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Shabbat and Yom Tov Two Aspects of Divine Providence (Part 1 of 2)

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
Having completed the subject of Speech and Silence, we will now start to address a new subject – Discord – after the Pesach vacation. In the meantime, this shiur and the next one relate to festivals. We will address a teaching of R. Nachman concerning Yom Tov, teaching #4 in Likutei Moharan Tanina, which immediately presents a first challenge: its sheer length.
To make things easier for our readers we shall skip over several chapters that are not central to our discussion.  Nevertheless, we strongly recommend that the readers review them as well and not simply make do with and rely on the summary below.
Sections 1 and 2 describe the feeling that should accompany the giving of tzedaka (charity) – it includes an aspect of overcoming one's natural inclination towards heartlessness.  The act also opens a door to Divine service, specifically at the outset, when the difficulties and obstacles to doing so are great. Hopefully, we will return to some of these points at a later stage.
The following is written in section 3:
"But the benefit of tzedaka is very, very great. Tzedaka is always beneficial, because bodily needs are greatly numerous; even vital needs are many and urgent: food and drink, clothing and shelter, such that one can spend his days – and, in fact, all of his life – only on [pursuing] his vital needs. These keep a man far from service of the Creator. This is so despite the fact that they themselves represent Divine service.  They reflect an "awakening from below," illustrating how "an act in the lower world brings about an awakening in the upper world" (Zohar, Lekh Lekha 77:86, and elsewhere in the Zohar). Through people’s performance of tasks and melakhot (types of work or creative activity involved in the building of the Mishkan), the image of each melakha is uplifted to the work of Creation. This brings vitality and enlightenment to the image of each melakha within the work of Creation that exists in heaven, which faces towards that occupation and melakha that the person is performing below in this World. Through the endeavors and melakhot that they perform, the Mishkan comes into being. All types of work are included in the "thirty-nine melakhot," which are categories of labor: "categories imply that there are subcategories" (Bava Kama 2a). All types of labor and tasks that one performs – all are included in the thirty-nine types of melakha, which are primary categories, and the rest are secondary. The thirty-nine categories of melakha represent the work of the Mishkan, as our Sages taught (Shabbat 49b): "The categories of melakha number forty minus one. Corresponding to what? To the melakha of the Mishkan." "The mold of the Mishkan was like the mold of the work of Creation" (Tikkunei Zohar, p. 12 in the Introduction). A person performs labor: "The form of the body is like the form of the Mishkan" (ibid., introduction to the Tikkunim). Thus, by means of the person who engages in melakha and work, the Mishkan comes into being. When he engages in the melakha and the work as he should, as it should be done, he brings vitality and enlightenment to the act of Creation, which represents the existence of the world – and thus this, too, is service of the Creator. Nevertheless, if He was to bestow His kindness upon us, we would have no need for all of this. After all, did the blessed God not create the entire world out of nothingness – there was nothing in existence by means of which there could be an "awakening from below."  Nevertheless, He created worlds such as these, all through His loving kindness, with no awakening from below at all, as it is written (Tehillim 89:3), "A world of loving kindness shall be built." Since the blessed God could have created worlds such as these without any awakening from below, solely out of His kindness, so He could certainly give life to and maintain the worlds solely through His kindness. Consequently, we would have no need to engage in any sort of work or melakha, and even our vital needs would be performed and fulfilled by others, as it is written (Yishayahu 61:5), "Strangers will stand and feed your flocks, and sons of aliens shall perform your ploughing and tend your vines, while you shall be called priests of God." "Priests of God," with the specific use of this name of God, represents the attribute of kindness, as in "a world of kindness shall be built" – i.e., that they will be called "priests of God," representing loving kindness – that they would not need to perform any melakha; the world would exist solely through His kindness.  However, when His kindness is held back, God forbid, and He does not bestow that kindness upon us, then we must act for the awakening from below. This reflects what is written (Tehillim 62:13), "To You, God, the kindness, because You repay man according to his deeds." In other words, when the kindness is held back by the blessed God, reflecting the words, "To You, God, the kindness" – that the kindness is held back by Him and He does not bestow it upon us, then "You repay man according to his deeds." – i.e., in accordance with the actions and tasks that he performs, so God repays him. We must act precisely because that kindness is held back by God and He does not bestow it upon us. On the other hand, if He were to bestow that kindness upon us, we would have no need to do anything.  We would then fulfill the verse, "You repay man according to his deeds" AS THOUGH man was acting – there is no need to do anything when God bestows His kindness."
In this teaching, R. Nachman “rocks” from side to side on the “boat” of subjugation to the needs of This World. He starts off on a despondent note, despairing the subjugation under which man is forced to fulfill even his basic needs. He speaks not of luxuries and pleasures, but of the most fundamental necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Even these alone can consume years of a man's life and become endless obstacles and hindrances to his Divine service.
However, at that moment of pessimism, R. Nachman suddenly changes tone: "…even though they themselves are also service of the blessed God." The idea that it is possible to serve the Creator even through one's mundane life is not R. Nachman's own invention; it originates in the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov and appears in different forms among various Chassidic leaders. Here, R. Nachman seeks to give this idea a Kabbalistic dimension, based on the Zohar's teaching that an act in the lower world brings about an awakening in the upper world. This revolutionary assumption comes to teach not only that the upper worlds and Divine ideals are connected to the lower, material world in which we live, but also that our physical, material acts actually have the power to influence and to repair them.
This flow goes in both directions, with two-way influence. Sometimes, the upper worlds awaken and influence the lower worlds. At other times, the lower worlds, through their own arousal, influence the upper worlds. R. Nachman describes this action in two ways.
Man is not the first being to perform melakha, teaches R. Nachman. The first act, the primal labor, was performed by the Holy One, as we testify every Shabbat (Bereshit 2:2): "And the Lord completed on the seventh day His melakha that He had done." The act of Creation, as perceived by the Zohar, is a dual act. Every creation that was introduced into the world of action, has a representation in the upper worlds. Simply put, every object has an ideal, from whose power it is created and from which it is nourished. When the Holy One created wheat, for example, He simultaneously created the angel that would constantly encourage the wheat to grow, as R. Nachman discusses elsewhere. Here is where man enters the picture.  Sometimes it is the idea that awakens, initiating the flow of abundance and the growth of the works of Creation in the lower world. However, usually man must demand from the angel, and pull from the idea, the flow of kindness and abundance. Although it is the angel that tells the wheat to grow, it is man, through his own sweat, that brings the angel to play his part (utter the command to produce). The labor of man’s own hands enables him to open the storehouses of Heavenly abundance so that they can shower him with their contents.
This, explains R. Nachman, is the picture that stands at the foundation of reality as we know it. Therefore, the simple actions that only a moment ago seemed like technical acts – ploughing, sowing, watering – now wear the garb of a mission for God and partnership with Him in Creation. Hence, we may say that the impression and continuation of (Shemot 20:6), "in six days God made the heavens and the earth," appears in the form of (ibid. 20:8), "six days shall you work and perform all of your labor."
R. Nachman then introduces yet another element, which elevates the world of action even higher, and that is the Mishkan. The Mishkan, as we know, is God's throne in the world. It is the place where God chooses to dwell in the world, in general, and amongst Israel, in particular. The Mishkan, as R. Nachman quotes from the Zohar, is profoundly connected to the creation of the world: "The form of the Mishkan is like the form of Creation." [1]
The connection between Creation and the Mishkan passes, according to R. Nachman, via the thirty-nine categories of melakha; he teaches that all the activities that we do in the world are subcategories of those thirty-nine categories. When the children of Israel build the Mishkan, it is but a microcosm of the Mishkan. Israel builds it with the thirty-nine categories of melakha and their subcategories – with each act and with each melakha that they perform as part of their mortal existence in the world.
Consequently, we may say not only that through our material actions we influence the upper worlds, but also that through each act and labor that we perform, we add another layer to the construction of God's Mishkan in the world. We thereby prepare our reality for God's Presence to dwell within it.
"Thus, this too is service of the blessed Creator," R. Nachman concludes this idea. But he does not stop here; he proceeds to move towards the opposite pole: "Nevertheless, if He was to bestow His kindness upon us, we would have no need for all of this."[2] R. Nachman returns to the creation of the world, using it, this time, as the basis for the other side of the argument. Creation took place as a result of God's absolutely free will, with no awakening from the lower world – for it did not yet exist. That loving kindness with which the world was created, which is not dependent on any act in the lower world, can – apparently – continue to influence later on. Now, R. Nachman portrays labor not as an ideal, but rather as a necessity. He concludes this section on a hopeful note: a wish that God's mercy will once again be showered upon man without any act on his part. He even depicts such a situation with real colors, stating that even man's essential needs will be taken care of by others.
R. Nachman derives the inspiration for this teaching from the following Gemara:
"Our Sages taught (Devarim 11:14): “You shall gather your grain…” – what does this teach us? [It comes to explain] that which is written (Yehoshua 1:8), “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth” – can this possibly be taken literally? [Surely not, therefore] we are taught, “You shall gather your grain…” – i.e., you shall behave in the regular manner (derekh eretz; lit. way of the land) [and engage in work as necessary] – so teaches R. Yishma'el. However, R. Shimon bar Yochai says: If a person is to plow in the plowing season, to sow in the sowing season, to reap in the reaping season, to thresh in the threshing season, and to winnow in the windy season – what is to become of Torah? [When will he ever study? Surely this cannot be the intention of the verse.] Rather, when Israel performs God's will, their work is performed by others, as it is written (Yishayahu 61:5), “Strangers will stand and shepherd your flocks….” When Israel does not perform God's will, their work must be performed by themselves, as it is written, “You shall gather your grain….”” (Berakhot 35b)
The dispute between R. Yishma'el and R. Shimon bar Yochai concerns the question of whether the reward promised to Israel in the second section of "shema`" (Devarim 11:13-21) – "And it will be, if you will listen…" – represents the ideal, or whether it is that which will happen if we do not fulfill our responsibilities towards God. R. Yishma'el regards agricultural activity as an integral part of our Divine service: "You shall behave in the regular manner." From R. Yishma’el's words, R. Nachman proceeds to assign religious, spiritual significance to the concept of "regular behavior" (derekh eretz).
On the other hand, R. Nachman also identifies strongly with R. Shimon bar Yochai's concern: "What will become of Torah?" R. Shimon answers the question by drawing a distinction between a time when the nation of Israel fails to perform God's will [3], in which case they themselves will have to work, and a time when Israel does perform God's will – in which case their work will be performed by others [4].  R. Nachman arrives at the same conclusion but bestows a spiritual significance upon the physical activity described by R. Shimon bar Yochai, which portrays Divine loving kindness that is not dependent on an "awakening from below." This thesis is not an easy one to maintain, and R. Nachman addresses the idea further in sections 4-5 of his teaching:
"But the mercy must be received gradually. Most of the loving kindness will be impossible to receive because, in reality, it will be swallowed up by its own immense magnitude. It is impossible to receive so much goodness (Ta’anit 23a); a vessel and channel must be created through which the loving kindness may be received. This may be achieved through awe; through awe, an engraving and channel is created through which to receive loving kindness, reflecting that which is written (Bereshit 49:10), "… nor the scepter [lit. engraver] from his descendants [lit. from between his feet]." A “foot” represents awe because it is the end, as it is written (Kohelet 12:13), "The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God…." This is to say, through awe – which is represented by the foot – an engraving and channel is created through which the loving kindness may be received. This reflects that which is written (Bamidbar 17:23), "Behold, the staff of Aharon, of the house of Levi, blossomed…." In other words, loving kindness, symbolized by Aharon, must be received through some vessel. It is represented by awe, the aspect of Levi, and this is what is written (Tehillim 20:7), "with the mighty deliverance of His right hand.”
5. The essence of awe is achieved through revelation of the [Divine] will, as it is written, "He will perform the will of those who fear Him" (Tehillim 145:19). Through revelation of the will – by discovering that everything is guided by the Divine will – one comes to awe. The blessed God created everything by His will with no obligation whatsoever.  Furthermore, He sustains and gives life to all because of His own will, without any natural obligation to do so. By recognizing this, [man] arrives at awe.  When man perceives that there is a system of reward and punishment, he realizes that it is proper that one fear the blessed God, as our Sages taught (Berakhot 4a): "”And Ya’akov was very fearful” – he said: Perhaps my sins will cause…." However, when the [Divine] will remains unrevealed and people believe that a natural order is in control, God forbid, as though everything operates according to nature, God forbid, there is no room for awe.  This is so because there [logically] cannot be a system of reward and punishment, God forbid, if everything operates only in accordance with the rules of nature, God forbid. Hence, the essence of awe may be reached by discovering the Divine will."
R. Nachman notes the problem of receiving loving kindness that is not "defined," such that "in reality, it will be swallowed up by its own immense magnitude." A controlled, gradual absorption of the loving kindness facilitates, on one hand, maintenance of a connection with the source of the goodness, and, on the other hand, protection from being swept away in the infinite flow of Divine loving kindness.
But R. Nachman seems to take this idea elsewhere. In defining the way in which loving kindness can be received gradually, he establishes that the attribute that man requires is awe. In section 5, he even defines the nature of that awe and how it is to be attained.
[1] This also arises from the similarity between the concluding verses of the construction of the Mishkan and the concluding verses of Creation:
a. "And all the work of the Mishkan, of the Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting), was completed" (Shemot 39:32); "And the heavens and the earth and all of their hosts were completed" (Bereshit 2:1).
b. "And Moshe completed the work" (Shemot 40:33); "And God completed on the seventh day His melakha that He had done" (Bereshit 2:2).
c. "And Moshe saw all the work, and behold…" (Shemot 39:43); "And God saw all that He had done, and behold…" (ibid., 1:31).
d. "And Moshe blessed them" (Shemot 39:43); "And God blessed the seventh day" (Bereshit 2:3).
[2] But R. Nachman, perhaps contrary to the impression that we receive from R. Shimon bar Yochai, regards this reality, too, as having spiritual value and significance. In other words, within R. Shimon bar Yochai's "bedi’avad" (de facto), he introduces R. Yishmael's "lekhatchila" (de jure).
[3] To remove any doubt as to the connection between R. Nachman's teaching and this Gemara, attention should be paid to the fact that not only is the solution the same – that Israel's labor is performed by others – but the verse that R. Nachman employs is the same verse quoted by R. Shimon bar Yochai: "Strangers shall stand and shepherd your flocks…."
[4] A distinction should be made between the removal of God and His will from reality – an approach that may be viewed as a sort of atheism – and the removal of man's will from reality. The assertion that the latter, too, represents the result of a set of natural processes and laws is extreme determinism, with far-reaching implications. R. Nachman, it seems, does not go so far as to arrive at this approach; he relates to the first approach presented here.