Friday, February 03, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: Faith and Reason According to Rabbi Nachman

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. It is excerpted from an e-mail interchange between himself and a person studying Breslover Chassidus.


There is a quote from Rabbi Nachman in Sichos ha-Ran 32 (translated by the Breslov Research Institute as "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom," pg. 134):

"When a person is sincere and unquestioning, then he can be worthy that G-d illuminate him with an aspect of Desire, which is even higher than Wisdom. The attribute of Wisdom is actually higher than Faith. Still one must avoid the wisdom of speculation and rely on faith alone. Faith has great power, and when one follows its path, he can achieve Desire, a level even higher than Wisdom. When one is worthy of Desire, he fells a great longing and yearning toward G-d. This feeling becomes so intense that he does not know what to do. And he cries out. But there is a philosopher in every man's heart. He is the Evil One, who raises questions in one's mind. We must humble him and eject him, strengthening ourselves in faith and emptying the heart of all questions. There are sins that lead a person to skepticism. This can also result from the fact that a person was not conceived in holiness, especially if he himself is guilty of similar sins. All these things are detrimental to one's faith. One should therefore be very much ashamed of the fact that he has doubts regarding belief. Such questions are not a sign of intelligence, but an indication that he was conceived in an unholy state, or that he himself is guilty of such sins. It is these things that cause one to doubt the essence of our faith. Such doubts should therefore cause one to have great shame and heartbreak. G-d's glory fills all the earth, for 'the whole world is filled with His glory.' A person must realize this and remember that these doubts are divorcing him from the Living G-d and uprooting him from the Life of All Life. We need not describe the great shame a person should have because of such doubts. However, with heartbreak and shame he can expel and destroy all these questions."

My question: it seems that Rabbi Nachman is making me feeling guilty for having any questions, and discouraging me from asking my questions. Is he advocating repressing all theological questions? As he says above: "He is the Evil One, who raises questions in one's mind. We must humble him and eject him, strengthening ourselves in faith and emptying the heart of all questions." Rabbi Nachman doesn't make any distinction here between questions that have no answer and those that are possible to answer.

On the other hand, in Likkutei Moharan 62, Rabbi Nachman seems to say that it is a "great mitzvah" to use our intellect in order to know how to "answer the apikorus."So, I would like to understand the meaning of the quote from Sichos HaRan, and also how to reconcile this quote with Likkutei Moharan 62.


It seems to me that the Rebbe is saying that the foundation and greater context of questioning must be faith -- even though chokhmah de-kedushah, holy intellect, is actually "higher" than faith. (By this, I assume that he means that faith is related to Malkhus / Kingship, the lowest of the Ten Sefiros, while Chokhmah / Wisdom stands at the top of the ladder. Ratzon / desire is related to the sefirah of Keser, the "Divine Crown," which encompasses and transcends the rest.)

The Rebbe is surely not telling us to stifle or shut off the intellect. In fact, in several places he urges us to study Torah be-'iyyun, in depth, particularly his teachings (see Likkutei Moharan I, 101; Sefer ha-Midos, "Sod," II, 1; also Chayei Moharan 346; Hakdamah me-ha-Baal Mechaber, Bi’ur ha-Likkutim, et al.). Reb Noson and the Rebbe’s other close talmidim were all expert Torah scholars and profound thinkers.

In a related vein, he states in Likkutei Moharan 255 that faith must be accompanied by da'as / knowledge or intellect, or one can come to have faith in the wrong people and the things. This applies to even an ordinary person.

Yet he also teaches: "One who trusts in his intellect alone can come to grave error" (Likkutei Moharan II, 12). Instead, we should fulfill the Torah’s call: "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."

The Piacetzna Rebbe discusses the virtue of temimus / simplicity in Hakhshoras Avreikhim, chapter 15, which is a very "Breslover" chapter. Like Rabbi Nachman, he teaches us to strive for simplicity in the sense of inner wholeness - but this is not synonymous with mindlessness. As Rabbi Nachman also states in his story "The Simpleton and the Sophisticate," the protagonist, the Simpleton, "was not a fool, but had a straightforward, humble approach to things."

It seems to me that the Rebbe wants us to use our minds, but not fall into states of consciousness that estrange us from the intuitive sense of G-d's Oneness that his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, emphasizes so much. (In fact, the Baal Shem Tov wants us to pause even while we are learning Torah so as not to loose touch with Hashem as the result of engaging the intellect; see Tzava’as ha-Rivash 29.)

As for your concern that the Rebbe does not distinguish between questions that have answers and questions that do not, he actually uses these terminologies in Likkutei Moharan I, 62 ("Vayasev Elokim"), the very discourse you mentioned, and in Lesson 64 ("Bo El Paroh"). In both teachings, the Rebbe encourages us to "know what to answer the apikoros." Yet we must also know that not all questions are answerable, due to the limitations of human reason. Ultimately G-d’s mysteries transcend the intellect. As the Tikkunei Zohar declares: "Les machshavah tefisa Bei klal . . . No thought can grasp Him at all."


At February 9, 2006 at 11:48:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one note, the explanations about tmimus are found not in Hekshoras hoAvreychim chapter 15, but in another sefer of Pyasetchner Rebe - Bney Machshovo Toyvo, perek 15-16.

At February 11, 2006 at 9:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right.

My memory has not improved over the years -- but at least I was close!

Thanks for catching this mistake.


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