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Returning the World to Nothingness and Bringing Mashiach

On the 25th of Tishrei we commemorate the Yahrzeit of one of the greatest tzaddikim, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. The great tzaddikim would say that just mentioning his name sweetens all harsh judgments. When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was born, the Ba’al Shem Tov celebrated with a feast for all his disciples, telling them that just now the Advocate of Israel (סניגורן של ישראל) was born.

The Earth and the Name Havayah 

In Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s book, Kedushat Levi, there are many teachings on Parashat Bereishit. One of them is on the second account of creation.

After the first account of creation, where God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days and rested on the Shabbat, the next verse begins: “These are the chronicles of the heavens and the earth upon their creation, on the day that Havayah Elokim made earth and heaven.” This is the first time these two Names of God (Havayah and Elokim) are juxtaposed.

Elokim in numerical value equals הטבע, the Hebrew word for “nature”, and therefore symbolizes the manner in which God enclothes himself in the world, within the limits of nature.  Havayah is God’s essential Name, referring to His being above everything. Havayah is the name of miracles, describing God as timeless.

In addition to this special juxtaposition, we see another special phenomenon in this verse:

The heavens and the earth are the two great principles of Genesis, which include all creation. More often than not, when appearing in a verse, the heavens are mentioned before the earth. But, in this verse, the order is reversed, “on the day that Havayah Elokim created earth and heavens.” Why is this order used? Why does the earth come first, and how is this related to the appearance of Havayah?

This is the topic of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s teaching. He says that the heavens are the angels, the army of heaven. The earth symbolizes the Jewish people, whom God created to rectify the earth. The Jews are God’s army on earth.

This verse elucidates that there is something in the lower realm that is greater than the upper realm and this is thanks to the revelation of Havayah, God’s essential Name, which represents the supernatural. It reveals that there is something even greater in the earth, in the Jewish People.

The Masoretes (the groups of Sages who specialized in the intricacies of the Torah text) note that this order, earth and then heavens, actually appears only twice. The second time is not in the Pentateuch, but in Psalms.

יְהַלְל֚וּ | אֶת־שֵׁ֬ם יְהֹוָ֗ה כִּֽי־נִשְׂגָּ֣ב שְׁמ֣וֹ לְבַדּ֑וֹ ה֜וֹד֗וֹ עַל־אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם: Praise the name of Havayah for his name alone is powerful, his splendor is on the earth and the heavens.[1]

The fact that this is noted in the Mesorah suggests that this is an important point. This verse is saying that we need to exalt the Name Havayah, for His Name, this Name, Havayah, has risen above alone, His splendor is (over) earth and heavens.” This entire verse reflects a reality in which the earth is above the heavens.

What then is the connection and what does it teach us? Says the Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev:

In this world the angels are spiritual while the souls are enclothed in physical matter. Physical matter receives from the spiritual. So in this world, our present reality, the angels are higher than the souls. But actually, the souls are much higher and this will be revealed with the coming of Mashiach. So much so, that the angels will be the beings asking the souls—who will be standing inside the heavenly chambers, near the Almighty—”what has God done”, what is God’s will for the world. 

All Jews are tzaddikim, and although this is not yet apparent, it will be revealed soon with the coming of Mashiach. The place of tzaddikim is closer to God than that of the angels. This verse, “What has God done” (מה פעל אל) is part of Balam’s prophecy. It says there that when there are no longer false superstitions among the Jewish people, then the angels will need to ask us what God has done.

This phrase, “What has … done” (מה פעל) appears only twice in the entire Tanach. Once in Balam’s prophecy as mentioned and once again in Psalms, מה פעל צדיק, “What has the tzaddik done”. The tzaddik too is “doing.” The Tzadik is acting to imbue the מה ,the what, the nullification to God, the sense that everything is part of God, into reality.

Our task is to reveal this in the world, to show that all is God. We are entrusted with this task. While the angels are only messengers to build God a palace, as it were, the souls reveal God’s omnipresence in our lower reality. To reveal this type of nullification to G-d is the task of the tzaddikim.

Looking at the gematrias here, ,פעל/act, is a general root in Hebrew, it equals 180 in numerical value, which is 4 times מה/what. The ratio is 1:4. This is the most important ratio in the Torah.

This is the relationship between God’s oneness, and the four letters of His essential Name. The four letters describe a continuous process of recreation: contraction, expansion, drawing down (from the concealed to the revealed), and second expansion (within the revealed dimension).

Even though there are 4 letters, God remains of course One, essentially one. The idea here is that the מה, the nullification to God, (represented by the One,) has to be imbued through all four Worlds, from Emanation through Action.

As above, the Sages say that in the future the souls will be more internally and openly before God than the angels. The souls will reveal God’s intent and purpose, and since they know this, it will be they who will execute God’s will.

Man was Nothing 

When will we, the tzaddikim, the souls, the earth, be before the heavens? “On the day that Havayah Elokim makes (…the earth and heaven)”.

How do we make this happen?

The verses that follow are surprising: “All shrubs of the field did not yet grow, and no grass grew because God had not yet rained on the earth, and there was no man to till the land.” The next verse reads, “And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire land.” Only then does it say that God created man.

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak says that the way to reach this state of Mashiach where earth is before the heavens, a state in which God’s kingdom is all over the world, there must be a state of “there was no man,” “man was nothing”.

At first this verse may sound negative, that there was no human yet to pray, as Rashi explains, therefore nothing grew. But Rebbe Levi Yitzchak says that this phrase, “man was nothing,” is the key to redemption. It shouldn’t be read as a state that was, but rather, as our destiny.

When a person reaches a state of nothingness, he is able to imbue reality with nullification, with selflessness. When a person reaches this state, he can enact the same state of not being separate from God in all reality. When this happens, all of creation goes into a state of טרם, which literally means “before”, “pre”, or “not yet”, a rare word in the Bible. The holy Zohar says that the shrub of the field alludes to the Mashiach son of Joseph and the grasses are the Mashiach son of David.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak says that thanks to the טרם, the “not yet”, the Mashiach grows. The role of man is to imbue reality with a sense of טרם, which is “pre” as in pre-consciousness, the level in psychology between, and bridging, the super-consciousness and the consciousness. Within the keter, the crown, where the super-consciousness lies, there is a level called the “head of nothingness”. (The animal soul enjoys somethingness, being something, but the Divine soul enjoys the state of not being, being nothingness). As long as we do not reach this state of nothingness, the Mashiach cannot come, says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Perhaps he learnt this from his master, the Magid of Mezritch, who said that God created the world something from nothing so that the tzaddikim could be given the task of returning the world from something to nothing, but without returning it to chaos – instead, bringing it to a state of selflessness.

Thus, we see that there are two states, אין and טרם , nothingness and pre. When a person reaches a state of nothingness, he imbues all of creation with a state of “pre.” When this happens, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continues, a mist, actually more like a drop of wetness, alluding to pleasure, descends upon the earth. All the pleasure that God has comes from the earth. This is the pleasure that the Almighty receives from a person making himself as naught, and this pleasure brings rain over all of reality.

Following this, God creates man out of the earth. And when the Mashiach comes, there will be new souls, a completely new first man, a first Adam, who is also Israel, a higher level of man. And the Name of Havayah will be praised, “His splendor on the earth and the heavens”.

But this all depends on this nullification in us that must come first.

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[1] Psalms 148:13.


Part 2:

Rebbe Aharon of Streshela

There is another Tzaddik whose day of passing is around this time. There are two traditions on the exact date. One says that he passed away on the 25th of Tishrei, like the Berditchever, while another, which seems to be more exact, is that he passed away on Shemini Atzeret, the 22nd of Tishrei. He was the Alter Rebbe’s most devoted disciple, Rabbi Aharon of Streshela. He was with the Alter Rebbe for 30 years, from the age of 17. He writes that he has no other Rebbe but him.

When the Alter Rebbe passed away, he himself became a Rebbe, in parallel with the Alter Rebbe’s son, the Mittler Rebbe. There are two very deep Niggunim from Rebbe Aharon of Streshela which were passed down in Chabad tradition, which shows how connected he was to the Alter Rebbe.

He was also incarcerated like the Alter Rebbe. He was arrested together with the Mittler Rebbe, his learning partner over many years. They did not see each other for many years after the Alter Rebbe’s passing, and then they met again in jail. They were both arrested for the same offense- the government saw him as a threat to the state’s welfare. His day of release, his day of redemption, was on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of Kislev.

This displays a tremendous connection with our generation’s Lubavitcher Rebbe, because of both dates, Shemini Atzeret and the first of Kislev. On the first date, the Rebbe had a heart attack (in the middle of Hakafot). The thousands of Chassidim had to move to give the Rebbe air, yet at the same time, the Rebbe continued the Hakafah.

He was hospitalized in his room in 770. The Rebbe did not “merit”, as it were, to be incarcerated, but just as a Tzadik can reach the same state as a Ba’al Teshuvah (even though Ba’alei Teshuvah stands in a higher place) by withstanding tests, so he can attain the level of being incarcerated by being hospitalized. The day he is released from the hospital is then his day of redemption.

And in the Rebbe’s case, these two dates were exactly like Rebbe Aharon of Streshela’s- the Rebbe was hospitalized on Shemini Atzeret and released on the first of Kislev. We can understand from this that there is a very strong connection between the two.


Nothing but Him

Rebbe Aharon tells us that God is not composite in any way. He has no levels and no hues. But in the Zohar it says that God is the wholeness (the complexity and individuality) of everything- as much as He is without any composition, still, in a paradoxical manner, in a wondrous way, He creates reality, which has so much plurality, with every object having a level and a hue, feels itself to be separate and an autonomous entity; yet still, after having created this, He remains alone, ein od milvado (“there is nothing but Him”).

After all the plurality that seems to have been created, there is nothing but God. The person who has reached a state of nullification to God is the one who reveals this to all of reality.

The Torah and the Jewish people

Torah is likened to water, like water it descends, from a high place to a lower place. They are the same waters when they are high and when they are low. The descent of Torah down to reality is like a groom who comes down to his bride. On the other hand, the Jewish people elevate the root of somethingness, of being, of existence, from below to above. Even though it all seems to exist, we can open our eyes to see that there is nothing but Him. This is the level of Mashiach as we explained earlier.

We need both the Torah and the Jewish people. The Torah to bring it all down, and the Jewish people to elevate it back up so that all reality can realize that it doesn’t exist apart from God. Rebbe Aharon explains that God is the world’s space, but the world’s space is not His space. This is understood with the realization that there is nothing but God. God doesn't exist within the world, He is unlimited. But the world exists within God.

We now have a Partzuf based on the four letters of God’s Name, Havayah.

For Rebbe Aharon, the Yud is God as most simple- completely non-composite.

The next letter is Hei (the Yud and higher Hei are the concealed aspects of Havayah), God as the wholeness of all things. This is already a wonder. On the one hand, the Almighty is completely simple, without any composition, on the other hand, He is the wholeness of all.

The Vav and lower Hei of Havayah are the Torah and Israel.

The Torah brings the reality of God’s simple nature down into our lower reality. This is the pillar of Torah, which has many colors. It brings the consciousness of God being simple, down into the wholeness of all down here. If one doesn’t understand that God is simple and not composite, then he is imagining God as material, which is of course wrong.

God, however, does want a certain type of descent into materiality. He wants us to reveal that in all of reality, there is only God. The Vav brings the Yud down into reality, while the lower Hei is the Jewish people bringing reality back up to its source in the first Hei. This elevation of reality is done through performing the Mitzvot.

This is the first meditation in Rebbe Aharon’s book Avodat Halevi.

Nothingness and Being, Anxiety and Depression

How can we take this meditation and connect it with Jewish psychology?

To truly be a Jew, one has to be conscious of the letters of the Torah and that he himself is one of them. If a Jew does not yet have consciousness of the Torah, then his nothingness is not healthy. It is chaotic. One's nothingness is rectified by his Torah. Torah gives it order. If he has a connection with his nothingness, but he has no Torah, he experiences anxieties. False “nothingness,” or chaotic nothingness, is the source of anxiety.

Anxiety occurs when a person cannot return his nothingness to its true source. We know this from the phrase, פחד יצחק, the fear of Isaac, that the fear, the anxiety, “Yitzchak” – should laugh” (Besides being Isaac’s name, Yitzchak also means “will laugh”). This laughter is the Torah, which God enjoyed for 2000 years before creating the world. In short, if a person has anxiety it means that he has not yet found the part of the Torah that belongs to his soul root.

The opposite is when a person’s being is not rectified. This is the problem in Malchut  (Kingdom). Pride causes depression. Someone who has pride will eventually become depressed.  The rectification is to identify with the Jewish people.

A Direct Connection

Let us meditate on another aspect of God’s Name, Havayah.

There were a number of disputes between Rabbi Aharon and the Mittler Rebbe. One was in regard to the connection with the Tzaddik, something that is a staple in all parts of the Chassidic movement. The question was whether the connection is with his personality, with his essence, with his being a Tzaddik, or with his Torah.

How does one connect with the Tzaddik?

One might try to understand this by thinking about how we connect with the Almighty. The Zohar says that three knots are tied to one another; God, the Torah, and Israel. The literal meaning is that we connect to God through the Torah. The Rebbe, however, asks a question: Why does it say “three knots” when according to the above there are only two connections, Israel with the Torah and the Torah with God?

The Rebbe answers that there is another knot – between Israel and God. One can connect with the Almighty directly.

Can someone connect with God while bypassing the Torah? Of course not. But if someone has learned the entire Torah, yet feels no hope, we tell him, look, you can find and connect with God directly and then you will find the meaning of the entire Torah.

Returning to our connection with the Tzaddik, the rule would seem to be that we connect and hold on to him through his Torah. But, there is the exception to the rule, which in our generation is more pronounced, where we connect through something more essential in his persona.

The true source of Israel, which is the higher Hei of the name Havayah, is in the Yud, which is, as we explained, God as completely simple, non-composite. So really Jews have no levels and no hues between them.

The source of the Torah, the Vav, is in the higher Hei, God as the complexity and wholeness of everything, where there are levels.

Rebbe Aharon believed that the main connection is through the Tzaddik’s Torah. He posited that while the source of the Torah is in the Hei, the source of the essence of a Jew is in the Yud, this simple dimensionless point, and one simply can’t connect with this simple dimensionless point in the Tzaddik.

The classic Chabad opinion is that one can indeed come to the essence of the Tzaddik, and connect to his essence, not only to his Torah.

But we will explain that both opinions are the living words of the Almighty.

The Tzaddik's Torah

The Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation is the Tzaddik of the generation. His essence is absolute simplicity. He should not be made complex or materialized.

One can, however, hold on to the Tzaddik’s Torah, and through his Torah come to his dimensionless point of essence. And just as the Almighty placed all His essence into the Torah, so the Tzaddik places his essence in his Torah. This is the Yud-Hei. The Vav-Hei is the drawing down, the spreading of the Tzaddik’s Torah, mostly through his disciples, who dedicate their entire lives (as it is in Chabad and in Breslov) to spreading it, by writing it in Hebrew and in other languages.

What then is the lower Hei? The purpose for which God put us in this world, is in order to elevate all of reality so that it can reveal its source.

The lower Hei is the affect that the Tzaddik’s Torah has on reality.

The purpose of it all is to reveal that God is the world’s space – that this is all Divinity, all one and there is nothing here but God.

This is the purpose of the Tzaddik’s Torah. To prepare everything in the world to become a vessel that can accept that everything is God and there is nothing else. The basic structure here can be a first lesson in Chassidut. In every generation, there is a Tzaddik, the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation, and he teaches new Torah, and his disciples spread the Torah further.

When the Tzaddik is speaking he is in a place of contraction, the Torah he reveals is the concealed Torah. The disciples have to bring it down, expand it and reveal it in the revealed dimension. But the final purpose is for this Torah to affect all of reality and reveal that God is One. God is the King over all of the earth. The Tzaddik’s Torah teaches every person to open his eyes to see that there is nothing but God. And then, naturally, he will see the Mashiach.


Photo by Dani Aláez on Unsplash

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