach a clear-cut decision as he faces the doubt that is nesting in his heart.[15] Perhaps we can follow in Rav Nachman's footsteps and say that the letters of the word pesak("ruling," pei, samekh, kuf) are the same as those of the word safek ("doubt"). Every ruling brings an end to doubt, and ignores its various sides which suddenly cease to exist.

Deciding a dispute is a cruel task, and it does not benefit the overall truth. It does, however, allow a person to live his life within the limits of reality with the internal recognition regarding our limitations and disabilities, and from there to march on towards the reality that we yearn for, the perfect knowledge in which "kindness and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Tehillim 85:11).


[1] For those familiar with kabbalistic ideas, it may be noted that earth is the aspect of malkhut, kingshipWhen a person waives the honor of kings which is human honor, and makes himself the aspect of malkhut to accept God's kingship, he then merits Divine honor, and "the honor of God is a concealed matter," as was explained in our previous lectures.

As stated above, we have already discussed this idea at great length; see Shiur #16.

[2] It is very important to make the following distinction: We are not dealing here with the denouncers about whom Rav Nachman spoke in the teachings cited in the previous lecture. For there, both the dispute of the righteous and the dispute of the wicked effect the same action.

[3] Sitra achra is a kabbalistic idea meaning "the other side." That is to say, "God created the one corresponding to the other." The world is constructed in such a way that there is a balance between good and evil, purity and impurity. Corresponding to every matter of holiness, there stands in precisely the same way a matter of unholiness.

[4] Even if not physical, certainly spiritual.

[5] From this perspective, he applies the kabbalistic outlook in a sweeping manner.

[6] Elsewhere, R. Nachman says: "It is written (Tehillim 41:12): 'With this I know that You delight in me, for my enemies upon me have not been evil' (Tehillim 41:12). 'My enemies have not been evil' – tzaddikim oppose me. Through this, 'I know that You delight in me.'" (Sikhot Moharan 82)

[7] We find another mention of David's prayer that he granted the ability to make such a distinction in R. Natan's description of the peace and tranquility that characterized the relationship between the Sabba of Spola and R. Nachman before slanderers came and spoke evil of R. Nachman to the Sabba: "For there was great love between them their entire lives until our master, of blessed memory, left Medivedivika for Zelatipalia, which was about a year and a half after our master, of blessed memory, returned from Eretz Israel. At that time, informers and slanderers went and spoke terrible slander before him to the point that he became his great enemy… The famous Gaon of Spitivike, of blessed memory, cursed those slanderers with terrible curses, and said in these words that their tongues should fall to their navels, etc. When our master, of blessed memory, heard these fabrications that had never entered his mind, our master, of blessed memory said: 'It greatly pains me that they told him these things.' Afterwards he said that this is the meaning of what David said (Tehillim 118:6): 'I shall gaze upon those that hate me.' For at first glance it is astonishing, surely King David, may he rest in peace, knew that Shaul hated him. How then could he have wished to see vengeance taken against him? Surely God, blessed be He, said to him: 'Were you Shaul, and he David, etc.'! Rather, David said as follows: 'Master of the Universe, give me eyes that I may see in my enemy how he stands, so that I may know at what level he is now. In that way, I will clearly know his level, etc.' (Chayei Moharan, His Journey to Eretz Israel, 18, 146).

R. Natan wishes to show us the difference between the reaction of the famous Gaon of Spitivike and that of R. Nachman. While the famous Gaon cursed the slanderers with a terrible curse, R. Nachman petitioned God to allow him to understand the level of his opponents so that he may know how to relate to the dispute. Is it a dispute of the wicked or a dispute of the righteous?

The connection between dealing with dispute and David, also brings to mind David's reaction to the curse of Shimi ben Geira (II Shemuel 16:10): "So let him cruse, because the Lord has said to him, Curse David, Who shall then say, Why have you done so?" Kind David understands that sometimes opponents serve as an instrument in God's hands to deliver a message and sometimes even to punish a person. R. Nachman asks God to grant him the same understanding that was given to David, the ability to distinguish between the different kinds of dispute.

This is also the way to understand the following: "I heard in his name that he said that then when he was in Berditchev in the summer of 5562 with the well-known Sabba, and he said then that it was then that he understood the Sabba's essence. Until then he had never spoken anything of him, because he said that he did not want to speak about him whatsoever until he understood his entire essence. And then he began to speak of him a little on infrequent occasions" (Chayei Moharan, The Place where He was Born and Where He Lived, and His Travels, 22, 125). R. Nachman may perhaps have refused to speak about the Sabba of Spola because he still did not know how to relate to his opposition to him, and when he understand what it was about, he could speak about it.

Alongside this moderate attitude, we sometimes find in R. Nachman a harsh feeling of anger and a desire to see vengeance taken from his opponents, though there too the revenge consists of foiling their plans, rather than hurting them in any way: "'Draw love to those who know You, jealous and revenging God' (from the songs sung on Friday night), that is to say, we ask that God should draw love to those who know Him in order to anger those that hate them. This is the meaning of 'Draw love to those who know You, jealous and revenging God,' i.e, in order to take vengeance against the haters, so that 'the wicked man shall see it, and be grieved' (Tehilim112:10). And as it says (Ibid. 69:19): 'Ransom me for the sake of my enemies,' and as it says (Ibid. 5:9): 'Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness, for the sake of my enemies.'" (Chayei Moharan, Service of God 89, 532).

[8] Elsewhere, R. Nachman says: "Know that when there is peace in a city, it is because there is no one there with intelligence. We are taught: 'If there is no knowledge, how can there be distinction' (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 3:2 (39b). But when a city possesses a truly intelligent person, then there is distinction and division. There are those who follow this person and others who oppose him." (Sichot Moharan 94).

[9] Rav Kook distinguishes between the prophecy of Moshe and that of the other prophets saying that all the other prophets prophesy for their own times. This is because their prophecies are clothed in their individual personalities which grow out of the context in which they prophesy. Moshe's prophecy, on the other hand, i.e., the Torah, is eternal, because Moshe did not clothe it in his personal garments and thus he left it heavenly and eternal.

[10] This is not the place to explain esoteric kabbalistic concepts. Suffice it to say that this aspect of "feminine waters" refers to that Divine-spiritual element that is hidden in the world. It falls upon man to uncover this element and reconnect it to the perfect Divine idea.

[11] The hands, according to R. Nachman, as representatives of man's limbs, constitute the starting point of this process.

[12] We have already seen in previous shiurim that the descent of the Divine bounty in the framework of dispute is presented as thunder which brings in its wake a rain of bounty.

[13] The deterministic note in R. Nachman's thought regarding dispute is also evident in the following sicha: "The world is full of strife. There are wars between the great world powers. There are conflicts within different localities. There are feuds among families. There is discord between neighbors. There is friction within a household, between man and wife, between parents and children. Life is short. People die every day. The day that has passed will never return, and death comes closer every day. But people still fight and never once remember their goal in life. All strife is identical. The friction within a family is a counterpart to the wars between nations. Each person in a household is the counterpart to a world power, and their quarrels are the wars between those powers. The traits of each nation are also reflected in these individuals. Some nations are known for anger, others for blood-thirstiness. Each one has its particular trait. The counterparts of these traits are found in each household. You may wish to live in peace. You have no desire for strife. Still you are forced into dispute and conflict. Nations are the same. A nation may desire peace and make many concessions to achieve it. But no matter how much it tries to remain neutral, it can still be caught up in war. Two opposing sides can demand its allegiance until it is drawn into war against its will. The same is true in a household. Man is a miniature world. His essence contains the world and everything in it. A man and his family contain the nations of the world, including all their battles. A man living alone can become insane. Within him are all the warring nations. His personality is that of the victorious nation. Each time a different nation is victorious, he must change completely, and this can drive him insane. He is alone and cannot express the war within him. But when one lives with others, these battles are expressed toward his family and friends. There may be strife in the household of a tzaddik. This too is a war between nations. It is also the war between the twelve tribes, such as between Efrayim and Yehuda. When the Messiah comes, all wars will be abolished. The world will have eternal peace, as it is written: 'They will neither hurt nor destroy' (Yeshayahu 11:9) (Sikhot Moharan 77).

[14] It should be noted that the matter is coherent according to R. Nachman's doctrine regarding the tzaddik. According to R. Nachman, a tzaddik does not have the answer to every question, but he is capable of living in perfect faith with all his questions.

[15] Even in this teaching, R. Nachman mentions doubts that have no resolution, regarding which one's spiritual position must be totally different, one of faith, one of silence. For the most part, however, this teaching deals with doubts that have a resolution and regarding which finality can be reached.

(Translated by David Strauss)