THE OBSTRUCTING SHADOW
R’ EPHRAIM KENIG
“Every lack a person experiences, whether children, livelihood, or health, comes from oneself.” ~ Rebbe Nachman of Breslev
There is an old saying, “The One Who gives life will also provide for it.” In other words, since God created the world, He most certainly provides whatever we need to exist, whether livelihood, children, health, etc. As discussed in the writings of the Arizal and many other holy books, He created the universe to bestow good on it, not so it should be lacking.
If this is true, then why do we need to exert ourselves so much in order to subsist? An animal usually has everything it needs nearby in its local environment. Why would it be different for a human being, who is considered the choice of creation?
This is Rebbe Nachman’s point. The lack is not inherent in creation—it comes from oneself. The human being was created perfect and complete, but something happened that created lack and deficiency. For example, when a baby is born, the parents hover over the infant to ensure that it is warm, well-fed, and has everything it needs. As the child grows and begins to develop its own ideas and direction in life, the parents still desire to bestow good on the child. Sometimes, the child goes out on their own and acts foolishly without realizing the damage caused to themselves and others. The parents still worry, and do their best to warn the child of the various dangers, even when he or she stubbornly persists in pursuing their own ideas.
Likewise with HaShem. As mature as we consider ourselves, we still possess only a child-like understanding of the greatness of God. We don’t fully grasp the extent to which He wants to benefit us, and instead, we act like immature children who make trouble. Divine light, called shefa, constantly flows to us. Descending through all of the upper worlds into this world, it arrives to fill any need we may have. Shefa is very subtle in the heavens, and once it comes into the world, it manifests as a beneficial influence. Just as parents desire good for their child, God’s love likewise directs the appropriate shefa to reach us in a ready-made fashion, like children, money, a home, etc. The only thing that can stop it is the shadow created by our own actions. The shefa is then experienced as a deficiency.
How do our actions create a shadow? The first thing to understand is that the nature of a shadow is relative, since a shadow is created from something more physical in relation to something more spiritual. For example, a tree will create a shadow when put up against the light of the sun or moon. The earth will also cause a shadow in the form of an eclipse, as will the moon itself. Even the sun will create a shadow in relation to something higher than it. In this case, the sun would be considered physical in relation to what is above it. Anything more physical obstructs light in relation to something more spiritual. Similarly, a person’s physicality and undesirable deeds form a shadow that obstructs the flow of shefa, since something physical will block something more spiritual.
There is a way, according to Rebbe Nachman, to circumvent this problem. If you nullify yourself by minimizing your connection to the world, no shadow is created and shefa is received unhindered. It is normal to want to fill a place in the world, or to feel you possess something. You enjoy the respect accorded to you by others, you consume, eat, drink and buy, all of which amounts to experiencing some sort of “somethingness” that defines your material existence. The more physical you are, the more it prevents you from receiving the constantly flowing divine light called shefa.
A basic understanding of human character traits can help a person move towards minimizing their connection to the world. Let’s examine the trait of humility. Everyone is born with a specific predisposition and nature, with varying levels of coarseness or arrogance at one end of the spectrum, and qualities such as humility at the other end. Each quality, though, needs to be expressed in the proper way and proportion. For example, it is a natural and positive reaction to a feel a sense of nullification or insignificance next to a greater person, not the opposite.
Likewise, we should feel our smallness in relation to Heaven. Our only desire should be to fulfill whatever role God gave us with self-nullification, which will naturally bring a tiny perception of God’s greatness. Even if we are not currently on this level, it is something that needs to be deeply contemplated, since it is the true reality.
As creations of God, we belong to Him. To the extent we comprehend this message and internalize it, our entire existence and relationship to the world will change. As we go about our daily business, we will begin to understand that we are nothing more than messengers on a mission given to us by HaShem. We will also be much less exacting of our own honor and care less about what others say or think about us. These concerns are exactly what make us more material. Freed of these concerns, we are less physical. More shefa reaches us and we experience less deficiency and lack.
The world was created with such compassion, in a way that is truly good for us in this world and the next. Consider the generation of Noah and the Flood. How did this generation come to such depravity that it had to be completely wiped out? The Midrash explains that this was actually caused by the abundant and awesome shefa they enjoyed on a constant basis. They had everything they wanted, immediately, with incredible opulence, which is what brought them to such coarseness and vulgarity. They believed the shefa came from their efforts and the strength of their own hands. They knew very well God was sending this goodness, but they didn’t believe He was the ultimate power behind sending it, or had the ability to halt it. When Noah repeatedly warned them about the impending flood, they taunted, “Where will the flood come from, Heaven?” since they felt they could stop the Heavenly wellsprings themselves. Although the good was indeed meant for them to enjoy, their way of thinking was a serious error because it overturned everything to the opposite.
WHERE ARE YOU HOLDING?
You can actually sense where you stand before HaShem through evaluating your current situation, whatever it may be. The very deficiency you experience is a gauge to how physical you are, since the perceived lack is a result of divine light that has been blocked. It is now expressed as a specific shortcoming, which indicates a lesser level of self-nullification to what HaShem desires.
How do we know what HaShem wants from us? According to Rebbe Nachman, it is all related to kavod—glory and honor. He writes, “The essence of the light of HaShem is kavod, since whatever HaShem created, He created only for the sake of His glory.” The entire world was created only to reveal His kavod, as written throughout the holy writings. Since HaShem’s glory fills the world, when you don’t take up space in the world, you receive the light of HaShem unhindered.
SELF-NULLIFICATION & HUMILTY
The Jewish people have an inherent power of self-nullification, which is epitomized by Moses. He brought us the Torah in such a way to show anyone, in any situation, that they are connected to the Torah and mitzvot, and what they need to uphold. Moses was considered to be the most humble human being. Although our own perception of humility is very far from its true nature, we still have some conception of it, since Jews possess a natural point of humility, which is developed when contemplating the greatness of HaShem.
Whatever we have or not, comes from HaShem because of His compassion. Internalizing this message more and more will generate full divine consciousness, which is the purpose of our existence. Our entire life experience is meant to bring us to an awareness of the One Who brought the world into existence. When this is deeply integrated into our daily outlook, we will feel no lack whatsoever in life.
This will be the experience many years after Mashiach will have already arrived, as well as in the Next World, when we will see the world in its perfection. There will be no “somethingness” that demands honor and recognition. It will be clear that you are alive only because G-d wants you to fulfill your function in the world, so you will lack nothing required to fulfill your mission. If you need money, He will give it to you. If you need health or anything else, you will receive it.
This is actually the level of the tzaddikim. They already achieved their tikkun, and see the perfection in this world now. Their pain comes only from looking at the Jewish people and seeing how far they are from their true life’s purpose. They are completely given over to bringing each Jew closer to God, one after another, by revealing another point of awareness in what it means to serve HaShem. These tzaddikim, with all of their perfection, are already experiencing the World to Come in this world. Rebbe Nachman insists this is not only something for spiritual giants, but for us as well. When we pray for Mashiach and the Temple, we are asking for this level—it is something we must all attain, since it is our purpose.
LEVELS OF TZADDIKIM
The world is divided into groups. Tzaddikim are also divided into different groups. There are tzaddikim in the category of Yesod Olam, foundation of the world, and there are tzaddikim on a lower level, yet the world’s existence completely depends upon all of them. The holy Zohar explicitly states that the highest level in each generation is that of Moses. Afterwards, there are the thirty-six tzaddikim called the “lamed vav” tzaddikim. According to the Zohar, there are thirty-six in the Land of Israel and thirty-six outside of Israel. The entire world stands in their merit, since without them, the world could not exist. The Zohar mentions other examples, such as a category of 10,000 tzaddikim, who are on a lower level. Nonetheless, the world requires all of these tzaddikim to exist.
We also need to place ourselves in some sort of category of tzaddikim. You may ask yourself, “Why do I need to call myself a tzaddik?” Don’t forget that we were born to carry out a specific mission, so it is not a matter of what we want or not. It is not merely a one-time task like when someone says to you, “Go bring this envelope to someone,” rather it is a mission involving your entire being and everything connected to you. Your entire life is no more that a simple shlichut—mission. For example, someone says to you, “Get on a plane, travel to a certain place and do this particular thing.” You will be well aware of why you are in that particular place, since it is part of your mission. You’ll also take care not to damage anything in the process of carrying it out. Nonetheless, at the same time, you still feel “something” from yourself since, despite being on a mission, you still need to eat, sleep, travel, accomplish, etc.
In other words, whatever you do in the world, whether sleep, eat, make money, pray, put on tefillin, or any of the other mitzvot, it is all one big mission. This is the most truthful way to think about ourselves since we have no other function in the world besides our divinely-given mission.
You may ask, “What is my mission?!” The answer lies in knowing that everything is connected to the kavod of HaShem, since He created the world to reveal His glory. Before the world came into being, there was no one to reveal His kavod. After creation, it is our mission to reveal it.
When you feel some deficiency, it is a signal that there is some sort of “shortcoming” in the revelation of God’s kavod. The more we reveal His kavod, the less lack we will feel. HaShem created us with all of our materiality to serve as a foundation in this world for Him, and to elevate our divine awareness until we clearly realize that we have no other function than to see the divine in every detail of life. Everything should bring us closer to the knowledge that there is a Creator of the World Who desires something from us. If it is against the Torah, it is not the desire of HaShem. Every step we take in life should bring us closer to a mindset that nothing exists beyond our appointed function in the world. Bringing children into the world, working in whatever area HaShem has brought us, or any other life situation, is all part of our mission to reveal what Hashem desires.
Delving deeper, we will sense how limited our understanding is. This is when to pour out our hearts, “Ribbono shel Olam! Heal us so we can reveal Your kavod. Give us livelihood so we can magnify Your kavod in the world. Redeem us from the oppression of outside influences, so we can carry out our mission.” The emphasis should be in this direction, rather than driven by the desire to shed the discomfort of exile. Thinking this way makes us more complete and less demanding of space and self-importance. When we achieve such a level, Rebbe Nachman promises that we will experience no lack. Obviously this is a process, but we must begin.
This is all connected to Rebbe Nachman’s concept of a self-generated shadow that blocks our own shefa. Every day, the ability to prevent its creation can be drawn from the power of Moses and his humility, since he is the primary soul in which we are all rooted. Rebbe Nachman describes how the influence of Moses is found within every limb of our body, reminding us to perform the mitzvah associated with that particular limb. His point of humility is also there, waiting to be developed. It is this point that will help us better understand how to remove our sense of “somethingness” and feel much more authentic. Most think that kavod and happiness are found by taking up more space in the world, as if this is the purpose of life. However, this point of humility will save us from being distracted or thrown off by the attractions of the world.
May HaShem help us be encompassed in the humility of Moses, so we will be able to receive an abundant influx of everything good in this world, as well as all the other worlds we will witness in the future. This blessing very much depends upon us. When we repair ourselves, we repair the entire universe. By drawing divine awareness into the world so everyone will know there is only HaShem, we will experience the good of the World to Come in this world as well. ♦
Translated and adapted from a lessed based on Likutey Moharan 172.
 Likutey Moharan 172.
 King Solomon wrote, “Elokim made Man straight, but they pursued many intrigues.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)
 “For My glory I created…” (Isaiah 43:7); “The earth is filled with His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)