Contraction and Creation

Rav Shagar’s shiur on Likutei Moharan 49: on the need to surrender our truth in order to do good; on the spiritual meaning of tzimtzum (contraction); and on our ability to create ourselves by vercoming the temptation of infinite desire, and choosing the framework in which we can manifest ourselves

This Torah – Likutei Moharan 49, taught by Rav Nachman in Nissan 1803 – addresses the importance of tzimtzum (contraction) from a Kabbalistic perspective, distinguishing between two processes of tzimtzum: a Divine tzimtzum necessary for Creation, and a personal tzimtzum in one's soul, leading to creation and renewal. Rabbi Nachman clarifies the meaning of the parallels between these two processes, and discusses the appropriate balance between contracting and striving to burst through boundaries.


A. The Creative Heart

Before Creation, God's light was ein-sof (endless, infinite), and the Holy One Blessed Be He wished to reveal his kingship – for a king cannot be without a nation – and so it was necessary to create human beings to receive the yoke of his kingship. The revelation of his kingship could only be achieved through the middot (traits) because it is through them that one grows aware of his Lordship and knows that there is a ruler and leader.

So God contracted the endless light to its sides, and there was left an empty space, and within that empty space He created worlds – and these were the middot (Divine traits). The heart shapes the middot, namely the intellect within the heart, as it says: "And in the heart of every wise person- a heart" (Exodus 31:6).

Torah 49

The process of creation begins with the will of the Ein-Sof (The Infinite) to 'reveal his kingship' – a revelation that requires the existence of perceivers ('receives') who are not included in His Infinity, as Rabbi Bachya famously said, "There is no king without a nation."[1] The king's status cannot be realized without subjects to receive his authority and express their submission to his kingdom. Similarly, the world was created to manifest God's kingship, to recognize its Creator and thus establish the kingship of God.

Creation creates duality, something most sharply expressed in human consciousness (which, at its most foundational level, is an awareness of separateness from God). The purpose of creation is a reality external to God that recognizes the Kingship of the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Rabbi Nachman presents the description of Creation as parallel to a similar process that happens within a human being. At the first stage, a person is completely absorbed within himself, present in a state of unity that doesn't allow for external self-reflection which could bring forth an "I"-awareness. In the second stage, a duality is created – one which characterizes man through the external gaze – and is identified with the process of Creation.[2]

On an existential level, tzimtzum arises from God's desire for the presence of something that is separate from him: Creation depends on the appearance of the 'Other.' It follows, then, that a person is also asked to perform a kind of tztimzum so as to create a relationship with an Other. The ability to establish a position of goodness, softness, reception and understanding in relation to the other – all this requires a kind of personal tzimtzum. I am asked to cast away my regular approach to relating to the Other – from the "I" perspective – and to turn to relate to him from his own 'space.' I must see him as he is – not from the perspective of my own reaction to him – and in defiance of the manner of understanding that sees the Other instrumentally or functionally in the world. Self-tzimtzum allows for perceiving the Other as an end in and of itself.

We must distinguish between two types of personal tzimtzum. Contracting oneself can be a rigid and difficult gesture, and we may be repulsed by the restraint and intensity of this violent process. At its core, when contraction occurs in a mode of self-violence, then that will not lead to a true 'receiving' of the Other.[3] The fitting mode of personal tzimtzum – which also leads to a true 'receiving' – emerges from wisdom and awaiting (and delaying reactivity, judgment) and an openness to what may occur and be made manifest beyond my narrow point of view.  In the wake of a deep understanding of the other's place, another insight may arise in parallel: insight into my own place, and a compassionate patience for myself.


God is not the only Creator: man, too, can make creation manifest. Rav Nachman describes this later in this Torah: "And this is the principle: the creation of worlds and service of God through deeds and good values are of one and the same quality. Think deeply about this."

It appears to be a modern insight: man creates his world, both through his consciousness (as Kant wrote) and through religious actions that form a particular spiritual sphere. Resisting the clear-cut paradigm of internal, subjective thoughts and external, objective world, Rav Nachman (following the Baal Shem Tov's example) describes thought as an active force, shaping what occurs in present reality. The world does not exist in and of itself: internal human thoughts interact and meld with the outside world, giving it form and definition. Thus, the person who thinks positive thoughts not only forms his own inner world and his heart, but also creates the outside world, shaping it into a positive place. Rav Nachman discusses this at length in Torah 282. In our Torah, Rav Nachman provides guidance for generating good thoughts:

There are two urges: the good inclination and the evil inclination. Good thoughts are the good inclination; bad thoughts are the evil inclination. For the core of these urges is in the thoughts and insights within the heart, as it is written: "The urge – the thoughts of his heart" (Genesis 6:5). When one thinks bad thoughts, he clogs the hollowed-out space of creation, the locus of the revelation of sefirot.

The space of the heart includes energies, feelings and sensations – positive or negative – that have immense powers of creation. Thus, Rav Nachman writes that it is in a person’s heart that the creation of the world took place.

What are these evil thoughts that are the essence of the evil inclination? What is their nature, and what distinguishes them from good thoughts? The evil thoughts described above are not necessarily sinful ponderings; rather they are considerations of a loss of faith, of nihilism. ‘Faith’ here refers to accepting the Kingship of God, namely: accepting His Creation, seeing the divine Goodness within it despite the world’s difficulties and sufferings.


If one accustoms himself to thoughts of compassion, patience and hope, he forms a more whole, balanced world. Yet oftentimes we find ourselves cynical and faithless, relating to reality as lacking meaning – and it is this very act of relation that empties the world of its value. On the other hand, one who practices thinking positive thoughts and expresses them aloud thus fills his world and that of his peers.

People who value honesty and authenticity in their self-perception will often mock and criticize any ‘forced’ attempt to think positively. Rav Nachman’s teaching here offers a response to this skepticism by exploring an additional value of tzimtzum: the validity of surrendering my truth – of any any ‘total’ honesty – in order to act with a good heart, with the understanding that even an absolute ‘truth’ can be limited and limiting. We find this, too, in modern psychological approaches that encourage positive thinking – even when it feels contrived – because it activates a positive reality. The alternative is only to fill the void with negative thoughts that may appear authentic but prevent a person from believing, agreeing, showing humility or entering a covenant.


Negative thoughts can have destructive consequences. A negative opinion, though it may be withheld, is not contained within the mind. It will inflict pain on the other: the negative sentiment will affect the person's speech and behavior, until that negativity is communicated nonverbally to the other. Thus, an evil reality is created; a prophecy fulfils itself.

The problem is not limited to the hypothetical damage that may affect the other: the deeper problem is that these thoughts will also hurt the individual who thinks them. One who thinks negative thoughts about others lives in a negative world and becomes an active part of it. Let us take prayer as an example. Tefila has a variety of prayers expressing the good of the world and of God – Pesukei d’Zimra, passages of praise and song – that (if prayed with proper conviction) allow us to establish a world of positive thoughts. Paying attention to these sayings can create a world of good. When a person meditates upon his speech and existence, his thoughts of faith – these create a different, better world.

The important point to remember is that we are empowered to be creators through the types of thoughts that arise within us and direct our hearts. Nowadays it is said that there are no facts, only interpretations. It would be better to say: there are no facts without interpretation: real things do not occur without the interpretation that we give them. Thus, we always have a point of freedom and choice to be situated in a deep faith, to think about what has occurred: to decide how to interpret the events of my life and my understanding of the other.


B. Passion and Contraction

In this Torah, Rav Nachman does not dwell on the theological significance of tzimtzum (contraction), as he has done in Torah 64. Instead, he continues by focusing in on the spiritual meaning of tzimtzum:

"The heart is the Rock of the World, the Rock of the Attributes. For the flaming light of the Jew's heart cannot be revealed from the attributes, for the light of these flames is endless: his desire has neither end nor limit. So one must contract his passion so that a hollow space is left in the heart, as it says: "And my heart is pierced within me." (Psalms 109:22) And it is by contracting this passion that the attributes can be revealed: to serve God in a gradual, measured way."

The limitlessness inside the heart is described here as a kind of desire, a longing that limits man, obstructing revelation. In order for a person to manifest his desires, he must discover self-restraint, self-contraction. Rav Nachman stressed that one of man's basic conflicts unfolds in the struggle between a desire for endlessness – anarchy, unbridled personal freedom – and the structures and necessity of contraction in a particular area. Tzimtzum creates definition, boundaries, order, methods and laws. All of these stand in opposition with the anarchic instinct rooted in ein-sof (endlessness), which does not allow for building, creating the world.  The desire for endlessness has an element of eruption: whenever I am blocked by any limits, I see them as annoyances, disturbances – and I seek to break free.

Teens often have this problem: a lack of focus that makes them unable to finish a book, and flit from one thing to another. Sometimes this is a longing for ein-sof, but its side-effects can be negative: it does not allow for concentration on one single thing. Rather than being trapped in a powerful chaos, these desires and longing must be contained through the proper vessels. The forming of keilim – containers – involves a conscious process of contracting and focusing. The world of tikkun (repair) is a contracted world. On the one hand it lacks the endlessness of the world of chaos. On the other hand, it is in this world that the ability to create and concentrate exists – and also a turn to the Other, enlightenment and patience. The world of chaos – with its incredible, contradictory forces – cannot sustain an enduring reality. Rather, it is the act of self-contraction, of the world of tikkun, that ultimately allows for a turn towards the outside – and this, in turn, creates the world.

We experience this conflict between freedom and framework in nearly every area of our lives. In family life, we prize endless love and freedom; yet to maintain stable relationships, we also need a structure. The balance between boundary and effusive boundlessness is a difficult one: structure, focus and contraction can estrange people; their longings go unanswered. For example: deep study of Talmudic passages can discourage students interested in spiritual matters more than the details of the Gemara and its commentators (though they, too, hide a passionate spirituality within). Yet tzimtzum also creates the empty space – the one which can allow for the creation of something new. Passion, longing – these contribute spontaneous energy, and are incredibly powerful. But it is in their nature to fade with time, and when they do so, an empty space is made. The building of a spiritual world in this space requires tzimtzum. In Kabbalah, tzimtzum enabled the forming of the attributes in the hollowed space: thus, the positive attributes lack the quality of endlessness, yet they also form the world. That is: Tzimtzum can generate a feeling of compulsion and thus awaken opposition. Yet Rav Nachman suggests that in this we must see the work of "God in a gradual, measured way," namely: choosing tzimtzum so as to serve God and build the world.


After describing the process of contracting passion, Rav Nachman speaks about the need to fill the hollow space with good thoughts. This, too, requires an aspect of tzimtzum. We often let our thoughts roam unchecked – and this is an expression of the boundlessness that we desire. But it is precisely when we encounter evil that we must reign in our thoughts and practice indifference. Along with this, we must try to awaken good thinking that arises from concentrating upon the good in reality – in the heart of the world. If I can draw my thoughts from that source, then I can build a world that inspires revelation. Though it is a contracted world – lacking endlessness- it nevertheless floods the hollowed space with light, with goodness of the heart, with lighting up another's face, a turn towards the other.

In the Ar"i's teachings and in hassidic literature, it is taught that the tzimtzum that created the world emanated from loving-kindness, from generosity: "A world of chessed is built" (Psalms 89:3). That very first act of contraction is connected to loving-kindness and mercy, turning to the other and bringing them light and clarity. Every subsequent action after that genesis is a gesture of 'waters above, waters below'; there must be a gesture below to bring about grace from above. But the act of creation itself is not the result of anything – it is an act of generosity, preceded by nothing.


Oftentimes we respond to personal attacks with resentment and anger. Our challenge is to widen our inventory of possible reactions past that one type: an act of tzimtzum (contraction), halting the thoughts and feelings that come to us by habit. Good thought requires a backwards movement, an act of restraint. Yet in order for that newly hollowed space – a result of this contraction – to not be filled with thoughts of compulsion, in order for me to act in the direction of faith, I must turn to my inner understanding, in the heart.

It must be said that beyond the difficulties, there is a foundation of goodness with its source in the infinitude of existence. Even in evil, a foundation of goodness can be found, one that can evoke patience. Every feeling holds a thought within, and oftentimes it is possible to verbalize it. It is significant that we have freedom with regards to the feelings we must express and the understanding we can draw from them. For in every reality and condition, I can situate a thought in a way that provides a positive outlook on the world, a thought that allows me to act from goodness within. In this way, I can successfully guide the thought outwards from its place in the heart's understanding, and to perceive the world from an outlook of goodness. This perspective can help me understand the following, for example: perhaps the person who hurt me intended to act well towards me, but a feeling of intimidation and fear prevented the expression of that goodwill.

The world of tikkun is thus a world in which man can find reconciliation in his thoughts. Man creates his "I" through confirming his heart's various desires and figuring out how they can be implemented. Yet to create his 'self,' he must overcome the temptation of infinite desire, the urge to stay undecided, to avoid entering the finitude of a framework – and thus to remain in a world of infinity, yearning and unresolved. The opposite scenario is no less worrying: a situation of total self-control – lacking all desires and longing – is a miserable state of internal impoverishment.

The balance of self-control and desire is critical. This conflict is found in many areas of life, and an exclusive preference for one force or the other is ill-advised. In education, we waver between systematic, narrow teaching and creative, colorful learning. In the familial and spousal sphere, we move between family frameworks and the infinite love between partners. In the simple process of deciding a schedule, we have a structure that can inhibit creativity but also keeps intuition from getting lost and dispersed.

What, then, is needed? A ratzoh v'shov – a back and forward movement – between the force of control and effort (framework) and the force of longing (release, openness). Desire creates energy; halting and tzimtzum create a hollowed space. This empty space does not have the infinite qualities of desire – instead, here, a world is created with borders, system, rule of law. The pull towards anarchy – with its roots in Infinity – opposes boundaries, order, law. Yet these are the blocks for building the world, and they construct it by setting up the tzimtzum-made space with goodness and joy.


C. Prayer

And this is the quality of "To serve Him with all your heart," (Deuteronomy 11:13), of "What is the service of the heart? It is prayer" (Tractate Taanit 2a). For prayer is a characteristic of the kingdom of David, as it is written: "And I am prayer" (Psalms 109:4). And the essence of prayer is in the heart, that one must direct his whole heart towards it…because the prayer in the heart has the quality of God's revelation in the hollowed space, through the attributes, in the worlds.

Prayer is the revelation of kingship: it can raise us to an awareness of the Divine presence. For this reason, Rav Nachman describes creation as prayer, for it involves a revelation of the Divine. It is interesting to note that a scholar quite far from Rav Nachman – namely, Franz Rosenzweig – describes prayer in a similar manner:

…Prayer that prays for illumination, even if it does not divert its attention away from the direct and proximate, nevertheless gazes beyond the proximate and sees the entire world, the extent to which it is illuminated…The essence of each prayer, in the end, is in whether it brings the future of kingship closer, or causes it to become distant…We must ask of it…to rush up the future, to bring eternity very close, to make it 'today.' Such an anticipation of the future – brought forth into this very moment – has an aspect of the renewed creation of eternity, and its transformation into 'today.'[4]

The time of prayer does not belong in the day-to-day frame, but to another dimension of time: to the World to Come, which prayer seeks to anticipate.  Yet it is for this very reason that prayer requires focus and maximal tzimtzum concentration: so that a person places his whole heart – namely, her internal self – into prayer.


D. Decision-Making

If one's prayer is founded on the element of kingship, of "serve Him with all your hearts," (Deuteronomy 11:13)…Then there are two dwellings: the dwelling above and the dwelling below (Tikkunei Zohar 21), and both have an ascent…because our sages of blessed memory taught…’The Lord Blessed Be He swore not to enter the Jerusalem in the heavens until Jerusalem on the earth is built' (Taanit 5). And in the writings of the Ar"i of blessed memory, it is found that the message here is a mystical, secret one: binah (wisdom) is the heavenly mother, the dwelling above – the element of an upper Jerusalem. And kingship is the dwelling below – the element of a lower Jerusalem. The unity of the heavens – the aspect of the upper dwelling's ascent- cannot be complete until the element of kingship – the lower dwelling – is built and complete.

Rav Nachman emphasizes the importance of accepting the yoke of Heaven. The deeper meaning of this act is taking on a way of life that looks positively upon reality. Such a perspective comes from a belief that good rules this world and is thus connected to the belief that God – the source of good – created the world.

Following this, Rav Nachman describes tzimtzum (contraction), and the importance of positive thoughts that essentially build a good world. In the second paragraph, he discusses the practice of prayer with regards to these ideas. As explained earlier, prayer holds both an intent for a positive outlook on the world, but also the necessity of balancing infinite wonder and longing with the contractions – the concentration – within the words of prayer and its customs.

Rav Nachman here is describing prayer through the elements of the two dwellings (in other words: two types of tzimtzum), 'the house below,' 'the house above'. These are images that represent the two attributes of the feminine: the mother – the attribute of wisdom, and the daughter – the attribute of kingship. Rav Nachman's explication is brief, while his student Rav Natan adds a clarifying explanation.

When a person accepts the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and serves God, his spiritual system is shaped by the 'dwelling on earth.' The next step is the 'dwelling in the heavens,' associated with the tzimtzum of the heart. Apparently, Rav Nachman's intention was to say that the work of tzimtzum – accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in its deepest expression – is a kind of internal decision to be a servant of God in the most actual sense. If one does not decide this, then that 'world' is not created. He may be able to do many things, but he will not have a dwelling – and this will come to be expressed in every aspect of his life.

We can better understand this through the difference between the quality of action before and after a decision. The Torah guides one to decide and do tzimtzum in the internal, upper dimension – a tzimtzum that initiates the construction of the dwelling, 'the upper house.' Referring to psychologist Donald Winnicott's terminology for "doing" and "being," it can be said that "being" is be-ing in our present – in our internal essence – while "doing" is the actions, the practice. Rav Soloveitchik's writing brings out the existential significance of such a distinction:

"…'Being' cannot be compared with 'to labor and create products' (as historical materialism may claim). 'Being' is not the same as 'to think' (as ages of the rational philosophic tradition would dictate)… 'Being' is a deep, unique experience that only the second person [the man of faith] knows, and it is not dependent on any role or activity. 'Being' is to be the only one, special and different, and for the same reason it also means loneliness…The existence of the "I" cannot be replicated, nor can others experience it."

Thus, the difference between the 'house on high' and the 'house below' is the distinction between being and doing: doing – the attribute of kingship – is by essence external. But the meaning of doing is dependent on the house on high: the wisdom, the point of decision that becomes my existential-personal point.

Such an understanding can prompt a real change. For example, suppose I have a poor relationship with someone. My act of change can happen in the realm of behavior, through good deeds that create better relations; so, we should not look down upon such a change. But a real change can only occur when my behavioral change is accompanied by an inner act of accepting the yoke, a deep desire that illuminates my interactions.

So, too, with prayer: we must not only work externally on our prayer (e.g. take care to pray at the right times) but also work internally, making a decision inside and giving of ourselves to prayer.

Nevertheless, not every situation allows for a decision, a oneness in the heart. Total, big decisions frighten us, jail us in. For this reason, it is better to not make decisions on the whole, but rather to break the decision up into small questions: then every decision in a particular area can eventually influence the entire framework. The decision is now perceived differently, with a new perspective. This approach can also apply on other levels.

This matter requires patience. "[Do not] awaken and arouse love until it so desires!" (Song of Songs 2:7): love is something great, based across from the lover. To experience it, a divine tzimtzim is necessary, one that comes from loving-kindness: it bears a point of awakening from above to create the world, which is why in many cases it is necessary to wait. In any event, there is a great heavenly importance to every decision regarding one person, one prayer, one time. You have chosen to be completely there. This brings you to a different orientation.

Sometimes, a decision is made in the midst of doing; it is not based on any particular intention. Nevertheless, it is important that a decision can pass from being hidden to revealed: the decision embedded in any given action is thus made known. That is when it shows its true color.

For example: not every person can be a yeshiva bench 'regular' – certainly not for a long period of time – but one who can must be devoted to it, to do tzimtzum and be fully inside the learning. The others must study and pray, live their lives in this world with a positive orientation and performance of good deeds.


E. Poetry creates a world

"And this is the element of the song that will awake in the future: a song that is simple, double, three-fold, four-fold" (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 21), and they are ten types of melody. This is the aspect of hey (ה): a dalet (ד) and a yud (י). Dalet – the element of the simple song, double, three-fold, four-fold. Yud – the aspect of ten types of playing music. And this is through the revelation of His Majesty, of ruling (שָׂרָה) over the whole world – and this is the element of song (שִׁיר)…the element of the kingship of David, of "the favored of the songs of Israel," (Samuel II 23:1)…when prayer – that is, the element of kingship – is in submission, small…."We have a little sister" (Song of Songs 8:8), the element of "the lesser light" (Genesis 1:16), the element of "his 'falling' advice" (Sanhedrin 22), it is necessary to set it up, as with "I will set up David's sukkah" (Amos 9:11)

The terms of a simple, double, three-fold and four-fold song are taken from the Holy Zohar and explained there according to the different combinations of God's name of Havaya.  In Tikkunei HaZohar, it is written that there are ten types of melody parallel to the ten sefirot (emanations).  Thus the way to transform our world into a future one must be done through penetrating it with a melody ('lyricizing' reality, so to speak).

Poetry uplifts our small, limited reality – what Rav Nachman calls "the little light." Rav Nachman describes the following process: when prayer is performed in a mindset of smallness – lacking inspiration or divine presence – malchus (kingship) falters and falls. The tikkun (fixing) is through bina (understanding), the heart – the point of internality and the covenant of the worshipper – which uplifts Kingship by infusing the divine presence into it. Then poetry can emerge and create a greater elevation.

When one sees the world as the Kingdom of God, poetry is created. A previously empty, gray world is painted in many colors, filled with diverse and complementary tones. Speech turns to poetry, and reality appears transformed.

I am trying to find the terms that will illustrate Rav Nachman's writing here. I think we must understand this in the context of the tension between philosophy and poetry. The greatest creators are the poets. Only the force of poetry can capture the deep point of the world. Philosophy, too, when it truly describes the world, does so through a poetic medium, not via philosophical dissection. Poetry does not describe something external, but rather creates a language of metaphors; in Hassidic terms, it creates new "combinations" of words. The meaning of poetry is to be found within it, not beyond it. This is what grants it the power of renewal. This kind of speech creates its contents, rather than simply pointing to content already present: this is the source of the ability to renew and bring life to prayer.

It is important to understand that poetry does not give meaning to things through rationality; rather, it uses metaphors, and in doing so builds a world of meaning, which is thus imbued with renewal. Rav Nachman says that when God's Kingship is revealed, poetry is born. This revelation exposes the irrationality of reality, the absence of the rule of law and the inability to explain it; this allows for the transformation of reality into poetry. Redemption is embedded in poetry: it takes the fixed, stuck face of the world, and enables renewal through creativity.

Poetry is the key to elevating prayer. It is possible to think of prayer as technical: I ask God for something and hope for an answer in return. But prayer can also be understood as poetry, as something that creates and manifests worlds.

We tend to view the kingship of God as a force that determines reality. But Rav Nachman is saying that the opposite is true: the kingship of God releases reality. This is what we must strive for in prayer: to transform it from a banal object to a poetic happening.

To me, all of Rav Nachman's Torah is poetry. He interprets his sources freely, creatively.  Consider the example: "ruling (שָׂרָה) over the whole world – and this is the element of song (שִׁיר)." There is no apparent connection between the two letters of sara and shira, the sin and the shin. Rav Nachman's readings don't have a rational meaning, nor does he explain his associative connections; But poetry does not need to be rational. Each person has his song, his combinations of letters, the metaphors unique to his soul.

We can illustrate the difference between knowledge and poetry from the realm of learning, from an explanation by Rav Elchanan Wasserman. There is a halachic distinction made [regarding those who testify] between one who is pasul (invalid, 'unkosher' one) – like a wicked person whose vow is considered invalid in and of itself – and a chashud (one who is suspect), as someone who has vowed in falsehood before (and the rabbis have therefore not permitted him to vow).

Rav Elchanan explains this distinction as follows:

"One who is suspect is not similar to one who is invalid: the invalid one – even if the action is true – has speech that amounts to nothing, and therefore it is forbidden for him to testify even if his words are true. One who is suspect – if he knows that it is the truth it is permitted for him to swear, but the court does not allow him to vow, fearing that he might be lying. But according to his claim that his words are truth, then he is able and permitted to make a vow, and his vow is accepted (so 'he cannot make a vow' does not apply)."

Rav Elchanan is explaining here that there is a difference between one who is 'invalid' – and considered as such until he does teshuva and is once again considered 'kosher'- and one who is 'suspect' – who is affected by a local, particular suspicion that comes up time after time (and is therefore not fixed in 'suspicion'). We will not continue to suspect someone who lied regarding an oath on one particular topic – it is only on that topic that he may not swear. On the other hand, the 'invalid one' is a description of a human being, a substantive status cannot be changed unless it is known for certain that he has done teshuva.

To an outsider who is trying the grasp the difference between the two, Rav Elchanan's explanation may appear arbitrary. Why is the 'invalid' witness' status permanent, while the verdict on the 'suspect' witness' is local and case-specific? And what is the difference between one who is forbidden to swear, and one who is not allowed to do so?

In order to understand this explanation, we must approach it from his intuition. This intuition is grounded in a yeshiva-style language of learning that is steeped in such distinctions, ones that come naturally to those who are 'fluent' in it; they are not reasoned-out differences – they are metaphors. A yeshiva student can easily understand the intuition and the metaphors of Rav Elchanan.

The Gri"z (Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik) said that when he came to yeshiva, he learned a new language. When you are immersed in this language, in the closed world of the yeshiva, you can use it freely and naturally. The student's consciousness – and the language he uses – creates the distinction between the situations of the suspect witness and the invalid one.

This type of learning can be understood as a type of poetry, as a particular experience of reality rather than a philosophy. An attempt to explain it intellectually would already be a form of translation into another language. The phrase 'פסול מתחדש לעדות' – 'invalid one, renewed for testimony' (with regards to the problem of the suspect one, as opposed to the permanent status of the invalid one) – is not an explanation: it is a metaphor. Rav Elchanan's process creates a legal distinction without explaining its source. This is the language as is.

If we wished to translate this reasoning into philosophical or legal terms, we would say that 'invalid' is an adjective – the person himself. Thus a fundamental change is necessary to remove this status. On the other hand, the category of 'suspect' is externally determined, assigned from the outside. Thus it is an action, not a description, and requires renewal every time. The suspect one is not made invalid for the purposes of an oath because of his identity, but rather because of the way he is related to. His status of being unfit is not the result of a particular nature; it is an action in the present. I suspect him and I refrain from making him swear: he does not lose his status of being a kosher witness, but he is invalidated within the timeframe of my suspicion. Of course, this explanation cannot fully answer why 'invalid' is an adjective and 'suspect' an action (and not vice versa). This is where the metaphorical aspect comes into play.


" And this is the meaning of Rashi’s intepretation of “'אִתְּתָךְ גּוּצָא גְּחֹן וּלְחִישׁ' ("Your wife is short – stoop over and whisper")“(Bava Metziya 59) on which he commented, “Listen to her advice.” For a ‘woman who fears God’ is the element of עֵצָה, suggestion. When prayer – the element of kingship – is in a position of humility and lowliness, thus corresponding to the element of 'the small woman'– as with “We have a little sister,” (Song of Songs 8), “and the lowly light,” (Genesis 1), “His falling advice” (Sanhedrin 22) – then it is necessary to set it up, to raise it. This is the element of “I will establish the Sukkah of David” (Amos 9). And this sukkah is like Sarah, who "saw with divine inspiration" (Megilla 14a), and Sarah is kingship – as with the element of “God’s advice will come to be established” (Proverbs 19), “the two large lights” (Genesis 1). And this is: “whisper to her” – take her advice. And such a high level of prayer is said in a whisper, for this is the avoda of the heart."

In this section, Rav Nachman is discussing the connections between the element of kingship (malchut), prayer and advice. Rav Nachman discusses the importance of advice at length, to the extent that one of his books is even called “Anthology of Advice.” Interestingly enough, in the holy Zohar, many Torah mitzvot are called ‘suggestions’ or 'tips.'

What is the importance of a piece of advice?

Firstly: when one is in a state of distress and downfall, a piece of advice can provide strength and dispel despair. Secondly: a suggestion is not prized for theory, but for practical use.

What is the significance of this metaphor – the description of the Torah as full of suggestions, or Rav Nachman’s own guidance as piece of advice?

I think this is a type of perspective on the religious world that is different from our own. We think of religious instruction as clearly goal-driven, known from the outset, yet far from man – that is why a path must be outlined for him to reach it. Similarly: faith is there, but we must find our way towards it.

But it is not so.

One who lives in the world of Torah and mitzvos has faith within him, and God is present in his life. On the other hand, one who lives in a world without Torah and mitzvos does not have an experience of divinity and Godly light. Therefore, the Torah's guidance is advice. The Torah assumes that one has already reached one’s destination and needs assistance of a practical, not essential, nature. Thus, the guidance is practical on the one hand, but actually also expresses an essential matter: man's reality is already within holiness (kedusha). The divine light is to be found everywhere; without this light, no creation could exist. But it is also the case that there are worlds in which that divine light is dull, dim – thus there is a possibility of sinning.

I would like to focus in on this point. Faith is an axiom. It does not require proof: it is a given. Man does not create it: he is born within it. The Mahara"l emphasizes many times in his books that man is 'עלול' (caused), not 'עילה' (causing). One must recognize that one is created – and once one has this belief, one may act from within it. The recognition of created-ness is, in effect, the point of faith. In my opinion, modern approaches – and especially post-modern ones, which emphasize man's formation or construction of self through man's own creating, so to speak – cannot avoid the fact that there is some basis to the whole framework, one that is beyond human construction (and one that the believer perceives as God). For without any point of certainty and security, doubt and relativity are themselves meaningless. Therefore 'guidance' expresses the recognition of divine presence that is at the base of every single thing.

Of course, on the other hand, it must be said that man has the ability of construction and creation, as we saw at the beginning of this teaching. Consider the well-known reply of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk to the popular chassidic assertion that God is to be found everywhere: "God is found where He is allowed to enter."

A person becomes God's partner, a partner in the act of creation. The balance between these two concepts – creation and createdness – is forged by humility. The quality of faith is dependent on humility: the recognition that at least at the point of the very beginning – the most essential – I cannot make myself that which I am. When one holds this belief, one can create worlds;  words turn to song.

Reb Nachman continues:

And this is the notion of 'Great is teshuva (repentance) which brings redemption closer' (Yoma 86). For in the future, in a day which is all Shabbat, the אוֹרַיְתָא דְּעַתִּיקָא סְתִימָאָה (the Torah of an ancient mystery), as it says: "Then you can rejoice over Lord" (Isaiah 58:14) – over the Lord specifically, namely the עַתִּיקָא סְתִימָאָה (Zohar 3:129), and this is the essence of oneg Shabbat (the pleasure of the Sabbath), "And you will return to God, Your Lord" (Deutoronmy 30).

And the essence of knowledge of Kabbalah – namely, the knowledge of the Torah's secrets – will be in the future, when the ancient orayta (Torah) will be revealed, in the element of pleasure of the Sabbath…

Reb Nachman speaks of a greater elevation, bina (wisdom) rising to keter (kingship). What is this elevation to keter? What is Reb Nachman discussing when he speaks of Torah of עַתִּיקָא סְתִימָאָה, the Torah of

I think this is a Torah that does not serve any particular world, but rather creates and manifests a new world. It constructs existence and a whole, new framework. This is an elevated freedom (chofesh) – the creation of new possibilities, new worlds – rather than liberation (cherut), in which one can choose between possible options within a given world. In another teaching, Reb Nachman himself describes this process as the revelation of Godliness without any levushim (garments, coverings) that obscure it, not even the trappings of mitzvot. This Torah is described as the pleasure and Torah of Shabbat. As Reb Nachman explains in Torah 72, the essence of oneg Shabbat stems from its being 'an inherited portion with no borders.' In day to day life, a person can create within limits, playing by the rules of the game. On Shabbat, creation comes from innovation: it is possible to make the very rules of the game anew.

This concept can be explained by the distinction that Rabbi A. I. Kook's makes between a freedom of bina (knowledge), located within the limits of what exists, and a greater freedom associated with keter, which is without limits. In a paragraph about bina, he writes the following: "Bina is the highest ideal for the world, in the purpose of goodness…not as it is, with its limits, borders and smallness, but rather with the idea of absolute dror (liberty) from any burden in the world." Bina is associated with dror, and thus describes an ideal world within the borders of an existing reality. In another place he writes: "There is no limit to the highest liberty of keter of the greatest kingship, flooding depths with desire; there is no need for limitation or borders, nor darkness or the shadow of death, no fault nor obstacle, no rule of recognition…from the depths of its splendor, wisdom will come…" Thus there is a liberty of the lower realms – a freedom within set borders – and there is an absolute liberty, a much higher freedom – with no borders at all.


[1] 'The Jar of Flour' in The Writings of Rabbeynu Bachye (Jerusalem: 1970), p. 379, though its original source is in Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer ch. 3. Rabbi Nachman cites this quote in Torah 219 as well. In Chassidic literature, this idiom is cites many times in writings of the Maggid of Mezeritch Rabbi Dov Ber and his followers. See: Maggid Devarav L'Yaakov (4th edition Schatz-Oppenheimer), (Jerusalem: 1990), paragraph 1079 on p. 136; paragraph 95 on p.166; paragraph 118 on p.192. See also: Or Ha'Emet (Jerusalem: date missing), p.7 and others.

[2] On duality and the reflection it involves, see Luchot v'Shivrei Luchot, p.112-117, 419.

[3] Oftentimes we recoil from ideas of the Musar movement because we suspect that they inhibit man's humane spontaneity. This response stems from the impression that inhibition (or contraction) is a violent act. See Vol. 1, p. 266.

[4] F. Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption (Heb, Jerusalem, 1970), p.295, 300.

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