Pesach in Chassidic Thought: Haste from God

  • Rav Itamar Eldar

 

Pesach in Chassidic Thought:

Haste from God

 

By Rav Itamar Eldar

Translated by David Strauss

 

            The matzot that we eat on the night of the Seder serve as a reminder of Israel's hasty exodus from Egypt. The haste of Israel's exodus from Egypt was twofold.

 

            The first haste was on the fifteenth of Nisan when in a single moment the Egyptians drove the Israelites out of the country. As Scripture states:

 

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened: because they were driven out of Egypt, and could not delay, neither had they prepared for themselves any provision. (Shemot 12:39)

 

            The second haste we find in the words of Moshe and Aharon, on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, when they commanded the Israelites to prepare themselves to bring the paschal offering and eat it with matza and maror:

 

And thus you shall eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord's passover. (Shemot 12:11)

 

            This command implies that the matter of the haste was not only a result of the hasty expulsion, but the general atmosphere that the people of Israel were themselves commanded  to create – a feeling of urgency and haste.

 

            Chassidic thought has dealt in length with the matter of haste, and saw it as a sign and symbol of the mental state that is supposed to accompany the beginning of every spiritual process. In this lecture we will try to examine the various approaches to the idea of haste.

 

THe beginning of DIvine Service

 

            R. Tzadok Hakoken of Lublin opens his book, Tzidkat ha-Tzadik, with the following:

 

Man's entry into the service of God must begin with haste, as we find that the Paschal offering brought in Egypt was eaten in haste, which was not the case with the Paschal offering brought in later generations. Because when a person begins to sever himself from all the desires of this world to which he is attached, he must guard the moment in which the will of God stirs up within him, and make haste in that moment to leave them, perhaps he will succeed. Afterwards, he can once again proceed with moderation and slowness as is the law regarding the Paschal offering brought in later generations. (Tzidkat ha-Tzadik 1)

 

            R. Tzadok Hakohen relates to the obligation to eat the Paschal offering in haste that applied to the first Paschal offering brought in Egypt, but not to the Paschal offerings brought in later generations. R. Tzadok argues that it is the beginning of a process that requires haste. The Paschal offering brought in Egypt was Israel's entranceway into the service of God. From there it was only a short step to Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah, and to all the mitzvot that came in its wake, the opening point remaining forever the exodus from Egypt. At that point, the beginning of Divine service, it was necessary to act in haste, rather than in moderation, the time for which would arrive in the future.

 

            The words of R. Tzadok seem to be based on a double rationale: "Because when a person begins to sever himself from all the desires of this world to which he is attached." The people of Israel were sunk in forty-nine gates of uncleanness, and the two hundred and ten years of slavery had adhered to them. Custom, habit, and routine are stronger than any change, especially when they are seductive as they drag a person down. Israel's stay in Egypt was spent in slavery, but from what the Israelites say later, we learn about the meat pots that they had enjoyed in Egypt and the relative "security" in which they had lived there. In order to liberate them from all this, a clear and drastic step had to be taken that would leave their seductive routine behind, and allow them to step forward towards a new future. Had the people of Israel looked back for a moment as they fled from Pharaoh, in the manner of Lot's wife, they might have had regrets and returned. Because the exodus took place in haste, there was no turning back, and the movement was always forward. It was the haste alone that ensured a total severance from the straits of Egypt.

 

            The same applies when a person wishes to set out on a spiritual journey in the service of God, while he is immersed in the desires of this world. Here too we are dealing with a seductive routine, whose enticements appear at every moment, and the only way to liberate oneself from them, is by taking a drastic and decisive step that leaves everything else behind. There is no room here for gradation, for gradation would allow the gravitational force of matter to drag a person down to it.[1][1]

 

            It seems, however, that R. Tzadok is alluding here to another rationale that justifies haste: "He must guard the moment in which the will of God stirs up within him, and make haste in that moment." R. Tzadok is alluding here that the excitement and aspiration to walk in the path of God is a Divine gift that can be recalled. We must be careful, asserts R. Tzadok, about "missing the moment." When excitement stirs up in man, he should not push off its application, for just as it arrived as a surprise, so too is it liable to leave him.

 

            Occasionally, we are caught in the excitement of a new process. This may involve "a yearning to pray," and then we may say to ourselves: "When we get to … we will fulfill our desire," "Soon," "We'll just finish and then," We'll tidy up the house, and then pray." R. Tzadok teaches us that all such arguments cause us to miss the moment, to forfeit the window of opportunity that God in His lovingkindness had opened before us.[2][2]

 

            According to this, we can attach deeper meaning to the halakhic principle that a blessing over a mitzva must be recited "immediately prior to its performance." The problem is not merely a technical problem of an interruption between the blessing and the act. The blessing is the intention, the direction, the will, and the conjunction. A delay in the execution of the act may cause a person to miss the opportunity to direct toward himself the great light created at the time of the blessing, and for this reason, one must recite the blessing immediately prior to the mitzva's performance.

 

            It seems that to these two reasons we may add yet another reason for the need for haste at the outset of Divine service, as emerges from one of the famous stories of R. Nachman of Breslov: “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton.”

 

            This story tells of two childhood friends, each of whom had paved a way of life for himself, the one in simplicity and the other with sophistication. At a certain point, the king asked to see them. The king understands that his request to see these two ordinary citizens is unreasonable, and so he delicately sends a messenger to each of them, asking him to appear before him. Each of them responds in his own way:

 

As soon as the Simpleton got the letter, he said to the messenger who delivered it, "I don't know what the letter says. Read it for me."

"I will tell you what it says," replied [the messenger]. "The king wants you to come to him."

"You're not playing a joke on me," said [the Simpleton].

"It's absolutely true," answered the messenger. "I'm not joking at all.

[The Simpleton] was overjoyed. He ran and told his wife, "My wife! The king has sent for me!"

"Why?" asked the wife. "What reason could he possibly have to send for you?"

But [the Simpleton] did not have any time to answer. He joyfully rushed out and immediately left with the messenger. When he got on the coach, he found the clothing there, and this made him all the more happy. (Sippurei Ma'asiyot, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton”)

 

            Upon receiving the news, the simpleton refused at first to believe; he was accustomed to the fact that people used to exploit his innocence and toy with him. But as soon as the messenger said that he was speaking to him in earnest, he immediately rushed off to go to the king. Even his wife, who wished to clarify how and why he was going, was unable to stop him. "He joyfully rushed out and immediately left with the messenger." R. Nachman begins with "immediately" and ends with "immediately, in order to emphasize the haste and diligence that accompanied the simpleton's actions.

 

This was not the manner of the wise man, who reacted to the messenger as follows:

 

Meanwhile, when the Sophisticate received his letter from the king, he replied to the sophisticated messenger who delivered it, "Wait. Spend the night here. Let us discuss the matter and make up our minds."

That evening, the Sophisticate made a great feast [for the messenger]. During the meal, the Sophisticate used his intelligence and philosophical discipline to analyze the message. He spoke up and said, "What does this really mean? Why should such a king send for an insignificant person like me? Who am I that the king should send for me? The king has his power and prestige. Compared to such a great, awe-inspiring king, I am lowly and despicable. How can the mind reconcile the fact that such a king would send for an insignificant person like me. I may be intelligent, but what am I compared to the king? Doesn't the king have other wise men? Besides, the king himself is certainly also very wise. For what possible reason could the king send for me?" He found this all very puzzling.

The Sophisticate, who was the Simpleton's friend, thought it over in this manner. At first, he was very puzzled and confused, but soon he thought he had a reasonable answer.

He said to the messenger, "I declare that, in my opinion, it is absolutely certain and logical that the king does not exist at all!"

[He explained,] "The entire world is mistaken, since they foolishly believe that there really is a king. Think it over! How is it possible that all the people in the world would submit to one man as their king? Obviously, no such thing as a king exists!"

 

            The wise man's initial reaction to the messenger was: "Wait. Spend the night here. Let us discuss the matter and make up our minds." Haste is from the devil, said the wise man, and I do nothing without first seriously considering the issue and all the related factors. R. Nachman teaches us that waiting and deliberation exact a heavy price, and that the wise man's doubts and uncertainties lead him to deny the very existence of the king. This causes him to miss the opportunity and decline further from one failure to the next.

 

            The king, as is usually the case in R. Nachman's stories, is the King, king of kings, and the king's call to the two people is God's request of those who fear Him to love, fear and serve Him with a whole heart. The simpleton's haste, and perhaps we might add, his irresponsible haste, is what brings him in the end to the king, whereas the wise man's consideration and deliberation bring him to a blind alley, which according to R. Nachman, is the necessary end of rational contemplation.

 

            In some Chassidic courts it was said they said that one should pray quickly, for when the wagon charges off at a high speed, the bandits do not have time to climb aboard. Times of waiting invite alien thoughts, and give doubts the opportunity to penetrate deeply.

 

            It seems, however, that R. Nachman is trying to teach us here an even more important principle. There is something strange and unreasonable about God's request to serve Him, and the manner in which we are asked to draw near to Him. R. Nachman wishes to argue that if we examine our faith with rational and intellectual tools, we will perforce arrive at a dead end, and demand unreasonable understanding. R. Nachman has no answer for the difficult question raised by the wise man, why would the King, exalted and elevated above all, ask to see us, and why does He need the service of man, mere flesh and blood. This question will of necessity bring us eventually to a denial of His very existence.[3][3] R. Nachman asserts that this question has no answer, for illogic is built in to the world of faith and our understanding of the connection between God and man. Therefore, the only way to overcome this difficulty is through inadvertence stemming from haste.

 

Had the simpleton answered his wife's question, he may have reached the same uncertainty as did the wise man. Haste, however, allowed him to proceed down a road that is unreasonable, illogical and incomprehensible. Only in this way can we arrive at the exalted and elevated, the road to which passes necessarily through a nullification of reason and inadvertence.

 

It is not very logical to leave the flesh pot, a secure home, and steady income – with all the difficulties that accompanied them – for the sake of imagined freedom, and head off toward a sea, that allows for no clear way of crossing, and toward a great and terrible desert, "in which were venomous serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water" (Devarim 8:15). Had the "steering committee" of Israel convened and deliberated about Moshe's request, it is highly doubtful whether the decision would have been taken, based on rational considerations, to respond in the affirmative to Moshe, and not to wait for a better opportunity. The people of Israel, however, did not have time to convene such a committee. Everything happened so fast, everyone was still under the great impression that Moshe and his plagues had left, and this haste did not allow the people of Israel to think rationally and responsibly. It stands to reason that it was this irresponsibility that saved them.[4][4]

 

R. Nachman teaches us that the beginning of God's service requires decisions that when considered realistically sometimes appear as irresponisible and illogical, and therefore the only way to make those decisions through strength is through inadvertence stemming from haste. Great things, R. Nachman teaches us based on the teachings of Chazal, come through inadvertence, and so too the redemption of the people of Israel and that of each individual.

 

Haste – a miracle from GOd

 

            It seems that R. Natan, disciple of R. Nachman, delves even deeper into the idea of haste that is joined in an absolute connection to matza. He writes as follows:

 

For the matza is on account of their having left in haste and the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King, king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them. As it is stated: "And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened: because they were driven out of Egypt, and could not delay, neither had they prepared for themselves any provision" (Shemot 12:39). For they had faith in the providence of God, blessed be he, and therefore they did not prepare for themselves any provision, but rather they left in haste. Thus, matza is the aspect of knowledge of faith in providence, which is the essence of the great knowledge, when one merits Divine revelation, to see and to know that everything is exclusively by His providence, blessed be He. This is the aspect of haste, for haste is the aspect of above time, for He passed over the [designated] end, and took them out in great haste in no time, just a single moment, and immediately they came from Ramses to Sukkot, and they gathered together in a moment six hundred thousand from all of the land of Egypt, as Rashi explains on the verse (Shemot 19:4): "How I bore you on eagles' wings." For all this is the aspect of above time, that is, He lifted them above time, this being the aspect of providence which is above nature and above time. Through this they left in no time, without any preparations, in a mere moment, for the essence of the redemption was through the revelation of providence which is above time, the aspect of haste, because haste is the aspect of alacrity, which is a very good trait. (Likutei Halakhot, Netilat Yadayim Shacharit, 2)

 

            The novelty in these words lies in the transfer of the idea of haste from the people of Israel to God. The climate of Israel's haste that comes to expression primarily through the eating of matza, is a reflection of "the governance of haste" with which God led Israel in this situation. "Divine haste," asserts R. Natan, consists of passing over the laws of nature, or put simply, it consists of miracles. Nature operates in an orderly and gradated manner. Causality is "the queen of nature," setting the pace and duration of every natural act.

 

            Time, argues R. Natan, is the great symbol of nature.[5][5] The essence of a miracle lies in the way it skips over time, in the way it skips over natural processes. Seas and rivers may dry up, but the uniqueness of the parting of the Sea was the haste that characterized the transition from one reality to the other. Providence that is "above time," says R. Natan, is providence that is "above nature." This is the great novelty of the exodus from Egypt.[6][6]

 

            This providence, according to R. Natan, is what gives Israel the "knowledge" and the "faith" that everything transpires by the will of God. Life that is lived in the consciousness of the reality of nature is life in which every thing and every action requires preparation. This is life that takes into account causality and process that requires confrontation and preparation. Life that is lived in the consciousness of miracles frees us, in a certain sense, from the responsibility of making preparations: "Neither had they prepared for themselves any provision." In the world of miracles, the significance of preparation is reduced to almost nothing, and the stronger the power of faith grows, teaches us R. Natan, the smaller becomes the quality of preparation. The salvation of God arrives suddenly, because it reflects an alternate course to natural, gradual processes. It is, therefore, precisely there that unmediated Divine revelation is found.

 

            Bread is the expression of perfect natural reality. A reality that is gradually repaired, a reality of time and nature, of which bread is their fruit. Matza, on the other hand, veers from the natural order. Time does not take hold of matza, and thus, matza is the embodiment of miracles, and in essence it is also the point of contact with the Infinite. A miracle comes out of Ein, nothingness, and not out of Yesh, existence, because a miracle expresses the absolute disregard of the Yesh, of nature and its laws.

 

            Matza, so it would appear, lacks concreteness. It has no taste, nothing of the Yesh adheres to it, for the existent world operates in the dimension of time, and matza lacks time – it is baked in inadvertence, in a short moment. A second longer, and time would take hold of it, and transfer it all at once from the Ein to the Yesh, from the miracle to nature, from unmediated Divine revelation to Divine revelation having garments and barriers. Matza is the essence of Divine existence before it becomes "defiled" by the limits of time and matter.

 

Redemption of the world through chametz

 

            This distinction between nature and miracle, between unmediated Divine governance that finds expression in matza and Divine governance that passes through the world of matter and garmentss that finds expression in bread, brought R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev to a profoundly meaningful clarification. We shall try to follow him, step by step:[7][7]

 

"The wise son – what does he say? 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances which the Lord, our God, has commanded you?'… One may not eat desert [afikoman] after the Paschal sacrifice." In order to understand the wise son's question and the relevance of the answer, "One may not eat desert," to the question, we must start with a certain premise. This is the word "matza," it indicating the creation of the world and that the world has a Creator, who created it out of absolute nothingness, ex nihilo. For the word "chametz" bears the sense of "we do not delay (machmitzin) judgment," or "we do not delay (machmitzin) mitzvot," machmitzin meaning delay. Thus chametz is something old, and the opposite is matza, that is, something new. Our Creator has shown us through the mitzva of matza that there is One who created the world, and who every day and every moment renews His world in accordance with His will, as He did during the exodus from Egypt when He performed unnatural marvels. For all ten plagues were unnatural. When we clearly understand this, we will not move our hands and feet to do anything, other than what brings glory to His name, blessed and exalted be He. We must fear Him with the fear of exaltedness since He is great and the ruler, and we must fiercely love Him when we see that He, blessed be He, loves us with eternal love. (Kedushat Levi, homily for Pesach)

 

            R. Levi Yitzchak's point of departure in this teaching is similar to the words of R. Natan. But while R. Natan identifies haste as distinguishing between "all at once" and "a process," haste for R. Levi Yitzchak distinguishes between "old" and "new."

 

            Time turns the existent world into something "old," that is, something that is permanent in its existence. Time is misleading in that it creates the illusion that "the world never changes" and that "there is nothing new under the sun." This is the perspective of an adult, who has gained perspective and looks upon the world and identifies within it "the force of inertia" that sustains it. The sun shined for our forefathers in days of old, it shined also for us yesterday, and today too we are witnesses to its shining. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that it will not shine tomorrow as well. This is the calamity of time, which applies to everything the "law of limitation." The first day of creation was the day on which everything was new and the consciousness was one of "who renews in His goodness," for the simple understanding is that the first day was the day of newness. R. Levi Yitzchak, however, teaches us that it is our blindness that does not allow us to see the daily renewal that transpires every day and every moment.

 

            The principle of creation is a dynamic principle, not in the historical sense, but in the existential sense. Matza, lacking time, lacking the element of "limitation," of "having been," proclaims newness. Matza symbolizes the renewed world, and it gives man the love and fear of God that stem from the existential feeling of "His anger endures but a moment; life is by His will" (Tehillim 30:6).

 

            R. Nachman writes that the holy convocations are the holidays on which God breaches the boundaries of nature and cries out loud: "I am here!" They allow man to newly recognize that there is no such thing as nature, and that everything is a miracle; that there is no routine, and that everything is will; that there is nothing old, and that everything is new.

 

            As soon as a person recognizes this, he dares not take a step "other than what brings glory to His name," for the entire world says: Glory, and every movement and every action and every thing is new, here and now, from Him, blessed be He, and everything must turn to Him and come into being through Him.

 

            From here, based on what he said thus far, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev proceeds to explain the wise son's question:

 

Do not ask: If so we should eat matza all year round? Our Sages already sensed this question in the Zohar, and answered that it suffices for us to have one awakening[8][8] a year. The same applies in the matter under discussion. But if there is a difficulty, this is the difficulty. Why do we need two hundred and forty eight positive precepts? Surely the mitzvot are called by the holy Zohar two hundred and forty-eight pieces of advice, that is to say, two hundred and forty-eight pieces of advice through which one can come to the fear and love of the Creator. This is explicitly stated in: "So that you learn to fear the Lord, your God, all the days." For the entire Torah and all the mitzvot were given in order to come through them to the fear of God's exaltedness and to His love. But why do we need all this? Surely it would have sufficed for us to have the mitzva of matza which testifies to the renewal of the world at every moment, and in His hand is the soul of all life and the spirit of all the flesh of man. (ibid.)

 

            R. Levi Yitzchak's question relates to the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts, and it rests on the words of the Zohar, which speaks of "pieces of advice through which one can come to the fear and love of the Creator."[9][9]

 

            If the mitzva of matza, asks the Kedushat Levi, brings a person to recognize newness, that there is no moment, thing, or action that is not from Him, why are "additional pieces of advice" necessary in order to bring man to God?

 

In order to fully understand the Kedushat Levi's question, we must first understand the profundity of the idea that the mitzvot are pieces of advice how to draw near to God. The two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts allow a person to connect all his actions to God. When a person eats, the blessing recited over the food gives religious significance to his eating. The same is true when a person takes the four species, build a sukka, or brings first-fruits to Jerusalem. Each mitzva relates to a different element of reality, and allows a road to be paved from the heart of the person who comes into contact with that element to God. Therefore, the world of mitzvot relates to all levels of the world, including the lowest among them. From plowing, through harvesting, through eating, and even to the bathroom. There is no time or place in which there is no mitzva allowing a person to harness his actions to his religious life.

 

Matza, according to R. Levi Yitzchak, is absolutely different in its objective. Matza does not wish to attach reins to particular elements or to actions. Matza exposes the fact that every particular element and action is something new from God. From the perspective of matza, there is no mundane, but rather everything is holy, for there is nothing old, and there is no nature, and everything is something new from God, ex nihilo, a new creation, Divine revelation. From this perspective, whatever a person sees before his eyes is the handiwork of God, and thus there is no need for any harness or any external aide to come and connect between the mundane and the holy, for there is no mundane, everything being derived from Him. The Torah teaches man to connect the "garments" which he encounters to God, but matza brings man to the recognition that there are no garments, the body and the garments all being one. Someone who conjoins with the Infinite does not need the vessels holding on to the Yesh and trying to have an effect in the field of action of the Yesh and the old. Thus continues R. Levi Yitzchak:

 

The answer to this is that since we will later eat chametz, there is a reasonable concern that we will forget this, and the awakening of Pesach will come to an end. This is the question of the wise son: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, etc.'" We have enough with this mitzva of matza, for surely it is from it that we learn to fear and love God; what need then is there for testimonies, decrees, and ordinances. To this we answer: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal Sacrifice." In other words, it is specifically after the Paschal sacrifice that we cannot eat, but later we will eat chametz and we are concerned that perhaps we will be drawn after the evil impulse. (ibid.)

 

            This is the way that R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev understood the wise son's question. After we have conjoined with God through the eating of matza, and after we have experienced the governance of "renewal" that infuses into our consciousness that there is no other than He, and that everything is renewed by Him, everything is a miracle, everything is Divine revelation – after all this, the wise son asks: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances?' Why is it necessary to leave this unmediated encounter and return to the world of mitzvot which is a world of garments and intermeidaries. Surely we have conjoined with the Infinite, and from now on all our actions are for the sake of heaven, even without the "external garment" of mitzva.

 

            To this we answer: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." R. Levi Yitzchak's technical answer that we do not remain forever with the matza, but rather we return in the end to the chametz – to the old – reflects a profound spiritual position.

 

            Despite this understanding of Pesach, we live in a natural world, and not a world of miracles. Matza belongs to the haste of Pesach that passes after seven days, when we return to the chametz that reflects the old, the natural, the routine, the garments. The fact that we are planted in a world of garments requires that we adopt the rules of this world – i.e., the mitzvot. The parting of the Sea was indeed a founding experience that established the consciousness of "there is none other but Him," but ordinary life does not constitute "holy convocations," and in day-to-day life seas do not part.

 

            In the world of Yesh, the world of the old, the consciousness of matza is liable to become blurred, and when this disappears, man is left with nothing. The mitzvot anchor a person in Godly activity, so that even in the absence of the consciousness of matza, and even when a person is immersed in chametz and lives in a world of law and order, he retains a religious consciousness that is fashioned by the performance of the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts.

 

            The days of Pesach and the matza that reflects them are days of unmediated revelation, and in this manner, there is truly no need for any other mitzva other than the mitzva of matza that reflects the state of revelation. However, the ordinary days, which we enter immediately at the end of the holiday, are days of concealment, and in a world of concealment the mitzvot allow us to preserve our religious consciousness.

 

            The wise son's question, then, is a question that arises out of the experience of conjunction, reflecting the feeling that the world of testimonies and decrees has an aspect of constriction and distancing from the Infinite. We therefore answer him: "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." That is to say, that while the taste of the afikoman is still in our mouths, there is in fact no need for the world of testimonies, decrees and ordinances. However, once the taste of the afikoman has passed, and chametz returns and seizes its place, we are in dire need of the world of the two hundred and forty eight positive precepts.

 

            R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev concludes this teaching as follows:[10][10]

 

And in a different manner, for the Creator, blessed be He, renews and gives vitality, bounty and blessing to all the worlds. Now when the created beings apprehend the Renewer and enter the gate of the Ein and are effaced from this world, it is called matza, for this is the first taste. Afterwards, however, it is called chametz when they do not see the Renewer, in the sense of a soured and stolen taste. Now when a person comprehends the Creator who renews, he can join himself to the Creator, blessed be he, without action. But when he does not comprehend [Him], he must perform mitzvot with fear and love in order to achieve conjunction. And it is difficult why I should need testimonies, decrees and ordinances. It would be preferable to conjoin with the Creator at all times, as stated above. And the answer to this is that one may not eat desert, afikoman, afiku man, man being the initial letters of the words mayin nukvin, feminine waters, for by conjoining himself with His mitzvot he raises the mayin nukvin. (ibid.)

 

            At the end of his teaching, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev suggests another understanding of the wise son's question, but the difference between it and the first understanding lies primarily in the answer.

 

            Once again R. Levi Yitzchak confronts supreme apprehension, the recognition that God renews His world at every moment, with the world of mitzvot. The supreme recognition that God renews His world constitutes the unmediated conjunction with the Ein. The world of Yesh, as we saw above, is the world of nature and laws, and from this perspective, God's dynamic intervention took place only at the moment of creation, in which God turned the world from Ein to Yesh. This is the miracle, and this is the full revelation of God's will in the world.

 

However, from the perspective of "He who in His goodness renews the creation every day, constantly," God each and every moment turns the Ein into Yesh. This is the conjunction with the Ein that turns the entire world into a constant revelation of Divine will at every moment and every hour. It is now that God wants the sun to shine, the bird to chirp, and me to breathe. This is "the first taste" of creation, which is the unmediated encounter with the essence itself, with eternity. However, from the moment that the world "becomes chametz," the first taste disappears, and the experience of the Ein turning into Yesh hides in the thickness of the orderly and natural world, and the world appears as if it were running on its own.

 

The consciousness of matza, as we have seen in the words of R. Levi Yitzchak above, is the consciousness of conjunction, in which there is no need for action. Action contributes nothing when a person is conjoined with the Infinite, and perhaps just the opposite! Action is liable to distract a person from conjunction. Action involves reconciliation with the world of Yesh, and ignores as it were the Ein.

 

The world of mitzvot, asks the wise son according to this interpretation as well, gives up on conjunction with the Infinite. Why should we give up a world in which it is possible "to conjoin with the Creator at all times"?

 

This is the same question that was raised earlier; the novelty lies in the answer to the question. R. Levi Yitzchak already answered this question above, saying that the taste of the chametz is liable to impair the consciousness of matza and make a person forget the recognition of "He who renews the world every day, constantly." The tone of this answer of R. Levi Yitzchak is, however, one of bedi'eved, second best. Since a person is liable to fall from the state of conjunction, he needs the mitzvot, because they will allow him to live in the world of garments but still remain firmly planted in the house of God. The mitzvot, according to this understanding, constitute a sort of medicine that is being offered before the injury, but certainly were it possible for a person to remain in a state of conjunction, the mitzvot would be unnecessary. This is what follows from the previous answer.

 

Here, so it seems, R. Levi Yitzchak gives this same question an absolutely lekhatchila answer. "Afiku man, man being the initial letters of the words mayin nukvin, feminine waters, for by conjoining himself with His mitzvot he raises the mayin nukvin."

 

The term "afiku" means "take out," and the word "man" constitutes the initial letters of the words "mayin nukvin," "feminine waters." Taking out the feminine waters is a kabbalistic concept based on the creation story. On the second day of creation, the upper waters were separated from the lower waters. This separation, according to kabbalistic teaching, is the "forced" separation between the Divine bounty which went up and the Divine bounty which is hidden in the depths of material reality. The water that seeps into the ground symbolizes God's Shekhina that is hidden in the thickness of the material world. Our aspiration in this world, teaches us the Kabbala, is to raise these lower waters and restore the connection between the upper and lower worlds.[11][11] This idea turns us all into Gods' agents, and we are all potentially the messiah who will redeem the lower waters, the Shekhina that dwells in exile.[12][12]

 

Someone who conjoins with the Infinite, teaches us R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, is he who has plunged into the "upper waters." He, however, sins against his mission in this world. He does not fulfill the spiritual imperative of "Joyfully shall you draw upon the fountains of deliverance." God planted us in this world and gave us the mitzvot, the instruments through which we must act in the framework of this world, in order to redeem the disjoined world, and work to reconnect the upper and lower waters.

 

The transition from matza to chametz, according to this, is not necessitated by man's fall, but by God's choice that demands of man to return to the natural world, to the garments, and work within them. For this, comes the Torah with its mitzvot, in order to provide man with the tools with which to conduct his work in the world of garments. According to R. Levi Yitzchak's second answer, we are not talking about necessity, but with a mission. Man should not avoid this mission despite his desire and yearning to conjoin with the upper world. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev describes the wise son who seeks the haste, the passing over nature and processes, the total miracle that has no gradations or moderation. He asserts, however, as did R. Tzadok at the end of his first teaching, that in the end – "he can once again proceed with moderation and slowness as is the law regarding the Paschal offering brought in later generations." The redemption of reality takes place in the world of moderation and gradation, the world of processes, in which a person slowly lifts and redeems the reality in which he lives. R. Ya'akov Yosef of Polnoye writes in similar fashion:

 

That which it says: "For the Lord will go before you" (Yeshaya 52:12), using the name of Mercy, so that you veer not to the left, "and the God of Israel will be your rearguard" (ibid.), like Dan, the rearguard for all the camps, for He is behind you. This is a description of God who is called the God of Israel, for the name Elokim which is Justice, is behind you, so that you veer not to the right, as stated above. This means that you should follow the middle line which is graded and moderate, the opposite of haste and flight, which is the inclination to [one of] the two extremes, right or left, which is not constant, but only for the need of the hour. For occasionally one must go with haste, as from Egypt, when their governance was above nature, called haste, as I have explained elsewhere (Vayakhel, no. 4), see there. That was to the far right extreme, for they all offered themselves for the sanctification of His name, they taking a lamb that was the idol of Egypt and slaughtering it, etc. "You shall not go by flight" (ibid.), like one who sets out and must go by flight, so that he not remain there, God forbid. But the middle road is constant so that it will be able to endure. (Toledot Ya'akov Yosef, Ki Tetze 14)

 

            God wanted to create the world with the attribute of Justice, but, alludes R. Ya'akov Yosef, He saw that it would not be able to exist, and therefore he mixed in the attribute of Mercy, the quality of the middle path.

 

            Justice is the extremes, the haste, the level that is above nature. This is the experience of the wise son who wishes to conjoin with the Infinite and pass over the natural and gradated world. But, argues R. Ya'akov Yosef, the world cannot exist in a reality of Justice, in the dynamics of extremes, in uncompromising totality – "You shall not go by flight." When a person is at the beginning of a process, R. Ya'akov Yosef agrees, he needs haste, he needs a miracle, he needs an attribute that is above nature: "One who sets out and must go by flight." And as R. Tzadok wrote, this is necessary "so that he not remain there." But this is an emergency procedure necessitated by the need of the hour.

 

            In contrast, "the middle road is constant so that it will be able to endure." Waiving moderation means passing over this world, and this passing over, when it persists, will lead to the world's destruction. This world is a world of chametz, and we must not remain in a state of matza, which would return the Yesh to Ein.

 

            R. Ya'akov Yosef is not describing a situation of "bedi'eved," "an anchor to protect against being carried away." Rather he speaks about a way of life, about recognizing that this is the destiny that God assigned to us in this world, to proceed in moderation along the middle path, to maintain the world and elevate it. There is no passing over, no skipping of stages. A moment of looking at the Ein, the miracle, the unmediated revelation, the Divine haste that is above time and above nature, and then immediately we must return to moderation, to nature, to gradation, to the middle road – the Pesach of Egypt and immediately thereafter, the Pesach of later generations.

 

We will answer the wise son, perhaps with a bit of pain, "One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice." We are all dragged along with the wise son to the parting of the Sea, to the plagues of Egypt, to the "Who, O Lord, is like You among the gods," and like the wise son, we would all like to stay there, not to fall into the little details that are so constricting and so distracting. But we are obligated by God's eternal call: "Afiku man! Take out, lift and elevate the world into which I have cast you," We are commanded to take leave of the matza and return to the chametz, out of a feeling of missing out on something, on the one hand, but out of a feeling of mission and fidelity to God's will, on the other.

 

Torah and Blessing

 

            This tension between conjunction to the Infinite, on the one hand, and the Torah and mitzvot, on the other, also finds expression in the words of R. Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin:

 

"Blessings are upon the head of the righteous" (Mishlei 10:6). For this reason, the Talmud begins with tractate Berakhot (blessings), for the foundation of everything is "Know the God of your father" (Divrei Ha-yamim 1, 28:9), and afterwards "serve Him." For one must know whom one is serving. This is the blessing that one must recite before every act to designate all of one's actions to God, as it is stated: "In all your ways know Him" (Mishlei 3:6), as the Rambam has written (Hilkhot De'ot 3:3). This is by way of a blessing, as the Sages have said (Berakhot 48a) that the standard is a child who knows to whom one recites a blessing. This is not the case with the other mitzvot; there is no standard that a child must know to whom one dons tefilin, or the like. It is clear then that the essence of a blessing is knowing whom one is blessing, for it is for this that it was established. And this is the beginning of one's entry into Torah, as it is stated: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord" (Tehillim 111:10). The fear of heaven is through "I have set the Lord before me at all times," as the Rema writes at the beginning of Orach Chayyim. This explains why blessings all begin in the second person, for immediately at the beginning of a blessing, God, blessed be He, must be before a person's eyes, as if He were standing over him and commanding him. And the conclusion [of the blessing] is in third person, for He immediately disappears, as it is stated: "Broods over her young" (Devarim 32:11), touching but not touching, as is well known. (Tzidkat ha-Tzadik 2)

 

            R. Tzadok proposes an amazingly novel idea. He presents a fixed model, a systematic pattern of beginning and end, that starts with immediacy and presence, which is then followed by retreat and concealment.

 

This model is applied in R. Tzadok's teaching in three ways:

 

1.    Mitzvot

2.    Blessings

3.    Torah study

 

Let us examine each one independently.

 

Mitzvot – Every mitzva involves a blessing that is followed by an action. The blessing is what invokes God's presence: "To designate all his actions to God." The action itself is an act, but the act is meaningless if is lacks a blessing that preceded it and directed it toward God. The act of the mitzva is performed in a state of concealment, and it itself is merely a garment, but the blessing that preceded it is what directs the act toward God, opening the entire process with "Know the God of your father." In order for the act to have meaning in a world of concealment, it must open with a consciousness of revelation – this is the blessing.

 

Blessings – The blessing itself is composed of a beginning and an end. The beginning of the blessing makes God present – "Blessed are You, O Lord." In the beginning of the blessing, there is once again the consciousness of "Know the God of your father." The continuation of the blessing is in third person, "who creates the fruit of the land" – He; "who has sanctified us with His commandments" – He; "who has fashioned man" – He.

 

The substance of the blessing, which comes at its end, marks the act that is performed in the material world: the formation of man, the creation of the fruit of the land, and the like. As acts of God, however, these acts are acts of concealment. Everybody sees the apple that has been created, but the recognition that we are dealing with the hand of God is concealed. Therefore, a blessing opens with an unmediated encounter with God: "Blessed are You, O Lord." Not through His creation, nor through His commandments, but through standing before Him – "Blessed are You." Only after a person has experienced through his blessing that he is standing before God can he move on to the concealed world – "who has created the fruit of the tree," and see from the beginning of his blessing how the continuation is also a revelation, though clothed in a garment, but nevertheless a revelation of God.

 

The Torah – It seems that this is R. Tzadok's most novel point. R. Tzadok asserts that just as the mitzvot are a concealment, and they are preceded by a blessing which is a revelation, and just as the end of a blessing is a concealment, that is preceded by the beginning of a blessing which is a revelation, so too Torah study is concealment, but it is preceded by awareness that is revelation – "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord."

 

R. Tzadok teaches us that Torah study is also liable to be concealment. A person involves himself with the discussions of Abaye and Rava. He engages in the laws of neighbors, the laws of damages, or the laws of ritual slaughter. What have all these to do with conjunction with God? The wise son's question, according to R. Levi Yitzchak, still echoes in our ears. Torah study is a world of concealment, in which God does not appear in an immediately apparent manner. R. Tzadok teaches us that for this reason, as is the case regarding mitzvot and blessings, one must begin with an awareness of revelation, of God's presence, of unmediated standing before God. Every study of Torah must open with the recognition of "I have set the Lord before me at all times," so that in the course of study, concealment will not turn into disappearance.

 

R. Tzadok teaches us that the world in which we live is a world of concealment. And the tools with which we meet this world, through the mitzvot, through the blessings, and through Torah study, are liable to fall before the feet of concealment and they themselves will conceal and push away.

 

Therefore, says R. Tzadok, these all begin with an act, a psychological movement, a process of recognizing the presence and revelation of God. Blessed are You! I have set you before me at all times. All these must preceded the act that connects with this world, the world of concealment.

 

Israel's redemption from Egypt began with revealed miracles. The Israelites could stand at the Sea and say: "Who, O Lord, is like You among the gods." It was only afterwards that the Torah, the mitzvot, and the blessings came. Standing before God at the beginning of the process, the haste at the beginning of God's service mentioned by R. Tzadok, reflects the necessity of making God present and tasting of the hidden matza, being cast into the lofty Ein and conjoining with the revealed miracle, in order that afterwards we should be able to go down with great love and fear to the hidden spring of "feminine waters" that penetrates the thickness of matter and waits for us to draw water from it and declare the unity of God and His Shekhina.

 

 

Have a happy and kosher Pesach!

 



[1] We often see this phenomenon with newly-observant Jews who wish to totally sever themselves from their old world, knowing that retaining partial contact with that world and leaving it only gradually will allow them to be seduced to return to it.

[2] R. Tzadok teaches us that this process involves a sort of jump beyond our capabilities and an intensification of light without the appropriate vessels to contain it. For that, however, there is the Pesach of later generations. The continuation of the journey must be done with moderation and gradation, and at this stage a person must build and fashion vessels that will be able to contain the great light that had illuminated at the beginning of the process. Haste causes a person to jump to a high level which will later require the building of ladder with gradations in order to be reached.

[3] Indeed, this question, regarding the abyss between the Infinite and the material, brought philosophers to the idea that "God has left earth," which is similar to a denial of His very existence.

[4] Many times in history in general and in Jewish history in particular, we find situations in which leaders have acted in "haste" that stems from faith and inner persuasion regarding the correctness of their ways, and have waived all moderate and realistic considerations.

A striking example of this phenomenon was David Ben Gurion's decision to proclaim the establishment of the State of Israel despite the gloomy predictions of an invasion of Arab armies, and the opposite advice that Ben Gurion had received from a good number of his advisors. His answer to them was not a realistic one. The debate did not revolve around an assessment of the situation, but rather the belief that a historic window of opportunity had opened up that may not be ignored.

 

[5] The Ramban in his commentary to the Torah is in doubt about the relationship between time and light. It would seem that time is connected to light and stems from its appearance and disappearance – night and day = darkness and light. The Ramban, however, claims otherwise and writes: "When there is a Yesh, there is time" (Bereishit 1:4), and thus he tries to draw a connection between the very existence of Yesh and time that operates within it.

[6] We see this also with respect to the time of the exodus. Many commentators tried to bridge the gap between what was stated to Avraham "Your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years" (Bereishit 15:13) and the two hundred years of actual servitude. Some suggest that when God heard Israel's cry he agreed to shorten the decree. Once again the haste and giving up of a gradual and natural reality describes the providential transition from a reality of nature – the name Elokim, to a reality of miracle – the Tetragrammaton: "And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name, the Lord [the Tetragrammaton], I was not known to them" (Shemot 6:3).

[7] The teaching is long, and therefore we shall divide it into several parts and relate to each section separately.

[8] The Hebrew term he'ara, in the sense of arousing and waking, causing a person to wake up from his slumber and pay attention to what is transpiring around him.

[9] Of course, regarding negative precepts there is no question, for we are dealing with fences that prevent man from falling into defiled places, and the validity of these mitzvot is certainly absolute.

[10] We have skipped over a small section in which R. Levi Yitzchak raises a second possibility regarding the wise son's question, which in large measure presents the second side of the coin regarding the relationship between nature and miracles. He says as follows: "Or else: The wise son – what does he say? 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances, etc.'… One may not eat desert [afikoman] after the Paschal sacrifice. Now all the mitzvot of this night are intended to serve as a remembrance of the miracles that He performed for us. A person apprehends the Creator through miracles when his mind is immature, but when he reaches maturity of mind, and apprehends the Creator, blessed be He, through reason, he is called wise. And [then] he says: 'What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances, etc.' And the answer to this is that it is possible to fall into small-mindedness. One must therefore believe in the miracles and wonders that the Holy One, blessed be He, performed for us, and this taste must remain for ever. This is 'One may not eat desert after the Paschal sacrifice.'"

According to this, belief in miracles and wonders serves as an anchor in times of distance, what R. Levi Yitzchak calls – "small-mindedness." When a person is in a state of "large-mindedness" and he apprehends God with his reason, he does not need the awareness of miracles. It is precisely when he has fallen that he needs this. Therefore, the wise one who has apprehended God intellectually asks: "What are the testimonies and decrees." In other words, according to this explanation of R. Levi Yitzchak, this refers specifically to the mitzvot of Pesach that are meant to remind Israel of the revealed miracles, for a wise person has no need for them. Therefore, the Hagada answers: All "large-mindedness" may end in a fall to "small-mindedness," and then there is a great need for miracles.

It should be noted that in a great measure what is said in this section contradicts what had been said earlier. Here it is precisely the awareness of miracles that is seen as lowly recognition, this because the miracle is not understood as closeness, but as proof, and this proof is only necessary when one is not found on a high level of belief.

[11] This is connected to the idea of "For the sake of the union of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhina" (Le-shem yichud), that we saw in earlier shi'urim.

[12] Following the Kabbala, many Chassidic teachings have dealt with the role of man in general and that of the tzadik in particular, being "the agents of the Shekhina," who come to redeem it with their prayers and actions and fill in whatever is lacking in it (for example, Degel Machane Efrayim, Toledot, s.v. vaye'ater).