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Parashat Korach: Controversy for the Sake of Heaven

  • Rav Itamar Eldar

            Well known are the words of Chazal relating to this week's parasha, Parashat Korach:


Any controversy that is for the sake of heaven will result in abiding value. But any controversy that is not for the sake of heaven will not have abiding value. Which controversy was for the sake of heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And which controversy was not for the sake of heaven? The controversy of Korach and his company. (Avot 5:17)


            Korach's rebellion against Moshe and Aharon served as an example that helped later generations understand the nature of controversy. Chassidic thought also tried to reach a deeper understanding of the world of controversy through an examination of Korach and his company.


            In this lecture, we will try to understand the issue of controversy, getting a taste of the world of Chazal, Jewish thought in general, and Chassidic teaching in particular, both in the context of Korach and his company and in wider contexts.


Controversy – Insufficient Intellectual Ability


            The world of the Oral Law is full of controversies. There is disagreement and controversy regarding almost every issue.


            Already Chazal tried to clarify the foundations of controversy, as is stated in the following passage:


With the increase in the pupils of Shammai and Hillel who had not sufficiently ministered to sages, controversy increased in Israel, and the Torah became like two Torahs. (Sota 47b)


            The medieval Jewish thinkers sought to explain this talmudic source. The Rambam writes as follows:


That which they said: "With the increase in the pupils of Shammai and Hillel who had not sufficiently ministered to sages, controversy increased in Israel" – this means: Any two people who are equal in intellect, reasoning and knowledge of the principles from which the arguments follow will not disagree in any way. And if disagreement arises, it will be minor, just as we find that Shammai and Hillel only disagreed about a few isolated laws. This is because the minds of the two of them were close regarding everything they put forward through logical argumentation. When, however, the diligence of the pupils regarding wisdom diminished, and their reasoning weakened in comparison to the reasoning of Hillel and Shammai their masters – controversy arose between them regarding many matters. For the reasoning of each one of them was in accordance with his intellect and what he had grasped of the principles. (Shemone Perakim, p. 39)


            The Rambam's underlying assumption in these remarks is that regarding all matters there exists an absolute truth, and that every dispute results from deviation and distancing from that shining truth, in the light of which there is no disagreement. Limited intellect and deficient study, argues the Rambam, blur the absolute truth, giving rise to controversy.[1]


            According to the Rambam, then, the great number of controversies in matters of the Oral Law stems from the failure of the pupils of Hillel and Shammai to sufficiently minister to the sages. Thus, limited intellect, diminished study and partial knowledge of the principles led to a lack of clarity regarding the absolute truth, and thus to disagreements about it.


            It should be noted that this approach is exceedingly radical, turning all disagreement into an inevitable result of limited ability and "deviation" from the truth. With perfect intellect, according to the Rambam, there would be no controversy whatsoever, as was stated already before the Rambam by R. Sa'adya Gaon:


And the Sages of Israel said regarding one who has not perfected matters of knowledge: "With the increase in the pupils of Shammai and Hillel who had not sufficiently ministered to sages, controversy increased." Their words teach us that had the pupils completed their studies there would have been no controversies or disagreements between them.[2] (Rabbenu Sa'adya Gaon, Emunot ve-De'ot, Introduction, 10)


            This extreme position of R. Sa'adya and the Rambam must deal with another statement found in the words of Chazal:


Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shemu'el: For three years Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagreed, these saying that the law is in accordance with us and the others saying that the law is in accordance with us. A heavenly voice issued forth and said: Both of them are the words of the living God, but the law is in accordance with Bet Hillel. Now if both of them are the words of the living God, why did Bet Hillel merit that the law be affixed in accordance with them? Because they were kind and humble and taught their words and the words of Bet Shammai, and even more, they presented the words of Bet Shammai before their own. (Eruvin 13b)


            In great measure, the principle that "both of them are the words of the living God" denies the notion of absolute truth, and asserts that the reason that the law was established in accordance with Bet Hillel has nothing to do with the truth of their position, it being no "closer to the truth" than that of Bet Shammai. Rather, it relates to the nature of the disagreement and the psychological stance that accompanied the disputants.[3]


            This approach nullifies the absolute value of controversy and allows for the existence of parallel truths, which on the face of it oftentimes even contradict each other. While it resolves one problem, bestowing a true and absolute dimension to both sides of the controversy, this approach presents us with a new problem, regarding the inability of these two truths to live in peace with each other, for one that declares something ritually pure is the opposite of one that declares it impure, and the one that prohibits something is the opposite of that which permits it.


Controversy – Subjective Perspective


            Rav Kook proposes a different relationship between the unifying approach, which he too adopts, and the pluralistic approach, which according to him is also an integral part of the world:


In matters of beliefs and opinions that are based on abstract and spiritual ideas it happens more frequently than in all other controversies that the two disputants, who on the superficial level are exceedingly distant one from the other, are really both saying the same thing. The entire controversy, which oftentimes seems to be burning all the way to heaven, is nothing but a quarrel of words, because the one does not understand the language of the other. (Shemone Kevatzim 1, 10) 


            According to what is stated here, R. Kook, like the Rambam and R. Sa'adya Gaon, tries to nullify the absolute value of controversy, but not because of a mistake regarding the truth, as the two earlier thinkers had proposed, but because of the erroneous way of looking at the two sides of the controversy.


            You are right, R. Kook would say to the first disputant, and you too are right, he would say also to the second party. But you are mistaken, he would say to the both of them, that there exists a disagreement between the two of you. Upon closer and more inward-directed examination, you will see that, essentially, the two of you are saying the same thing, which only from the outside appears to be subject to dispute.


            According to R. Kook, the mistake regarding the controversy lies not in the opinion itself, as argued by R. Sa'adya and the Rambam, but in the conclusion that we are dealing with a dispute, and that the two sides of the disagreement cannot be reconciled.


            R. Kook deepens the idea in the following passage:


From a subjective perspective, we find contradictions in the various spiritual systems…  But when we are elevated to an objective vision, we find the satisfaction of our inclination to unity and desire for peace, and we assess that in essence the things are not separate and distinct, contradictory and disharmonious. And both of them are words of the living God, for the heaven was made by the word of God, and all the hosts by the spirit of His mouth. All material and spiritual existence in all its elements is surely the word of God. The service of thought is forever, to demonstrate the ways in which even our subjective feeling can comprehend the content that unifies and completes everything. (Shemone Kevatzim 1, 498)


            In these profound words, R. Kook distinguishes between a subjective and an objective perspective.


            From a subjective perspective, R. Kook would say, the world appears disjoined and separated, especially its spiritual aspects. However, a person who can lift himself up to gain an objective perspective, who can successfully escape his narrow subjective perspective, can see how that which appears as a controversy is in fact whole and harmonious, and both of them are the words of the living God.


            The words of the living God, Rav Kook argues, constitute the insight that everything was made by the word of God, and all the hosts by the spirit of His mouth. The recognition that everything comes from God, teaches us R. Kook, is also the key that allows us to rise up from the subjective dimension to the objective dimension, and thus to see the unity of the world and also the unity of controversy.


            When a person understands how a certain phenomenon that he absolutely rejects constitutes the word of God in this world, and thus it has a function, he understands how it is possible for it to become integrated into his own spiritual world, even though just a minute earlier he had absolutely rejected that phenomenon.


            This seems to be true not only regarding the world of spirit, but in general regarding the world of phenomena which appears to be multi-faceted. Diversity is like a "controversy," and the differences must be reconciled. Thus writes R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk:


In Rashi, of blessed memory: "'And Korach took' – he made a bad acquisition for himself." Our Rabbis of blessed memory said in Avot (5:17): "Any controversy… Which controversy was for the sake of heaven?… And which controversy… The controversy of Korach and his company." The idea is that the primary intention behind the creation of the world was reaching through emanation the place of choosing between evil and good, for He created man upright to know how to refuse evil and choose good (see Yeshaya 7:15). And the glory of God fills all the created beings from the largest to the smallest worm in the sea, even the kelipot, as it is stated: "And you give life to all of them," for the world needs them. And man's primary task is to remove the precious from the vulgar in the mystery of "And His kingdom rules over all" (Tehilim 103:19), to destroy the thorns and choose life. Wherever he turns he should understand and in all his ways he should know Him. What is this and why is this that God brought it before him and who created these. Surely God who gives existence to all being and invigorates them and fills them. And who gave understanding to the rooster and knowledge of good and evil. And now why should his heart turn evil to adhere to the evil? Let him exchange the evil for the good concealed within him that gives him life. And thus he will return the soul of his master to its owner, removing the precious from the vulgar to offer a sacrifice to God by fire of sweet savor before Him who said and His will was performed. For His intention in creating the world was precisely in the material that the whole earth should be filled with His glory in a place where there is a choice to remove the precious from the vulgar which are the kelipot. (Peri ha-Aretz, Korach


            At first glance, there seems to be no connection between the heading of this teaching and its actual content, for the heading deals with controversy for the sake of heaven and controversy that is not for the sake of heaven, whereas the teaching itself deals with raising sparks from the kelipot, and the manner in which a person must look upon the world in which he lives and which impacts upon him.


            It seems that R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, as we proposed already regarding R. Kook, expands the borders of controversy to include all of the plurality of the world. In essence, the diversity and the distinctions in the material and spiritual worlds all result from an ontological controversy that accompanies the world from its very foundation.[4]


            Like R. Kook, however, R. Menachem Mendel teaches us that the proper way of looking at a controversy restores it to absolute unity, this being "a controversy for the sake of heaven." The moment that a person contemplates the world as it is, without delving into the word of God standing behind it, as we saw in the previous lecture, he leaves the world in its separated state and fortifies the distinction, the plurality, and the separation. The recognition that "the Glory of God" fills all the created beings "from the largest to the smallest worm in the sea," and as R. Kook puts it, the liberation from the subjective fetters to the objective dimension of the world, is what allows for the revelation of the controversy that is for the sake of heaven, the fact that the entire world says: Glory of God. And in this sense the plurality, the diversity and the separation only intensify and enrich the great choir singing its song to God. This is the "for the sake of heaven" that exists in the world, and when we look upon the world from this perspective, we can elevate it and "remove the precious from the vulgar," as R. Menachem Mendel puts its, and "comprehend the content that unifies and completes everything," in the words of R. Kook.


            R. Nachman of Breslov expresses a similar position:


This is the essence of the tikkun of creation, as it is stated: "Who makes peace and creates all things." For at the time of creation the worlds fell downwards (through the breaking of the vessels, as is known). The worlds are the aspect of letters, and they were scattered into many sparks. By way of ha'ala'at mayin nukvin of Torah and prayer, the sparks and letters join, and a world is fashioned.

This is the aspect of peace, for before these sparks and letters are brought into words of Torah and prayer, they are not conjoined and connected. They are the aspect of broken shards and dispute, because every spark overcomes the other. But when they are brought into speech of holiness, it joins and connects them, this being the aspect of peace. For by way of the speech of holiness of Torah and prayer, it becomes ha'ala'at mayin nukvin, through which it becomes peace, as above. For in this manner all the fallen worlds are repaired and renewed, and it is regarded as if He created them anew. (Likutei Moharan Kama 75)


            Following the breaking of the vessels, creation itself bears within it the scattered sparks, and thus the existence of controversy. Our objective in this world is "to make peace," and thereby, as it were, to create it anew in its most perfect and harmonious form. This "making peace," according to R. Nachman, is by way of speaking in prayer and study. R. Nachman, as opposed to R. Kook and R. Menachem Mendel, focuses not upon recognition, but upon action-speech.


            According to R. Nachman, when speech issues from a high place, it is in essence an echo of the speech of God. In great measure, any person speaking words of prayer or Torah out of concentration and for the sake of heaven, has the aspect of "So-and-so speaks, and God answers him with a voice." Speaking in Torah and prayer restores the presence of the word of God that had become scattered and concealed throughout the world. Speech is the aspect of "gathering" all the letters, all the intentions, and all the ideas held captive in the world, and separated into distinctions and disagreements. Speech restores them to their places and unites them once again in a song to God, and thus it brings peace to the controversy and creates the world anew.


            The recognition that "both of them are the words of the living God," and that the entire world is the word of God issuing forth from Him and returning to Him, is what allows a person to disagree with his fellow for the sake of heaven, and join all sides of the controversy to the Torah scholars' great song about God and His Torah.


Controversy – Exaggerated Ego


            We saw earlier that the Gemara states that "with the increase in the pupils of Shammai and Hillel who had not sufficiently ministered to sages, controversy increased in Israel, and the Torah became like two Torahs." This position, however, is the second of two explanations for the increase of controversy in Israel. The first position states as follows: "With the increase of boastful hearts, controversy increased in Israel" (Sota 47b).


Whereas the second explanation focuses on the content of the controversies, and with the ability of the pupils to acquire the absolute truth that is passed down from one generation to the next, the first explanation focuses on the psychological-spiritual state of the disputants. This connects to the words of the Gemara in Eruvin cited above that address the reason for ruling in accordance with Bet Hillel. While there the personality traits of the disputants influence the final decision-making, here the defective personality traits of the disputants are what create the controversy. More precisely, we can say that the traits of arrogance and pride are what create the world of controversy. Thus writes R. Nachman in anther passage:


Each person is required to minimize his own glory and maximize the glory of the Omnipresent One. For anyone who pursues glory does not attain God's glory, but the glory of kings, of which it is said: "But the glory of kings is an investigated matter" (Mishlei 25:2). Everyone inquires about him [to see if he is deserving of such glory,] asking: "Who is he and what is he that he is afforded such honor." And they oppose him, saying that he is not deserving of such glory.

However, the person who flees from glory – minimizing his own glory while maximizing the glory of God – attains God's glory. Then [they] do not investigate whether he is deserving of his glory or not. Of him it is said: "The glory of the Lord is a concealed matter" (Mishlei, ibid.). For it is forbidden to inquire into [this type] of glory. (Likutei Moharan Kama 6,1)


            R. Nachman offers his interpretation of the verse in Mishlei (25:2): "The glory of God is a concealed matter, but the glory of kings is an investigated matter." When a person is filled with the glory of kings, people investigate that glory and disagree with it, whereas when a person is filled with the glory of God, no objections are raised against him.


            The pursuit of glory, argues R. Nachman, stems from the ego, and from that moment, that is the force driving the person. R. Nachman teaches us that when a person is driven by his ego, his surroundings raise objections and force him to defend his honor.


            In contrast, when a person feels that he is merely a conduit, and he effaces himself before the truth that he wishes to bring, and he is clean of ulterior motives that drive people to defend their own positions, whether it is pride, or the desire to win the argument, or the glory bestowed upon the party who proves himself right – when he is clean of all that, then he is not being moved by the glory of a human king, but by the glory of God, which comes into the world in the form of truth that threatens nobody, and thus is recognized and accepted by all.


When a person is driven by the glory of God, we are not dealing with the person's own glory, but with the glory of God, the glory of truth. This is not true when a person acts out of the glory of kings, for then the pursuit of glory stirs those around him to rise up against him, to attack the seeker of glory and undermine his right to that glory. It is not truth seeking its glory, but man, and therefore the desire arises among those who surround him to examine his right to and worthiness for the glory that he seeks for himself, and at that moment, the person must defend himself and his honor. He must answer the question underlying the controversy: Who are you that you should be fitting to all this honor? And the person must contemplate the matter and defend himself.


This defensive action is a kind of clarification and contemplation which the attacked person is invited to engage in by those who raise objections against him. Elsewhere, R. Nachman writes:


"The wicked man watches [tzofe] for the tzaddik and seeks to kill him. But God will not forsake him" (Tehilim 37:32-33).

An explanation: That the wicked afflict the righteous and pursue them is brought about by God in order that the tzaddik should consider and examine his deeds. Thus it is that the wicked man is like a watchman, like the guard of the city, who is called a tzofe. So too, the wicked man guards the tzaddik from succumbing to physicality. (Likutei Moharan Kama 208)


            Controversy serves as a test for a person's cleanness and purity. The stronger the objections raised against him, the more he must engage in a reckoning and clarification of his actions.


            The revolution made here by R. Nachman is two-fold.


            First of all, R. Nachman utterly abandons the content of the controversy. He does not enter the discussion concerning the question of the truth issuing from the various sides of the controversy. R. Nachman focuses on the person's consciousness, and he views the controversy as a reflection of that consciousness and stance. The controversy and its intensity reflect the ego that accompanies the discussion. The sharper the controversy and the stronger its intensity, the greater the ego that accompanies the discussion.


            Second, R. Nachman offers revolutionary guidance to the person under attack by those who disagree with him. "Don't come out shooting in all directions," "don't fight back," "don't try to find your opponents' weak point," "don't try to demonstrate their error" – simply remain silent. Thus he writes in the continuation of that same teaching regarding the manner by which one may acquire the glory of God:


One can only acquire this glory through repentance. And the primary repentance is that when he hears his humiliation, he remains quiet and silent. (Ibid., 2)


            Silence is both a type of contemplation and also the readiness to accept humiliation, and thus it involves an aspect of nullification of the ego. From the moment that a person hears his humiliation and remains silent, he is able to contemplate the matter – the controversy – in a clean and pure manner. By virtue of the controversy he is saved from falling into materiality, into pride, into ego, and then he is fit to return to the controversy and make peace.


            Controversy, according to R. Nachman, brings a person to inner contemplation. It is a movement that stands in contradiction to the instincts of a person who is under attack, when his ego beats strongly within him and he wishes immediately to strike back.


            Remove your ego, demands R. Nachman. Remove the glory of kings and don the glory of God. Accept the invitation extended by those who disagree with you to engage in inner contemplation and examine what within you requires refinement, correction, and elevation, and then controversy will disappear from the world.


            R. Nachman is not interested in theological truth, which according to him is not the driving force in the world. Perfecting one's character, refining one's intentions, and nullifying one's ego are what will bring peace to the world.


Controversy – Open Space for Creation


            The benefit of controversy, according to R. Nachman, relates not only to the perfection of one's character traits, but also to the content itself. Thus writes R. Nachman in his most fundamental teaching – teaching no. 64:


Know that dispute is an aspect of the creation of the world. For the creation of the world was primarily by way of the empty space, as mentioned above. For without that all would have been [His] infinity, and there would have been no room for the creation of the world, as explained above. For that reason, [God] contracted the light to the sides, forming an empty space, and in [that space] He created the world, that is, the days and the middot, by way of speech, as stated above, "By the word of God, the heavens were fashioned, etc."

The same is true regarding the aspect of disputes. For had all the Torah scholars been in agreement, there would have been no room for the creation of the world. It was only by way of the disputes between them, they being set apart one from the other, each one pulling himself to a different side – in that way there was formed between them an aspect of the empty space, the aspect of the contraction of the light to the sides, in which the world was created through speech, as stated above. For all the words that each of them speaks, they are all solely for the sake of the creation of the world, that was fashioned by them in the empty space between them. For the Torah scholars create everything through their words. As it is written (Yeshayahu 51:16): "And say to Zion, You are My people" – do not read ami ("My people"), but rather imi ("with Me") – just as I formed heaven and earth with words, so have you done the same.

One must take care, however, not to speak too much, but just enough for the creation of the world, and no more. For it was because of the great amount of light, which the vessels were unable to bear, that they broke, and from the broken vessels the kelipot came into being. So too if one speaks too much, this causes kelipot to come into being, for it is the aspect of excessive light, on account of which the vessels broke, causing the kelipot to come into being. (Likutei Moharan Kama 64, 4)


            R. Nachman follows the conceptual structure of the Ari z"l with respect to "empty space" and applies it to dispute. We shall briefly review this idea.[5]


            Prior to creation, the infinite light of God filled the entirety of being, not allowing for the creation of a limited and clearly defined world that requires space. For this reason, God moved His light to the sides, thus forming an empty space, as it were, void of His divinity. It was in this empty space that God created the finite and defined world, for the moment that there exists a space void of God, it is possible to speak of space, creation, and thus also Divine revelation and the emanation of God's light into the world by degree and at different levels. The tzimtzum ("contraction") of the light and its removal to the sides constitutes an act of concealment and distancing, but it alone allowed for the creation of the world in boundaries and measures.


            The feeling that accompanies us when we read about tzimtzum and the removal of light to the point of creating empty space, is a feeling of the removal of the Shekhina, of separation and concealment, but it lies at the foundation of the possibility of creation, and from here to the application with respect to controversy.


            R. Nachman contends that a dispute between Torah scholars is similar to God's removal of the light to the sides, with each party to the dispute pulling himself in a different direction. This movement results in the formation of an empty space between the disputants. This empty space allows for the creation of the world, which is achieved through the words of the disputants themselves.


It is important to note and emphasize that, according to R. Nachman, the words of the Sages that create the world are not the words that resolve the dispute, but rather the words of the dispute itself.


            A dispute between the Torah scholars is comprised, then, of two stages. The first stage involves the formation of an empty space, which is fashioned through the psychological movement of the dispute, in which each party pulls himself in a different direction. This is an act of contraction, concealment and distancing. The second stage relates to the words of the dispute, which, by way of the empty space created through the psychological movement of the previous stage, are capable of revealing themselves and creating a world with vessels, definitions and distinctions.


According to R. Nachman, controversy is a necessary condition for continued existence and even for the creation of the world.


The essence of this statement grows out of the parallel that R. Nachman draws between dispute and the most primary and fundamental movement of existence, the movement of tzimtzum, "contraction." This comparison says everything.


First of all, as we explained regarding tzimtzum, R. Nachman teaches us that a movement, which from the outside appears to be a movement of separation, strict judgment, concealment, clash and distancing, actually prepares the world for the love and bounty that God intends to bestow upon it.


When we see two Torah scholars battling each other, each one attempting to negate the view of the other, and creating a feeling of separation and distance – each one pulling in the opposite direction – we experience the harsh feeling of judgment and the absence of light. This is just like the feeling we have when we encounter the world growing out of the empty space, which gave rise to all the experiences and situations that accompany us through life, radiating a feeling of the absence of God on both the rational and the existential level.


While according to the Rambam and R. Sa'adya Gaon, controversy results from blindness and the inability to reach the truth, R. Nachman assigns controversy a much more objective dimension.


It is related about the king of the Khazars that he summoned to his court a Moslem, a Christian, and a Jewish sage, to learn about the three religions and decide between them.[6] When he was unable to decide, it is told, he asked each of the sages which one of the other two does he prefer from a theological perspective. When both the Christian and the Moslem answered that they each prefer the Jew, the Khazar king adopted the Jewish religion.


            If we follow the Khazari king's logic and take it one step further, we can say that when we see two Torah scholars contradicting each other, we have only to learn from them that the truth is absent from each of them, and perhaps it is missing altogether.[7] There is only one truth, and when the world is filled with an infinite number of opinions and alternatives, a question arises regarding the very existence of this truth.


While according to R. Sa'adya Gaon and the Rambam, the great number of controversies causes us to feel that we are far from the absolute truth, according to R. Nachman, controversy leaves us with the question whether there really is such a thing as truth.


This uncertainty, contends R. Nachman, serves as the foundation for the creation of the world of ideas. The plurality, variety, and different possibilities regarding each idea, can not grow directly out of the absolute truth that fills everything and leaves them no room. Only one who frees himself for a moment from the blinding power of the absolute and unified truth – even if this liberation leads to an emptiness that challenges the very existence of an absolute truth – can in just another moment understand the foundational concept of Jewish dispute – "both opinions are the word of the living God."


In the infinite world that preceded tzimtzum, it is impossible to speak of "both opinions are the word of the living God," for in the infinite world there is no such thing as "both opinions." The contradictions and opposites within infinity are swallowed up and unified in one universal truth that nullifies and causes every boundary to disappear. He whose life is guided by this truth is unable to distinguish between that which is forbidden and that which is permitted, between the unclean and the clean, or between the holy and the mundane.


The ability to look upon the two disputants, and see how the truth hides itself behind each of them and how each opinion reflects a different side of Divine truth, can only grow out of the uncertainty of the empty space. This is true in precisely the same manner that the only way that God can reveal His diversified light in the world passes through the contraction of [His] infinity and the formation of an empty space.[8]


An important role falls upon the Torah Sages – to bring out the diversified Divine truth, that which is reflected in the statement "both opinions are the word of the living God." Their ability to present this truth, however, passes through the growth of uncertainty, which involves a slight removal of this absolute truth. For this reason, their words which build and fashion a diversified world out of all the ideas and truths, are preceded by the psychological movement of each one moving to the side, which leaves behind a harsh feeling of the absence of truth.


The love that Chazal promise us at the conclusion of the war between two Torah Sages – et vahav besufa (Bamidbar 21:14; – "they did not move from there until they became lovers [ohavim]" – is not the resolution of the dispute, but rather the ability to contain both sides of the uncertainty. This ability grows out of the uncertainty that nests in the heart, when we witness the war that precedes the love. Only one who has experienced the collapse of the ideological structure that he had fashioned for himself, can look upon the structures of others with a tolerant eye and locate within them the kernels of truth.[9]


Controversy in the thought of R. Kook, R. Menachem Mendel and R. Nachman turns from a historical accident, as described by R. Sa'adya Gaon and the Rambam, into a challenge.


A challenge to contemplate and locate the overall unity that stands behind the two sides of the controversy and reveal its inner aspects.


A challenge to gather the straying notes into a new song to God, comprised of a wide variety of opinions and events.


A challenge to engage in inner contemplation, that cleanses, refines and allows a person to free himself of his ego and pride.


And finally, a challenge to create a new world that is rich and productive, where the storm of controversy sows its seeds, that they may sprout and illuminate the world with a new light: "And to say to Zion, you are my people" – "read not 'my people' (ami), but 'with me, together with me' (imi); just as I create heaven and earth with My word, so too you!"




[1] In a halakhic context, the Rambam adds "knowledge of the principles" regarding the chain of tradition and the hermeneutical rules of exegesis, which, according to the Rambam, are also essential for reaching the absolute truth.


[2] It should be noted that in a certain sense, R. Sa'adya Gaon is even more radical than the Rambam, for as opposed to the Rambam, R. Sa'adya Gaon does not hang even part of the attainment of the truth on "knowledge of the principles." According to him, precise study and full use of the intellect will lead to the truth, even without any introductions. R. Sa'adya Gaon is so extreme on this point that he asks: what need is there for tradition. The issue is complicated and requires further examination.


[3] We later return to this point that shifts the focus from the content of the controversy to the pyschological stance of the disputants.


[4] We dealt with this at length in the previous lecture regarding sparks.


[5] We dealt at length with the Ari's position on the "empty space" in the lecture series dealing with the teachings of R. Nachman of Breslev, lectures 5-6.


[6] It was on the basis of this historical event that took place over a thousand years ago, that R. Yehuda ha-Levi composed his work, the Kuzari.


[7] Many atheists who claim that all religion is the product of human imagination base their argument on the plurality of religions and sects, which they see as attesting to the fact that we are dealing here with subjective truth, growing out of human needs.


[8] R. Nachman does not deal only with the disputes between Torah scholars that relate to study, but also with disputes that come upon a person through the world. Thus he says in another passage: "I heard in his name that he said that through dispute that people oppose a certain person, they do him a favor, for in that way he can grow and develop. Just as when a seed is sown in the ground, if the ground were solid, it would be impossible for a tree to grow and develop from the seed, and so the ground perforce separates a bit so that there be room for the tree to grow – in similar manner, by way of dispute, a person is given room in which to grow and develop (Chayei Moharan, The Service of God 60, 503).


[9] And so R. Natan reports about his master, R. Nachman: "Our master, of blessed memory, had no rest, not even a single minute, all of his days. For he would fight the wars of God at all times and every minute. And for various reasons it is impossible to speak of this at length. This was the great controversy surrounding him, etc. But nevertheless, God, blessed be He, helped him at all times, and he merited to rise because of this every day and at all times to exceedingly elevated levels and comprehensions which had not been heard or seen, etc." (Sichot ha-Ran, 185).


(Translated by David Strauss)