Shiur 30: The Niggun (V) -
Introduction To The Thought Of Rav Nachman Of
Yeshivat Har Etzion
SHIUR #30: The Niggun (V)
THe Niggun of THe Ein SOf
By Rav Itamar Eldar
In order to summarize what we have learned this year, let us now return to teaching no. 64, and see how the idea of niggun (song) fits in with the ideas of empty space, heresy, silence, and all the other ideas that we have dealt with in connection with that teaching.
Know that by way of the niggun of the tzadik, who is the aspect of Moshe, he raises the souls from the heresy of the empty space into which they had fallen. For you should know that every science in the world has a special song and melody, which is the unique song for that science, and from which that science issues forth. This is the aspect of "Sing (zameru) a Maskil psalm" (Tehilim 47:8), that every intellect (sekhel) and science has a song and melody. Even the science of heresy has a melody and song that is unique to the science of heresy. This is what our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said (Chagiga 15b): "'Acher' what was with him? Greek song did not cease from his mouth, and when he would stand up in the study hall, several heretical books would fall from him." For the one is dependent upon the other, for because of the aforementioned song that did not cease from his mouth, heretical books would fall from him. For that song was unique to his heresy. Thus, every science, commensurate with its aspect and level, has a song and melody belonging and unique to it. And so too from one level to the next, for the wisdom at the higher level has a more elevated song and melody. And so too as one goes up to the first point of creation, which is the beginning of Atzilut. There is nothing higher, and there is nothing encompassing the science found there, other than the infinite light that encompasses the open space, in which are found all created things and sciences. Without a doubt, wisdom is also found there, but the wisdom found there in the infinite light cannot be known and comprehended, for the infinite is God Himself, may He be blessed, and His wisdom cannot be comprehended at all. Only the aspect of faith is found there, that they believe in Him, may He be blessed, whose infinite light causes all the worlds and encompasses everything. Faith also has a song and melody unique to faith. As we see, even the mistaken beliefs of idol-worshippers, every idolatrous belief has a unique melody, which they sing in their houses of worship. The same is true regarding holiness; every belief has a song and melody. That unique song of the belief mentioned above, the supreme belief of all the sciences and beliefs in the world, the belief in the infinite light itself that causes all the worlds, as stated above, that song is also above all the melodies and songs in the world, belonging to every science and belief. And all the songs and melodies of all the sciences are drawn from that song and melody, which is above all the songs and melodies of all the sciences. For it is the song belonging to the belief in the infinite light itself, which is above everything. In the future, when "he will convert the peoples to a purer language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord" (Tzefanya 3:9), and all will believe in Him, may He be blessed, then will be fulfilled "Come, look from the top (rosh) of Amana" (Shir ha-Shirim 4:8). Specifically, "from the top of Amana," that is the aspect of this supreme belief (emuna), as was explained above, which is the head (rosh) of all beliefs, as was stated above. And specifically, "look" (tashuri), namely, the melody and song (shir) belonging to this highest belief, as explained above. As for the aspect of the song of this supreme belief, no one attains it, but the tzadik of the generation, who is the aspect of Moshe, who is at the level of this belief, which is the aspect of silence, the aspect of "be silent, thus arose in thought," as mentioned above. And this is "Then will Moshe sing" (Shemot 15:1), about which our Sages, of blessed memory, said (Sanhedrin 91b): "It does not say 'he sang,' but rather, 'he will sing.' From here [we know about] resurrection from the Torah." For Moshe will also sing in the future. For all the songs, both those of this world and those of the world-to-come, are found only by Moshe, who is the aspect of silence, who attained the song that belongs to the belief that is supreme over all, in which are contained all the songs, for they are all drawn from it. This is what Rashi explains: "'Yashir' (he will sing) the letter yod on account of the thought." That is, the aspect of "thus arose in thought," as stated above, the aspect of Moshe, the aspect of silence, as mentioned above. And therefore, by way of the niggun of the tzadik, who is the aspect of Moshe, as stated above, by way of this all the souls that fell into the heresy of the empty space ascend and descend, for his melody is the aspect of uppermost belief, that is, the belief that reigns supreme over all others. For by way of this melody and belief, all the heresies are canceled, and all the melodies are included and become canceled in this melody, which is above everything, from which all the melodies are drawn, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 64, 5)
THE INTERNAL POINT
R. Nachman asserts here that every intellect and science has a song of its own. When a person wishes to learn a particular science, he learns its language, its definitions, its outlook, its customs and its sayings. Common to all these factors is that they all pass through words and speech. Speech is the garment in which every idea is clothed, but R. Nachman assumes that all these things have a more internal point, a vital spirit that inspires the sentences, words and letters, i.e., a niggun.
As we saw in previous lectures, melody is the source of inspiration, the vitality that animates life. Thus, there cannot be a science, not even a heretical science, void of song. This too we saw in previous lectures.
R. Nachman depicts a ladder upon which the sciences and intellects are set, one above the other. The more abstract the science and the closer it is to the inner essence of the world, the more abstract, more noble and more lofty is also its song.
And so too as one goes up to the first point of creation, which is the beginning of Atzilut. There is nothing higher, and there is nothing encompassing the science found there.
We have already discussed the meaning of the idea of "encompassing" in R. Nachman's thought. R. Nachman maintains that whatever a person's spiritual state, there is wisdom which for his level has the aspect of "inner light," that is to say, wisdom that is internalized and understood, one that is apprehended by the person's mind and well-defined in his understanding. And there is also wisdom, which for his level has the aspect of "encompassing light." That wisdom stands outside the person, and remains incomprehensible and undefined, for he does not have the utensils to absorb and internalize it. This situation is constant. Whatever level a person reaches contains within it the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, what is on that level and what is above it, which at that moment, in the place that the person finds himself, he can only aspire to or believe in, until he succeeds in elevating himself and reaching a higher level, at which time that which had formerly been incomprehensible will turn for him into "inner light," and that which is above it into "encompassing light."
This process, as we have presented it, may be seen as climbing up a ladder. A more appropriate image, however, involves the removal of outer garments. For R. Nachman writes as follows: "Up to the first point of creation, which is the beginning of Atzilut." In other words, R. Nachman speaks of a point, which is the inner aspect and root of the entire world. Everything came into being through it, and in essence everything in the world is a garment on top of a garment clothing that inner point, that Divine vitality, which is the most elevated and lofty niggun, to which all of creation and all of the world dances. Nothing encompasses this niggun and this wisdom. Or in the language that we have just suggested, this wisdom is not a garment for anything else which we can try to understand, for we have reached the source of all existence.
Nevertheless, R. Nachman makes the following remark:
There is nothing higher, and there is nothing encompassing the science found there, other than the infinite light that encompasses the open space, in which are found all created things and sciences. Without a doubt, wisdom is also found there.
When we remove all the garments, when we look at the transparent world and see in it only the inner point standing at its center, we discover that it is surrounded by open space, around which there is infinite light.
As we have already noted in the past, the beginning of teaching no. 64 is dealing not only with geographical order, but also with chronological order. Between the vital point of existence which is "the beginning of wisdom" and Divine infinity in which "there is no place void of Him," there stands empty space, not just in place, but also in time. The transition, as we have seen in the past, from the infinite, from the Ein, to finite and defined creation is by way of the empty space. In order to reach the infinite, argues R. Nachman, both in time and in place, we must pass through the open space.
It seems to me that maximal attention must be paid to a critical point found in this section. The focus of interest in the first sections of teaching no. 64 is the open space. R. Nachman was occupied by the questions whether Divinity is found in the open space, whether wisdom is found there, whether answers to be found there, because these are the questions that determine whether one can be saved from the open space, whether one who falls into it can come back. It should be noted that in this section R. Nachman does not deal with the open space. The topic of discussion is not the wisdom in the open space, but rather the wisdom in the infinite light that encompasses the open space. The question here is not whether or not one can understand the open space. Here R. Nachman is interested in the essence of the infinite, rather than that of the open space.
This point is of great importance for two reasons. First of all, it clarifies the direction in which R. Nachman is headed in this teaching. And second, it sharpens our understanding of various concepts appearing in this section, which ar first glance do not go together i.e., melody and silence.
R. Nachman notes that indeed there is wisdom in the infinite: "But the wisdom found there in the infinite light cannot be known and comprehended, for the infinite is God Himself, may He be blessed, and His wisdom cannot be comprehended at all. Only the aspect of faith is found there." It stands to reason that, according to R. Nachman, not only is the open space incomprehensible, but also the infinite that encompasses it. As long as we were striving for the inner point that invigorates the world, for the niggun of existence, we could seek wisdom, for the world is founded on wisdom, "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens" (Mishlei 3:19), and that point is the "beginning of wisdom." Now, however, we are striving for the infinite, for the crown that is above the wisdom which it encompasses. Wisdom is found inside the head, the crown is found outside of it and above it. The crown encompasses the head.
Here we must leave widsom behind and come to the aspect of faith. The infinite does not become "inner light"; it remains encompassing. We look at it from our distant position and believe that it exists, that it encompasses us, and among other things it also encompasees the open space. There is nothing that we can say about it; we have no words to describe it, for all words limit, define, demarcate borders. The infinite cannot be bound by words and definitions thought cannot take hold of it whatsoever!
The niggun of the infinite
R. Nachman argues that even the infinite has a melody:
That song is also above all the melodies and songs in the world, belonging to every science and belief. And all the songs and melodies of all the sciences are drawn from that song and melody, which is above all the songs and melodies of all the sciences. For it is the song belonging to the belief in the infinite light itself, which is above everything.
As we have seen in previous lectures, a melody has the power to remove the good spirit from the evil one, to find the inner and positive point that gives life to everything. All the more so, does this song, the most elevated of songs, have that power. This song is not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively different from all the other songs. While all the other songs reflect the existence of a Divine point, an inner vitality that FILLS all things, this song reflects the fact that Divinity CAUSES everything. All the songs sing about God who fills all the worlds, whereas the song of the infinite sings that the Holy One, causes and encompasses all the worlds "that they believe in Him, may He be blessed, whose infinite light causes all the worlds and encompasses everything."
Therefore, this song has a special power that it is able to elevate not only the created world, which clearly and evidently has inner vitality, but also the open space, in which there is no Divinity, as it were, but Divinity encompasses it as well. The open space has no song, for it is, as it were, void of God, but it is encompassed by the most supreme song, that causes and clothes it as well, as is stated in section 3: "One must believe that God, blessed be He, encompasses it as well, and surely in truth, there too there exists His Divinity, blessed be He."
Who among us is not curious to hear the sound of this song, the song that encompasses all of exisence and the open space as well, the song that is more elevated and lofty than all the other songs found in the world?
R. Nachman relates the following story: There once lived a certain king, who was also curious and wished to know this song. He, therefore, sent the wisest man in his kingdom to bring a picture of the infinite. There was no king and no comprehension that this king did not obtain. His album and his wisdom were full of pictures and images of kings, and only the infinite was missing. One little square in his big album, without which the riddle of existence could not be fully solved. This was not by coincidence, for this special king, the infinite king, hides himself even from his subjects. He remains hidden, he sits in his ivory tower, behind a screen, not revealing himself to anybody. R. Nachman tells of the troubles that befell the wise man before he reached the hidden king. The wise man, who over the course of his troubles came to the realization that the king's country is filled with falsehood, understood the meaning of the distance that the king maintained between himself and his country in particular and the world in general. Thus, he understood the infinite gap betwee the world and the king, between the finite world full of absurdities and contradictions, and the infinite that embraces everything. Then the wise man began to praise the king. R. Nachman describes what happened as follows:
When he came to the king, he said, "Over whom are you king? The land is completely full of falsehood, from beginning to end. There is no truth at all in it." He then began to describe all the falsehood in the land.
Hearing this, the king inclined his ear toward the curtain to listen to [the wise man's] words. The king was very surprised that there was a man who was aware of all the falsehood in the land.
When the ministers of state heard [the wise man's] words, they were very angry with him. However, he continued describing the falsehood in the land.
[The wise man] then said, "It would be logical to say that [since you are] king, [you] are just like the rest that you like falsehood, just like everyone else in the kingdom. But there is one thing that shows me that you are a man of truth. Since you cannot tolerate the land's falsehood, you keep yourself at a distance from your [subjects]." With that, [the wise man began to praise the king very, very highly.
The king was very humble. Wherever he had greatness, he had humility. When a person is truly humble, the more he is praised and made great, the smaller and more humble he becomes. Therefore, when the wise man praised him and spoke of his greatness, the king became very small and humble, until he literally became nothing.
[The king] then could not hold himself back. He threw aside the curtain so as to see the wise man. [He had to see] who knew and understood all this. In doing so, the king revealed his face, and the sage saw him. The wise man was then able to paint his portrait, and bring it to his king. (Sippurei Ma'asiyot, The Humble King)
The wise man in his wisdom succeeded in unraveling the riddle of creation. He succeeded in recognizing all the falsehood in the world. With his wisdom he reached the starting point, the "beginning of wisdom," for surely he was the wisest of men. He also understood why an open space must separate between the infinite and the world, for if not, either there would be no world, or the infinite itself would not be infinite, but rather it too would be part of the world of falsehood and contraction.
When the wise man understood this, he started to climb up from one level to the next toward the king. The wise man in his wisdom tried to go beyond the starting point to reach the infinite itself. And thus in his wisdom he voiced one praise after the other, and it seemed as if the picture was being filled in and the puzzle completed: God who is great, mighty, revered and sublime. Another praise and another praise, and it seemed as if with just a little more it would all be complete and he would receive the full picture. But what happened in the meantime?
In the meantime, behind the screen, the closer the wise man would come, the further the king would move away. The more that from the wise man's perspective the picture would expand, the more the picture would really contract, until it turned into nothing. At that very moment, the moment that the wise man thought that he had understood everything, when he saw the edge of the curtain turning into itself, at that very moment of the pinnacle of pride, everything was overturned and humility arrived in its place, for wherever there is pride there is also humility. The infinite and nothingness became one.
THE SILENT SONG
The wise man returned with his portrait to the king and the king inserted the picture into the missing square. Now the album was complete and at the same time the square remained empty, but it was a different type of emptiness.
As for the aspect of the song of this supreme belief, no one attains it, but the tzadik of the generation, who is the aspect of Moshe, who is at the level of this belief, which is the aspect of silence, the aspect of "be silent, thus arose in thought," as mentioned above.
The infinite can only be photographed by one who is able to pass through nothingness.
There is a supreme song that can only be sung by one who knows how to be silent. This song is not composed of notes and tempo, but of silence, for the road to that song, to the infinite, passes through the open space. Someone who does not know how to be silent is left behind at a distance, sings the regular songs, and believes. But someone who knows how to be silent, someone who is able to believe even out of absence and silence, girds his loins, jumps into the open space, and the song of the infinite turns for him alone into "inner light."
And He said to Moshe, Come up to the Lord, you, and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and bow down afar off. And Moshe alone shall come near the Lord, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him. (Shemot 24:1-2)
R. Nachman writes that there is a cry that is sounded in silence, but nevertheless reaches from one end of the world to the other.
It may be added that there is also a song that is sung in silence, a song that the tzadik is able to reach through his silence. A song that embraces all the sciences, that has no boundaries or definitions, for the song of the infinite must be endless. We well know that speech demarcates, defines, and catalogues the infinite world. We know that a song can embrace much more, it being more abstract, more internal and less given to definition.
Now, R. Nachman teaches us that there is a song in relationship to which even the words "more abstract, more internal and less given to definition" are too material. This song may be called a "song of silence," which says nothing, and therefore says it all.
The tzadik knows this song and constantly sings it. We are not necessarily talking about a melody that can be played on the piano. It seems to me that we are dealing with a way of life, with feelings, with hopes, precisely the way Rav Kook, in one of the previous lectures, defined the ways of the tzadik as the chords of creation. The entire conduct of the outstanding tzadik of the generation is a silent statement of faith. When we hear the song of his prayer and Torah study, when we look at the way he walks, the way he conducts himself with his followers, how he confronts the troubles that befall him and the Jewish people, we sense that there is no empty space capable of casting him down. Our sense is that his entire conduct revolves around God, irrespective of what he is doing.
We are talking about a song of internal faith that does not say anything. We are not dealing with a righteous preacher who explains how God's governance cries out from every corner. Nor are we dealing with a righteous miracle worker who demonstrates the existence of God through nature. Rather, we are dealing with a tzadik who is silent! With a tzadik, the strength of whose faith is greater than the strength of his speech. He does not speak with pathos, nor does he imprint the seal of Torah on every action that he performs and every situation that he encounters. But the silence of faith that radiates from him onto his entire surroundings causes all who come into contact with him to feel that the eyes of God are upon him and the entire world. This is the song of simple faith that believes that God is the cause of everything.
When the tzadik sings this song, even those who have fallen into the empty space, even those for whom no song in the world can illuminate their way, hear, cry, and stir. They feel the caressing light of the infinite that surrounds them and allows them to be redeemed.
Through the songs that contain the sound of wailing, they can take out the captives, the aspect of "He brings out the prisoners into prosperity" (Tehilim 68:7) (Sefer ha-Middot, negina 3)
The tension, the contradiction, the unanswerable question, and all the dialectics that accompany us in this teaching of R. Nachman disappear and are washed away by the song of the tzadik:
And therefore, by way of the niggun of the tzadik, who is the aspect of Moshe, as stated above, by way of this all the souls that fell into the heresy of the empty space ascend and descend, for his melody is the aspect of uppermost belief, that is, the belief that reigns supreme over all others. For by way of this melody and belief, all the heresies are canceled, and all the melodies are included and become canceled in this melody, which is above everything, from which all the melodies are drawn, as explained above.
There are no contradictions and no heresy. There is no space and no void. The song of the infinite as it is sung by the tzadik bridges and unites all of existence, all of which proclaims a chapter of song before Him.
Fortunate is the tzadik who merits to hear the sound of the song of the infinite. Fortunate are we who have merited that this teaching so full of light has been revealed to us.
By the grace of God and
with His help, we have completed our study of teaching no.
First of all, this teaching deals with central and important issues in R. Nachman's thought, and therefore it served us as a window through which to relate to them tzimtzum, heresy, doubts in faith, speech and silence, dispute, and song. In my humble opinion, this teaching constitutes the foundation of all of R. Nachman's thought, and it provides the student with the possibility of touching, feeling, and diving into his waters.
Moreover, it seems to me that we are dealing here with a deeply profound teaching. R. Nachman touches upon the most sensitive nerves and most subtle threads of existence, and with courage, daring and creativity, he illuminates that darkness in a new light. From my little experience, I can say that I have learned and taught this teaching tens of times, and never once did I not gain new insight from it. This teaching deals with the infinite and it itself contains within it the infinite. Fortunate is he who merits to reach the starting point.
I unhesitatingly dare to say that there is no significant faith-related issue that is not connected in some way to the matters that arise in this teaching. With God's help, just as we have merited to complete our study of this teaching, so will we merit to continue with other teachings, and even return to this teaching again in the future.
With this lecture, we complete this lecture series for the year 5763.
Next year, with God's help and bli neder, already in Elul, we will begin a series of an additional fifteen lectures on the teachings of R. Nachman, that will start with the topic of repentance and continue with other issues.
I would be happy to receive your comments and suggestions, which can be sent to the e-mail address of Yeshivat Har Etzion.
 Sichot ha-Ran 16.
 R. Nachman writes in several places that much may be learned from the mundane conversations of tzadikim. So too R. Natan testified about his master: "It was his way always that even when he would engage in mundane conversations with people, his foot and most of his body would become exceedingly excited" (Chayyei Moharan, Gedulat Nora'ot Hasagato, 3, 243).
(Translated by David Strauss)