Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: Eynei Chakhomim: Eyes Of The Sages
Rabbi Dovid Sears, Director of the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, and author of many books on Jewish thought provided the material for the posting below.
Eynei Chakhomim: Eyes of the Sages
Last Shabbos during the day meal, my wife mentioned that bees and birds (and maybe some other creatures) can perceive the ultaviolet range of light. Therefore what appears to us as a green leaf with a few green veins might be perceived by these creatures as a vividly colorful object pulsating with energy. Probably we have all come across glossy magazines in doctors' offices that present "psychedelic" photos attempting to replicate the way other creatures see such artifacts of everyday life.
It struck me that this is a useful analogy for the differences between the way the great tzaddikim perceive reality, as compared to the perception of ordinary people. Most of us tend to see a rather truncated, "low-frequency" reality; a prosaic world of "one-plus-one makes two." However, the gedolei ha-tzaddikim, those who have attained a degree of hasagas Elokus / divine perception, see the same world in a much wider spiritual context.
It is written: "Kulam be-chokhmah 'asisah . . . You created them all with wisdom." To the kabbalists, this means that the common point of origin of all created things is the sefirah of Chokhmah -- what the Zohar calls the "koach-mah," the universal divine potential that underlies all existence.
Rabbi Nachman discusses this in Likkutei Moharan, Torah 35, where he describes this dimension of Chokhmah as the goal of teshuvah: the mystical point of origin of all being, which we must strive to regain by purifying the mind and reawakening its hidden powers.
To various degrees, the tzaddikim have succeeded in accomplishing this. Thus they perceive the unmanifest divine wisdom within the world of manifestation, the transcendental within the immanent, the "higher frequencies" of spiritual light -- and all the understandings that apply to each level of such perception.
Thus, the Baal Shem Tov stated that on the madreiga of the 'Olam ha-Yetzirah / World of Formation, one could perceive events that would take place within a certain number of years; on higher levels, one could know the more distant future. By purifying themselves the tzaddikim become privy to divine knowledge, at least to some degree.
The Torah calls the sages the "eynei ha-edah," the "eyes" of the congregation. Be-pashtus, this means that they are qualified to guide us by virtue of their greater wisdom, gained through mastery of Torah. However, one of the further ramifications of this is that they can actually "see" things that are beyond our power of spiritual vision.
A few examples:
* The Sdei Chemed, a ninteenth century Sefardic halakhist, wrote an unprecedented encyclopedic work so full of information that other rabbanim could scarcely believe that it was humanly possible to write such a work. Eventually the author admitted that his work came about through a divine gift. He once was defamed for a certain evil deed, and in order to prevent the actual perpetrator from being shamed, he remained silent and did not protest. Almost immediately he found that he had total recall of everything he had ever learned, and thus was able to create his masterwork.
* The Vilna Gaon (GRA), who lived in the middle to late 1700s, not only knew kol chelkei ha-Torah, but was privy to various mystical experiences. He sent a group of his talmidim to initiate the return of Klal Yisrael to the Holy Land after confiding to them the key things that would happen until Mashiach -- and subsequently. These mesorahs have been carefully preserved, and history has borne out their truth.
* The Baal Shem Tov, during the early to mid-1700s, was initiated into the mysteries of Torah by the soul of Achiyah ha-Shiloni, who also accompanied him on his spiritual ascents to the upper worlds. Achiyah was one of those who left Egypt with Moshe Rabbenu, and according to one view, lived for a thousand years. He served on the Beis Din of Dovid HaMelekh, taught the ways of prophecy to Eliyahu HaNovi, and was also the spiritual mentor of the holy Tanna Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. The Baal Shem Tov works, written down by his talmidim, are suffused with his mystical vision.
* Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (RAMCHAL), a slightly younger contemporary of the Baal Shem Tov who was born and raised in Italy, wrote that angelic teachers known as "maggidim," and souls of tzaddikim first came to him when he was twenty years old, and taught him many mysteries. (When word of this leaked out, other rabbonim mistakenly took this to mean that Ramchal was a deluded mystic in danger of leading others astray, and began to persecute him intensely.)
* Rav Chaim Vital, the main disciple of the ARIzal, during the 1500s, also discussed learning the secrets of Torah from angelic maggidim and neshamos of tzaddikim by various methods. In his Shaarei Kedushah, Gate 3, he presents a meditative technique by which one who is spiritually qualified may attain such wisdom. A more detailed version of this method is found in Rabbi Pinchos Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna's Sefer ha-Bris, in the section on prophecy.
* Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Beis Yosef on the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh, and an older contemporary of the ARIzal, also received hidden wisdom from an angelic mentor, as recorded in the sefer Maggid Mesharim. All of these tzaddikim lived in the body and went through the kinds of things we all must go through; yet their perspective was from a far higher vantage point, and therefore their understanding of things was often very different than what we might consider the "common sense" approach.
Rabbi Nachman states that Eretz Yisrael looks like any other land, with sand and sea, etc. but in truth it is "something else entirely." Similarly the tzaddik looks like any other person, but in truth he is "something else entirely."
Agav: this is probably one of the reasons why Reb Nachman was so passionately opposed to rationalist philosophy, aside from the historical context of his fiery words, which was the battle against the Haskalah movement. The philosophical worldview and approach, even as espoused by famous medieval Jewish thinkers, reflected the truncated perception of the ordinary mind, whereas Reb Nachman like other great tzaddikim was privy to a radically different perception of reality -- a mystical perception. As Chazal state: prophecy was taken away from the prophets, but it was not taken away from the sages.
We may not be able to see with the eyes of the tzaddikim. But as we try to find our way through the confusions of this world, at least we should strive to heed their directions!