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Shiur #28: The Niggun (III): Removing the Evil Ru'ach from the Good One

  • Rav Itamar Eldar

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



By Rav Itamar Eldar

We summarized the previous shiur by saying that, on the one hand, R. Nachman relates to niggun as a means by which to reveal the Divine content found in the world and in man. On the other hand, he also sees it as an expression of that very content, an actual revelation of the Divine light that becomes revealed in the world through various different forms of inspiration.


The second perspective is clearly evident in the following teaching – teaching no. 54 – which exposes another important stratum of the idea of niggun. However, before we consider the passage that directly relates to our discussion, let us briefly summarize what R. Nachman says in the previous passage.[1]

Teaching no. 54 in Likutei Moharan Kama opens with the demand that falls upon every individual always to remember the world-to-come (sect. 1), that is to say, to live with the constant awareness of the existence of the world-to-come.[2] This awareness, according to R. Nachman, brings a person to engage in a continual dialogue with God, "whereby he must deepen his thoughts on the matter and enhance his insight, and understand the specific allusions in thoughts, words, and actions to that day which God has prepared for him" (sect. 2). We are dealing here with the ability to reflect upon the world, and understand that it is merely the external expression of an inner world, to which a person must be attuned. The thoughts that come to man, the words spoken and the actions taken around him are but garments and allusions that God sends to man and expects that he be attentive to.

R. Nachman explains that in order to preserve this memory and maintain this awareness, a person must be careful not to fall into the aspect of "the evil eye" (sect. 4), which is "the death of the heart" that leads to forgetting. We are dealing here with a type of "blindness," insensitivity and failure to listen. "I am asleep, but my heart is awake," cries the loved one in Shir ha-Shirim, and thus she leaves a window open so that she may hear her lover's knocking even when she is asleep. When "the heart is dead," however, the lover is forgotten, and all the knocking and all the allusions that He plants in man's thoughts, words, and actions, are not heard. We are dealing here with deafness versus listening, openness versus imperviousness, or in the words of R. Nachman, remembering versus forgetting! Seeing and reflecting upon God's actions in the world bring joy: "Whoever is wise, let them consider these things, and let them observe the loving acts of the Lord" (Tehilim 107:43). This is "the good eye" that looks and listens as opposed to "the evil eye" that is closed to the sounds and sights that God prepares for man.


R. Nachman continues, spelling out that the way to protect oneself from falling from "the good eye" to "the evil eye" is by protecting the eye from "the imaginative faculty." In order to understand the significance of this idea, let us start with the position of the Rambam.

The imaginative faculty – is the name of the faculty found in animals, or [at least] in some of them, and in man as is well known, by which he imagines everything in his heart, whether it exists or not. He may imagine something that he had already perceived through his senses as he had perceived it, e.g., a person who imagines a person or some other existing thing that he had seen. Or he may put together things which exist separately and combine them in his imagination, e.g., a person who imagines a person, who, in addition to his natural organs, has two wings, and two eyes in his head and two eyes at the back of his neck, and who reaches the sphere of the moon, and other such impossibilities. This faculty is active when a person is awake and when he is asleep, for dreams are also imaginary, say the philosophers. For [the imagination] is stronger during sleep, for then [a person] rests from the senses that vex him with their actions while he is awake. (Perush ha-Milot ha-Zarot, letter 'dalet')

According to the accepted philosophical understanding, the imaginative faculty is found in man and in animals, or at least in some of them. Through the faculty of imagination, one can imagine both that which actually exists and that which does not exist, both that which one has already perceived through his senses and that which one has not. As such, argues R. Nachman, the imagination is liable to be even worse than blindness. For a blind person is fully aware that he does not see, whereas one who imagines something, who sets his eyes upon the horizon and sees a certain sight, is unaware that it is his imagination that created what he is seeing.

On the other hand, the Rambam speaks of the imaginative faculty as the primary instrument through which one may achieve the level of prophecy:

You know, too, the actions of the imaginative faculty that are in its nature, such as retaining things perceived by the senses, combining these things, and imitating them. And you know that its greatest and noblest action takes place only when the senses rest and do not perform their actions. It is then that a certain overflow overflows to this faculty according to its disposition, and it is the cause of veridical dreams. This same overflow is the cause of the prophecy. (Guide of the Perplexed, II, 36)

Man's ability to see Divine visions stems from his imaginative faculty. This is a mixed blessing, for the imagination, as we have already mentioned, is liable to deceive a person, and thus put all prophetic vision that is based upon it into the category of "deceptive visions."[3]

R. Nachman himself adds that the imaginative faculty is the opposite of intelligence: "For you loathe intelligence…." This loathing of intelligence causes a person to fall under the control of the imaginative faculty. Intelligence, maintains R. Nachman, is the instrument that allows man to protect himself from the schemes of the imaginative faculty. For this reason, R. Nachman sees the imaginative faculty's taking control of man as a lowering of man to the level of the beast, void of reason, guided solely by the faculty of the imagination.

R. Nissim Girondi in his Derashot notes this difficulty within the context of his discussion regarding prophecy:

He further informed them that [Moshe's] prophecy is not by means of the imaginative faculty, as is the case with the other prophets. This is what it says: "For he is the trusted one in all My house" (Bamidbar 12:7). The commentators have explained this to mean that he is like a trustee who goes in and out of the house at all times. But I interpret this differently, that is, that Moshe's prophecy was more trustworthy than the prophecies of the other prophets, as I shall explain. It is known that the faculty that constantly deceives man is the imaginative faculty, whose nature it is to replace one thing with another that does not exist whatsoever. The prophets would prophesy by means of this faculty, and see things that had no existence at all. We shall explain this with respect to one of these prophesies, the same applying to the others by analogy. Zekharya the prophet says: "I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and seven lamps to it, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which were upon the top of it; and there are two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left of it." (Zekharya 4:2). Surely this very thing was not at all real having existence. And that which he said: "I have looked, and behold a candlestick" – he did not see it at all. Since, however, his prophesy was by means of the faculty of imagination, it seemed to him as if he were seeing that vision. Its true aspect is the matter to whithe parable refers, as it says: "And I said to Him, What are these two olive trees… And He said, These are the two appointed ones…" (ibid., vv. 11-14). Thus, even though the matter alluded and referred to was true, the whole vision was not true, but rather it was imagined. This was not the case with Moshe, of blessed memory, whose prophecy was not by way of the imaginative faculty, or by way of parable or riddle whatsoever, as it says: "With him I speak mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in dark speeches" (Bamidbar 12:8). And because of this it says: "For he is the trusted one in all My house" (ibid., v. 7). In other words, regarding everything that he says he saw in My house, he is trustworthy, for everything is real as he reports having seen it. Blessed is God forever, Amen and Amen. (Derashot ha-Ran, 8)

R. Nissim distinguishes between the prophecy of Moshe that is a hundred per cent "trustworthy" and the prophecy of the rest of the prophets, the truth of which is in doubt, because they are based on the imaginative faculty. We must emphasize that R. Nissim does not doubt their prophecy. He says, however, that the certainty of prophecy was given only to Moshe. It is not by chance, let us add, that Moshe's prophesy gave rise to the eternal Torah, the standing and authority of which is undoubtedly different from all other prophetic works, holy as they may be.

The Rambam disagrees with R. Nissim and writes as follows:

The second notion consists in making known to us the fact that the prophets consider as true that which comes to them from God in a prophetic revelation. For it should not be thought that what they hear or what appears to them in a parable is not certain or is commingled with illusion just because it comes about in a dream and in a vision, as we have made clear, and through the intermediary of the imaginative faculty. Accordingly, [Scripture] wished to make known to us that all that is seen by a prophet in a vision of prophesy is, in the opinion of the prophet, a certain truth, that the prophet has no doubts in any way concerning anything in it, and that in his opinion its status is the same as that of all existent things that are apprehended through the senses or through the intellect. (Guide of the Perplexed, III, 24)

The Rambam, then, does not view the imaginative faculty as introducing any doubts about the certainty and truth of prophecy. From the perspective of the prophet, the certainty of a prophetic vision, even though it is based on the faculty of imagination, is as strong as the certainty of that which is apprehended through the senses or the intellect.[4]

It seems to me that R. Nachman does not see the problem of the imaginative faculty solely in the context of the ideas of truth and falsehood, but also in the context of the ideas of good and bad. R. Nachman understands that the imagination can be deceptive not only with respect to truths and falsehoods, but also with respect to good and bad. The sinful thoughts that come to man, his lusts, whether for illicit sexual relations, or for food, or for money, come to man from the imaginative faculty, which paints before him the longed after and craved object. Man's imagination can elevate him to Divine visions,[5] but it can also bring him down to the level of the lowest beast.


We now come to what R. Nachman says on this matter:

Now the way to subdue the imagination is through the aspect of the hand, corresponding to "by the hand of the prophets I have been imagined," (Hoshea 12:11). And "hand" is the aspect of joy, corresponding to "and you shall rejoice in al the effort of your hand" (Devarim 12:7). This is also the aspect of musical instruments that are played with the hand, by means of which prophecy would come to rest upon the prophets, as it is written: "Get me a musician" (II Melakhim 3:15).

For an instrument is a gathering of the ru'ach, which is a mixture of good and evil. There is a ru'ach of depression, a gloomy ru'ach, a ru'ach of evil, as it is said of Shaul, "an evil ru'ach began to terrify him" (I Shmuel 16:14). There is also a good ru'ach, as it is written: "Let Your good ru'ach guide me on level ground" (Tehilim 143:10). This is the aspect of the ru'ach of prophecy, Divine ru'ach. But when a person is a mixture of good and evil, he cannot receive truthful prophecies. Thus it is written of Shaul (I Shmuel 19:24), "he began to prophesy… and he lay arom (naked)." Rashi explains that this connotes madness, because he had been infused with a ru'ach of folly, a ru'ach of depression.

["Let our lord order the courtiers attending you to look for someone skillful at playing… his hand will play, and it will be good for you" (I Shmuel 16:16).]

The person whose hand plays an instrument collects and gathers up with his hand the good ru'ach, the ru'ach of prophecy, from within the ru'ach of depression. Thus he must be "skilled at playing," knowing how to collect and gather and find the components of the ru'ach one by one, in order to build the tune, the joy – i.e., to build the good ru'ach, the ru'ach of prophecy, which is the opposite of a ru'ach of depression. For he has to raise and lower his hand on the instrument he is playing in order to direct the build up of the joy to perfection.

Thus, when the prophet hears this music from one who is "skilled at playing," he receives from him the ru'ach of prophecy which [the musician] gathered with his hand from within the ru'ach of depression. This is the explanation of "his hand will play, and it will be good for you" specifically, "it will be good for you," because he gathers and refines the good from within the evil.

And the main gathering and building up of the ru'ach of prophecy is by means of the hand. Because the deposits of the ru'ach are there, as it is written (Tehilim 31:6): "Into your hand I deposit my ru'ach," and as in (Iyyov 12:10): "In whose hand is the life of every living thing and the ru'ach of all human flesh." This is the explanation of: "As the musician played, the hand of God came upon him" (II Melakhim 3:15). (Likutei Moharan Kama 54:7)

In this passage, R. Nachman puts forward two ideas that require clarification.

First, that a niggun and its player have the power to subdue the imaginative faculty.

Second, that the niggun subdues the imaginative faculty by removing the good ru'ach from the ru'ach of evil.

Let us examine these two ideas, one by one.

In our first shiur regarding niggun, we noted that R. Nachman asserts that the source of both niggun and prophecy are in the same place. We are talking about the source of inspiration for the invigorating spirit that flows into man and from within him to the entire world. Here too R. Nachman mentions the relationship between the playing of music and prophecy. "This is also the aspect of musical instruments that are played with the hand, by means of which prophecy would come to rest upon the prophets." It was precisely Shaul, to whom we shall yet return in the continuation of this teaching, who encountered this phenomenon that connects the playing of music and prophecy:

After that you shall come to the hill of God, where the garrisons of the Philistines are, and it shall come to pass, when you are come there to the city, that you shall meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a lute, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a lyre, before them; and they shall prophesy. (I Shmuel 10:5)

R. Nachman is by no means satisfied with the simplistic explanation that sees the lute, the timbrel, the pipe, and the lyre as musical instruments that merely create an atmosphere that inspires the prophets, allowing them to prophesy. As was stated above, he talks about deriving nourishment from a common source. The niggun is not merely scenery; it is substance. It is the spirit of life that fills the prophet, and causes him to prophesy.

Turning to the niggun as an instrument to deal with the imaginative faculty is, therefore, not surprising. When the faculty that gives life to prophecy is impaired, it requires an instrument that has the capacity to touch it. No article, lecture, shi'ur, or anything else in the world,has the capacity to touch the imaginative faculty, for they are of two diverse kinds. The imaginative faculty's power and the plain on which it operates, are untouchable. Only a force that operates on the same plain, that contains the same strength, can touch the imaginative faculty, and that is the niggun.[6]

We said above that the imaginative faculty can elevate a person to the heavens or cast him down to the ground. We are talking about the spirit that inspires a person and severs him from the chains of the intellect and the fetters of time and place. In a single moment, a person can soar above the seven heavens in order to sit together – spiritually speaking - with the seraphim, the ofanim, and the other holy beings; and in the blink of an eye, he can cross the seven rivers in order to sink – spiritually speaking - in that very mire of Elazar ben Durdaya.[7] In a single moment, prophecy can turn into a spirit of folly. We are dealing with the same force, the same instruments, but the results are as far apart as heaven and earth.

Who distinguishes and separates between the good ru'ach and the ru'ach of evil? Who stands guard and directs the spirit to its fitting place? Who subdues the imaginative faculty, subjugates it, and harnesses it to the rise and fall of man? Who is it "in whose hand is the life of every living thing and the ru'ach of all human flesh"? About whom was it stated: "Into your hand I deposit my ru'ach"? There is one answer to all these questions – he who knows how to play a musical instrument!

R. Nachman, in his usual manner, opens his exposition with the plain reality of the world. Playing music, even in the material sense, involves a gathering of ru'ach. In wind instruments, e.g., the flute or the trumpet, certain holes are blocked, so that the air blown into the instrument is released in partial manner and only in the appropriate places. In string instruments, e.g., the harp or the lyre, the music is produced by plucking certain strings in a particular manner, and letting go of the others.

R. Nachman keenly senses that playing an instrument is essentially an action of selection. What does the playing select? It picks out the good ru'ach from the evil one. It precisely determines which note will enter the world and which will disappear forever. Once again we see with our own eyes, that when a musician is not "skilled at playing," his music is grating and off-key. What we have here is an inability to select. The niggun will have no effect on the person's soul, it will not attract his heart, it will not allow for "the joining of two things" because it did not remove the "evil" note from the "good" one, and they sound together in confusion.


The spiritual world of Shaul, king of Israel, God's anointed one, the breath of our life, who established the kingdom of Israel, totally hangs in the hand of David. The word "hand" is used here precisely. This is not because of David's strength, nor because of his righteousness or charisma. The young lad who saw David lists his qualities:

Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Yishai the Bethlehemite, that knows how to play, and a fine warrior, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him. (I Shmuel 16:18)

Shaul, however, is interested in only one thing – "he knows how to play."

Shaul lost control over his spirit. He lost the ability to remove the good ru'ach from the ru'ach that is evil. His state of mind went from spiritual exaltation to madness and clouded senses. The prophet turned into a madman, for the boundary between prophecy and madness can change with even a slight, but acute, inclination of the imaginative faculty from one side to the other. We are speaking here about lifting one's finger from one hole and placing it on another; plucking one string and silencing another. The strings of Shaul's soul are slack, and he can no longer tune them. His prophetic music is now entirely off-key. He needs someone who knows how to play, and such was King David – "Thus, when the prophet hears this music from one who is 'skilled at playing,' he receives from him the ru'ach of prophecy."

This is what R. Nachman said also in teaching no. 3 which we saw already in our first shiur: "Therefore David was praised before Shaul as one who is 'skillful at playing,' for playing music is the building of Malkhut; therefore, he is fit for kingship."

David, king of Israel, merited eternal kingship on account of his ability to remove the faculty of prophecy from the imaginative faculty. This is also evident from David's life. Scripture itself testifies to the severity of David's sin in the incident involving Batsheva. Nathan the prophet in the parable of the poor man's lamb accuses David, "You are the man," but after David confesses his sins, Nathan informs him: "The Lord also has commuted your sin; you shall not die" (II Shmuel 12:13). In the wink of an eye, David directs his imaginative faculty, which had caused him to stumble into grave sin, to the elevated levels that he merits through his acknowledgment of the rightness of God's judgment that accompanies him throughout his life, through his loyalty to the ark of the covenant, and through his endless self-sacrifice for the kingdom of Israel.

So too Yehuda, whose imaginative faculty had brought him to his daughter-in-law, Tamar, directs that faculty in the first stage to say: "She has been more righteous than I," and in the second stage, to the self-sacrifice that he demonstrates before Yosef, ruler of Egypt.

Kingship is built by those who know how to remove the evil ru'ach from the good ru'ach, even when at times it subdues them.

This is also the reason people are now fond of saying that chazanim are fools, lacking in da'at (knowledge). For Malkhut of Holiness is presently in exile. Song is [generally] drawn from the place of the prophets, from the mentalities and da'at of Malkhut of Holiness. But now that Malkhut is in exile and song is consequently impaired, the chazanim lack da'at… "From behind the nursing ewes He brought him" - that is, from behind those that suckle. [This refers to Netzach and Hod,] for they nourish the prophets and are the concept of building up Malkhut.

This is the meaning of "From behind the nursing ewes." King David had the ability to rectify and uplift even the song of someone who was not virtuous, to elevate it to holiness. This is: "From behind the nursing ewes, He brought him…" – referring even to the song that is from the ACHoRey (back) of holiness; corresponding to "From ACHaR (behind) the nursing ewes," from achar those that suckle. For song that is holy is from the place that the prophets nurse. But song that is not holy corresponds to "From achar the nursing ewes…" – from the achorey of holiness. King David was able to correct this song as well. And as a result, Malkut of Holiness ascended. This is: "From behind the nursing ewes He brought him to tend [His people] Ya'akov… ." For it was through this that [David] merited malkhut. (Likutei Moharan Kama 3)

We already noted the fact that it is from the same spirit that the prophets draw their nourishment that the chazanim, the prayer leaders, draw theirs. And just as an unclarified spirit gives rise not to prophecy but to a spirit of folly, so too when a spirit is not clarified, it gives rise to "chazanim that are fools."

King David, as R. Nachman says here as well, can hear a tune that is not holy, repair and elevate it, and thus he builds Malkhut and reveals God's kingship in the world. King David "causes the wind to blow" in the world, "brings down the rain," and elevates the world from its materiality to its spiritual level, and thus he builds another story of the kingdom of God in this world. This joining of celestial and mundane worlds is a joining that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook hopes will be bequeathed to all men:

At times one starts with an imaginary picture, and matters proceed to the holier intellect, and are further elevated above the intellect and its roots, and Divine happiness fills all the life of all the roots of the soul of man and the wor. At other times, one begins with an intellectual phenomenon, or one even more elevated than that, and it spreads to an imaginary picture, and all its emotional and physical branches. And sometimes the two influences meet each other in their holy stream, and then man serves as the ladder upon which the angels of God ascend and descend, and the threads of the soul are then the lyre upon which the streams going back and forth issue forth sweet but strong sounds. (Orot ha-Kodesh I, p. 241)

Rav Kook speaks here of two spiritual movements found in man. Sometimes the movement proceeds upwards, that is to say, the imagination begins to operate, and slowly it clothes itself, at first with an intellectual awareness and then afterwards with an awareness that is above the intellect. In this spiritual movement, a person collects his material existence and elevates it to supreme spiritual comprehension. At other times, the movement proceeds downwards, that is to say, it begins with intellectual comprehension or comprehension that is above the intellect, and slowly spreads through the imagination and joins the lofty ideal to concrete and tangible existence.

It would appear that Rav Kook prefers the mutual movement, when there is "stirring from below and stirring from above." When both of these beat in man, his soul serves as a lyre upon which God's holy spirit plucks its cords. We are speaking about the song of life, the ability to join the celestial to the mundane and the mundane to the celestial.


In our previous shiur, we mentioned teaching no. 8, where R. Nachman relates to King David's lyre. At the beginning of that teaching, he writes as follows:

The question is, from where does one take the ru'ach of life? Know! The essence of the ru'ach of life is received from the tzadik/rav of the generation. This is because the essence of ru'ach of life can be found in the Torah, as in (Bereishit 1:2): "And the ru'ach of God hovers over the water's surface" – this is the Torah (Tikunei Zohar 36). And the tzadikim are bound to the Torah, which is why the essence of the ru'ach of life is with them.

When the person who is tied to the tzadik/rav of the generation sighs and extends his ru'ach, he draws the ru'ach of life from the generation's tzadik. For the tzadik is bound to the Torah – which is where the ru'ach is.

This is why the tzadik is called "a man in whom there is ru'ach" (Bamidbar 27:18) – who knows how to deal with the ru'ach of each individual. For the tzadik draws and completes the ru'ach of life of each and every person, as above.

And this corresponds to: The ru'ach tzefonit (northern wind) that blows upon King David's harp (Berakhot 3b). King David's harp had five strings, paralleling the Five Books of the Torah (Zohar III, 32a). The "northern ru'ach" which blew upon it alludes to "the ru'ach of God [that] hovers over the water's surface." This ru'ach TzeFoNit corresponds to the ru'ach haTZaFuN (hidden spirit) in man's heart – this being the ru'ach of life.

Our Sages taught: "Tzafon is lacking" (Bava Batra 25b). And the lack is in the heart, as is written (Tehilim 37:4), "He will give you that which your heart lacks," and (Tehilim 20:6), "God will fulfill all your requests." And the essence of the ru'ach of life is located in the heart. As we find in Tikunei Zohar (13): "All the body's organs are directed by the heart, which is like a king, while the arteries are like soldiers," as it is said (Kohelet 1:20),"To wherever the ru'ach intended to go…."

For the ru'ach is in the heart, and the lack is a departure of the ru'ach, whose place is in the heart. This is why the lack is felt [specifically] in the heart. Therefore, when the lack – which is an aspect of ru'ach - is filled, it is said: "He will give you that which your heart lacks," and "God will fulfill all your requests." And so, the Jews, who receive the ru'ach of life from the Torah, are called tzafun, as in (Tehilim 8:34), "They plot against your people, and take counsel against tzefunekha (Your hidden ones)." (Likutei Moharan Kama 8:2)

King David is the world's lyre; the spirit of God that hovers over the surface of the water plucks its strings, and from there turns to the hearts of all of Israel and fills in their deficiencies, as we saw in the previous shiur.[8]

The role of David's lyre is to perform the clarification and direct the Divine spirit to each individual as it befits him. Rav Kook expresses the same idea:

The tzadik always stands between God and the world, connecting the silent, dark world to Divine speech and light. All of a true tzadik's senses are given over to the Divine connection between all the worlds. All his desires, wants, inclinations, thoughts, actions, statements, practices, movements, sadness, joy, pain, and delight, without exception are chords of the holy music, that the life of the Divine, that flows through all the worlds, sounds. (Orot ha-Kodesh III, p. 229)

The tzadik, according to Rav Kook, reflects the Divine light that reveals itself in the world, and serves as a channel that connects between God and the world. Rav Kook's words well explain the following statement of R. Nachman: "When the tzadikim become famous in the world, new songs appear thereby in the world" (Sefer ha-Midot, negina 1). Since all the ways of the tzadikim are "chords of the holy music," their fame reveals the music and song of the world. This was King David and his lyre.

The lyre that began to play at midnight is an expression of the Shekhina. It is mentioned in the Gemara in Berakhot[9] in the context of the connection between tikkun chatzot and Israel's distress over its exile, on the one hand, and the "tikkun chatzot" performed in heaven and God's distress over the exile of His Shekhina, on the other.

David's lyre expresses the fact that David is an instrument to clarify the spirit that descends into the world and raise therewith the stature of Israel, each person according to the melody appropriate to him and according to what he lacks. In that way he can slowly redeem the Shekhina from its exile, by returning it to the breath of life of each and every individual Jew, each person according to his measure, each according to his deficiencies. This is the role of David, king of Israel, breath of our life, anointed one of God.

It would seem to me that this is also the way one should understand the end of one of R. Nachman's stories regarding the son of a king and the son of a maidservant who were interchanged. The son who wishes to prove that he is the one fit to be king must pass the test of the ministers, who say to him as follows:

The ministers said, "Nevertheless, even though we have seen such a thing from you, nevertheless, for one thing you do not deserve to be given the kingdom. We shall give you one more test."

They explained: "The late king had a throne. The throne is very tall, and next to it stands all kinds of animals and birds carved out of wood. In front of the throne stands a bed. There is a table near the bed, and on the table stands a lamp.

From the throne, well-trodden walled paths go forth. These paths go forth from all sides of the throne, but no one knows the relationship of the throne to these paths.

After the paths spread out for a certain distance, there is a golden lion standing by the [first one]. If a person comes near to it, it opens its mouth to swallow him. However, the path extends far beyond the lion. The same is true of the other paths extending from the throne. Thus, the second path extending from the throne is very much the same. Standing there is another type of wild beast, such as a leopard, made of a different metal. It is also impossible to come close to it. The path then extends beyond where it is standing. This is true of all the paths.

These paths extend throughout the entire land. No one understands the meaning of the throne with all its details and the paths. This, then, will be your test. See if you can understand the significance of the throne and everything associated with it."

They showed him the throne and he saw that it was extremely tall… He went over to the throne and gazed at it. As he contemplated the throne, he realthat it was made of the same type of wood as the box [or instrument, that the forest man had given him.] He gazed further, and saw that a rose was missing from the top of the throne. If the rose were in the throne, then the throne would have the same power as the box, [which would produce music whenever it was placed on any animal or bird].

Then he gazed even more and noticed that the rose missing from the top of the throne was lying at the bottom of the throne. He would have to take it and place it on top, and then the throne would have the same power as the box. The late king had devised each detail with such wisdom that no person could understand its significance until an extraordinarily wise person came along, who would understand the concept. He would then know how to exchange and arrange all things correctly.

[He then saw that] the same was true of the bed. He understood that it had to be moved slightly from the place where it stood. The table also had to be moved somewhat, and the lamp likewise had to have its position adjusted. The birds and animals also had to be moved to different places. Thus, a bird would have to be taken from one place and set in another place. The same was true of all the animals. The king had cleverly disguised everything so that only a very wise person would be able to contemplate it and then rearrange it correctly.

The same was true of the lion which stood [where the path emerged]. It had to be stood in a different place. This was true of all [the beasts on the paths].

[The son] gave instructions that everything be rearranged properly; to take the rose from the bottom, and insert it on top. Everything else was also rearranged in proper order.

[All the animals and birds] then began to sing a very wonderful melody. Each one functioned properly.

[The son] was then given the kingdom. (Sippurei R. Nachman, The Exchanged Children)

We shall not go into all the lofty ideas alluded to by R. Nachman in his detailed description. For our purposes it suffices to pay attention to the fact that we are dealing with the throne of a king who had ruled in the past, but is now gone. Since the king is missing, the various details no longer connect up one to the other. The king's strength was in his ability to join all of existence into one song, and when this was done, the wonderful song was heard. When the king went into exile and disappeared, and the Shekhina fell from its throne, the world remained in a totally separate state, and its vitality was buried, along with the song.

He who wishes to sit on the throne of kingship must know how to gather together all the elements, rejoin them, uncover the essence of each and every element, and thus reveal anew the wondrous melody. When the son of the maidservant succeeded to do this, he, who until a moment before had been a simple shepherd with a shepherd's staff in his hand and a hobo's pack on his back, merited the kingship.

King David's monarchy is the kingdom on earth that corresponds to the kingdom of heaven, and his kingdom's song is the song of the groaning Shekhina seeking to be once again redeemed. This is not a simple task, and the skill that it requires opens before us a window to another aspect of song, one which we shall see in the next


[1] As usual, we suggest that those who wish to delve more deeply into the matter should examine teaching no. 54 from the beginning.

[2] It is related about the Admor ha-Zaken, author of the Tanya, that when he was imprisoned in the St. Petersburg jail as a result of informers, he said to one of his interrogators who had aimed a dagger at him: "The weapon in your hand threatens one who has one world and many gods, but not one who has only one God and many worlds."

[3] Non-believers have, indeed, tried to classify all prophetic visions as psychotic experiences.

[4] Let us note that modern philosophy (the foundations of this approach may be found already among the pre-Socratic philosophers, e.g., Xenon and others) even questions the certainty of what is known through the senses, the intellect remaining the sole source of certainty – "I think; therefore I am."

[5] R. Yehuda Ha-Levi describes how the Chasid uses his imaginative faculty to comprehend "the spiritual forms that come in place of the pictures that the vital soul paints for itself by way of the imaginative faculty" (Sefer ha-Kuzari, V, 12).

[6] I don't know whether or not the relationship between musical talent and imagination has ever been investigated, but I have no doubt that R. Nachman would argue that there must be a very close correspondence between them.

[7] Avoda Zara 17a.

[8] Again, as we saw in the previous two shiurim, "God created the one in correspondence to the other." Thus, R. Nachman continues to explain in this teaching: "But what of the wicked people who speak arrogantly, haughtily and contemptuously of the tzadik (Tehilim 31:19). From where do they receive the ru'ach to fill the lack? But know! There is a RaV of the kelipa. He corresponds to Esav, as is written in connection to Esav (Bereishit 33:9), 'I have a RaV (a lot).' This also corresponds to (Bereishit 36:40) 'the alufei (tribal chiefs of) Esav' which Onkelos renders: RaVrevay Esav – who is the RaV of the husks."

[9] Berakhot 3a-4a.

(Translated by David Strauss)