Every once in a while, a unique and remarkable soul is sent into the world to renew mankind with a previously unrevealed light.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, was one such soul. During his brief two years in Tsfat five hundred years ago, he succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of the Zohar, the classic work of kabbalah. The constellation of kabbalah, the Arizal and Tsfat, made redemption almost irresistibly imminent. Against the historical backdrop of the Spanish expulsion and widespread messianic expectation, everyone living in Tsfat at the time awaited the final redemption. The only problem was, at the last moment, it was suddenly rescheduled for some unspecified date in the future.

Today, much mystery and misconception surrounds Jewish mysticism, the wisdom of the kabbalah, as well as those who profess knowledge of its secrets. The Zohar, the most famous book of kabbalah, was authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who lived two thousand years ago during the Second Temple era. According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, every word of the holy Zohar has but one theme: how the upper worlds connect with each other in order to draw down shefa, the “oil of abundant holiness” into the world. Shefa is the fundamental spirtual vitality upon which the entire physical world depends for its sustenance. In order to understand the significance of the Arizal’s time in Tsfat, we must understand a little about the true nature of kabbalah and the anatomy of redemption.

THE SOURCE OF THE KABBALAH

Many people think kabbalah is a mysterious book of magic used by Jewish wonderworkers. The truth is, kabbalah is an ancient body of wisdom that was primarily transmitted orally.

However, Sefer Yetzira, a kabbalistic work that predates even the Zohar, was attributed to the patriarch Abraham. Later, the wisdom of kabbalah was handed down directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai as part and parcel of the Torah. It was then maintained as a secret oral tradition passed from teacher to student for generations under the strictest of guidelines for fear of its holy power being misused. This tradition took written form during the era of the Second Temple when R’ Shimon bar Yochai garbed its wisdom within the book called the Zohar, literally meaning the “Book of Splendor.” In so doing, he drew the holy light of kabbalah further down into the world. Some time later, the book disappeared and remained concealed until the late thirteen century when it was rediscovered by R’ Moses de Leon, and much controversy arose about its disappearance and reappearance. The Zohar itself was originally a collection of midrashim which was later organized according to the weekly parsha. Thus today, it is a detailed commentary on the Five Books of Moses and contains extensive discussion on the elements that comprise life in this world. It speaks about creation, the soul’s anatomy, the Messiah, suffering, the destruction of evil, reincarnation, tikkun, the Shechina, the system of ten sefirot, fulfillment of the 613 commandments, and Torah study. One of the benefits of learning Zohar is that it gives a person the desire to learn all parts of the Torah (Sichot HaRan 108). After the Zohar resurfaced, it became more widely available and thus more difficult to understand correctly for those lacking a high level of Torah knowledge. When the Arizal arrived in Tsfat for his brief sojourn, he introduced an entirely new system to understand the complexity of the Zohar, today know as “Lurianic Kabbalah”. He succeeded in condensing and systemizing the wisdom of the kabbalah even further, making it more accessible to a greater range of people. For this reason, the Arizal was considered the greatest kabbalist since the days of R’ Shimon bar Yochai.

THE ARIZAL

R’ Yitchak Luria was given the appellation “Ari”, which means “lion” in Hebrew. The final three letters “zal” represent a Hebrew acronym, zichrono l’vrocha, “may his memory be a blessing”. “Ari” is also an acronym standing for “Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak”—the godly Rabbi Yitzchak. Concerned that this name might be taken out of context, later generations said that the Hebrew letter aleph at the beginning of the acronym stood for Ashkenazi, a reference to his family’s Germanic roots.

The Arizal was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and moved to Egypt in his early childhood. By the time he was eight years old, he was recognized as a prodigy, expert in all areas of the revealed Torah including the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Aggada. At the age of seventeen, he obtained a written manuscript of the Zohar and spent days, even weeks, engrossed in a single passage until he had grasped its deepest meaning.

In time, after tremendous exertion, he understood the conversations of both trees and birds, as well as the speech of angels. By looking at another’s face, and even by one’s odor, he could discern everything the individual had done and what they would do in the future. He knew people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their minds. He knew the future, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, as well as what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of reincarnation, who had lived previously, and who was here for the first time.

The life story of the Arizal took a intriguing turn when he made his appearance in the Holy City of Tsfat. It was here a relationship was forged between him and another fascinating individual that was meant to catalyze nothing less than the redemption of the world.

R’ CHAIM VITAL

Concealing his gifts completely, the Arizal moved to Tsfat from Egypt during the summer of 1570. He came with the express purpose of teaching a young scholar by the name of R’ Chaim Vital who, the Arizal knew, was to become his main student and disciple. It wasn’t until six months after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat that R’ Chaim Vital finally met him. R’ Chaim, an acknowledged master in kabbalah himself, later wrote that one reason it took so long to meet his master was because he initially thought his own knowledge of kabbalah surpassed that of the Arizal. R’ Chaim Vital was a most unusual individual, an esteemed Torah scholar and an outstanding expert in alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and kabbalah, even before he met the Arizal. At the time of their first meeting, R’ Chaim was only twenty-seven years old; the Arizal was thirty-six.

It is astounding that according to his own account, R’ Chaim was a disciple of the Arizal for less than eighteen months, yet during this brief period, he managed to gain an astonishing mastery of the Arizal’s kabbalistic system. Given their short-lived relationship, the amount of information that must have passed between them defies imagination. Like many great masters, the Arizal rarely, if ever, recorded his own teachings, instead entrusting the task to a close follower. In this case, R’ Chaim Vital. He was the great organizer of the Arizal’s system and spent decades writing, organizing, rewriting and reorganizing countless versions and editions. R’ Chaim’s writings comprise over a dozen large volumes, each intricately compiled and written in an extremely terse style. Known collectively as the Kitvey HaAri, the volumes include the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Shemoneh Shaarim (Eight Gates), and deal with everything from Torah commentary to Divine inspiration and reincarnation. The sheer quantity of R’ Chaim’s writings is immense, and if not for him, little if any, of the Arizal’s teachings would have survived.

One of the biggest challenges posed to R’ Chaim, was that the Arizal would suddenly start revealing secrets to him with no introduction, or clear sequence. Since the key in learning kabbalah is knowing where and what is being discussed—which world, which construct—the Arizal’s revelations were a dizzying mass of cryptic unorganized material. R’ Chaim was the only one who was able to successfully present the entire system with proper introduction and sequence. Even so, he intentionally wove into the text stumbling blocks to prevent the uninitiated and unworthy from improper understanding.

Kabbalists are extremely careful to use only the writings of R’ Chaim Vital. A relatively contemporary kabbalist from Yemen, R’ Shalom Sharabi (known as the “RaShash”, d. 1777) was particularly strict, warning in extreme language to completely avoid anything other than the writings of R’ Chaim Vital, since among all the students of the Arizal, only he understood his master’s teachings properly.

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Yet, the relationship between the Arizal and R’ Chaim Vital possessed an even deeper dimension. Sometimes, when two people unite in a relationship, one of them may experience a personal redemption. In some cases, both sides experience the same. There are also relationships which effect the redemption of a town, a people, or even a country. In the case of R’ Chaim Vital and the Arizal, their union was meant to catalyze the redemption of the entire world, the advent of the Messiah, and the ultimate perfection of mankind. It was all meant to happen in the city of Tsfat.

R’ Chaim Vital could be termed a “microcosmic man”. He was what the kabbalists call a neshama klalit, a general all-encompassing soul. Usually, a Jew is spiritually from one of the original twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob. But a neshama klalit, or all-inclusive soul, has the spiritual root of all twelve tribes encompassed within one soul. This is a specific quality found in certain souls, and it was true in the case of R’ Chaim Vital. The repair, or tikkun, of R’ Chaim’s soul would blaze a spiritual pathway back to God through which others would be perfected. In this way, the entire world could be drawn back unhindered to God in repentance, ushering in the Messianic era. He was the mysterious paradigm upon which all mankind depended, without anyone knowing. This was the secret to the world’s redemption during the time of the Arizal and the significance of the deep relationship between these two extraordinary individuals.

Since the Arizal had come into the world only to teach and perfect the soul of R’ Chaim, he repeatedly cautioned R’ Chaim not to reveal his teacher’s greatness to anyone. If the Arizal’s true greatness was revealed prematurely, it would prevent him from accomplishing what was needed with R’ Chaim. Untold damage would be caused not only to him and R’ Chaim, but to the entire world. Yet feelings of unworthiness persisted within the heart of R’ Chaim. He felt compelled to reveal his teacher’s sublime level to the great leaders in Tsfat at the time, who were older than he, including R’ Moshe Alshich, R’ Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) and R’ Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

As the Arizal’s fame quickly spread, he was sought by those far and wide for the wonders he performed and spiritual guidance he provided. Others were seeking rectification for their souls. Because of the Arizal’s humility he refused no one.

The Arizal continued to plead with him to be more discreet, even revealing awesome secrets about R’ Chaim’s soul in an attempt to convince him that their relationship served a unique purpose in the world, but to no avail. R’ Chaim was unable to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and continued to publicize the Arizal’s greatness. Within a short while, his time spent with R’ Chaim was greatly compromised.

ALL TOO SOON a deadly plague struck the idyllic holy city. At a mere thirty-eight years of age the Arizal passed away suddenly in the summer of 1572 (5 Av 5332), only two years after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat. No one understood the true significance of the loss more than R’ Chaim. The redemption had been foiled, the dream shattered, at least for then.

During the funeral, Rabbi Chaim almost went mad with grief. When the Arizal’s body was lowered into the grave, he jumped in as well, clinging to it tightly. With great difficulty, others separated him from his master’s body and lifted him out from the grave.

R’ Chaim later wrote, “In my transgression, I wanted to be a ‘foolish chassid’ so I said to my master, ‘If these great scholars aren’t able to learn from you, then neither will I. I want no accusations in heaven leveled against me that I was concerned only for myself and not for these great tzaddikim who also want to learn from you.’”

After the death of his master, R’ Chaim often saw him in dreams, but as the years passed, these visits became less frequent. He settled in Damascus in 1594, teaching and inspiring Jews to return to a Torah-based life, but he was plagued until the end of his life with profound regret and sorrow that the final redemption had not yet come. With the exception of occasional visits to Tsfat, R’ Chaim remained in Damascus until his own death in 1620.

TWO EARTHQUAKES and a series of plagues subsequently devastated the city, and Tsfat went into a deep spiritual and physical slumber, essentially freezing her healing redemptive powers for another time in the future.

Thus the gates of redemption temporarily closed in sixteenth-century Tsfat, home to some of the greatest tzaddikim in Jewish history. Although the Arizal’s time in Tsfat was brief, the spiritual levels attained during this period sustain us until today, as we await the final redemption when we are destined to reach these levels and beyond.

SOURCES: Shivchei HaAri; Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital

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.

Everything is for the Good

When one knows that everything they go through in life is for the good, it is as if they exist in the World to Come, m’eyn olam haba.[1] It is written that a person must make a blessing over the bad as well as the good.[2] What does it means to recite the same blessing over the bad as the good? It is obviously easy to make a blessing over something good, but how can we sincerely say the same blessing over something bad?

For this reason, a distinction is made between them, and practically, there are two separate blessings. Over good, we recite the blessing ending with hatov v’hameitiv, “…Who is good and does good.” A separate blessing is recited over bad, baruch dayan ha-emes, “Blessed is the True Judge.” Even a blessing over something bad should be said wholeheartedly and with joyful acceptance, together with the realization that difficult things are for the good as well.

A story is told about Rabbi Akiva who approached a city to spend the night, but was refused entry. He immediately exclaimed, “Whatever G-d does, He does for the good.” Prevented from entering, he was forced to sleep in an open area outside city limits. He had a candle, rooster, and donkey. All of a sudden, a gust of wind blew out the candle. This was followed by a cat, who came and ate the rooster; then a lion came and ate the donkey. After each incident, he said, “Whatever G-d does, He does for the good.” Anyone else in a similar situation could have easily complained and blamed others for their woes. Yet Rabbi Akiva had the ability to sincerely say that everything G-d does is for the good.

In the course of the same night, enemy soldiers infiltrated and captured the city. Rabbi Akiva then said, “Did I not say that everything G-d does is for the good? If the candle was lit, I would have been found and taken captive. If the donkey brayed or the rooster crowed, I would have been easily discovered and captured.” In spite of the suffering he inevitably experienced, it was a clear and simple matter for Rabbi Akiva to say, “Everything G-d does is for the good.”

At times, a person seems to have everything, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, everything changes. Every step brings new trouble, with no chance to rest. Eventually, whatever they do have is taken from them as well, like Rabbi Akiva’s candle, rooster, and donkey. Nonetheless, even in such circumstances, there is still a practical obligation to say with full sincerity, “Everything G-d does is for the good,” because the world doesn’t run on its own. There is Someone who leads and guides everything that happens. Since He is good and acts only for our benefit, anything that occurs to us is for the good. When this awareness becomes absolutely clear in our minds, we enter into a state of olam haba, the World to Come.

It is written, “On that day, G-d will be One and His Name One”.[3] The question is raised, “Is He not One now?” Our Sages explain that presently, since the full revelation of G-d’s unity is still lacking in the world, we have separate blessings for good and for bad. In the future, it will be different. Evil will be completely nullified and everything will be perceived in its true light as good. At that time, we will say only one blessing—hatov v’hameitiv. This means that if one is able to achieve an awareness that every occurrence in life is good right now, they are actually living in a state of the World to Come, while existing in this world. Happy is one who achieves such a level.

ACCEPTING GOD’S KINGSHIP

Yet the challenge remains. How is it possible to avoid uttering an empty blessing over the seemingly bad and be completely clear that everything is really for the good? Rebbe Nachman reveals a practical way to achieve this: Accept the sovereignty of the Creator over your life. This is done by consciously acknowledging the existence of a G-d who runs the world both on a macro and micro level. This is how G-d’s Kingship, called malchut, is elevated from exile. The term “kingship” is relevant to G-d, since there is no king without a people. We are His people because He created each one of us. In this sense, He “needs” the creation, as it were, since the world was created only for the revelation of this kingship.

The fundamental nature of true kingship, malchut, is not a rule by force, but rather ratzon, i.e., desire from those being ruled. Thus G-d’s kingship must be revealed in the world through willingness and desire on the part of Creation. This was the situation during the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people willingly accepted G-d’s kingship and authority upon themselves. However, in the case where the Jewish people are distant from G-d, He rules over them with anger, chas v’shalom. This is not what G-d wants, rather He desires that we willingly accept His sovereignty over the world.

This is the essence of free choice. On the surface, it appears we can do whatever we want, since one can choose between good and bad. Free choice is necessary within creation in order to reveal G-d’s kingship. It is also the vehicle for willingly accepting Divine authority, and having desire to serve Him, by asking ourselves, “How can I best bring pleasure to the Creator?” Our actions should not be driven by our own desires, but rather be completely directed toward what G-d wants. Practically, this is how the kingdom of holiness is redeemed from exile, and through this, the entire purpose of creation is realized.

In the future, the Jewish people will possess the consciousness that every occurrence is truly good, including the most difficult things that happen in general as well as on a personal basis. If we know we are already destined for such a level, then it is easier to understand Rebbe Nachman’s statement that even now, it is possible to realize that everything is for the good. On a deeper level, we will also understand that there was no bad in the first place.

As mentioned earlier, the first step towards this level of awareness is to accept G-d’s kingship in the world. Although this is an ongoing process, a person shouldn’t live with complaints and in a depressed state. One can suffer greatly over a perceived lack, or suffer because what they do have is not perfect, thinking that everyone else has more and better. If you ask them what is good in their lives, they are unable to tell you. Feeling bad does not need to be a reality of life. If a person really wants to suffer, reasons abound. One can descend to a very low level just by being overly caught up with themselves and surrounding themselves with the rationale to suffer. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. Sometimes rediscovering the good and blessing in our lives is like reinventing the wheel. While it is true that trouble and pain at times can be so overwhelming that it is experienced only as suffering, when you are really aware that everything is for the good, you can be happy and thankful for the blessings you do have. This gives the strength to adjust to any difficulty, leading to a happier and calmer life—a life not dependent upon what we, or others, have or not. This translates further as not only being happy for another’s good fortune, but also believing that our neighbor’s happiness is good for us as well. A person can be happy and fulfill, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion” (Pirkey Avot).

WEALTH & HAPPINESS

Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a country of wealth where one’s importance was measured solely by how much money they had. This determined how much honor was due the person. Those with the most amount of money were considered angels and gods, while those with no money were not even considered human, rather a type of animal.

In reality, financial hardship can cause a person to fall so much in their own eyes they consider themselves subhuman. Lacking the ability to adjust to their current situation, they become apathetic and act in ways they would never consider otherwise. Things are very different for one who accepts G-d’s sovereignty over their life. Even if suffering has been decreed upon them, they are able to withstand and accept whatever they go through without confusion. They remain “human” with the capacity to function and be happy.

Obviously, true wealth and happiness are not determined solely by material attainments. A person can have many possessions, yet be full of suffering. Someone else, on the other hand, with next to nothing, can live a happy and fulfilled life. It all depends on one’s awareness. When it is clear that events are not random and that there is an Owner of the world Who arranges everything, what others have does not disturb us in the least. Rather, it makes us happy, since when it is good for someone else, it is good for us too. It is a fundamental point to realize that whatever one has, is given directly from G-d Himself. Despite appearances to the contrary, no one can lift a finger over anything that was not decreed for them from Above.

Another story is told about two people who needed to travel abroad by sea for business. On the way to the port, one broke his leg and missed the ship. He took it badly, thinking, “I am trapped here while my friend has it good. He’s going off to make a fortune while I am forced to stay behind.” A few days later, news arrived that the ship had sunk and all aboard perished. He then viewed his situation in a completely different light. He realized that not only he was saved from death, but the suffering he underwent leading up to the disaster was also for the good. This is the level of understanding we can attain, and it begins by accepting G-d’s kingship in our lives.

In the future, everything will be understood as good. A great consciousness will be revealed and we will realize how two thousand years of Jewish exile with all of its suffering, was for the good. It will be completely clear that it couldn’t have been any different, and we will thank G-d for everything with a sincere heart.

May HaShem enlighten our hearts and minds with an increasing awareness of G-d’s profound goodness in every detail of our lives.

Translated from a shiur given in Tsfat.

  1. Likutey Moharan II, 4
  2. Berakhot 54a; Pesachim 50a
  3. Zecharia 14:9

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

 

Imagine someone giving you the private cell number of the most powerful person in the world, or granting you a daily audience with the leader of your country. In the case of hitbodedut, you can speak directly to no other than G-d Himself, during any time or place you choose.

The subject of hitbodedut is extremely broad. The idea of speaking directly to G-d from the heart in your native language was a concept championed by the holy Baal Shem Tov, and developed further by his great grandson, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. G-d yearns for us to speak to Him in our own words. He waits for us to go over the entire list of our needs with Him, saying, “Abba, thank you. Abba, I lack this or that. Abba, please give me what I need.” This brings tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment to G-d.

One of the reasons hitbodedut is so powerful is that regular prayers need special merit to be accepted properly.[1] This is because the prayer of a Jew must ascend to an extremely exalted level, to a place far beyond the angelic realm, directly to what is called the “crown” of G-d. Many heavenly forces, led by the yetzer hara, seek to stop our prayers by bringing all sorts of accusations against a person, who they consider to be a “lowly human”. They say, “Let’s check out exactly who this one is,” and proceed to investigate a person in an effort to block their prayers from being accepted.

Hitbodedut on the other hand, is completely different. The yetzer hara can’t figure out how to touch the words of hitbodedut because it is unable to fathom the chutzpa of a Jew, who, despite all of his or her deficiencies, has the gumption to stand before G-d and speak directly to Him. It doesn’t understand how it is possible that G-d simply accepts the prayer exactly as articulated during hitbodedut.

Although the yetzer hara is aware that hitbodedut possesses some sort of secret, it doesn’t know exactly what. Once the words are uttered during hitbodedut, they ascend unhindered, directly to G-d. For this reason, it tries to weaken the resolve of anyone trying to practice hitbodedut. Therefore, it is important to overcome any obstacles that may arise, whether mental or otherwise, and strengthen ourselves to speak freely to G-d in our own words on a daily basis.While it is impossible to measure the actual greatness of hitbodedut, one who truly applies themselves to it will discover a priceless treasure of eternal value.

Based on a lesson given by Rav Ephraim Kenig, shlita, in Tsfat.


 

  1. There are stories of the holy Baal Shem Tov where he would enter a synagogue and release communal prayers caught between heaven and earth for generations because they lacked merit.

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)