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Shiur 23: Dispute (Part III) ֠Nullify Your Will Before His Will

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Introduction To The Thought Of Rav Nachman Of Breslov
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Lecture 23: DISPUTE (PART III) -


By Rav Itamar Eldar

In the previous two lectures, with which we opened our discussion of R. Nachman's understanding of dispute, we saw that the first guiding principle of his position is that dispute results from a lack of and severance and distance from the Divine. In the second lecture, this idea was developed into the understanding that controversy falls upon a person (and primarily upon a tzaddik) in order that he should elevate and redeem the world out of which it grew.[1]


In this lecture we shall see that R. Nachman's proposed manner of dealing with controversy stems from the same basic understanding. We shall begin with an examination of the following teaching:

Know [there is a way] to counter all forms of strife. Whether in material matters or spiritual matters so that a person is unable to pray or do what he must in serving God, it is all in the category of strife. There are those who stand up and argue against him, trying to negate his intention and will from what he wants to do.

Now, in order to eliminate the strife, no matter what aspect it may be, and make peace - fasting is necessary. This is as our Sages teach: "The more fasting, the more peace" (Avot 2:7). Charity is an aspect of fasting. For the essence of fasting is charity, as our Sages teach: "The merit of fasting is charity" (Berakhot 6b).

For the concept of strife involves a conflicting will; they stand up against him to nullify his will. And the propitiousness of fasting is found in the Zohar (II, 68b): "'On that very day you shall afflict your souls' (Vayikra 16:29, 23:27) - the benefit of fasting is the humbling of the heart, to attach the will of the heart to the Holy One." Through fasting the heart is subdued and weakened. All his other wills are nullified in the face of the will of the Holy One - "to attach the will of the heart [to the Holy One]."

Therefore, by means of this [fasting], strife - the aspect of the will of others being unlike his will - is eliminated. As our Sages teach: "Nullify your will so that the will of others will be nullified before your will" (Avot 2:4). Through fasting, one's will is already nullified before the will of God, as above, and so the will of others is nullified before his will. Strife is thus eliminated and peace is made, as mentioned above: "The more charity, the more peace." (Likutei Moharan Kama 179)

R. Nachman's first insight in this teaching is his inclusion of all the hindrances that a person experiences in his worship of God under the heading of dispute. What is still unclear at this stage is the cause of these hindrances. We have already seen in the previous lecture that R. Nachman raises a serious question concerning the alien thoughts that come to a tzaddik who wishes to rise in his level of holiness. It would appear that the same difficulty is being raised here. Why must one who wishes to rise in holiness encounter hindrances and obstacles that prevent or delay his ascent?[2]

R. Nachman does not offer an explanation; yet from the solution that he proposes for dealing with the controversies that fall upon a person and all that follows from them, one may also infer the cause. This is based on the simple principle that a remedy is always similar to the disease. "In order to eliminate the strife, no matter what aspect it may be, and make peace - fasting is necessary." In order to understand how fasting works, one must outline the process described by R. Nachman in a precise fashion.

Fasting, according to R. Nachman, constitutes a nullification of one's will - "the benefit of fasting is the humbling of the heart, to attach the will of the heart to the Holy One." How does the nullification of one's will resolve the problem of strife? Here we come to the idea that is important for our purposes. R. Nachman explains that controversy is comprised of "the will of others being unlike his will." This is true, according to R. Nachman, not only with respect to external controversies in the case of people whose wills are different from one's own, but also with respect to internal controversies which come upon a person from within himself. As we said above, R. Nachman sees internal hindrances, which prevent a person from moving forward and actualizing his will to cleave to God, as part of the phenomenon of strife which results from a clash of wills. On the one hand, says R. Nachman, a person wants to draw near to God, and this is his will. On the other hand, other things that a person wants distance him from and put him into conflict with this will. A person may truly wish to serve God, but there are other cravings within him that threaten this will and conduct a war of attrition, the results of which change from battle to battle, from day to day, and from hour to hour.

How should a person deal with the internal strife growing within him? How should he remove from himself the other wills which are similar to the people who oppose the tzaddik?


In order to understand the surprising solution that R. Nachman proposes, let us describe two educational approaches to dealing with a reality of this sort.

We shall refer to the first approach with a paraphrase of the famous words of Rav Kook: the idea of "purely righteous men." "Purely righteous men do not complain about evil; rather they increase righteousness," says Rav Kook. This serves as the foundation of Rav Kook's basic moral outlook, according to which the war against darkness should be fought with an increase in light, rather than with a Sisyphean attempt to expel the darkness.[3]

This idea proposes to strengthen the positive foundations, direct them to productive channels, and overcome thereby the hindrances and obstacles.[4]

The second approach we shall call "the approach of conquest," best represented by the Mussar movement, according to which a person must fight with all the means at his disposal against those desires that come upon him and distance him from God. This should be done by way of conquest, suppression, and defeat. The desire to eat is arrested through fasts and afflictions, sexual desire is depressed by way of abstinence, and the like. A person who conducts himself in this manner is in constant struggle with his negative desires, and he occupies himself with them and fights them day and night.

The first approach, then, focuses on strengthening the positive desires, ignoring the other desires, whereas the second approach suggests fighting those other desires, and as they are overcome, the positive desires will rise of their own accord.

Let us now return to R. Nachman. For a moment it might appear that, in this teaching, R. Nachman follows the second approach, for he speaks of fasts and nullification of the will. On closer examination, however, we see that his position does not match either approach.

R. Nachman cites the Mishna in tractate Avot: "Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will." In order to understand how R. Nachman makes use of this Mishna, we must pay attention to the various factors participating in the spiritual process described there: Your will, His will, and the will of others. "The will of others" - refers to internal desires that aim at distancing a person from God. "Your will" - refers to the will to serve God and draw near to Him. "His will" - refers to the will of God.

The will that must be nullified, then, is not the "will of others," but rather "your will," i.e., the lofty desire to serve God. Through the nullification of your will, the will of others will also be nullified. It turns out then that when we compare R. Nachman's approach with the two approaches mentioned above, we are not dealing here with the strengthening of a person's lofty desire, to draw near to God, nor with the nullification of the other desires, but rather with the nullification of the lofty desire as a result of which the other desires will also be nullified. What he says is quite astonishing. R. Nachman appears to be proposing that a person burn the entire field, in order to rid himself of the weeds. When a person has no will whatsoever, says R. Nachman, he is also void of the other wills that can drag him down. But the objection may be raised that in this way, the person also loses his will to elevate himself and draw near to God. Are we dealing here with a situation of "Let me die with the Philistines"?

It is here that the third factor enters the picture: "His will" - i.e., the will of God. This appears to be R. Nachman's primary insight regarding this matter. R. Nachman asserts that even the will to serve God must be purified and refined.[5] Fasting, when undertaken out of deep conviction, totally subdues a person and leaves him with no will of his own. When, however, he faces the realm of the holy, the absence of will does not leave him indifferent. Rather, it allows room for the appearance of another will, one more deep inside of him and more pure, one that grows from a higher place: "O You, my heart has said, Seek My face; Your face, O Lord, I seek." And R. Nachman cites Rashi: "O You" - acting on your behalf. For man's will to draw near to God and seek His face is itself God's will that man seek His face. A person, whose heart has stirred him to shake himself free, to gather strength, and turn to God, must sense in his heart that he is not doing this because he so desires, but because he is fulfilling God's agency who wishes that man be close to Him. "O You, my heart has said" - acting on your behalf.

When a person's will stems from himself and is severed from holiness, then even if it is his will to draw near to God, separation and severance adhere to him, which perforce give rise to alien desires that do not involve the seeking of God. When, however, a person subdues his heart and his will and allows himself to become an instrument in the hand of God, there is no room for those alien desires to grow within him. Not because they are not alien, but because there is no will, other than the will of God.

It should be noted, however, that despite what we cited above in the name of Rav Kook, he too gives voice to a similar idea:[6]

Supreme joy grows stronger through the total nullification of one's identity, because the soul begins to recognize all the error in one's identity, and the desire grows to be drawn into the body of the king, into the infinite perfection of supreme grace. This is perfect humility and deep lowliness, where one's identity is only something that is left over, that is, a deficiency, that was not included in the supreme perfection, making oneself like a remnant. This feeling is unique to Israel, who diminish themselves with respect to every greatness bestowed upon them. (Rav Kook, Shemona Kevatzim, I, 312)

Rav Kook speaks of "the error in one's identity" as opposed to "perfect humility and deep lowliness," where one's identity becomes a deficiency. These words in-line with the position that R. Nachman tries to present in the teaching cited above.

According to R. Nachman, victory flowing from either one of the approaches mentioned above is but an imaginary success and a cosmetic solution, for neither approach seeks to eradicate the source out of which the alien wills grow.

As we stated above, the solution is also instructive regarding the problem. The internal hindrances and conflicts stem from the fundamental strangeness and separation in the very existence of an independent will that does not stem from God. Once again dispute is portrayed as the result of distance and severance from the source. Here R. Nachman proposes fasting as that which can restore a person's connection to the source, in that it subjugates all that which is not Divine in man.

In this context, let us once again mention the teaching found in Likutei Moharan Kama 6, 1, in which R. Nachman questions whether or not people will challenge a particular person on the source of that person's glory. If it is the glory of kings, then "the glory of kings is an investigated matter" (Mishlei 25:2). But if it is the glory of God, then "the glory of the Lord is a concealed matter" (ibid.).

When a person's glory flows from himself, he invites dispute, for he opens the door to the question whether or not he is in fact worthy of such glory. Was it acquired with good money, and is there substance behind the wrapping? When, however, a person's glory flows from God, nobody challenges Divine glory.[7] As is the case with respect to will, a person can only attain Divine glory by diminishing his own glory. This is Israel, in the words of Rav Kook, who regard themselves as being unworthy of any greatness bestowed upon them.


Thus far, we have seen that dispute results from some deficiency, which, as we have tried to explain, comprises a severance from the source of holiness and vitality. According to R. Nachman, the deficiency may be found either in the disputing parties or in the disputed party. It may reflect a lack of "faith in the Sages," or "the absence of fiery coals," or the concealment of the Divine spark in the world that seeks redemption, or the substitution of human glory in the place of Divine glory.

According to this, the dispute may also be repaired through renewed connection with Divine vitality. This may be accomplished through fasting and through silence, which cause the will and glory of God to once again dwell in the person, and thus the dispute is nullified.

Here is the place to turn to other passages found in R. Nachman's writings, which sound a different tone regarding the cause of dispute:

"Who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth" (Tehillim 147:8).

The value of the hidden tzaddikim is great. They are able to receive an influx of bounty and abundant good to draw into the world. And yet, no one raises questions about them or denounces them, because they are hidden and not in the public eye.

However, even one who is in the public eye, if he has opposition, this helps. This is because opposition covers him, and consequentially he is able to draw an influx of bounty to the world without their protesting against and denouncing him.

This is the message of: "Who covers the heavens [shamayim] with clouds - shamayim alludes to the tzaddik, on account of aish [fire] and mayim [water], i.e., love and fear. On account of this, the tzaddik is called shamayim.

This is: "Who covers the heavens [shamayim] with clouds [avim], from the connotation of denseness [avyut] and corporeality. They cover the tzaddik in denseness and solidity [kashyut] in that they question [makshin] and raise opposition to him. And, as a result of the cover of this opposition and questioning:

"Who prepares rain for the earth" - through this he is able to draw an influx of bounty without being denounced, as above.

This is the meaning of: "The wicked man watches [tzofe] for the tzaddik and seeks to kill him. But God does not forsake him" (Tehillim 37:32-33]. The wicked man who opposes the tzaddik is only tzofe. That is, [the wicked man makes] a coating [tzippui] and a cover for the tzaddik, so that he is able to draw an influx of bounty, as above.

However, "he seeks to kill him." The wicked man seeks to uproot and kill the tzaddik, God forbid. "But God does not forsake him." (Likutei Moharan Kama, 114)

The tzaddik, as we have seen earlier, plays an important role in the world as the conduit connecting "heaven and earth." This connection is marked by movement in two directions. On the one hand, the tzaddik must elevate the world and raise it heavenward, as we have seen above; on the other hand, he must receive the Divine profusion and bring it into the world. Every level that the tzaddik reaches, every revelation, every understanding, is Divine profusion that the tzaddik, by virtue of his standing, draws from above. The tzaddik must not keep that profusion for himself, but rather he must bring it to his disciples and followers. The tzaddik must share his new insights, his achievements, and his spiritual experiences with those around him, and thus bestow of that influx upon them as well.

In this teaching, R. Nachman proposes an interesting distinction between unrecognized tzaddikim and recognized tzaddikim. He praises the hidden tzaddikim for being able to receive the Divine profusion and bestow it upon the world without any interference.[8] Since the tzaddik goes about unrecognized - explains R. Nachman in innocence, and perhaps even in that simulated innocence accompanied by a wink of the eye that is so characteristic of him - the denouncers do not see him or even know of him, and therefore are unable to denounce him.

This is not the case with respect to the recognized tzaddikim. Just as they are well known in the world, so too are they well known to their denouncers. Thus, they are far more exposed to criticism and attempts to hinder them and cause them to stumble. The controversy that surrounds them, argues R. Nachman, is beneficial to them, in that it conceals their fame. It sets up a curtain and a screen, so that from now on the tzaddikim that had formerly been recognized are no longer recognized. From now on the denouncers are silenced, and the tzaddikim can bestow of the Divine influx upon the world.[9]

In order to understand this, let us consider another teaching, one which R. Natan refers to at the end of the previously-cited teaching, which is similar to it but adds a number of important details:

"Who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth" (Tehillim 147:8). It is known that the influx of bounty and blessings can only come to the world through the tzaddik. For the tzaddik has hands to receive them, that is, love and fear [of God], for they are the hands to receive all the influx of bounty and all the blessings. Such a tzaddik must hide that love and fear, so that people not denounce him and steal the bounty from him.

This is: "Who covers the heavens with clouds" - that is, fire and water, i.e., when the tzaddik can cover the heavens, that is, the fire and water, that is, his love and fear - then "who prepares rain for the earth," that is, he can draw all the blessings, that have the aspect of rain.

But when the tzaddik is very much in the public eye, the denouncers know and watch over him very closely, and do not allow him to bring down the bounty. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, puts it in the heart of another tzaddik to oppose him in order to cover him, so that he should be able to bring down the bounty. This is "controversy for the sake of Heaven," i.e., for the sake of the tzaddik, who is referred to by the term "heaven," because he has love and fear, that is, for the sake of Heaven, the love and the fear, and in order to prepare rain, that is the aspect of bounty and blessings. (Likutei Moharan Kama 88)

This teaching offers a more precise definition of the nature of the tzaddik's recognition or lack thereof. Thus, it helps us understand how dispute conceals his recognition, for on the face of it, it would seem that when a person is the subject of controversy, he is even more in the public eye. But the truth is that dispute has the quality of clouds that cover the heavens, the heavens being an aspect of fire and water, which are the aspect of the tzaddik's love and fear.

What is recognized in a tzaddik, then, is his spiritual level, the level of his love and fear of God. In the case of an unrecognized tzaddik, his love and fear are concealed, and so his being a tzaddik is also concealed and hidden.


We shall try to arrive at a deeper understanding of R. Nachman's argument that the denouncers do not see the hidden tzaddik. For in his typical manner, the technical form of R. Nachman's presentation is merely a cover for the profound idea that lies behind it. For this purpose, we shall consider a third teaching, one in which R. Nachman expresses a similar argument. We shall once again discover that ideas that are formulated in concise fashion in one place are expanded upon in another:

"The wicked man watches [tzofe] for the tzaddik and seeks to kill him. But God will not forsake him" (Tehillim 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.

Another explanation: Some of the opposition that tzaddikim face is for their benefit. This is because opposition is like a cover, keeping them from being discovered and becoming famous more than is necessary. This is the meaning of "The wicked man tzofe for the tzaddik" - tzofe connotes a covering, as in "You shall overlay (vetzipita) it with gold" (Shemot 25:1). Yet, these wicked ones increase the opposition and increase the covering to such an extent that the tzaddikim are unable to bear the opposition and hatred of the wicked.

And this is "And seeks to kill him" - like people who cover someone from head to toe until he is unable to breathe. Likewise, the wicked man covers the tzaddik and increases the veils and the opposition, seeking to kill him. Nevertheless, "God will not forsake him." (Likutei Moharan Kama 208)

The role of dispute, according to what is stated here, is to bring the tzaddik to reflect upon and closely examine his actions. But what did the tzaddik do that should require such examination? R. Nachman alludes to the answer in just a few words, words that do not appear in the other passages: "This is because opposition is like a cover, keeping them from being discovered and becoming famous more than is necessary."

R. Nachman is well aware of the sin that lies at the door of notoriety. He is concerned about the moment when recognition reaches the point of being more than what is necessary. For it is at this point that fame turns from a means to an end. And when this happens, the denouncers set out to do their work.

All of a tzaddik's greatness lies in his being a conduit. He does not act on his own behalf; he is the agent of God as well as the agent of the world. But the moment that the tzaddik's greatness is no longer limited to serving his mission, hindrances arise. As we saw above, no accusations are leveled at Divine glory, but with respect to human glory there are hindrances and there are denunciations. The tzaddik rises and climbs the steps of holiness, and the gates of heaven open before him because he carries in his bag the souls of all of Israel. More than this! The recognition of his greatness is what allows him to carry the souls of all of Israel to heaven, but the moment that his knocking on heaven's door is not absolutely pure, the heavenly doormen are liable to hesitate whether or not to open.

This danger does not lie at the door of the hidden tzaddik, regarding whom there is no concern about "too much," because "he has nothing." The way that the unrecognized tzaddik influences the world is entirely different from the way the recognized tzaddik influences it. His entire influence has the quality of "quiet waters penetrate deeply."[10] R. Nachman knows that influence is not necessarily measured by the level of recognition and grandiosity that accompanies the person doing the influencing. For there are times that one who is unrecognized, who acts in the world and from inside it, has greater influence than one who comes from the outside, with all of his might.

Here comes controversy and saves the recognized tzaddikim from the traps into which they might otherwise have fallen. It seems to me that this is accomplished in two ways.

First of all, dispute reduces the measure of their recognition, slightly restricting the great fame of that tzaddik. Perhaps, he is no longer such a tzaddik, perhaps there is some truth in what is being said, there is no smoke without fire, and the like.[11]

It seems to me, however, that there is a second critical point. Controversy brings the tzaddik to examine his deeds and ask himself how he has sinned. Why does he deserve such a slap in the face? Perhaps he will come thereby to the understanding that he went too far in his desire for recognition, perhaps he will come to the conclusion that this desire was not entirely pure.[12] Perhaps, even more than this! Perhaps the dispute will nullify his desire for his own recognition, and thus make room, as we saw above, for God's desire that the tzaddik be recognized.[13]

It seems that this provides us with an amazing explanation of an event described by R. Natan:

He once spoke of the truth of his exceedingly awesome eminence. In the course of his words, he said: "After these things and these deeds of integrity, Sancheriv [King of Ashur] came," a verse in II Divrei Ha-yamim 32 that speaks of the great righteousness of King Yechizkiyahu, which is followed by the verse, "After these things and these deeds of integrity, Sancheriv [king of Ashur] came." Understand the matter how this verse clearly states that it was only after the great truth of King Yechezkiyahu's righteousness that Sancheriv came upon him, and he was greatly distressed by him. One should not be astonished then by the great controversy that comes upon true tzaddikim. (Chayei Moharan, Concerning the Controversy Surrounding Him, 6, 397)

R. Natan describes how R. Nachman was once speaking his own praises and of his great eminence, when suddenly in the middle of what he was saying, he cited the verse (II Divrei ha-Yamim 32:1): "After these things and these deeds of integrity, Sancheriv king of Ashur came." R. Natan understood the message and said that one should not be astonished by the great controversy surrounding true tzaddikim. In other words, it is precisely because they are so great that they become the subjects of controversy. It seems to me, however, that R. Natan's loyalty to R. Nachman blinded him from seeing the self-criticism implicit in R. Nachman's words. It is not by chance that R. Nachman remembered this verse while he was speaking his own praises. It seems to me that it would not be groundless to argue that R. Nachman felt for a moment that he had been swept away by the excessive "recognition" that he had attributed to himself.[14] This is the moment that Sancheriv enters, in order to conceal the tzaddik, to protect him and to ward off his denouncers. Sancheriv returns to the tzaddik the appropriate measure and the correct starting point for recognition.[15]


Elsewhere, R. Nachman writes as follows:

And now I know "that God will make you a house" (II Shmuel 7:11). That is, through this dispute, "God will make you" a house from the aforementioned stones, as mentioned above. For the tzaddik inclines towards lovingkindness and judges all those who oppose him in a favorable manner that their intentions are for the sake of Heaven. For the world could not bear the light of the tzaddik, whose light is too great for the world to bear. And also because there are a number of great judgments and accusations against the truly great tzaddik, therefore they oppose him, and in that way they silence those judgments and accusations. As we see that when there is a grave judgment against a certain person, that another person jealously says: "I will go and take revenge and punish him" - in that way he silences the other accusers, whose judgments he could not have borne. Thus it turns out that the one who went to take revenge from him did him an exceedingly great favor, for certainly it is good and preferable to him to bear the judgment of this one person, which he can bear, rather than their judgments, God forbid, which he could not have borne. As we find regarding Pinchas in the incident involving Zimri. For were it not for Pinchas, Israel would have been liable for destruction, God forbid. But since Pinchas went out and was zealous for God, in that way the judgment against Israel was silenced, as the verse states: "That he was zealous for My sake among them, that I consumed not the [children of Israel] (Bamidbar 25:11). So too one who opposes a tzaddik, saying, "I will do to him, and show him my might and revenge" - in that way he silences the other judgments, as stated above, and also does him a favor. For when a tzaddik must go from level to level, he is tested to see whether he has the strength to stand "in the king's palace" (Daniel 1:4). The king's palace has the quality of the mouth of a tzaddik who is called heikhal [= palace], the numerical equivalence of whose letters is the same as the word God [Adonai, i.e., 65], which has the quality of a mouth. The fact that a tzaddik opposes him is a test for the tzaddik who is the subject of controversy, whether he has the strength to stand in the king's palace in the mouth of the tzaddik who opposes him. In this way, he is raised from one level to the next higher level, and it turns out that he was done a favor. (Sichot Moharan, 96)

As was stated above, R. Nachman speaks of the benefit that dispute brings to the tzaddik on two levels. First, the prevention of denunciations; and second, the experience that raises the tzaddik by way of the opposition that forces him to elevate himself.

Here we must pay attention to an additional point that distinguishes between teaching no. 88 and the other two teachings that we have cited in this regard. That point relates to the identity of the disputing party.

Both in teaching no. 114 and in teaching no. 208, the tzaddik's opponents are wicked people who wish to kill him. In contrast, in teaching no. 88, the tzaddik's opponent is another tzaddik, for God "puts it in the heart of another tzaddik to oppose him in order to cover him."

A comparative analysis of the three teachings indicates that the difference between teachings nos. 114 and 208 (henceforth: the first two teachings) and teaching no. 88 (henceforth: the last teaching) is not limited to the identity of the disputing party.

First of all, attention should be paid to the fact that in the first two teachings, the R. Nachman bases his argument upon the verse, "The wicked man watches for the tzaddik and seeks to kill him" (Tehillim 37:32). As stated above, this determines the identity of the disputing party and also his goal: "And seeks to kill him." It is at this point that a dissonance arises between the goal of the dispute and the goal of the disputing party. This verse is missing in the last teaching, and in its place, R. Nachman cites another concept that does not appear in the first two teachings - "controversy that is for the sake of Heaven." R. Nachman explains: For the sake of Heaven means for the sake of the tzaddik. It is still not clear whether the fact that the dispute is for the sake of Heaven relates only to the goal of the dispute, which as we have said serves the tzaddik, or perhaps also to the motivation of his opponents, that they too do what they do for the sake of the tzaddik. We will deal with this question in the future.

Second, as a direct continuation of the verse in Tehillim, R. Nachman concludes the first two teachings with the next verse in that same chapter: "But God will not forsake him" (ibid., v. 33). In the first two teachings, R. Nachman relates not only to the dispute's contribution to the tzaddik, but also to the danger that lies in wait for him as a result of the motive of the wicked: "And seeks to kill him." R. Nachman must, therefore, mention that even though this is the goal of the tzaddik's opponents, God will not help them.

It is important to emphasize that despite the differences, R. Nachman still sees the guiding hand of God in both forms of dispute. Regarding the controversy raised by the wicked against the tzaddik, he says: "That the wicked afflict the righteous and pursue them is brought about by God...." And about the controversy raised by the righteous against the tzaddik, he says: "The Holy One, blessed be He, puts it in the heart of another tzaddik to oppose him in order...."

What is the difference between the situation in which those who oppose the tzaddik are themselves righteous people and the situation in which those who oppose him are wicked?

This question opens up a new topic of discussion regarding the awareness and motivation of the opponents. It should be noted that it is not by chance that this question arises only now. For until dispute has been presented as the result of some deficiency, and from this perspective, whether or not the deficient party is aware, R. Nachman assumes that this is the inner motivation of the dispute. But here R. Nachman sees dispute as a lifesaver and protection against accusations. From this perspective, the question regarding the opponents' awareness that their dispute comes to protect and elevate the tzaddik begs to be asked.

These questions shall be the opening point of our discussion in the next shiur.


[1] It should be noted that despite this tendency, R. Nachman sometimes sees dispute itself as an instrument in the hand of the Sitra Achra to prevent the repair of the world: "When we drew close to him, we first thought that he would immediately complete his repair [of the world]... Afterwards, because of our many sins and because of the sins of the generation, and because of the great provocation of the Satan, to the point that a great controversy came upon him - because of all these things, the world became confused, and he could not finish what he had set out to do during his lifetime (Chayei Moharan, Concerning his Travels and his Living in Uman, 45, 229).

A similar idea emerges from the following: "He said: How could they possibly not oppose me, inasmuch as I walk in a new path that no man has ever walked in before." (Chayei Moharan, Concerning the Controversy Surrounding Him, 1, 392).

This idea is stated explicitly in R. Nachman's story about a rabbi and his son, in which the son, who is a great Torah genius studying day and night in an attic, asks his father whether they could visit the tzaddik. After much imploring, the obstinate father agrees, but conditions his approval on a successful journey. In the end, after all the obstacles, the father and son arrive at an inn, where one of the lodgers tells them in passing that the tzaddik towards whom they were headed is a sinner. The father is not prepared to continue and they return home. The son dies and later appears to his father in a dream, and asks him several times to go to the tzaddik. On the way, the father meets that same lodger who reveals to him that he is the Satan himself, and it was his job to prevent the son, who had the quality of a small light, to reach the tzaddik, who has the quality of a great light, for had they met the world would have been redeemed. R. Nachman teaches us that great hindrances stand in the way of the tzaddikim, including controversies that surround them. These are all intended to prevent them from influencing the world and bringing it to repair.

This is also the way that R. Nachman saw himself, as R. Natan testifies: "Regarding the decrees about which there was talk during his days that they wished to issue against Israel [which because of our many sins were issued in our day, may God have mercy], I heard that he once spoke about this and said that he could have given himself certain advice to occupy himself with in order to cancel them. But what can he do when there are those who disagree with and oppose him. And he brought proof from the words of our Sages, of blessed memory, in [tractate] Ta'anit, that because they did not agree, etc." (Chayei Moharan, Concerning the Controversy Surrounding Him, 7, 398).

[2] With God's help and beli neder, we shall relate to this question at length in a series of shiurim that will deal with R. Nachman's understanding of hindrances in the service of God. Here we shall examine that aspect of the issue that connects such hindrances to dispute.

[3] This idea is connected to Rav Kook's fundamental position that there are no negative forces in man; if there is anything that does not follow a straight path, it is because it was not channeled and directed to the proper place. This is not the place to expand upon this idea.

[4] It should be noted that sometimes even R. Nachman himself adopts this position. The most famous example of this is his well known teaching in Likutei Moharan Kama 282, in which R. Nachman argues that by judging another person favorably, he truly elevates him to a favorable position. It seems to me, however, that there the argument goes well beyond the psychological principle of positive reinforcement, though undoubtedly it is based on that as well.

[5] R. Nachman came up with a very important idea that reflects this understanding, called "repenting for repentance," when he said that one must repent even for repentance. For even a person's movement towards God may have alien motivations and considerations mixed in, so that such movement requires repair and refinement.

[6] It should be noted that this passage is one of the more sharply-worded ones, and that there are other passages that allow more room for the independent self in and of itself.

[7] Elsewhere, R. Nachman says that when honor is found in his root, dispute is nullified (Likutei Moharan Kama 14, 12).

[8] When R. Nachman spoke to his followers, he went even further and spoke about "false recognized [tzaddikim]": "After weeks in Uman, when he entered the house of Rabbi Yosef Shmuel, he began to speak Torah but did not finish. I wasn't there at the time, but I heard that he mentioned then the falsely recognized [tzaddikim] who have a name and recognition in the world, etc. He also mentioned that there are true tzaddikim whose names are forgotten, that is to say, who do not have a name and recognition as they deserve. This is the quality of 'This is my name forever' (Shemot 3:15)" (Chayei Moharan, His Travels and his Living in Uman, 28, 312).

[9] This may have been what R. Nachman meant when he said: "Regarding the objections that the world ordinarily raise against the tzaddikim, and especially upon him against whom they would raise many objections, he answered in a clear manner: Surely it is by way of the objections raised against us that we have a livelihood and wealth. For the wealth and livelihood of tzaddikim who deal with Torah for its own sake is just by way of the objections" (Chayei Moharan, The Service of God, 50, 493).

[10] These words remind us of another teaching that we saw previously which distinguishes between the recognized tzaddikim who go about in their grandeur and simple tzaddikim (Likutei Moharan Tanina 15).

[11] Though we also find in the writings of R. Nachman the opposite note as well: "By way of the controversy that exists in the world, they become recognized before their time. That is, when a person enters the service of God, he must wait and tarry until he is recognized in the world. And because of the blemish of controversy, he becomes recognized before his time. And because of this they cause this man damage and loss, that he becomes recognized before his time. Or also [damage] to the path to the service of God, which he had wanted to reveal in the world. Thus they cause death to the disputants. And sometimes, when the blemish is not that great, they cause poverty" (Likutei Moharan Tanina 20; and also Sefer ha-Midot, Meriva 10).

[12] It should be noted that in the previous teaching, R. Nachman interpreted the expression "The wicked man watches [tzofe] for the tzaddik" in the sense of tzippui, "covering." That is, the wicked man covers the tzaddik, protecting him from his denouncers. In this teaching, R. Nachman arrives at this interpretation, but also interprets the word tzofe in another way: "Like the guard of the city, who is called a tzofe, so too, the wicked man guards the tzaddik from succumbing to physicality." He immediately continues with "another explanation," in which he brings the previously mentioned interpretation. The wicked man, then, prevents the tzaddik from sinking into complacency that is liable to cast him down into physicality.

[13] "I also heard something similar and in a slightly different formulation from members of our group. Members of our group once complained to him that it is difficult for them to bear the controversy, persecutions, etc. He said to them: Believe me that I have the power to make peace with the entire world, that nobody should oppose me. But what shall I do, there are levels and palaces that one can only reach by way of controversy. The proof is that our master Moshe, may he rest in peace, certainly had the drawing power to attract all of Israel to him. As it is written: 'And Moshe gathered all the children of Israel together' (Shemot 35:1). For he was the mind of all of Israel, and it was in his power to gather and attract all of them to him. But nevertheless what is written: 'And they looked after Moshe' (ibid. 33:8), which our Rabbis of blessed memory interpreted as they interpreted, and the like. And all this is because there are things that can only be reached by way of controversy when people oppose him, etc. And our Rabbis of blessed memory said (Sanhedrin 7a): Strife is likened to a channel made by a rush of water, as it says (Mishlei 17:14): 'The beginning of strife is like letting water out.' And it is written (Devarim 20:19): 'For man is the tree of the field.' And a tree of the field, the more one pours water around it, the more it grows." (Chayei Moharan, Concerning the Controversy Surrounding Him, 11, 402).

What he says here is also connected to what we saw in previous shiurim that controversy is intended to allow the tzaddik to elevate the world from level to level. The beginning of the passage, however, sharpens the fact that controversy guides the tzaddik on his mission.

[14] Having already allowed ourselves to refer to R. Nachman's biography, it should be noted that according to Weiss, R. Nachman had strong feelings of guilt about the controversies that surrounded him (Mechkarim be-Chasidut Breslav, pp. 42-57). In this regard let us mention one of R. Nachman's astonishing dreams. In his dream, R. Nachman finds himself entirely alone, and when he goes outside to understand the meaning of his isolation, he sees "that people are standing around in circles and whispering to each other; this one is joking about me, this one is laughing at me, this one is being impudent to me, and the like. And even my own people were also against me, some being impudent towards me, some whispering in secret about me, and the like, as mentioned above. And I called one of my own people and asked him what was happening. And he answered: How could you have acted in this manner; is it possible that you did such a thing?" In his dream, R. Nachman tries to run away into the forest with a group of people, but there too he fails to escape the controversy falling upon him. "While we were sitting there, an old man came and called to me, saying that he has something to say to me. So I went with him, and he started to talk to me. He said: Is it you who did such a thing? How are you not embarrassed before your forefathers, before your grandfather, R. Nachman, and before your great-grandfather, the Ba'al Shem Tov, of blessed memory. And how are you not embarrassed before the Torah of Moshe, and before the holy Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, etc.? How do you think that you can sit here... I answered him that since I am cast out like this, I will have [a share in] the world-to-come. He said to me: You think you will have [a share in] the world-to-come? Even in Gehinom you will not have a place to hide yourself, for you have committed a sin like this... And I remembered the famous incident involving the Ba'al Shem Tov, of blessed memory, when the Ba'al Shem Tov, of blessed memory, also thought that he would not have [a share in] the world-to-come. And I said: I love God, blessed be He, even without the world-to-come. And I threw my head back in very great bitterness. And when I threw my head back like that, they came to me and gathered around me, all those mentioned above, before whom the old man said I should be embarrassed, that is, my grandfathers, and the Patriarchs, etc. And they recited the verse (Yishayahu 4:2): "And the fruit of the land shall be excellent and comely [tif'eret]." And they said to me: On the contrary, we shall be proud [mitpa'arin] of you. And they brought me all my own people and my children (for at that time even my own children had parted from me at the beginning), and they said such things to me, the opposite of what was mentioned above. As for casting my head back, a person, even if he had eight hundred times violated the entire Torah, if he would cast his head back with such bitterness, he would certainly be forgiven. I do not wish to relate to you the rest of the good, for certainly there was good." (Chayei Moharan, New Stories, 11, 91).

This story clearly indicates the afflictions that R. Nachman suffered as a result of the controversies surrounding him. There were times that he even thought that there may be truth in what his opponents were saying. Controversy brought him to "throw his head back" in great bitterness, an act which atoned for all his sins.

Weiss argues that the dream gives expression to the afflictions that R. Nachman suffered because of the doubt that arose in him that perhaps there had adhered to him the sins of the heretics whom he had tried to repair, including Jacob Frank [thus argues Weiss]. Weiss also argues that it is not by chance that R. Nachman mentions the Ba'al Shem Tov, for according to tradition, the Besht believed that even the soul of Shabbatai Zevi should be repaired. He also understands that R. Nachman's mention of the "grandfather" is a reference to the Saba of Shpola, one of R. Nachman's chief opponents.

Support for Weiss's argument may be brought from the fact that the controversy surrounding R. Nachman was sweeping, and not limited to a particular person or rabbi, to the point that R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who himself supported R. Nachman, said as follows: "And afterwards when he left that place, and he was sitting in his wagon with Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak of Tisherin, of blessed memory, then that holy rabbi said to him: Believe me, if I would know that the world would listen to me, I would shout in a great voice, from one end of the world to the other, that whoever wishes to be a fitting person, a righteous man, and a true servant of God, should be mindful and zealous to draw near to the holy rabbi, R. Nachman of Breslav. But I well know that not only would people not listen to me, but this would stir up controversy upon me as well. And perhaps there is somebody who is considering penitence because of me, and I will lose that as well. Thus, I am forced to remain silent on this matter." (Chayei Moharan, Concerning Those who Draw Near to Him, 43, 333)

R. Nachman's feelings on this issue brought him to exceedingly severe judgments about the world in which he lived: "He said: We are not at all part of the world of today, and therefore the world cannot bear us. Leadership does not belong to me at all, for I deserve no leadership in the world of today. Even the little leadership that is mine is not really leadership at all. On the contrary, this is real nonsense. And even the little that is mine is unnatural, for I forced my nature to this, so that some speech of mine can come into the world. And all of our talks and stories (that is, the teachings and statements that he pronounces), if I would not have this little amount of leadership, even these words would not come into the world. And truly, if the generation were not like it is, if these words (that is, the teachings that he speaks) had been pronounced in the generation of the Ari, of blessed memory, or even in the generation of R. Shimon b. Yochai, of blessed memory, there would be a great tumult in the world." (Chayei Moharan, Concerning his Teachings and Books, 7, 346; and also, ibid., His Awesomely Great Comprehension, 20, 240 - regarding the parable of the preserved wine).

Whether or not we accept this argument, R. Nachman is clearly dealing here with the afflictions he suffered as a result of controversy. He sees his opponents (like the old man in his dream) as a sort of whip to rebuke the tzaddik for his sins and bring him to remorse and penitence.

On the other hand, we should not disregard R. Nachman's sense that all the criticism leveled against him was false, as it follows from the following talk: "He once said: I have no opponents whatsoever. They oppose him who does what those who oppose me say I do. And one should certainly oppose such a person. That is to say, the opponents make up lies and falsehoods about him, that he did such and such, things that never entered his mind, all lies and falsehoods. A person who actually did what they say [he did] - they should certainly oppose him. It turns out that they do not oppose him at all, for if they knew his great righteousness, holiness and eminence, etc., they would certainly not oppose him. On the contrary, they would run after him with great enthusiasm, as is right. They only oppose him who does the things they say [he does]. Such a person should certainly be opposed. And he said that they cut and drew a person for themselves, and it is him that they oppose." (Sikhot Moharan 182).

From this perspective, controversy is merely an instrument in the hand of the Sitra Achra to cause the tzaddik to fail in what he does, as we saw above. This polarized attitude regarding controversy is also evident in the following: "Several times he himself repeated what the world was saying about him that there is no middle ground. Either he is, God forbid, like what his opponents fabricate about him, etc. ... or if the contrary is true, that he is a true tzaddik, then it is something amazing, awesome, and lofty, something that the human mind cannot imagine. For this is what most of the world used to say about him, of blessed memory. And he himself, of blessed memory, repeated these words several times, and alluded to us that it is true that there is no middle ground. And a person must decide for himself which is true, because only one is true. (See no. 51 in Likutei 1). (Chayei Moharan, His Awesomely Great Comprehension, 22, 262).

It should be noted that at times R. Natan tries to provide a more realistic dimension of the controversy surrounding his teacher:

1. Removing the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) from his position after Yom Kippur brought people to inform against R. Nachman (Chayei Moharan, The Place where He was Born and Where He Lived, and His Travels, 11, 114 and 122).

2. R. Nachman's arriving and settling near the district in which the Saba of Shpola operated, without seeking his permission.

It is possible that R. Nachman sometimes felt that, on the existential level, controversy comes to repair him, while at other times he felt that it comes to cause him to fall and stumble. It is certainly logical to say that controversy has diverse functions, which find expression both in R. Nachman's thought and in his personal biography.

Let us conclude this biographical discussion with the following words of R. Nachman: "He also said that in the future his opponents would have great insight and ask in astonishment: Were we [once] opposed to this? He also said that when they will oppose somebody [else], they will say: He too we [once] opposed. In other words, for that reason proof cannot be brought from controversy." (Chayei Moharan, His Awesomely Great Comprehension, 9, 249)

[15] R. Natan seems to have learned a lesson from his master, as he writes at the end of Chayei Moharan, "But because of the great controversy that surrounded him, we are forced to put a muzzle on our mouths, so as not to relate his praises. His great holiness and exaltedness is far more elevated and lofty than our understanding. But even that minute amount that we have merited so slightly to understand and comprehend, cannot be related in full on account of the great controversy, even though it would be beneficial to the world." (Chayei Moharan, The Service of God, 614).

(Translated by David Strauss)