Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Rabbi Nachman's Emphasis On Faith [Faith Vs. Reason, Part III]
We actually discussed this topic on this blog awhile ago, but it is worth taking another look at it in light of the sources cited in Parts I and II.
Echoing the sentiments of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman once remarked, "To the world, emunah (faith) is a small thing. But to me, emunah is a very great thing" (Sichos ha-Ran 33).
He also cautioned, "One who follows his intellect and wisdom [alone] can fall into many grave errors, and thus cause great evil, G-d forbid" (Likkutei Moharan II, 12).
Instead, we should fulfill the Torah’s mandate: “Tamim tehiyeh ba-Shem Elokekha . . . Be simple with Hashem, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:3). Cleverness as a pursuit unto itself is the biggest ego trip in the world. After all, the nachash, the snake in the Garden of Eden, was the only creature that the Torah called “clever.”
To some, Rabbi Nachman's valuation of simple faith as the supreme virtue sounds anti-intellectual and simplistic -- until one takes a closer look at his words in context of his teachings as a whole, and the path in avodas HaShem that he paves.
Attesting to the depths of Rabbi Nachman's thought, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the beloved Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir, once remarked to his students that when he wanted to "open his mind," he would study Likkutei Moharan. (Shivcho Shel Tzaddik)
Rabbi Bezalel Naor writes of his teacher, Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem: "[Rav Zvi Yehudah] was once distressed by a certain article in which the author let drop that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was not a philosopher. Rav Zvi Yehudah lodged the following protest: 'The description "was not a philosopher" is out of place, because by its negation it would take away from the described [Rabbi Nachman] original thought of any value.' "
(Rabbi Bezalel Naor, "Shir Na'im as a Reply to Maimonides," published as an appendix in "Shir Naim: Song of Delight")
What does Rabbi Nachman mean by "emunah pshutah?" Something less than reason – or something that transcends it?
Actually, it is both. Emunah is the foundation for da'as (knowledge or clear perception), which means that it is "lower" than da'as -- yet it also goes beyond it. As Reb Noson says in explaining one of Rabbi Nachman's teachings, "Faith only applies when something can't be understood. Where one can understand something rationally, faith is not relevant." (Likkutei Eitzos, "Emes ve-Emunah," 4).
Rabbi Nachman ventures into the thorniest questions of existence, and again and again explore the paradoxical nature of reality. Likkutei Moharan is recognized as one of the most profound works of Jewish mystical thought ever written. Given this, how can we understand Rabbi Nachman's great emphasis on faith?
Maybe the answer (or one answer) is that he wants us to embark on the quest for enlightenment, not mere philosophical knowledge, which is one-dimensionally intellectual. Emunah, as the Baal Shem Tov also taught, is the gateway to deveykus / cleaving to the Infinite One.
At the same time, Rabbi Nachman warns against the dangers of a too one-sided emunah. In Likkutei Moharan 255, he states that faith must be accompanied by intellect -- or one can come to have faith in the wrong people and the wrong things. We must use both capacities.
Another thing Rabbi Nachman says is that faith is the more "democratic" virtue. In Likkutei Moharan II, 19, he writes: "Know that this matter is not according to the view of [the philosophers]. If so, no one would reach the ultimate goal except the fewest of the few; namely, the great thinkers, the philosophers. What would be the fate of those of lesser stature, who lack the ability to engage in such intellectual inquiry, to attain such rarefied perceptions? This would exclude most of humanity. How would they ever manage to achieve the goal of life? However, in truth, the essential grasp of the ultimate goal is attained through simplicity alone – that is, through awe of G-d and performance of the practical mitzvos, with absolute simplicity."
If intellect were the greatest virtue, that would leave 99% of the Jewish People out in the cold! And not only the Jewish People. In Likkutei Moharan I, 62, Rabbi Nachman states: "The completeness and adornment of faith consists in bringing close those who are distant, according to the paradigm of "All of them will call upon the Name of G-d" (Zephaniah 3:9) – even gentiles will draw near to the faith of Israel, to "serve Him with a common accord" (ibid.).
Defection of Youth
One of the comments to a previous posting expressed concern that our youth might become turned off to Judaism if they are told to rely upon simple emunah. Is there a significant number of Jewish youth today who have gone "off the derekh" due to a lack of philosophy?
I find this highly doubtful. It may have been true to some degree in certain times and places, when the intellectual climate was rationalist to an extreme and this had an impact on our society, too. (Two examples immediately come to mind: early medieval Spain, which produced the RaMBaM's Moreh Nevuchim / Guide of the Perplexed, and 19th century Germany, which produced Rav Hirsch's Horeb.)
However, we live in the heyday of "post-modernism," in which the conundrums of particle physics and the resurgence of interest in mysticism have created a new intellectual sensibility. Today's problems are different than those of past generations, as Chabakuk Elisha observed. For many, it is the lack of spirituality in the Judaism to which they are exposed that is the problem. For others, it is lack of physicality! Anyone who is genuinely concerned with this problem must analyze the full spectrum of cases and not just leap to conclusions.
In his opposition to rationalist philosophy, Rabbi Nachman seems to be following the position espoused by Chazal and reaffirmed by the kabbalists. His view seems to be in line with that of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, as well as the Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz and the MaHaRaL, among many others. I'll try to look up a few sample quotes from "Shnei Luchos HaBris" and "Sefer Gevuros Hashem" for a "PS" to this post in the near future. G-d willing.
Yet all of these Gedolim were profound thinkers, who grappled with the "great questions" in their own ways. Clearly even the opponents of philosophy were not advocating an escapist approach, or one that left the intellect begging for dimes in the subway station. Rather, they sought to avoid reducing the Torah to the limits of human reason, and even to elevate the ordinary mind so that we might attain perceptions higher than reason.
In this spirit, Rabbi Nachman often quotes the Sefer Bechinas Olam: "The ultimate knowledge is 'not-knowing' " (Likkutei Moharan I, 24:8, and elsewhere).
Another quote that sheds light on this aspect of faith from a kabbalistic perspective: "The power of faith is very great. Through faith and simplicity alone, without any sophistication at all, you can reach the level of Ratzon / Desire. This is beyond even that of Chokhmah / Wisdom."