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THE WORLD OF UNITY & THE JEWS : R. Elazar Mordechai Kenig

WHEN A PERSON FACES A LIFE OR DEATH JUDGMENT, they customarily dress in black, neglect their physical appearance and let their hair and nails grow. They are terrified because the final outcome of the judgment against them is unknown.

This is in stark contrast to the behavior of the Jewish people on Rosh HaShanah, the “Great Day of Judgment.” They don white clothing, and cut their hair and nails in preparation for the day. When Rosh HaShanah arrives, they eat, drink, and rejoice in a festive manner, since they are confident that G-d will perform a miracle and they will emerge meritorious from judgment. What is their source of joy and confidence as they enter the Great Day of Judgment? Why are they so certain of a positive outcome?

The answer lies in the difference between the Jewish people and the rest of the world. Am Yisrael possesses an inherent quality of achdut, unity. They are completely unified at their spiritual root since the source of Am Yisrael is from the “world of achdut.”

On the other hand, the other nations are structured as separate worlds, since they draw from a spiritual root called the “world of separation.” Thus, it is the quality of achdut which defines the difference between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world.

It is written, “…all the soul(s) of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy.” (Gen. 46:27) We learn that Am Yisrael were seventy souls when they were exiled to Egypt. Yet, despite numbering seventy, the verse refers to them in the singular tense as nefesh—soul. In contrast, the people of Eisav numbered six and are referred to as plural, nefashot—souls. (Gen. 36:6) Even as seventy souls, the Jewish people are considered a single soul—nefesh, since they are rooted in the “world of achdut.” The other nations, however, are considered separate worlds even at six, since their spiritual source is rooted in the “world of separation.”

UNITY & THE JEWISH BOND

In addition to Torah and mitzvot observance, the Jewish people also took upon themselves the quality of achdut—unity. Each Jew serves as a guarantor for his or her neighbor, and this guarantee extends to the entire people, as well. It is understood that the mitzvot are binding upon a Jew, but how can we explain the obligation to be guarantors for one another? It can be understood when we realize that the source of the Jewish people is unity—a single unseparated root. This is true to the extent that the obligation falls not only on the individual for his or herself, but for everyone else as well, since what one Jew does influences every other Jew. This is a very subtle and spiritual issue, so it is worthwhile to be aware of it in the proper way, and important to understand its practical significance.

Despite its lofty spiritual nature, Jewish unity is clearly manifested here in olam hazeh—our lower physical world. To better understand this concept, it is known that everything in the physical world requires separate space. There are four levels of life: inanimate, plant, animal and human, which are connected to the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. The more physical something is, the more it manifests separateness. The opposite is true with things of a more spiritual nature. The more spiritually-oriented something is, it possesses a more unified nature. For instance, earth is a physical element that exhibits a stronger quality of separateness. Water, air and fire are elements more spiritual in nature, and thus more unified. Thus we witness the expression and interplay between spiritual unity and physical separateness even in the physical world.

A SPIRITUAL DISTINCTION

The achdut of Israel is spiritual, not physical. They are rooted in the very source of achdut. Furthermore, when the Jewish people are united, they are united with HaShem. This is referred to in the Sabbath afternoon prayer, “You are One and Your name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth.” As a result, the Jewish people are closer to each other, which is expressed in many ways. For example, whenever one Jew hears about another, regardless of where they are in the world, they will always feel a strong connection and concern. While it is true that everyone experiences a sense of individuality in the world, the Jewish people must nonetheless always remind themselves of their spiritual root in achdut. It is the fundamental difference between Jews and the other nations of the world, despite the fact that to outward appearances, everyone appears identical.

The denial of this difference is actually one of the biggest tragedies to befall the Jewish people. To our great sorrow, many have distanced themselves from the Torah and mitzvot, thinking it is better to imitate the non-Jewish manner of behavior or dress, etc., even participating in non-Jewish competitions as if there is no distinction between the two. The Jews are a single unit, a great and spiritual nation, with a completely different root than the rest of the world. After millennia of exile and tragedy, including the holocaust of the previous generation, time has proven they are different through the countless number of Jews bound to Torah and mitzvot today. This is the proof of their spiritual nature, since everything depends on its root. It is important to remind ourselves of this and not err by thinking there is no difference.

The source of our confidence on Rosh HaShanah comes from our spiritual root in achdut. Normally, when an individual faces a life and death judgment it is frightening since the final outcome is unknown. In the case of the Jewish people however, each individual is judged together as a whole because of their single root. Because of this, they face judgment on Rosh HaShanah with confidence and hope. They eat and drink festive meals and are joyous in the knowledge that G-d will perform a miracle for them.

ACHDUT ON ROSH HASHANAH

There is another aspect relevant to Jewish achdut. Halacha obligates everyone to make peace with his or her neighbor well before Rosh HaShanah, without waiting until Yom Kippur. Of course teshuva is necessary for any wrongdoing, but there is a specific obligation to repent of any misdeed committed against another person.

If the confidence of the Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah flows from their root in achdut, then the moment someone insults another in any way, it diminishes the ability to approach the Great Day of Judgment with the power of achdut. This is why is it so good that people make an extra effort to attend prayer services on Rosh HaShanah to show their unity and connection to HaShem.

The entire purpose of life is to accept the kingship of HaShem. Rosh HaShanah in particular is when we “crown” the Creator to show this acceptance. By living our lives according to the way He desires, we crown the Creator here in olam hazeh. The uniqueness of the Jewish people comes from their extremely elevated spiritual root of unity, and their ability to reveal it here in the physical world.

Although there is always free choice, we see how the Jewish people are prepared time and time again to give up their lives al kiddush hashem—to sanctify HaShem’s name. History has shown that this is not something restricted only to great tzaddikim. Even those far away from the Torah, when faced with certain death, chose to sanctify G-d’s name, rather than abandon their Jewishness. It is a wonder how a person who found it difficult to uphold the Torah was nonetheless willing to give up their life for it. Throughout history, when faced with difficult tests, or forced to participate in religious debates, Jews were prepared to forego the riches of the world to remain a Jew. Even when offered vast rewards by kings to convert, they didn’t consider it for a moment. It was incomprehensible to the other nations from where the Jews drew their strength to stand firm. This shows the lofty root of the Jewish people.

RELATIVES OF HASHEM

The gemara discusses the verse “Who is a great nation?” Mi goy gadol? (Deut. 4:7) The question is asked, who is this nation who knows the customs of their G-d? The Midrash explains that the Hebrew word gadol comes from the root g’dal, meaning “upbringing,” alluding to the Jewish people being “raised” by HaShem. As a consequence of their more “familial” relationship, they are familiar with the nature of HaShem, which gives them the confidence that He will perform a miracle on their behalf on Rosh HaShanah.

Because they share the same source of achdut, the Jewish people are considered “relatives” by HaShem. Yet, despite this, we are still put to the test here in a world of free choice as to whether we will consider ourselves like the other nations or draw down and reveal our intrinsic achdut in the world by observing the Torah and mitzvot—especially Shabbat. After six days of creation, HaShem rested on the seventh day, Shabbat. This is the same Shabbat that the Jewish people have observed throughout history.

May we be blessed with a renewed sense of achdut and clear sense of purpose in the world. And may we see the rebuilding of our Temple, speedily in our days, Amen. ♦


1. Likutey Halachot, Arev 3
2. See Likutey Moharan 27 and 52

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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