Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - The Seven Beggars’ Wondrous Gifts - Part 2

(Painting by Baruch Nachshon)

In Rabbi Nachman’s story of the Seven Beggars, each one of the wandering holy men gives the young bride and groom his most essential quality as a wedding present, this being his most fitting empowerment. If our hypothesis is correct (see Part I of this posting), each gift is an aspect of the fully-realized state of being that is the tachlis, or ultimate spiritual goal. Together, these qualities paint a symbolic portrait of what Rabbi Nachman calls the “tzaddik emes,” the perfected human being.

1. The Blind Beggar

The blessing of the Blind Beggar is: “You should be old like me; that is, you should have a long life, like mine. You think that I’m blind, but actually, I’m not blind at all. It is just that for me, the entire duration of the world’s existence doesn’t amount to even the blink of an eye . . . I am extremely old, but I am extremely young. In fact, I have not yet begun to live – but nevertheless, I am very old.” He goes on to describe a contest with other sages about whose memory is the greatest. The Blind Beggar alone remembers the primal Nothingness (Yiddish: “Ich gedenk gohr-nisht!”) that altogether precedes creation. (He is therefore the “Elder on the Side of Holiness” and the “Elder of Elders”; see Chayei Moharan 123 and 272, citing an expression of the Zohar.) And this sublime realization is his gift to the newlyweds – and to us all when we reach the hour of “finding” or spiritual discovery, the unification that is comparable to a wedding. (In Likkutei Moharan I, 65, the tachlis is related to the paradigm of closed eyes, which can perceive the transcendental reality and not be distracted by worldly illusion.)

2. The Deaf Beggar

The blessing of the Deaf Beggar is: “You should be like me; that is, you should live a good life, like mine. You think that I’m deaf, but actually, I’m not deaf at all. It is just that the entire world does not amount to anything to me, that I should listen to its deficiencies. All sounds come from deficiencies, since everyone cries out about what he is lacking. Even the world’s joys are due to deficiencies, since one only rejoices when his lack is filled . . . However, I have a good life in which nothing is lacking.” In the story he tells as proof of his claim, he alone is capable of saving a mythical Land of Wealth, once perfect in its delights, but now corrupted by an evil king and his emissaries. The Deaf Beggar guides the populace to purify themselves of the three poisons of profane speech, which had ruined the sense of taste; bribery, which had ruined the sense of sight; and sexual immorality, which had ruined the sense of smell. Purged of these evils, the ill-tended garden in the midst of the land reverts to its former Eden-like state, and the lost gardener, who had been taken for a madman, is discovered and restored to his former position. Implicit in this sub-plot is the idea that the “good life,” which is the spiritual life, may be experienced through our very senses, if only we would purify ourselves of these toxins.

3. The Beggar With a Speech Defect

The blessing of the Beggar With a Speech Defect is: “You should be like me. You think that I have a speech defect. I don’t have a speech defect at all. Rather, all the words in the world that do not praise God lack perfection. [Therefore, I seem to have a speech defect, since I cannot speak such imperfect words.] But actually, I don’t have a speech impediment at all. Quite the contrary, I am a wonderful orator and speaker. I can speak in parables and verses that are so wonderful that no created thing in the world doesn’t want to hear me. For the parables and lyrics that I know contain all wisdom.” In the course of the tale he tells to “prove” his claims, the Deaf Beggar indicates that his parables and verses sustain the entire universe – and they reflect the animating wisdom of all seven days of creation, which was brought into being through the divine speech. (In Likkutei Moharan I, 65, the tachlis is also related to the perfection of speech, in the Rebbe’s description of “making echad / unity of the words of prayer” in the course of davenning.)

4. The Beggar With a Crooked Neck

The blessing of the Beggar With a Crooked Neck is: “You should be like me. You think I have a crooked neck, but actually, my neck isn’t crooked at all. Quite the contrary, it is very straight. I have a most beautiful neck. However, there are vapors in the world, and I don’t want to exhale and add to these vain vapors. [This is why my neck seems to be crooked: I twisted my neck to avoid exhaling into the atmosphere of the world.] But in fact, I have a most beautiful, wonderful neck, since I have a wonderful voice. There are many sounds in the world that are unrelated to speech. I have such a wonderful neck and voice that I can mimic any of these sounds.” In the extremely obscure tale that the Beggar With a Crooked Neck goes on to relate, this power seems to be the root of all music and prophecy. This is suggested by the symbolism of the two estranged birds that the Beggar With a Crooked Neck reunites, which allude to the two K’ruvim, or winged angelic forms that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Temple and, according to Chazal, served as the channel for prophecy. The Rebbe also implies that this power brings about the spiritual unification associated with the Messianic Redemption.

5. The Beggar With a Hunchback

The blessing of the Beggar With a Hunchback is: “You should be like me. I am not a hunchback at all. Quite the contrary, I have broad shoulders (Yiddish: breiter pleitzes, which also means the ability bear difficult responsibilities). My shoulders are an example of the ‘little that holds much’ (a concept found in the Midrash).“ Reb Noson later adds: “The hunchback was on the level of the intermediate zone between space and that which is beyond space. He possessed the highest possible concept of the ‘little that holds much,’ at the very end of space, beyond which the term ‘space’ no longer applies . . . Therefore, he could carry [his companions] from within space to a dimension that transcends space.” In the tale the Beggar With a Hunchback tells to prove his point, this dimension is symbolized by the wondrous “Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” evocative of the biblical Tree of Life, in the branches of which all beings find repose and peace.

6. The Beggar Without Hands

The blessing of the Beggar Without Hands is: “[You think there is something wrong with my hands.] Actually, there is nothing wrong with my hands. I have vast power in my hands – but I do not use the power of my hands in this physical world, since I need it for something else.” In the course of the story he tells, this other purpose turns out to be the healing of the Queen’s Daughter – another symbol of the collectivity of souls. This healing is accomplished through the Ten Types of Song, corresponding to the Ten Types of Charity, Ten Types of Pulse (mentioned in the Tikkunei Zohar – which seem to be a little different than those used in Chinese medicine), and the beggar’s ten invisible fingers. Then he tells the newlyweds, “And I am giving this power to you as a wedding present.”

7. The Beggar Without Feet

The blessing of the Beggar Without Feet remains a mystery. This final section of the story remains untold until the Mashiach – who in kabbalistic symbology is associated with the feet – arrives and reveals it to us, may it be speedily in our days!

To sum everything up, the gifts of the Seven Beggars are: long life / transcendence of time (eyes); good life / transcendence of need and desire (ears); oratory that contains all wisdom / transcendent speech (mouth); wondrous voice that can produce all sounds / transcendent sound or cosmic music (neck); ultimate degree of “the small that contains the great” / transcendence of space (shoulders); miraculous healing power / transcendence of mortality and sadness (hands); and presumably either perfect faith, or kingship, or joy (all of which are aspects of Malkhus / Kingship), corresponding to transcendence of self, or ego (feet). They make up one structure, just as the parts of the human anatomy to which they correspond form one structure. Acquiring these sublime powers through the grace of the tzaddikim enables one to reach the tachlis at the individual spiritual level.

This is supported by a few more descriptions of the ultimate goal in the Rebbe’s teachings. In Likkutei Moharan I, 18, the tachlis equals the “primordial thought,” or divine intention that underlies all of creation. This primordial thought is revealed only at end of the process it sets into motion, and is the aspect of “ayin lo ra’asah / no eye has seen it” (another hint to the symbolism of the Blind Beggar in our story). (Cf. Likkutei Moharan I, 8, citing Berakhos 34b, where this phrase indicates Chokhmah and the non-dualistic level. This is supported by the principle that “He and what He enlivens are one, He and what He causes are one – in the ten sefiros of Atzilus / World of Emanation” [Tikkunei Zohar, Introduction, 3b], the realm which corresponds to Chokhmah; see the explanation of this in Sefer Ha-Tanya, Iggeres Ha-Kodesh 20).

In Likkutei Moharan II, 83, the tachlis is related to the paradigm of “Mekomo shel Olam / Place of the World“ -- the ohr makkif (encompassing light) or “supra-domain” of creation altogether. And in Likkutei Moharan II, 39, the tachlis is related to Shabbos, the olam ha-neshamos / world of souls, and at the experiential level, the lucid perception of God. This may correspond to the “Tree That Stands Beyond Space” in the tale of the Beggar With a Hunchback.

The qualities that the Seven Beggars confer upon the bride and groom are various expressions of being rooted in the “whole” -- the transcendent Divine Unity -- and not being stranded in the “part,” the illusion of creation as something autonomous, hopelessly conflicted, separate from God. The preeminent tzaddikim represented by the beggars in the Rebbe's story are those who have fully attained this wholeness and who have seen through worldly illusion. Therefore, they are uniquely capable of correcting our confusions and elevating us from the spiritual quagmire, so that we, too, may reach the luminous goal for which we were created.


In Likkutei Moharan (quoted above), the Rebbe teaches that we must engage in the avodah of Torah study, performance of the mitzvos, prayer (especially hisbodedus) and self-improvement in order to reach the tachlis. However, in the story of the Seven Beggars, the main factor seems to be the tzaddikim who bestow their wondrous gifts upon the newlyweds. Is there a correspondence between what the Rebbe is saying in each body of work, or not?

Maybe we can read avodas atzmo, personal spiritual work, into two elements of the story. First, the children must attain maturity before their companions escort them to the chuppah and beg leftovers from the royal banquest in order to put together a wedding feast. Maybe this maturation process equals personal avodah, which elevates one from a lower level to a higher level. Second, the bride and groom express their yearning for each beggar to join them before the desired guest miraculously appears. This yearning is a key factor, too. We must make what the Zohar calls an “isarusa de-le’sata / awakening from below” before we can experience a reciprocal “isarusa de-le’eila / awakening from above.” The longing for the beggars on the part of the bride and groom indicates hiskashrus le-tzaddikim, creating a spiritual bond, which is up to us, as well. These two factors are the prerequisites for our ability to receive the greatest gifts of the tzaddikim: to become “just like them mamash.”


At July 1, 2008 at 12:51:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reb dovid,

a blessing on your head.

--kobi yehoshua

At July 1, 2008 at 2:11:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reb Kobi Yehoshua:

Thanks for the brochah (in the true spirit if the Seven Beggars). I can really use it!

At July 1, 2008 at 7:23:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might be that the two children in the Rebbe's story are "Mr. and Mrs. Mashiach," who will bring perfection to the world through their own process of achieving spiritual perfection. And this greatly depends upon the gifts of the Seven Beggars / Tzaddikim Amitiyim.

I have a question on your afterthought at the end. Just wondering: who says they have to reach maturity before going under the chupah? Don't they have their whole lives ahead of them to systematically attain their wedding gifts, step by step? If so, the gift of each holy beggar/ tzaddik would be the assurance that the holy couple will attain these lofty levels.

Thanks for this VERY interesting posting!

At July 2, 2008 at 11:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breslover Chasidisteh:

I think there is much merit to your "Mr. and Mrs. Mashiach" reading of the story's symbolism. BTW Ora Wiskind-Elper has written a truly brilliant study of the Sippurei Maasiyos that you might want to read (if you haven't already) published by SUNY, which approaches the stories from the vantage point of modern literary theory. It was amazing to me how far she was able to penetrate from this perspective.

Could be you are right about the holy couple "having their whole lives ahead of them to systematically attain the wedding gifts." But it seems that the chuppah theme in the story indicates a great spiritual milestone; for now they are going to receive those wondrous blessings as gifts. So there had to have been intensive preparation for this moment, or the bride and groom wouldn't be fit vessels for the qualities that the Seven Beggars wish to confer upon them. At least, that's how it seems to me.

At July 3, 2008 at 4:22:00 AM EDT, Blogger ratzon said...

well... thanks for drawing me further into this discussion.

the children's chupah can't be the end of the story, where they go under it and automatically receive the full realization of the beggars' gifts. (how many couples have terrible shalom bayis issues because of this line of thought?!! Marriage is ALWAYS hard work!!

but on the other hand, in our generation, our only hope to uproot even one bad midda (and establish good ones) depends upon the extent of our bitul to and encompassment in the tzaddik. (how you do that is another discussion..)

isn't there a point to them being called "children"? with all their implied potential for hitchadshut, they have a lot of growing up to do! receiving these awesome gifts really has nothing to do with their own preparation as much as the structure of their souls as fitting channels to bring about the world's tikkun. i know this touches the argument of who brings the geula, us or Hashem, but Hashem decides when to bring the geula shleima. on the other hand, each one of us, our mitzvot, ma'asim tovim, bring the couple closer and closer to the chupah. in this sense they are passive. they face impossible odds to meet much less marry!!!!!!! ("more than we are waiting for mashiach, mashiach is waiting for us...?)

the chupah day is a mini-yom kippur--a day of bitul and atonement. ideally, ongoing marriage is comprised of waves and varying levels of bitul--this is what brings shefa and blessing to the world.

the geula has to happen gradually or it will hurt too much.

mr and mrs mashiach are the paradigm of the perfection of Man (which IS the reuniting of male and female). As they attain perfection through the realization of their wedding gifts, mankind is pulled right after them and the world is repaired. (this was the secret of the relationship between the arizal and rabbi chaim vital--if the ari could have completely repaired r' chaim, the path would have been blazed back to heaven for the whole world. but that was then, this is now...)

read r' adin steinsaltz in his "beggars and prayers" book of rebbe nachman's stories. he wrote this at the end of his commentary of the fourth day--the beggar with the crooked neck who says he can reunite the two birds:
"It should be noted that although the beggar knows how to bring the two birds together, the tale does not state that he actually does this. The reason is simple. Reuniting the birds is equivalent to bringing about the Redemption, which no one beggar can do. The Redemption will come only when the powers of all the beggars are brought together in a single person (or in the bride and groom)." [parentheses HIS words]

At July 3, 2008 at 12:29:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My head is spinning from your insights!

You should write a commentary of your own on the Rebbe's stories. I'd be happy to buy the first copy (preferably with your autograph)!

At July 3, 2008 at 1:58:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


come on.

they aren't all my insights..

for example, have you ever seen a sefer called 'shearit yisrael' by the tzaddik of VELEDNIK?

it is the type of book that sits inconspicuously on the shelf until you finally have the zechut to page through it.

he actually articulates much of the spiritual anatomy of this. truly fascinating and hopeful.

keep your own commentaries coming--we enjoy and benefit from each and every one of them. you have an uncanny way of having your finger on the pulse of the spiritual heartbeat of the world.


At July 3, 2008 at 2:00:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry, i am not anonymous on this post or the previous one, i simply forgot my password in order to use "breslever chasidisteh"....


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