Out of this world

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The Arizal taught that before creation, there was only the light of einsof. Hashem wanted to unveil his glory and needed to create humans with which to reveal His greatness. So He constricted His light, so to speak, and created an empty space in which He created all the worlds, synonymous with His attributes. Of course, without the constant connection and life force of the Creator, these worlds cannot exist. Therefore, even though, Hashem created an empty space, there must still be a trace connecting the worlds to Him. That trace is called a קו, a line, or רשימו, the imprint.

In Birkas Hashachar 5, Reb Nosson reveals that the verse Shema Yisraelשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְהֹוָה אֱלהֵינוּ, יְהֹוָה אֶחָד, has 25 letters in it, whereas the verse Baruch Shem בָּרוּךְ, שֵׁם כְּבוד מַלְכוּתו, לְעולָם וָעֶד, has 24 letters in it. I’d like to say that this is symbolic of the above teaching from the Arizal. What is Shema Yisrael? It’s affirming the oneness of God. It’s admission of nothing other than the Creator. That’s an aspect of einsof before the creation; total unity. Baruch Shem is more relevant to us. It talks about Hashem’s glory in the worlds, which is our avoda to reveal. The difference between the 24 letters in Baruch Shem and the 25 letters in Shema Yisrael is, of course, only one. This one represents the trace of einsof in this world that gives it vitality. I think that we express these two phenomenons in prayer often. First in Kaddish. The Kaddish starts off with יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא (His great name should be glorified and sanctified). This is an exclamation of His greatness and oneness, even before creation. Then we praise Him by saying יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא, (His great name should be blessed in all the worlds). Here we’re talking about His greatness after creation, in relation to the worlds. The same is true in the Kedusha prayer. The first proclamation we make is קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ, this is saying that Hashem is greater than any world can fathom. Then we say בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, this means that Hashem is great from His place, meaning He, so to speak, has a place in the worlds.

What does this mean to us? The fact that we have a connection to einsof is why there can never be reason to despair. This is the source of all Teshuva. We humans, even when we’re dirtied from sin in the lowest of all worlds, are always connected to something out of this world. We might have to hush the Baruch Shem in silence most of the time, but we still must say it. We recognize that the Creator is beyond any comprehension, but we must also admit that we have a direct line to the highest places unimaginable.

What’s so funny?

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At the conclusion of every yoga practice, we get into a pose called shavasana. During this pose, the practitioner lies flat on his back with his arms relaxed to his sides and his legs spread out as wide as the mat. He closes his eyes, breathes and observes his body, scanning it for any muscular tension. If he notices any tension, he will try to release it. Once he has let go of everything, the pose really begins. Although there are numerous benefits to this pose, such as relaxation and rejuvenation, my understanding is that during the practice the body worked very hard, but during shavasana, when the body is neutralized, the mind turns inward to those parts of the body that exerted themselves and gives an awareness to those body parts that didn’t exist before. It can only be understood through experience.

In the story of The Humble KingRebbe Nachman tells of a certain king who heard of another king that signs himself ‘the mighty warrior, man of truth and humble person’. Although the first king had portraits of every other king in the world, he never saw this king with the decorated signature. So he asked his wise advisor to bring him a portrait of this mysterious king, so he could determine if that king was telling the truth in his signature. The wise man traveled to the land of the hidden king and decided that in order to meet this king, and paint a portrait of him, he must first understand the essence of that land. He said, “One can understand the nature of a land by its humor. In order to understand something, one must know the jokes related to it”.

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What does humor and joking have to do with anything here?

As it turns out, the commentaries to this story explain the depths of humor. I’d like to share some of them with you. Firstly, the Talmud says (Eruvin 65b) that one of the four ways to identify a person is by what he laughs about. People will often tell jokes about things they’re too inhibited to discuss openly. So their jokes may tell more about their essence than their serious speech. Furthermore, humor requires a certain objectivity. When a person can laugh at something, it indicates that he’s not too involved in it. As we often see, the butt of the joke is usually very engrossed in what he’s doing, while countering that ‘It’s not funny’!

Humor is all about incongruities. One such incongruity is in the most basic force of creation. On the one hand Hashem gives (חסדים) and on the other hand He holds back (גבורות). Ultimately, of course, even Hashem’s withholding has its roots in His giving. This is the ultimate humor, just like the Zohar (2:163a) compares the Yetzer Hara (Evil urge) to a prostitute that the king hires to seduce his son. The prostitute is working for the king, and really doesn’t want the prince to succumb, so the whole story is really funny. That’s why the Talmud says (Sotah 3a) that a person can’t sin unless a “spirit of foolishness” enters him. Ironically, it’s the jokes and foolishness of the world that give man free will, which enables him to reach higher levels of wisdom.  In a certain sense this entire world, with all of our complexities, is nothing more than a funny game. The Talmud says (Shabbas 30a) that Hashem laughs (Psalms 2:4) with the wicked in this world and with the righteous in the word to come.

“בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן…אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ”

“When Hashem brings back the captives of Zion…our mouths will be filled with laughter” (Psalms 126:1-2)

The ultimate place of laughter is the Holy of Holies, as the Talmud relates (Yoma 69b): When the Men of Great Assembly nullified the evil urge for idolatry they saw it emerge from the Holy of Holies. Since everything ultimately comes from one place, the fact that evil appears so different from holiness is amusing.

The Rebbe explained this story with one verse (Isaiah 33:20): “See Zion, the city of our gatherings”. He said that the initial letters of the verse (חֲזֵה צִיּוֹן קִרְיַת מוֹעֲדֵנוּ) spell מְצַחֵק, which means to tell a joke.

A joke can’t be understood logically, but only with a level of consciousness that’s higher than logic. A person laughs at a joke but he doesn’t know why. (Similarly, when a person is lying in shavasana, he might access a level of consciousness and awareness of his body that is higher than logic and understanding). Therefore, it appears that jokes have their origin in Ketter, the most sublime emanation of Godliness that is incomprehensible to man. Zion is a place of our gatherings. This doesn’t only mean that we assemble in Jerusalem thrice yearly. It means that when everything comes together, all of good and evil, truth and lies, body and soul, weak and strong, and even microcosmically in the more trivial exertion of a full-body yoga practice, it comes together in one place. This central place is final and pivotal. This place is where we – physical human beings – can unite with the infinite non-corporeal God of all. This is Zion, the funniest place in the world.

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Royal qualities

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Hashem runs this world and all the higher worlds via the Ten Divine features, (sefiros). The last and final of these features is called Royalty (Malchus).

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As you can see in the above chart, Malchus is the lowest of all the sefiros. This is because Malchus is the ultimate realization of the other sefiros. All the flow that emanates from the higher sefiros are experienced in Malchus.

One might envision Royalty to have a presumptuous character, as portrayed below in Western society, but this depiction couldn’t be further from the truth.

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As discussed in an earlier blog, humility is the key feature of Royalty. In Torah 30 Rebbe Nachman teaches that the higher perceptions of Godliness (שכל עליון) need to be masked in the many filters of, what he calls, lower intellect (שכל תחתון). This lower intellect is an aspect of Malchus, because it’s the experience of the higher intellect. In order to understand this lower intellect, the student has to despise monetary gain (שונא בצע). (It must be pointed out here that in Torah 60 the Rebbe spoke of lofty Torah levels that are unattainable without wealth, so he clearly didn’t recommend not having money, or disposing of ones wealth). So why is hating monetary gain an aspect of Malchus?

The expression שונא בצע is one of the four attributes that Jethro listed when he advised Moses to choose men who will judge the people (Shemos 18:21). The Shadal explains that the root of the word בצע, which is translated as gain, always connotes dividing gain between two or more parties. We also find that breaking bread is called בציעת הפת, so the one who hates gain really hates to divide. This is why it’s a key ingredient of Malchus, because Malchus can’t be at all divided from Hashem. The Zohar says that just like the moon doesn’t have its own light, Malchus has nothing of its own (Zohar I 249a). It’s totally a receiver, without any of its own influence. To fully shine the light of the upper sefiros, the king has to be an empty vessel. If any part of the vessel is full, or divided for that matter, it can’t shine the light of the true king. (In fact, in this lesson the Rebbe teaches that Malchus needs to draw life-force from Or Hapanim, [a very lofty light that shines from Arich Anpin, which is outside the scope of this article]. But we clearly see that Malchus draws its life-force from somewhere else.)

King David embodied the attribute of Royalty. Of course he was a king, but his humility was astonishing. When the Prophet Shmuel shocked David’s family and anointed him to be the next King of Israel, the Midrash teaches that all of his family called out in song “Long live the king, long live the king”! Can you imagine the feeling of validation that David had after he was vilified by his family all his life as an illegitimate child? The verse says (Shmuel I 16:13) that after the anointing, Shmuel got up and went [back to his town] Ramah. What did David do then? The Midrash says that he went back to his sheep, with his stick and backpack! Not only that, but he took out his flute and composed a song (Psalms 131). Here are the words:

:שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּֽעֲל֗וֹת לְדָ֫וִ֥ד, יְהֹוָ֚ה  לֹֽא־גָבַ֣הּ לִ֖בִּי ,וְלֹֽא־רָ֣מוּ עֵינַ֑י וְלֹֽא־הִלַּ֓כְתִּי בִּגְדֹל֖וֹת וּבְנִפְלָא֣וֹת מִמֶּֽנִּי

“A song of ascent by David: Hashem, my heart isn’t haughty and I didn’t lift up my eyes. I also didn’t pursue things that are greater than me”. 

Could you believe the humility? This is the song that he sings to Hashem (who knows the truth) after “the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone”? But as we all know kingship radiates a certain splendor and the same can be said about someone who is truly humble. It’s a magnificent trait to possess.

One final thought on Malchus. In the last paragraph of the lesson, the Rebbe says something very deep. “From a person’s voice, his measure of Malchus is discernible”. In one of the most amazing moments in Jewish history, as the kingship was passing from Saul to David and Saul was trying to kill David to prevent him from usurping the kingdom, David had a chance to kill Saul but declined to do so, instead cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe. When Saul was at a safe distance, David called out to him and gave him great honor but rebuked him for chasing an innocent person. To show his innocence, David held up the ripped corner of Saul’s robe, proving his good intentions. The verse then says, “When David finished these words, Saul said ‘Is that your voice, David my son’? And Saul lifted up his voice and wept”. The Rebbe teaches that from hearing David’s voice, Saul recognized that David would be King. So he wanted to lift up his own voice and attain that measure of Malchus himself, but the sound that emerged was a sob.

Why is the voice an indicator of someone’s capacity for Malchus? I think it’s the same idea. The blessing we make on the Shofar is “to hear the voice of the Shofar”. We don’t bless the sound of the shofar, but its voice. This is because the sound of the shofar is totally unadulterated. It’s a pure sound straight from the belly of the blower. That’s what a voice is too. Every person’s voice is unique and indicative, on a deeper level, of who he is. Not necessarily his ability to sing on tune, but the essence of his voice. When hearing David’s voice, Saul recognized David’s oneness with Hashem and his humility. Here he was giving rebuke to the King of Israel, but it was in total humility, he had no ego in the moment.

When we yearn for Hashem’s kingship to spread across the world, we are hoping that every creature will know God’s humility. Namely, how He is the most powerful being, yet He makes Himself available to even the lowest creature alive. May we know it speedily in our days. Amen!

 

מִי כַּֽיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ הַמַּגְבִּיהִ֥י לָשָֽׁבֶת, הַמַּשְׁפִּילִ֥י לִרְא֑וֹת בַּשָּׁמַ֥יִם וּבָאָֽרֶץ

“Who is like you Hashem our God, who dwells in the highest places, yet lowers Himself to look to the heavens and the earth.” (Psalms 113:5-6)

 

Come as you are

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I find it so difficult to concentrate in prayer. I think the hardest part about it for me is that when I stop to pray I feel weighed down by either the things I’ve recently been busy with or the things I want to accomplish later. So I struggle to quiet my mind for that short time.

I read recently in Miriam Kosman’s book, “Circle Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism”, that it’s a male quality to want to do and a female quality to want to be. I must be very manly because all I want to do is produce, perform and execute. I find it much more difficult to develop, nurture and be mindful.

 

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Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 49 that prayer is an aspect of the divine-feature Royalty (מלכות). King David who embodied this divine-feature sang of himself (Psalms 109:4), “and I am [all] prayer”. The divine feature of Royalty is a feminine aspect of God, so based on the above understanding, King David is claiming that he’s satisfied being in the state of prayer. He doesn’t need to go out and shout victory over his opponents. He’s not thinking about the future as he’s praying. He’s not itching to get-on to the next thing. He genuinely feels complete with just praying. This is an attribute of humility, because in order to fully rely on God, we need to hand over the reigns to Him. If we don’t entirely let go of the control, then at least a part of us will need some action other than prayer.

The Rebbe then goes on to teach (in a most amazing way, that’s sadly too complicated for this short article) that Teshuva – Coming back to God – is lifting ourselves back up to this type of Royalty. You see in the beginning of the lesson he speaks about positive thoughts and negative thoughts. The negative thoughts create evil realities and weaken the feature of Royalty. Teshuva is when we elevate the Royalty back to its place. (As the Zohar says, תשובה is the same letters as ‘תשוב ‘ה, which means to return the letter ה back to its place. The letter ה represents Royalty). According to how we’re learning Royalty, as a feminine, nurturing and present space, Teshuva is releasing ourselves from our need to move forward. Obviously many times that means curtailing our immoral passions. But I’m referring to something more profound. Coming back to God means humbling ourselves and realizing that we’ve been so macho-like, trying to perform and accomplish. Of course we mean well and He wants us to try in every way possible to succeed. But ultimately there is nothing happening outside His dominion. When it’s time to come back to God, there’s nothing else to do. There’s no life outside of His life-force. So it’s time to let go and just be, as hard as that is for some of us. We need to put down our phones, quiet our minds and be present in the moment.

This explains the Mishna that says “The first pious ones used to wait an hour before they prayed”. Maimonides says they did this to quiet their mind. Many of us feel we don’t have that extra time and we’re probably right. But there are other techniques to help. Try keeping a finger on the place or try saying the words out loud and melodically. But most importantly, when we step into synagogue – or into our own private space to pray – we need to recognize very clearly that we’ve just set aside time to leave our world and enter God’s world. Let’s take a look at our watch. Give ourselves X minutes and make them count. I want to stress that nobody at all cares if we finish all the words. It’s not a race, so what’s the rush? We anyways committed to being here. So let’s quiet our minds and be active in our prayers. Let’s try hard to make each word meaningful. It’s my prayer that we can all attain this peace of mind and trust in God. This will elevate our own Royalty and His Royalty so we can merit to unite with the true King on the glorious day of His coronation, Rosh Hashana.