R. Nachman on the Causes and Consequences of the Destruction

  • Rav Itamar Eldar

R. Nachman on the Causes and Consequences of the Destruction


By Rav Itamar Eldar

Translated by David Strauss



            In one of his teachings, R. Nachman of Breslov develops a novel and daring position about the change that transpired in Divine revelation and in the manner in which God governs His world in the wake of the destruction of the Mikdash.


Bitza imrato,” “He executed His word” (Eikha 2:17). He tore His royal robe (Eikha Rabba 1:1). For the Temple is certainly unable to bear the glory and majesty of the Holy One, as it is written: “Why, neither the heavens nor the highest heavens can contain You, how much less this building…” (I Melakhim 8:27). Nevertheless, out of His love for the Jewish people, He constricted and clothed His majesty in order to cause His Shekhina to dwell in the Temple, thereby revealing His kingship.

And this is the aspect of “God is king, He donned majesty” (Tehillim 93:1). In order to reveal His kingship, He clothed and constricted His majesty, as it were, so that we should be able to take upon ourselves the yoke of His kingship. However, when the Jews sinned before Him, then God showed and revealed His majesty and grandeur, as it were, not wanting to cover or constrict it any more. Thus, inevitably, the Temple was destroyed, because it could not stand [His majesty], as explained above.

This is the explanation of bitza imrato: He tore His royal robe. He tore His garment – i.e., He tore off the aforementioned garment and contraction, the aspect of “donned majesty.” Thus, inevitably, the Temple was destroyed; for once He had torn and nullified the constriction and garment, the Temple was no longer able to withstand His majesty and grandeur, for “neither the heavens nor the highest heavens can contain You,” as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama, 219)


            In order to understand the novelty in R. Nachman’s words, we must pay careful attention to his wording. In general, the destruction of the Mikdash is understood as the removal and concealment of the Shekhina, whereas the existence of the Mikdash is an expression of its revelation and appearance. The Mikdash is the place where God rests His presence in this world, and from the moment that God’s house is destroyed, His presence disappears. Here, in an almost provocative manner, R. Nachman turns things upside-down.


            R. Nachman describes the Shekhina’s presence in the Mikdash with the words: “He constricted and clothed His majesty.” And it is precisely the destruction of the Mikdash that R. Nachman describes with the surprising words: “Then God showed and revealed His majesty and grandeur, as it were, not wanting to cover or constrict it any more.”


            According to this, what is the destruction of the Mikdash – revelation of the Shekhina or its removal? Is the Mikdash an expression of presence or concealment? R. Nachman seems to be undermining the simple foundations with which we opened our discussion, and this undermining continues also in the rest of the passage.


            In general, the destruction of the Mikdash is understood as a punishment and as causing the exile and removal of the Shekhina. The people of Israel sinned, God punished them with the destruction of His house, and thus the Shekhina was removed. Other approaches, proposed already by Chazal, see the destruction of the Mikdash as a result, and emphasize the fact that the removal of the Shekhina is what caused the physical destruction:


Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the lot [“For the Lord” on Yom Kippur] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Heikhal would open by themselves, until R. Yohanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekhal, Heikhal, why will you be the alarmer yourself? I know about you that you will be destroyed, for Zekharya ben Ido has already prophesied concerning you: “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars” (Zekharya 11:1). (Yoma 39b)


            The destruction of the Mikdash was, then, the final act in the gradual retreat of the Shekhina, and with its complete removal, God’s house turned into nothing more than stones and wood. Thus, he who destroyed it “destroyed a destroyed house,” and he who burned it “burned a burnt house.”


            R. Nachman, in line with his novel approach, also sees the destruction of the Mikdash as a result, but let us note of what it is the result: “Then God showed and revealed His majesty and grandeur, as it were, not wanting to cover or constrict it any more. Thus, inevitably (mimeila), the Temple was destroyed.”


            The Temple was destroyed “inevitably,” but here too in continuation of what was stated earlier comes a surprise: The Temple was destroyed as a result of God’s desire to demonstrate and reveal His majesty and grandeur.


            These ideas require a great deal of study, for at first glance it would appear that R. Nachman describes the state of destruction as more sublime than the state in which the Mikdash stood. Is not the revelation of God’s majesty and grandeur preferable to the situation of garments and constriction? Is not the situation in which God reveals His majesty preferable to the situation in which He restricts and chains it?


Hitpashtut versus Tzimtzum


            After King Shelomo completed the building of the first Temple, sensing that the Shekhina had finally reached its resting place in the midst of Israel, he offered a surprising prayer. I shall cite it nearly in its entirety:


And Shelomo stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven: and he said, Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like You, in the heaven above, or on the earth beneath, who keeps covenant and truth with Your servants who walk before You with all their heart… For will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built? Have consideration therefore to the prayer of Your servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken to the cry and to the prayer, which Your servant prays before You today: that Your eyes may be open towards this house night and day, towards the place of which You have said, My name shall be there: that You may hearken to the prayer which Your servant shall make toward this place. And hearken You to the supplication of Your servant, and of your people Israel, when they shall pray towards this place, and hear You in Your dwelling place: and when You hear, forgive. If any man trespass against his neighbor, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before Your altar in this house: then hear You in heaven, and do, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.

When Your people Israel are smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against You, and shall turn again to You, and confess Your name, and pray, and make supplication to You in this house: then hear You in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which you did give to their fathers.

When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You; if they pray towards this place, and confess Your name, and turn from their sin, when You do afflict them: then hear You in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, and of Your people Israel, that You teach them the good way in which they should walk, and give rain upon Your land, which You have given to Your people for an inheritance.

If there be famine in the land, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there be: whatever prayer and whatever supplication is made by any man, or by all Your people Israel, (who shall know every man the plague of his own heart) and be spread forth his hands towards this house: then hear You in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart You know: (for You, You only, know the hearts of all the children of men;) that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You did give to our fathers.

Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of Your people Israel, but comes out of a far country for Your name’s sake: (for they shall hear of Your great name, and of Your strong hand, and of Your stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray towards this house; hear You in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calls to You for: that all people of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have built is called by Your name.

If Your people go out to battle against their enemy, wherever You shall send them, and shall pray to the Lord towards the city which You have chosen, and towards the house that I have built for Your name: then hear You in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. If they sin against You, (for there is no man who does not sin) and You be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives to the land of the enemy, far or near; yet if they take thought in the land where they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their capture, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and so they return to You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You towards their land, which You did give to their fathers, the city which You have chosen and the house which I have built for Your name: then hear You their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people that have sinned against You, and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against you, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them: for they are Your people, and Your inheritance, whom You did bring out of Egypt, out of the midst of the iron furnace: that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant, and to the supplication of Your people Israel, to hearken to them in all that they call for to You. For You did separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be Your inheritance, as You did speak by the hand of Moshe Your servant, when You did bring our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God. (I Melakhim 8:22-53)


            Shelomo builds a house for God, and then as soon as he finishes the construction he declares that he knows that God will not dwell in that house, for “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built?” Shelomo wishes to avoid the situation in which Israel mistakenly thinks that the Temple is God’s place of habitation. Surely it is a bitter and anthropomorphic error to think that the Infinite can contract and be contained in a house, as beautiful as it may be, made of wood and stone.


            Immediately following this declaration, Shelomo wishes to clarify the issue of God’s presence in the Temple, and from here Shelomo moves to the key phrase that repeats itself all through his monologue: “That Your eyes may be open towards this house night and day, towards the place of which You have said, My name shall be there: that You may hearken to the prayer which Your servant shall make toward this place.”


            The presence of the Shekhina, according to King Shelomo, is the presence of governance and providence. God turns His ear and opens His eyes toward His nation in a special manner, this providence finding expression in the house that serves as sort of a “conduit” for Israel’s prayers. The Mikdash, according to Shelomo, symbolizes the presence of the Shekhina, which is intended primarily for us, that we may pray toward that place, out of the feeling that the Shekhina dwells among us. But this certainly does not mean that God rests within the house.[1]


            R. Nachman cites Shelomo’s prayer and the assumption that “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You,” but according to him, this assumption was valid only until the Temple was built. But once the Mikdash was erected, R. Nachman teaches us, the illogical and the impossible happened, and that very Infinite, that very greatness and grandeur that the heavens and heaven of heavens cannot contain, donned garments and contracted, so that it could fit into the narrow confines of the Mikdash.


The Mikdash challenges God’s infiniteness and immateriality. All of a sudden we are talking about place, about Divine light that becomes revealed, about an offering made by fire, a sweet savor to the Lord, and about the glory of God that becomes manifest. All these, it would seem, impair God’s perfection, and we are on the verge of sinning by assigning to God material nature.[2] We are dealing with constriction on all levels, with respect to place, time, and the manner of Divine revelation.


Our difficulty with the words of R. Nachman returns once again and in full intensity: Which of the two modes of providence is preferable? Is not a world, in which the Divine does not contract and assume material nature, preferable? Does not the Mikdash cause our ideas about God to become constrictd and their loftiness to become impaired? Is it not preferable to leave the Divine in its perfect state, without a house, without a Mikdash and without boundaries and constrictions?


Nature versus the garden of eden


            We find two modes of Divine providence at the beginning of the book of Bereishit, in the description of creation.


            In the first chapter, the Torah describes creation in an orderly fashion: what was created on each day, what is the internal order of the created beings, and what function does each one fill (to illuminate the earth, to serve as food, and the like).


            In the second chapter, so it seems, the Torah repeats in a partial manner its description of creation. Once again we read about the heaven and earth that were created (“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heaven”), once again plant life is formed, once again animals come into the world, and once again man is created.


            The two chapters, however, are filled not only with redundancy, but with sharp contradictions as well. In the first chapter, man is created at the end of creation, whereas in chapter two, man is created before the plants and animals.[3] The relationship between the creation of man and the creation of woman is totally different in the two accounts. There are many more such difficulties.


            Chazal already noted that the root of the difference lies in the Divine names that accompany each of the two chapters. In the first chapter the name Elokim appears, whereas in the second chapter the name Elokim is joined by the Tetragrammaton (yod-ke-vav-ke). Chazal explain that the name Elokim expresses God’s governance through the attribute of justice, whereas the Tetragrammaton expresses God’s governance through the attribute of mercy.


            Another distinction was proposed by R. Yehuda Ha-Levi, who sees the name Elokim as a descriptive noun, whereas the Tetragrammanton is sort of God’s “personal name.” Elokim means “possessor of powers,”[4] that is to say, that all the governance that is evident in the world and all the powers that operate within it, are all an embodiment of God. In this sense, nature with all its forces and laws, constitutes an expression of the name Elokim in the world. Law, order, nature – all these are other words for the governance of the name of Elokim in the world. This fits in well with Chazal’s identification of the name of Elokim with the attribute of justice.


            The Tetragrammaton, in contrast, is not an appellation, but rather a “personal name” through which God appears not in the garments of nature and its laws, but rather He Himself, without intermediaries,[5] in an appearance that deviates from natural phenomena. When God appears without His descriptions, but rather He Himself, the unmediated attribute of mercy finds expression. It operates not in accordance with “the objective law,” but out of the encounter and intimacy that are characteristic of the unmediated.[6]


            It seems that with this distinction, we can understand the great difference between the account of creation found in chapter one of the book of Bereishit and the account found in chapter two.


            In chapter one of the book of Bereishit, the creation is described in a very clear and hierarchical order. There is a gradual development from the inanimate to plant life, and from plant life to animal life, and finally to man. Man is created last, as an expression of his greater complexity; the order is from the simple to the more complex. From the perspective of chapter one, man is no different than all the other created beings, except that he is more complex and special than the others. In chapter one, there is no dialogue between man and God.[7] God does not reveal Himself to man, He does not turn to him, He does not walk among him.


            Chapter two, which uses also the Tetragrammaton, describes an entirely different creation. In its center, stands man, and everything else is created to serve his needs. The inanimate world, plants, and even the animal kingdom, appear in the framework of finding a “help to match him.” In chapter two, God is not merely the force standing behind the order of creation. In this chapter, God, as it were, comes to provide man with his needs. There is no herb of the field, because there is still no man to till the ground. There are no animals, because there is still no search for a mate. In this chapter, the order of creation does not follow nature and its laws, but rather the dialogue between man (with his needs) and God. This is what determines the order and what must be created. In this chapter, God also creates a garden, and He walks in the garden together with man. He also commands man, telling him what he is permitted to eat and what is forbidden to him. Chapter two lacks order, but it is far more personal and individual, and it describes the place, the time, and the manner in which God reveals Himself to man – something that is absolutely missing in chapter one.


            In chapter two God is personal; He reveals Himself, and therefore man who is the object of that revelation stands at the center of creation, everything being created for his sake. In chapter one, man is just another created being, albeit the choicest of all, but still just another creature. In chapter two, man is chosen, as it were, to be God’s “partner,” and only when God actualizes the fact that “it is not good that man should be alone,” does He create a mate for him. In chapter two, there is choice; man is chosen to serve as the object of God’s revelation. Creation is described in chapter one in hymnal fashion. There is a rhythm, each day, each statement, each summary: “And God saw that it was good.” The description is ceremonial, full of beauty and splendor. God is depicted as a king who decrees while the entire world obeys.


In chapter two, the beauty and the splendor are gone, the ceremony has disappeared, the power of “He said and it was” has ceased. In its place, stands God as provider of man’s needs: “I will make him a help to match him,” “and for the man there was not found a help.”


In chapter two the created world becomes constricted and dimiminshed. God no longer appears as a decreeing king, but as one who seeks to provide man with all his desires and is attentive to all his needs. However, the advantage of this constriction lies in the unmediated personal relationship, the intimacy between man and God that is described in chapter two.


In chapter one God reveals Himself through nature – thus the name Elokim – whereas in chapter two, He reveals Himself through dialogue, intimacy, commands and walking together with man in the garden of Eden. In chapter two, the natural order is upset and nature makes room for another order that guides the Divine revelation. This order stems from the need for dialogue between man and God. Chapter two disregards the evolutionary order of creation, and sets in its place God’s desire to appear in the world and reveal Himself to man. It is not natural, it is not logical, it is less impressive – but it is an encounter. The encounter between man and God “circumvents” the world of nature; this is the miracle that lies at the foundation of the encounter between man and God.


It may be suggested that if the name Elokim gives expression to the world of nature, the Tetragrammaton gives expression to the world of miracles.


Why does God forsake the order and exaltedness of chapter one? Why does He diminish Himself? Why does He disturb the natural order and logic? The maggid of Medzibezh addresses this question:


“May the glory of the Lord be forever” (Tehillim 104:31). Because the clarity of the Holy One, blessed be He, cannot be borne by all the worlds. But He, blessed be He, underwent contractions so that they would be able to bear it. There is a difficulty, for it would seem more glorious were the worlds unable to bear it. However, “May the Lord rejoice in His works.” He wishes to rejoice in His works, like a father who has a young son, and the young son wants to take a stick and ride on him like on a horse. Even though it is the way of a horse to lead a person, and he leads him, nevertheless he has delight in this, and his father helps him, and gives his son a stick in order to fulfill his desire. (Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov, 10)


            The father waives his honor; he does not conduct himself in accordance with strict justice, with nature. He allows his son to ride on him, he fulfills his son’s every desire, and all this – why? “‘May the Lord rejoice in His works’ – He wishes to rejoice in His works.” God, as it were, is ready to give up on size, on glory, on splendor, and limit himself to fulfilling his son’s needs. All this – why? Because he wishes to rejoice in him, to allow His intimacy, to allow His revelation to man.


            Chapter one of the book of Bereishit is filled with glory and splendor, but it lacks an encounter, and God wishes to be “king over a people,” and therefore He contracts himself.


Mikdash – the place of encounter


            It seems that R. Nachman wishes to make the same distinction with respect to a world without a Mikdash and a world with a Mikdash. God’s glory and greatness fill the universe, and there is no place and no time into which the full and perfect Divine revelation can contract itself.


            The Mikdash, as we saw above, is a type of tzimtzum, “constriction,” for the positive implies the negative, so that when you say “here,” you are saying “not there.” The entire Divine being, all the greatness, all the splendor of “the entire earth is filled with His glory,” contracts into time, place, and person – the Mikdash, the kohanim, and the Divine service. This tzimtzum, however, bears within it a new message: “In order to cause His Shekhina to dwell in the Temple, thereby revealing His kingship.” The Mikdash limits, but on the other hand it allows a meeting, and this may be the manner in which R. Nachman understands the words of Shelomo.


            Shelomo, according to R. Nachman, does not proclaim that “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You” in order to deny the Shekhina’s presence in the Mikdash, and propose in place of this presence a different understanding of the Shekhina. Shelomo, so understands R. Nachman, describes in this statement the cost of establishing a Mikdash and the Shekhina resting in its midst. Since the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain God, God’s resting His Shekhina in the Mikdash extracts a great price of tzimtzum. However, the continuation of the prayer describes the reason, the gain, for the sake of which this tzimtzum is undertaken.


            The opening of God’s eyes to the prayer of His servant describes the encounter. The Mikdash constricts, yet it also permits. It allows us to pray out of a sense of intimacy, out of a feeling of seeing the face of the king, and it allows God to respond to our prayers out of a position of “I am with them in their afffliction.”


            Here and in other places, R. Nachman asserts that God wishes to reign as king over a nation. He wants His people to see His face, He desires the intimacy of man, and for the sake of this intimacy He is ready to clothe Himself in garments that constrict and thereby diminish His majesty and grandeur. All this, however, He does in order to allow the encounter, to make possible His kingship: “God is king, He donned majesty” R. Nachman explains that in order that God should reign, He must clothe His majesty in garments and constrict it.


This is an unnatural movement, one that undermines logic and order. The Mikdash does not represent the natural world, but rather its absence. The Mikdash in which ten miracles were performed daily is itself a great miracle, in which God deviates from the natural order in which “the entire earth is filled with His glory,” and constricts Himself within a house. And all this, why? Because of His love for Israel and His desire to reign over them as king.


Love is blinding. The ministering angels cry out to God: “It is unbefitting that the King of Kings constrict Himself in this manner. What will people say? Perhaps, God forbid, they will say that God rules over nothing but His Mikdash. They will say: Shelomo was right and the eyes of God are open to the Mikdash, but they are closed to all other places.”


God is ready to pay the price. He waives His honor. He covers His glorious splendor, conceals His greatness, and all this he does out of His love for Israel, out of His desire to be king over them. All of the natural world, all the order, all logic he subjugates for the sake of the encounter with the people of Israel.


However, adds R. Nachman, when Israel sinned, and the love and connection were impaired, then for a short moment, the cause that held the entire world together in a miraculous and unnatural manner ceased, the love weakened, and at that moment, God returned to His glorious splendor. When there is no encounter, when the dialogue is silenced, when the connection is broken, there is no justification for tzimtzum, for concealment, for Divine garments, and thus once again the Shekhina appears in its full strength. And indeed we are talking about an astonishing sight, enormous greatness, beauty and splendor, but the connection is gone. We are talking about a great and beautiful world, but one that is silent. We are talking about exciting Divine revelation, but one that lacks an object, and thus is detached from the root of its vitality – revelation to somebody.


Only the blind would prefer this reality to the previous one. Only one who never experienced the taste of the encounter would give it up and be impressed by the grandeur of the perfect Divine revelation that lacks such an encounter. Only one who has not read and studied the second chapter of the creation saga, one who has not become filled with excitement from the joint walking in the garden, from the personal relationship that God has with man – only such a person can be content with chapter one, as beautiful as it may be, but lacking revelation. Only one who has totally surrendered himself to the world of nature and its laws, to the point that he has never tasted of miracles that breach the limits of nature – only such a person can waive miraculous and unmediated Divine appearance. Only one who has not stood in the position of “you” before God through the personal revelation of the Tetragrammaton – only such a person can suffice with a position of fear that is estranged from the name of God.


Such was Darwin, father of evolutionary theory, who identified the order of creation that continuously develops according to natural law, just as chapter one of the book of Bereishit teaches us. He, however, was not aware that we are dealing with only one aspect of reality. He was not ready to listen also to chapter two of the book of Bereishit, which describes a different aspect of Divine creation.[8]


Darwin refused to allow himself a taste of miracles that is characterized by the concept of “ex nihilo.” Evolution is the order of nature, but ex nihilo is the order of miracles, which disregards the laws of nature and the pace of natural evolution. This Darwin refused to accept.


Such was also Spinoza, father of the school of pantheism,[9] who in absolute manner identified nature – man included – with God.[10] Thus, he denied the possibility of dialogue between God and man, for they are one. When God reveals Himself in the form of nature, dialogue is impossible, for all of reality is identical with God.


Had Spinoza had a more profound understanding of the second chapter of the book of Bereishit, where God abandons the forces of nature, and reveals Himself to man in an unmediated manner – talking to him, commanding him, walking with him – he would not have denied all religious discourse based on dialogue (revelation, prophecy, Mikdash, commandments, and the like).


Such were also the Jewish thinkers who denied Zionism based on an ideology, according to which the realization of the Zionist dream and establishment of a Jewish state, involves the diminution of Judaism. This is for two reasons.


First, instead of being scattered throughout the world, and having influence to the far corners of the earth, Jewry would gather itself into a single country, a single place, a single people, and thus its accomplishments would be diminished.


Second, the establishment of a state involves extensive occupation with the material world: economics, army, employment, police, etc. When the Jewish people lived in the Diaspora, all these services were performed by others, and the Jewish people were free to occupy themselves in spiritual matters, and develop their culture, in a clean, pure, and non-material manner. Living in their own country, however, Jews would be forced to deal with these issues on their own and their spiritual occupation would be impaired, becoming diminished both quantitatively and qualitatively.


Once again we can say that these thinkers are right, and that the establishment of a Jewish state forces spiritual Judaism to invest resources in material matters as well. These thinkers, however, lack the vision and imagination needed to understand the power of life that accompanies the process of actualizing grand and important ideas, faith, culture and tradition through the vessels of a state. They fail to understand that if a Jewish state forces its visionaries to bridge between the world of ideas and practical reality, in the end it will bring great blessing to the world of spirit, fertilizing, enriching and bestowing existence and validity upon ideas, that in the two thousand years of Diaspora existence hovered in the air and remained like castles in the sky.


The first chapter of the book of Bereishit, and similarly the thousands of years of Diaspora existence, represent a world devoid of encounter. Standing on their own, they constitute fertile ground and a convenient foundation for the development of Darwinism, Spinozism, and schools of thought prepared to forego an unmediated encounter, in order to reach beauty and the splendor of kings.[11]


The fear of actualizing ideas in the material world is a morbid fear that creates a radical dichotomy between a healthy soul and a sick body. Someone with a deep understanding of the matter sees how a healthy soul in a healthy body constitute a being that is full of strength and full of life. Thus writes Rav Kook who proudly maintained this position, both in his support for Zionism and for the legitimacy that he bestowed upon strengthening and developing the body in tandem with developing the spirit:


Great are our bodily demands, we need a healthy body, we have dealt extensively with spirituality, we have forgotten the sanctity of the body, we have abandoned health and physical might, we have forgotten that we have holy flesh, no less than we have a holy spirit. We have abandoned practical life, clarification of the senses, and everything connected to tangible bodily existence, because of fear,  because of a lack of faith in the sanctity of the land (faith being Seder Zera’im), that one believes in the life of the universe and sows [seeds]. All of our penitence will only succeed if together with all the splendor of its spirituality, there will also be  material penitence creating healthy blood and healthy flesh, fit and strong bodies, a flaming spirit shining on strong muscles. With the might of the flesh the weakened soul will illuminate, resurrection of the dead in the bodies. (Shemone Kevatzim III, 273)  


What he says here is also true about Har ha-Bayit and the Mikdash.


Here too we have found among us, in our times, many who see no value in restoring Har ha-Bayit into our hands and striving to rebuild the Temple. Why is it necessary? Does this not involve constriction of spiritual religious service? Is not spiritual prayer in the synagogue on Yom Kippur preferable to the technical and material sacrificial service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur when the Temple was standing?


Will not God’s presence in the entire world, in every synagogue, in every place and house of worship, be impaired as a result of the constriction of the service to the Mikdash and the Heikhal? Is it not possible that it is precisely sovereignty over Har ha-Bayit that will impair its spiritual significance for every Jew?


Today, when we have a state, when there is a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel, when we have an army and independence – is it still necessary to mourn on Tish’a Be’av? Are we all really yearning for the building of the Temple?


R. Nachman, who understood and valued Divinity that is devoid of materiality, would answer all these questions as follows. When the Temple is understood as an expression of monarchy and independence, then indeed to a certain degree we have already reached our goal. When, however, the Temple is understood as a place of encounter, as speech and dialogue, and in its absence, all these are also absent, then our state without a Mikdash is likened to a body whose heart is not beating.


To all the doubters, R. Nachman would say: Indeed there is constriction in sovereignty, in a state, in the Temple, in individual service, but one minute of dialogue, of conversation, of establishing a connection, of the caress of the Father who bends down from His full stature and grandeur to the low and constricted place of his son – one minute of such a miracle filled with love restores an entire nation and in its wake the entire world to that sublime and elevated reality of the garden of Eden in the second chapter of the book of Bereishit.


May God, with His great lovingkindness and mercy, see our affliction, hear our cries, and know our pain. May His mercy conquer His other traits, and may He treat us with compassion, removing from us all evil decrees. May the day of Tish’a Be’av turn into a day of Teshu’a Be’av. Amen. May this be Your will.



[1] This also comes to expression in the recurring verse in Shelomo’s prayer: “And hear You in heaven Your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (v. 30), and again verses 32, 34, 36, and 39 – “then hear You in heaven.” This is reminiscent of the position of R. Yehuda Ha-Levi, in the Kuzari, where R. Yehuda Ha-Levi asserts that devekut refes to “devekut of governance,” and not “devekut of place” (Kuzari II, 26).

I dealt with this issue of defining the concept of Shekhina in my series, “Introduction to the Ten Sefirot” (published on the Hebrew site of the Virtual Beit Midrash), in connection with the Sefira of Malkhut.

[2] The medieval thinkers who partially adopted Greek philosophy’s transcendental understanding of God, which argues for the perfection and sublimity of God, and denies any change and any material perception of Him, found it necessary to devote many chapters to reconcile this understanding with the concepts of Mikdash, sacrifices, sweet savor, and the like (the Rambam in the first part of More Nevukhim and elsewhere, Rabbenu Sa’adya Gaon in the first chapters of Emunot ve-De’ot, Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi in various places in the Kuzari, and others).

[3] Both Chazal and the biblical commentators pondered these contradictions and proposed a variety of solutions.

[4] The word Kel denotes power – “The power [el] is in my hand to do evil unto you” (Bereishit 31:29). The name Elokim means “all the powers.” That is to say, contrary to mythology that identified many different powers in the world – that number equaling the number of gods – Judaism teaches the world the great truth that all the powers in the world constitute an embodiment of the One God.

[5] In kabbalistic thought, the Tetragrammaton is identified with direct address to God. In other words, when we say “You,” we are referring to the Tetragrammaton: “Bless are you, O Lord.”

[6] Two proofs may be adduced for R. Yehuda Ha-Levi’s distinction between Elokim and the Tetragrammaton (one of which he himself brings): 1) A personal name does not take a definite article (he ha-yidu’a), but an adjective or non-personal noun does: One can say “the principal,” but one cannot say “the Shimon.” So too one can say “Ha-Elokim,” but one cannot add the definite article to the Tetragrammaton. 2) A personal name cannot be declined, whereas a descriptive noun can be: One can say “menahalenu,” “our principal,” but one cannot say “Shim’onenu,” “our Shimon.” Similarly, one can say “Elokeinu,” but the Tetragrammaton cannot be declined.

[7] While God does bless man with the blessing to be fruitful and multiply, and He commands him to conquer the earth, and even the provision of man’s food is described as a statement – nevertheless these utterances should be viewed as part of the Divine utterances in chapter one that established the natural order. In the same way that “Let the earth bring forth” is a Divine utterance that establishes the natural order, and in the same way that “Let there be lights in the firmament” is a Divine utterance that establishes the natural order, so too should we understand these utterances. Not conversation, dialogue, or address directed at man, but rather establishment of natural law and order.

[8] This is what Rav Kook wrote in one of a number of passages in which he dealt with Darwinian evolution; see Iggerot ha-Ra’aya, I, 147. The understanding that evolutionary theory, which fits into a natural understanding of creation, is just one aspect of Divine revelation in the world, is what allows us to understand the tolerance that Rav Kook demonstrated for this theory.

[9] The doctrine that all manifestations of the universe are God.

[10] Spinoza noted that the numerical value (gimatriya) of ha-teva is equal to the numerical value of Elokim (both equaling 86).

[11] This also finds expression in the relationship between philosophers and men of practical action. Academics often sit in their ivory towers, filled with scorn for men of practical action who occupy themselves with “little things.” They fail to understand that great ideas are realized and given life by men of action, who indeed are constrictive, and don work clothes instead of the majestic garments of pure thought, but they create the world ex nihilo. Thus writes Michel de Montaigne, one of the fathers of modern philosophy: “[Learning] is a good, if duly considered, which has in it, as the other goods of men have, a great deal of vanity and weakness, proper and natural to itself, and that costs very dear. Its acquisition is far more hazardous than that of all other meat or drink; for, as to other things, what we have bought we carry home in some vessel, and there have full leisure to examine our purchase, how much we shall eat or drink of it, and when: but sciences we can, at the very first, stow into no other vessel than the soul; we swallow them in buying, and return from the market, either already infected or amended: there are some that only burden and overcharge the stomach, instead of nourishing…. We need little doctrine to live at our ease…. To what end do we so arm ourselves with this harness of science? Let us look down upon the poor people that we see scattered upon the face of the earth, prone and intent upon their business, that neither know Aristotle nor Cato, example nor precept; from these nature every day extracts effects of constancy and patience, more pure and manly than those we so inquisitively study in the schools….” (Michel de Montaigne, “Essays,” chap. 19, “Of Physiognomy”).