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LIMITS OF THE MIND : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY & THE VACATED SPACE

According to the Zohar, human beings are called by the name “Adam” by virtue of intellect and wisdom. It is impossible to separate intellect from the concept of a human being. Without intellect, the concept of “Adam” would not exist, since da’at, higher knowledge, is what defines a human being. For this reason, we possess a will and desire to know everything—to increase da’at. Thus, the human being and intellect are one and inseparable.

In this light, Rebbe Nachman writes,[1] “It is a great mitzvah to sharpen the intellect in order to come to a clear understanding of what G-d has limited to the human mind.” It is important to note the precise language of Rebbe Nachman: “…what God has limited (higbil, from the word g’vul, meaning limitation) to the human mind”; this indicates that human intellect is inherently limited. The obligation to sharpen the intellect is only according to one’s intellectual capacity. A person should not attempt to reach beyond this limit, since it will cause what is termed, in the language of the Arizal, shevirat ha-keilim, “shattering of the vessels”—meaning destruction and collapse. The human mind is a type of receptacle made to receive the “light” of the intellect according to its capacity. If this measure is breached, the vessel soon reaches its breaking point and shatters. It then loses the ability to receive anything more.

For this reason, we must correctly gauge the receptive capacity of our intellect and guard it by not exceeding its limit. Even though we generally have the ability to estimate this limit for ourselves, it would be greatly beneficial if we had expert guidance from someone knowledgeable in this matter. This would make our desire and search for enlightenment much easier, since the danger would be removed, and we would have a greater likelihood of success.

This is exactly what Rebbe Nachman has accomplished. He paved a path for us to increase and broaden the intellect, as well as a way for us to guard it from all harm. With divine wisdom, deep understanding, and expertise in every philosophical path, he established that we must divide our philosophical inquiry into two types: 1) investigations that possess no danger whatsoever; and 2) investigations where it is impossible to escape from inherent dangers.

The first category we can enter, since such investigation will broaden and increase our intellect. Every question has a correct answer and each investigation can be fully concluded. This is not the case with the second category. It is forbidden to enter it, since the human mind does not possess the ability to resolve any of the difficulties that arise. The deeper the investigation, the more confusion is generated, since the very essence of this second category is comprised of contradictions and opposites. Any solutions reached will be incorrect and untrue.

Rebbe Nachman bases his conclusions on a kabbalistic explanation of Genesis. Based on a teaching of the Arizal, he writes[2] that when it became G-d’s Will to create the universe, there was no “place” for it, since everything was Ein Sof, G-d’s Infinite Being. The place where we exist today was originally the Infinite Divine Light called the Ohr Ein Sof. Therefore, when it arose in the Divine Will to create the universe, He constricted His light to the “sides” so to speak, and through this constriction (tzimtzum), He created a “Vacated Space,” termed the Chalal ha-Panui. Inside of this space, the entire creation came into being. The Vacated Space was fundamentally necessary for creation, since without it, there would have been no place to create anything. However this produces a philosophical paradox. Is G-d present or absent in the Vacated Space? G-d can’t be truly absent, for nothing can exist without G-d’s animating force; yet if He were present in the Vacated Space, there would be no “place” for the universe—all that would exist is the Ein Sof, as prior to creation.

Presently, the paradox of the Vacated Space is impossible for the human mind to understand. It can only be comprehended in the future, when the capacity of the human mind will greatly expand. For the time being, there is no way to comprehend it since it contains two opposites, yesh and ayin, “somethingness” and “nothingness.” On one hand, we state that G-d constricted His unlimited essence to the sides to make the Vacated Space. Without it, there would have been no “place” to create the world. The Vacated Space is thus termed ayin, “nothingness.” On the other hand, however, even this Vacated Space must contain His G-dliness, since nothing can exist without the Divine life force. This is the Yesh, “somethingness.”

Thus, we have before us three divisions: 1) the Ein Sof; 2) the preparation for creation; and 3) creation. We exist in a lowly physical world, which is also the focal point of creation. When we begin to investigate and search for the meaning of life and the true path, we encounter many problems and doubts. These difficulties can be divided into two categories: 1) problems engendered by the creation itself; and 2) problems originating in the Vacated Space that preceded creation—the preparation for creation.

In the first category, we need to know that God created everything in the universe through His spoken word, which our sages call the Asarah Ma’amorot, or “Ten Divine Utterances.” These Ten Divine Utterances through which the world was created are made up of the twenty-seven Hebrew letters of the Torah (twenty-two consonants plus the five final letters) and their various combinations.

However, the second category, involving the act of constriction, which formed the Vacated Space preceding Creation, was not made through letters at all. It came into existence solely through the Divine Will. No letters are present there.

Now we can understand that as we search for a way to draw closer to the Infinite G-d, we must pass through the creation, as well as the Vacated Space. This journey is fraught with inevitable difficulties and doubts. However, it is vital to understand and examine the source of these difficulties in order to determine into which of the two categories they belong. If a question is rooted in the first category of creation, comprised of the twenty-seven Hebrew letters of G-d’s creative word, then an answer exists which is accessible to human intellect. It may be solved through discussions, explanations, and speech, and there is no inherent danger in these types of investigations. They are even worthwhile to embark upon, since they will bear the fruit of increasing intellectual understanding, as well as grant the ability to teach and clarify the way for others.

This is not the case with the second category. When we engage in questions rooted in the Vacated Space, which contains no letters, then difficulties and doubts will always remain with no solution whatsoever. This is because there are no letters or words in the Vacated Space which would enable us to find an answer. Therefore, extreme caution must be taken to avoid entering and investigating problems and doubts in the second category. Those who do enter remain submerged and trapped in a sea of doubt with no hope for rescue. Every conclusion they reach will be negative, since it is the opposite of true existence upon which the first category is based. Since the entire essence of the Vacated Space is built on two irreconcilable opposites, yesh and ayin, “somethingness” and “nothingness”, questions originating from this paradox are irreconcilable and no words exist in creation to address them.

One who is careful and travels on the first path expands the intellect properly. They are protected from all damage and possess a healthy mind. Such a person is called “Adam”—the quintessential human being. Rebbe Nachman brings everything one step further by concerning himself with those who have faltered on the second, forbidden path. He reveals a wondrous way for such individuals to be rescued through the awesome power hidden in music. He tells us that it is possible to extract even those caught in the sea of doubt originating in the Vacated Space through the influence of the melody of the “Tzaddik in the category of Moses.”

I concluded my previous talk with one of these melodies attributed to Rebbe Nachman, who attained this lofty level. Therefore, his song can lift up all souls from their fallen condition and return them to their holy place of origin. Understandably, there is much more to explain on these topics and perhaps, G-d willing, we can explain further at another opportunity. ♦


1. Likutey Moharan I, 62:2

2. Likutey Moharan I, 64

NOTE: Reb Gedaliah did not live long enough to provide a second installment of this talk given during a series of two radio broadcasts on station WBAI in New York in 1979. He passed away in 1980 at the age of 59 while visiting Manchester, England on behalf of rebuilding the City of Tsfat. Many have since requested further clarification on this idea of the hidden power in this type of melody. Reb Gedaliah once said that any of Rebbe Nachman’s niggunim without words are part of this melody of the “Tzaddik in the category of Moses.” An audio recording of one of these melodies that Reb Gedaliah sang on the first broadcast is published here on this site under “Audio.”

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WHAT IS MAN? : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

I would like to explain the concept of Man, Adam, according to the kabbalah and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. There are two things in the world in which everyone is familiar. One is a matter of belief, and the other, a matter of perception. The matter of belief is that there is a Creator of all, Whose existence is absolute. There was never a time when He did not exist. The matter of perception is that we perceive that creation exists. The creation’s existence is based on “possibility” because there was a time when it did not exist. These two things are opposites.

On one hand, the Creator is without end. He is One in the most absolute sense of oneness and there are no limitations to Him. On the other hand, creation is limited by both time and space. It is known that between any two opposites, there is a connecting midpoint. For example, the colors of black and white stand at opposite ends of the color spectrum. The midpoint between them is the color sky-blue, techelet, which combines both black and white. Likewise, in the concept of space, there is a midpoint between right and left, as well as up and down. So too with the Creator and creation. There is a midpoint which connects them both.

This midpoint is called the Shechina, the feminine aspect of God that dwells within creation. The Creator, Who exists as a unity unlimited by space or time, decreed that in order for the creation to receive the abundance of life and blessing from Him, called shefa, the Shechina will act as the intermediary to transmit this abundance from an unlimited to a limited realm. In this way, all the separate worlds that exist beneath Him, limited by time and space in all of their complexity and detail, are able to be nourished and supported.

The Shechina is the mother and root of the one all-inclusive Soul, which is the storehouse for each individual soul. This individual soul, which comes from the storehouse of the Shechina, was given to the last thing created in this world, man, known in Hebrew as Adam. Our soul yearns for us to be conscious of the tremendous favor and goodness the Creator has granted us. It wants to tell us about our awesome ability and power to unite from this lowly and limited world with our Creator, Who is One, endless and unlimited. Just as the Shechina is the intermediary between the Creator and creation, so is her daughter, the soul, a midpoint between good and bad, holiness and impurity.

Impurity is an extremely fine and subtle concept to understand, since impurity itself actually comes from a pure source. For this reason, it is easy to be confused and think that impurity is holiness, even though it is, in fact, impure. Therefore, the concept of purity, the opposite of impurity, is related to the soul. This is expressed every morning in our prayers when we say, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” The soul serves as a protective fence to purity since it acts as the midpoint between holiness and impurity. In other words, the fact that we have a pure soul, which stands midway between holiness and impurity, means we have the ability to choose between the two.

THE POWER OF FREE CHOICE

Mankind possessed the ability to choose between holiness and impurity immediately after God breathed the soul into the body of the first man. If one wants, a person can choose to become one with everything good and holy. Or one can choose to become a partner and slave to all that is bad and impure.

If he decides to bind himself with goodness and holiness, then from this lowly world he can ascend to the highest of heights, even rising above the angels with the authority to rule over them. However, if he hands himself over and enslaves himself to that which is bad and impure, he descends to the lowest of depths. He sheds his beautiful spiritual clothing and becomes darkened. At this point, even the smallest and lowliest creature in creation is above him and can be the messenger to bring judgment upon him.

At the beginning of creation God wanted man, who is limited by space and time, to choose goodness and holiness. He wanted man to bind himself to his Creator from this lowly physical world, elevating himself above the entire creation, and rule over it. What happened back then is history. Man was not able to pass the test. Unable to overcome the obstacles, he sinned and fell from his lofty level. Afterwards, he felt tremendous regret and repented, still mankind has not yet achieved the will of God which was to unify Him with His creation. Yet God’s will can never be nullified since it is eternal and without limitation. Therefore, His desire that man ultimately elevate himself will come about in the future when he will become purified. The time will certainly come when man will be elevated above the entire creation, even ruling over the angels.

Delving a little deeper, we can discern that the will of the Creator exists even now. From our limited view we perceive that we have fallen and that our ultimate perfection and purification has been delayed to another time in the future. However, the Creator is above time and exists in a sphere where past, present, and future are one. What we perceive as the future, is for Him the same as the present. This means that our eventual completion and perfection exists now. But to us, bound to the realm of time, we live temporarily amidst awesome pressures coming from two opposite sides: holiness and impurity, light and darkness, good and evil.

As we have said, man has free choice. He is built with strength as well as weakness. With his strength he has sufficient power to overcome all tests, even the most difficult. Yet in his weakness, he can fall from the breath of the smallest wind, from the push of a leaf, and stumble over the most meaningless things.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

What can give man hope and strength? When he looks deeply forward into time and yearns greatly for the shining future destined to come, it can vitalize him even now by inspiring him to overcome every obstacle and remove them from his path. As a person progresses step by step, winning another battle with his evil inclination, he becomes further purified and shines more and more. He then tastes everlasting life right now in the present. Furthermore, he has the capacity to purify and enlighten his fellow man, bringing to them the taste of eternal life as well. In contrast, if he becomes influenced by temporary brilliance and things which bring only momentary pleasure, his horizon is narrowed and he enters into a type of prison where he lives with great difficulty, confusing others. His portion in life is then only anger and pain. When he finishes his life, he leaves behind nothing.

It is very hard to describe exactly what spiritual satisfaction means to the person who lives with his soul as opposed to one who lives with his body. However, it is easy to understand when looking at one’s way of life. The first allows his body to control his soul. The second makes his soul dominant over his body. The man whose body controls his soul, dims her light, empties her of all content, and removes her glory. She becomes enslaved and is forced to eat the bitterness of moral impurity. The end of this is only nothingness. But the person whose soul dominates his body, polishes and purifies his soul, revealing her radiant points. He elevates his soul to the Garden of Eden, illuminating her with a wondrous upper divine light until even the physical radiates with light and is attached to everlasting life.

RETURNING TO LIFE

This is the secret of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, those whose bodies were vessels for the soul and acted according to the Will of their Creator, will rise from the grave together with the soul. They will be purified and ready to serve the Creator forever. Therefore, even those living presently who make their bodies subservient to their souls, and act in accordance with God’s Will, can taste eternal life now. When the time comes for them to die, they are not frightened and it does not cause them pain. On the contrary, they are happy because they know that this is the Will of the Creator, and that the time has come for them to return the gift that was entrusted to them—the soul. Likewise, their burial in the earth does not frighten them because they understand that it is like one who goes from one room to another, a narrow room to a much wider one. By entering the grave, he enters into a type of “laboratory” designed to purify his body from all of its gross physicality, removing all vestiges of impurity. In this way, he will be able to come to life again in order to completely serve his Creator.

This is the meaning of the word Adam, man. The complete Man is one who has reached perfection by purifying the physical matter of his body with divine light while in the world, just as it was in the Garden of Eden.

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MEDITATION, MUSIC & PROPHECY : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

THE GREAT SONG OF CREATION

Rebbe Nachman teaches about a flowing wellspring and a river whose waters are drawn from this spring.[1] The spring is considered the mystery of nekuda, a “point,” because it is described as a specific point from which water flows. This is related to the Hebrew letter yud [ י ] whose shape is a single point. In contrast, the river is described as the Hebrew letter vav [ו] whose shape is an element extending from a point, since a river’s waters extend outward.

Furthermore, the wellspring, represented by the point in the shape of a yud, is the light of wisdom, called chochma. The river, represented by the element extending from a point in the shape of a vav, is the light of bina, understanding, that dwells in the heart. Just as the river is filled and blessed when it receives from the waters of the wellspring, so too the understanding of the heart (bina), is perfected when it receives influence from the light of the mind’s wisdom (chochma).

Rebbe Nachman describes three points of wisdom in the mind, which are three wellsprings of chochma. These three points are the source of wisdom from which the river, representing bina and understanding of the heart, is filled and blessed. We were each created in the image of G-d, in that our minds and hearts are channels for wisdom. Therefore, it is our role to constantly strive for perfection by drawing the waters of blessing from these three points of wisdom in the mind into the understanding of the heart. In other words, it is upon each of us to ensure that the mind (chochma) and heart (bina) are connected through these points which bring an abundant influx of understanding into the heart so it will not lack in any way. This is the perfection of the nefesh (soul).

THE THREE POINTS OF WISDOM
The following describes, in sequence, the three points of wellspring/wisdom in the mind:

  1. The point of wisdom in the rav, tzaddik and sage of the generation, who is the primary source of the waters of wisdom, and who is the all-encompassing influence on the generation.
  2. The point of wisdom in the mind of one’s friend, containing whatever wisdom their friend received according to his or her intellectual abilities, from the rav of the generation.
  3. The point of wisdom in the mind of each person, received personally according to his or her own intellectual capacity, from the wisdom of the rav of the generation.

All three points of wisdom require the use of the spoken word in order to draw the waters of the wellspring (mind/chochma) into the river (heart/bina). This is hinted to in the verse, Pi yedaber chochmot v’hagut libi tevunot, “My mouth will speak wisdom and the meditations of my heart understand” (Psalms 49:4).

The use of the spoken word is expressed through each of the three points in the following ways:

  • Everyone requires an authentic teacher, a rav and sage (chacham) from whom they can learn and receive the true wisdom. For example, [after the Exodus from Egypt] the entire Jewish people received their knowledge of G-d from Moses.
  • In addition, you must speak with your friend with yirat shamayim (fear of heaven), so your heart will be awakened from the point of wisdom that your friend possesses more than you.
  • Finally, to complete everything, you must speak to G-d in order to illuminate your own point of wisdom[2] and draw it into the understanding of the heart.[3] This is called hitbodedut (literally “secluding oneself” to commune with G-d).[4]

When you articulate words in your conversation with G-d, your hitbodedut is then built upon a foundation of truth. This is what connects the point of wisdom in your own mind to the understanding of your heart. The result is a lev tamim, an unblemished, straightforward heart,[5] i.e., a feeling heart vs. one that is sealed shut, unable to feel. In this way, the nefesh is perfected.
This all highlights the central requirement of the spoken word during hitbodedut—speech articulated through using the five parts connected to the mouth: teeth, tongue, lips, throat, and palate. This is true to the extent that it is worthwhile to spend an entire hour in hitbodedut, even if you can only manage to utter a few words.

There are additional requirements of hitbodedut involving time and place. This is because there are specific times and places more conducive to attaining the purpose of hitbodedut.[6] However, there are no specific limitations or requirements regarding body position. It is possible to practice hitbodedut in any position, whether sitting, standing, walking, or laying down—any way that is most comfortable. Since the entire purpose of hitbodedut is to exit from a constricted consciousness to a more expanded one, any position that helps to accomplish this objective is fine.

Anyone who alters these conditions of using the spoken word or placing specific limitations on body position in any way whatsoever, strips hitbodedut of the ability to achieve positive results. Instead of attaining a settled mind, improper hitbodedut brings confusion, irritation and anger, G-d forbid, which of course is completely contrary to the intended purpose. Rebbe Nachman refers to this: “Through hitbodedut and passing one’s time idly, one comes to anger.”[7] He writes elsewhere, “Anger comes from improper hitbodedut.”[8]

This is the answer to many who perform hitbodedut regularly, yet complain they remain far from a settled mind. It is obvious that their practice lacks the above conditions, and they are only acting according to their own opinion as to what constitutes proper hitbodedut.

We can now better understand the following words from the prophet Amos:[9]

“Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd G-d, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine of bread and not a thirst for water, but to hear the word of G-d. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and north to east; they will run back and forth seeking the word of G-d, but they will not find.”

On the surface, these words pose a difficulty, since how could it be that “they will not find”? We are witnesses today to the materialization of this prophetic vision and how it engulfs most of the world. An intense hunger and thirst to hear the word of G-d has been awakened among countless people in our times. They wander the face of the earth, from sea to sea, and in every direction to find from whom to learn, and are filled with a tremendous desire for the word of G-d. If this is the case, why don’t they find it?

We are already familiar with the maxim, “If one says, ‘I struggled and I didn’t find,’ don’t believe them.”[10] Nonetheless, how is it possible, after so much wandering and struggle, they are unable to find what they are looking for?

 According to Rebbe Nachman, there are a number of reasons:

  • First of all, most of the world, even among those who struggle in their search for the word of G-d, quickly tire, and quit in the middle. They stop at the first “teacher” who reveals some sort of wonder or supposed “prophecy,” satisfying them enough to remain with this teacher. It doesn’t occur to them to check further to see if they are proper and desirable in the eyes of HaShem, or if they are a type of guide on the level of Moses, who spoke only words of truth and righteousness; someone through whom the Shechina speaks and who is filled only with the awareness of G-d.
  • A second reason one does not find is that the person lacks belief in the idea of the existence of an authentic talmid chacham of the generation, and in addition, has reservations about receiving the inspiration they themselves lack from their friend’s point of wisdom.
  • Lastly, they belittle what they do receive from their teacher and are unwilling to make an effort to actualize the potential of the revelation through pleading to G-d.

HITBODEDUT, MUSIC & SONG
It is essential to establish an incontrovertible fact regarding meditation for those who choose to attach themselves to the One Living G-d. An important aspect of hitbodedut teaches techniques on how to empty the mind of distracting thoughts, even from things which pose no disturbance whatsoever. The purpose of these techniques is to provide the mind with a break from its normal activities, as well as to create a much broader place within the mind capable of receiving spiritual light.

However, it is critical to realize that these techniques to empty the mind are only meant regarding created beings and the creation. There was never an intention to apply these techniques to G-d Himself, Creator and Ruler of all worlds. Since if the mind is emptied even of the thought of G-d, chas v’shalom, the thought process is automatically given over to the domain of desolation, a place of calamity and trouble, where all types of destructive forces dwell and embitter a person’s life. Constant cleaving to the single G-d saves a person from all sin and damage. Therefore, it is dangerous and utterly forbidden to empty one’s thoughts of G-d Himself, even for an instant.

Nothing exists without music and song, since it is the life spirit of everything. The arms of music and song embrace the world and everyone in it every single day.  Each entity in creation expresses its own perfect and unique sound. Its entire being is nothing but a single chord amidst the multitude of chords comprising the all-encompassing song of ultimate perfection−a song built from the myriad of details within all the worlds.

In one of his stories, “The Exchanged Children,” Rebbe Nachman relates that there are chords of wondrous melody hidden within the different roars of wild animals. These chords join together to create a perfect sweet and pleasant song, heard by the noble of heart. The song then ascends on high and is integrated into the greater all-encompassing song of creation.

The great song of creation was composed by G-d two thousand years before the world was formed. Concentrated within it are the 600,000 letters comprising the Torah. Afterwards, He created the worlds and heavenly bodies from the various combinations, crowns, vowel points, and accents of these letters. Together with the Torah itself, it was all given over to Moses on Mount Sinai. From there, it was handed to Joshua, who passed it on to the elders, and from the elders it was transmitted to the Men of the Great Assembly, according to the line of transmission stated in Pirkei Avot. Afterwards, it was passed from generation to generation until today; this is the Torah we have now in our possession.

The Written and Oral Torah, along with the multitude of holy books that explain and renew the Torah for each generation, are part of one entity. All of these works are needed, without exception, for the ultimate perfection of the great song of creation. (It is worth noting that the Written Torah is the “stringed instrument” upon which this song is actually played.)

The Written Torah itself is the concentration of the all-encompassing perfect song, containing many wondrous notes—the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. The countless intricate details of each mitzvah are then revealed through the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah explains the mitzvot, giving them proper context through the thirteen exegetical principles of the Torah, transmitted to us from Moses, who received it directly from G-d.

Every generation possesses faithful expounders of the Torah, occupied solely with generating the necessary chords which compose a perfect song. It is a song of sweet and pleasant notes built from every detail of their commentaries and laws, and integrated as part of the larger song of creation.

We see the ongoing composition and complexity of the all-inclusive great song of creation revealed in the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] and accompanying commentaries. It is also seen in the innovations of science and the wide range of new technology and products in our generation, which benefit humankind and improve the standard of living in the world. Everything attests to the profound intricate magnificence of the great song.

The detailed fulfillment of every mitzvah in the Torah constitutes our divine service. Thus, in a sense, we can call mitzvah observance a form of real “Jewish meditation.” In this context, it is clear that anyone who does a mitzvah or detail thereof, is plucking and strumming correctly on the strings of the instrument. The song then emerges in all of its beauty and is heard throughout the world. Through mitzvah observance, we awaken a living spirit which vitalizes the portion of creation that belongs to us. This dynamic occurs through the will of the Creator to benefit His creation. We can now proceed to discuss prophecy and ruach hakodesh.

PROPHECY & RUACH HAKODESH
The attainment of prophecy and ruach hakodesh can be described as the sublime pleasure of a kiss from the mouth of G-d, that speaks the words of the entire Torah. It can also be described as the delight of attachment to the living G-d. Proper and detailed mitzvah observance prepares a person to attain prophecy and ruach hakodesh. This is because the musical notes that are thereby awakened are connected to the powers of prophecy and ruach hakodesh. The interrelationship between music and prophecy is illustrated by the prophet Elisha. When he wanted to draw upon himself the prophetic spirit, he said, “‘And now bring me a musician.’ And it was that when a musician played, the hand of HaShem came upon him.”[11]

We can now understand the significance of the true leaders of Israel, the mighty ones who safeguard the Torah and its observance. They stand at their holy posts and supervise the vineyard of the House of Israel, aligning the lives of the Jewish people according to the Torah and mitzvot. This prevents any corruption in the movements of the great song, and infuses the spirit of life into the various parts of creation, preparing us to delight in ruach hakodesh and prophecy.

Let us contemplate how to draw the waters of our mind’s wellspring into the river of our hearts to water the trees and surrounding vegetation, so all humanity can enjoy them. We will know how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot properly, since only through this will the words of our holy prophets be materialized and the world repaired. Every human being will call upon the name of G-d and serve Him in one accord, with the coming of our righteous Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.

Translated from a talk given in Tsfat.

 

  1. Likutey Moharan 54
  2. Corresponding to pi yedaber chochmot.
  3. Corresponding to v’hagot libi tevunot.
  4. Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish mediation.
  5. Known as a “circumcised” heart.
  6. Likutey Moharan 52
  7. Sefer HaMiddot, Hitbodedut 1:2
  8. Sefer HaMiddot, Ka’as 35
  9. Amos 8:11-12
  10. Megilla 6b
  11. II KIngs 3:15

 

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Gateway to Egypt: The Reason for the Descent : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

What was the significance of the Egyptian exile?

How was Israel redeemed if they were sunk in the 49th level of impurity?

The entire purpose of the exile of the Jews in Egypt was to repair the sin of the first human being, Adam HaRishon.1 As a consequence of Adam eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, many worlds were overthrown and cast down from their spiritual level. Countless holy sparks fell into the depths and became entangled in the klipot. Since then, the work has been to sift out these sparks from where they fell and return them to their original place before Adam’s sin. From the beginning of time, refining holy sparks has always been the task of the tzaddikim. It was also the hidden significance as to why Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers, which occurred in order to sift out and extricate the holy sparks that fell into the klipa of Pharaoh and Egypt. According to the Arizal, Yosef merited to refine 202 of the 288 holy sparks ensnared in Egypt.

HaShem constantly devises ways in which those who were ban- ished from Him will not remain estranged forever.2 Transcending all reason and logic, He brought about the various circumstances that caused Yaakov and his holy offspring to go down into Egypt and refine the sparks that remained there. Yaakov and his descendants were created for this mission; they were the only ones capable of redeeming the sparks from the depths of the klipot. As messengers of the Compassionate One, their unparalleled strength allowed them to both enter and exit the domain of impurity in peace, to save those imprisoned by the Sitra Achra—the Side of Evil. Before his arrival in Egypt, Yaakov sent forerunners to establish a yeshiva,3 and afterwards, together with his sons and descendants, he worked intensively to refine and gather all the holy sparks. Because of their great strength, their efforts bore fruit and they succeeded.

As long as one of the twelve sons of Yaakov was still alive, the Jews were not actually enslaved to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It was only after Yaakov’s last son passed away that the klipa and the Sitra Achra became extremely overpowering,4 since it understood that soon, all of its inner vitality, nourished by the trapped holy sparks, would be extracted and it would be left with nothing. Hard labor began at this stage, and the Jews became entrenched in slavery. Innumerable holy sparks were refined and purified during this time of suffering. The only reason the Jews were in Egypt was to accomplish this purpose, since otherwise, it was not a place for Israel. They were forced to remain there as long as it was still possible to refine these sparks through their avodat HaShem.

However, HaShem saw that they had reached the outermost border of the 49th gate of impurity. Remaining there for even a single moment longer, they would have crossed over into the fiftieth gate of impurity, and become defiled completely. If this had happened, we, our children, and children’s children would have been enslaved in Egypt until today. All the effort and toil of the tzaddikim in each generation to find “lost objects,” i.e., refining holy sparks, would have been for naught, G-d forbid. This is why G-d illuminated them with an extremely wondrous light, a light that had never existed before in the world. He then took His people out in great haste with a strong hand and outstretched arm, together with everything they had, including the holy sparks they had refined in Egypt.

This can be understood through a parable. There was once a king who sent his beloved deputy on a specific mission where he needed to descend into a do- main of snakes and scorpions. For the entire duration of the mission, the king covertly accompanied him in order to protect him. When the king saw that his deputy fell into great danger in the course of faithfully carrying out his mission, the king revealed himself and extricated his beloved deputy. As it is written, “Rebbe Shimon said, ‘Great is G-d’s affection for Israel, in that He revealed Himself to them.’”5 Despite His concealed presence, when it was time to take them out of bondage, He showed them that He was actually there during their entire sojourn in Egypt.

The redemption from Egypt took place so that Israel could carry out their divine mission to repair the world, i.e., to clarify the holy sparks and elevate them to the Creator. But now, they would need the power of the Torah to protect them on their mission. Therefore, they were commanded afterwards to count fifty days to purify and sanctify themselves in order to receive the Torah through Moses at Sinai. The Torah would endow them with the power to continue their mission of refining the holy sparks, even if they fell into the deepest depths of the klipot and the Sitra Achra—the fiftieth gate of impurity.

Before the giving of the Torah, if Israel had descended into the 50th gate of impurity in Egypt, they would have remained there, G-d forbid. Since they lacked the To- rah, it was critical to extract them in great haste, before they fell completely into the depths. The situation was completely different after they received the Torah. Nothing now existed to restrain or inhibit them from entering into the deepest abyss to extricate the fallen sparks, and restore them to their holy source.

The Torah possesses tremendous power that serves as a shield and partition for us. Whatever exile, trouble, or torture we go through, we will always be connected on high and have the ability to refine countless sparks every day, in any conceivable place. Little by little, the stature of the holy Shechina is built, and now that we have the Torah, there is nothing to fear. This gives us an indication of how much we need to strengthen and encourage ourselves in Torah learning. Because of this protection, it is written that the final redemption will not be rushed. There will be no need whatsoever for a hasty redemption since we are completely protected by the Torah in our mission of refining the final sparks.6

Translated and adapted from the newly-published letters of Reb Gedaliah called Shaarei Tzaddik, Letter 22.

RABBI GEDALIAH AHARON KENIG, zt”l was founder of the Nachal Novea community in Tsfat and foremost Breslev leader of the previous generation.

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1. As explained in all the holy books, in particular those of Rebbe Nachman and his student, Reb Noson.

2. Samuel II 14:14.

3. As our sages comment on the verse, “Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of him…” (Genesis 46:28).

4. As it is written, “Come, let us deal wisely with them…” etc. (Exodus 1:10)

5. Shemot Rabba 15. 6. Thus it is written, “In returning and rest shall you be saved.” (Isaiah 30:15)

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