exilic thoughts

The Blind Beggar: Weary Eyes

And they began to remember the kindness they received in the forest. And they began to cry, to yearn: “how can we bring the blind beggar here, the one who brought us bread in the forest?” Suddenly, as they were still yearning for the blind beggar, he appeared: “here I am”, he announced, “I have come to join you at your wedding, and to provide you with a gift: that you should be old like me. Previously I had blessed you with this, and now I offer it as a gift: that you may live a long life like me. Do you think I am truly blind? I am not blind at all, rather, the time of the world is but a blink of an eye, and I am very old yet I remain entirely young, for I have not yet begun to live, nevertheless I am very old indeed”.

We are bombarded with images. Caught in the thicket of media, the eyes collapse under the weight of visions that assault the eyes.

The world in all its harshness, the sheer outsideness that descends into our dwellings forces one to blink, reassuring ourselves that what we see is real. Things that in previous times were un/imaginable have now become commonplace.

With our gaze held on the moving images that move us towards  the tears that have since dried up, the perceivable world induces a certain blindness. An inability to not-look. A blindness that sees too much. Worn out by the incessant barrage of images, the eyes grow tired. Squinting under the burden of the seen, our vision is blurred- seeing duplicitous, frightful things in the shadow of a distant clarity (see Likkutei Moharan, I:51).

Unable to close our eyes to the world, our gaze is caught in the brokenness, the weariness, the burden of times incessant sway that imposes the shackles of oldness on all things once new.

There is a path of vision, of a blindness that sees. A way of looking through stimu d’eiynim, the closing of the eyes. To peer into time. Through the trappings of her vicious movement, into the recesses of the perpetually new. Old with the knowledge of this-worldly pain; young with the knowledge of other-worldly time.

Closing our eyes to the incessant barrage of images, images born of lack and desire, we catch a glimpse of the gift hidden within the veil of the broken.

“Our master, may his memory be a blessing, answered and said: everyone says that there is this-world (olam ha-zeh) and the world-to-come (olam ha-bah). Regarding the world-to-come- we believe that there is a world-to-come; it is possible that this-world exists as well in some realm, because here it appears to be hell, for everyone is filled with interminable suffering. And he said: this-world does not exist at all.”

(R. Nachman of Breslov)

Rebbe Nachman: Questioning the Void

…While true that for R. Nahman, the spiritual seeker is incessantly bombarded by the difficulties and paradoxes that interrupt any static system of meaning, thus implicitly relating the spiritual experience to what has been described as the existentialist worldview; the existentialist outlook is mitigated by the spiritual and religious faith that imbues the suffering and doubt with meaning. In this sense following the scholarship of Zeitlin and Mark, R. Nahman’s thought represents a radically personal and creative continuation of the Jewish mystical tradition as opposed to a sharp deviation from the mystical and spiritual context that defines Hassidic thought. For R. Nahman the kushiyot that remain unanswerable become a spiritually fecund idea by propelling the spiritual seeker into the space where rationalism, speech, and certitude no longer represent the apex of the spiritual experience. The ontological questions, predicated on the paradox of the vacant space- the impossible union of something (yeish) and nothing (ayin)- demand that the individual relinquish their positivistic reliance on knowing for the sake of a more dynamic form of nonknowing, or faith (emunah). For R. Nahman as we shall see, this form of apophatic nonknowing becomes a yearning for that which remains interminably elusive and is often represented through prayer, (ba-kasha, lit. asking) song (niggun) or silence (shtikah).

After defining the two modes of questioning in discourse sixty-four, R. Nahman continues and describes how the spiritual seeker is to deal with the kushiyot of the chalal ha-panui:

“rather through faith (emunah) the Jewish people (yisrael) traverse (ovrim) all the wisdoms, and even over this form of apikorsut that stems from the chalal ha-panui, because they have faith in God without any philosophy (chakirah) or wisdom (chochmah), rather with perfect faith…and through faith, the faith they have in God that He fills all worlds (mimaleh kol almin) and He surrounds all worlds (sovev kol almin)…only it is not possible to grasp this and to find God there [in the vacant space], therefor they traverse (ovrim) all of the wisdoms and the kushiyot and the apikorsut that stems from the chalal hapanui, for they know with certainty that it is impossible to find an answer, for if they were to find an answer for them, meaning, that they were to find God in them [the kushiyot of the chalal ha-panui], then there would be no chalal ha-panui, and there would be no capacity for the existence of creation…Therefore the Jewish people are referred to as those-who-traverse (ivri’im), on account that they traverse, with faith, over all the wisdoms, and even over the wisdoms that are not wisdom (chochmot sh-einam chochmot), that is, the the second form of heresy that stems from the chalal ha-panui. Therefor God is referred to as the God of the ivri’im, from the language of “beyond the river” (ever la-nahar), the language of sides (tze’da’din), that is, that His Godliness also surrounds the chalal ha-panui, that comes through the act of Divine contraction (tzimtzum), as he contracted His light to the sides. Therefor the Jewish people are referred to as ivri’im, because through their faith, that they have faith in God the God of the ivri’im, they traverse all the wisdoms and that which is not wisdom, that is, the second form of heresy…”

Here R. Nahman makes clear exactly what is unanswerable within the ontological question. To reconcile the essential paradox upon which existence stands- namely the impossibility of God’s presence and the equal impossibility of God’s absence- would mean the foreclosure of that which keeps existence open. An answer (teshuvah) would imply a return (teshuvah) to the origin in which the question no longer exists. If one were to rationally prove that Divinity is found within the void of the Divine, the vacant space necessary for the other-than-God would retroactively fold upon itself thus invalidating the entire basis of existence. Remarkably, R. Nahman suggests that the spiritual seeker himself is aware of the impossibility of the answer, thereby calling upon the individual to engage a mode-of-being that transcends the ontological question through a transitive act. In order to traverse the questions of the vacant space the spiritual seeker must move beyond rational thought and engage the way of faith (emunah). Through faith, the individual facing the ontological antinomies conjures up the capacity to concurrently move through and beyond the impossible paradox that marks the chalal ha-panui. This form of faith is unique in that it does not repress the unanswerable questions; rather it demands the simultaneous recognition and subversion of these antinomies. By enabling the individual to traverse the void, both the question and the reprieve that comes with the faithful ignorance of the question remain in dialectical play. This open-ended suspension of the dialectical movement between question and closure places the spiritual seeker at the threshold of the void as well as the secure clearing of faith. This is implied in R. Nahman’s evocation of the term ivri’im that stems from Abraham’s appellation ivri that was given on account of his being “on the other side of the river (ever la-nahar). As Pedaya points out, the root word avar (traverse) implies a certain liminality in which the subject is situated at both the point of departure and the intended point of arrival. This ambiguous space is similarly symbolized by the word ibbur (pregnancy), which shares a root with iv’ri, in which the demarcations separating internality and externality are diminished. By traversing the unanswerable questions of the vacant space with faith, the spiritual seeker remains, paradoxically, on both sides (tze’da’din) of the void. For R. Nahman, emunah does not negate the ontological question by advocating an anti-rationalist outlook; rather it moves through and beyond the impossibility of an answer, thereby bringing the individual face to face with a reality that is partially built upon the impossibility of its own existence.

Facing the vacant space in which the unanswerable questions form the ontological type of apikorsut, the spiritual seeker is called upon to engage a faith that simultaneously negates the drive for totalized knowledge while affirming a nonknowing that can withstand both answerable and unanswerable questions. By acknowledging, traversing and faithfully accepting the absolute question, the spiritual seeker mimics the Divine act of creation in which the ontological paradoxes of something and nothing (yesh v’ayin), infinity and limitation (ein-sof v’tzimtzum), surrounding and filling (sovev u’mimaleh) were traversed, for which God is referred to as God of the ivri’im. Furthermore, the individual who lives the question, to borrow Rilke’s term, may now fully express the desire (ratzon) and yearning (hish’to’kikut) that is invoked in the absence of a totalized system in which the object of desire- namely, absolute knowledge- can be grasped. For R. Nahman, the teshuka that is born vis-a-vis the unanswerable question  becomes the vehicle by which the spiritual seeker may arrive at the telos (tachlit) of the spiritual path, that is, the apophatic nonknowing that is disclosed when knowing dissolves.

At times, on an existential level, the ontological antinomies that permeate reality throw the spiritual seeker into a state of doubt (sfei’kot) in which the hope for spiritual redemption is emptied. R. Nahman describes this harrowing encounter with the place-of-absence in discourse twelve, printed in the second volume of Likkutei MoHaRan, titled “Where is the place of Your Honor” (ayeh mikom kevodo). This space of concealment, which for R. Nahman is rooted in the “concealed utterance” (ma’amar satum), is devoid of any centering point through which the individual may regain spiritual standing. As one enters these “places of impurity” (mi’komot ha-mi’tunafim) where the “honor” (kavod) and presence of God is silenced, they face the frightening reality of God’s delimitation (gevul). These “dwellings of foreign worship” (batei avodah zarah) are formed through transgressive acts (aveirot) thus creating a space-of-otherness in which the honor of God is withheld (kvodi li-acher lo I’tein). When one finds themselves in this space of “great stumbling and mistakes” (ta’utim u-michsholot rabbim), nothing but a primal questioning that stems from “great confusion” (bil’bu’lim) can redeem the individual. To escape this space of concealment, the spiritual seeker is called to question (sho’el), request (mi-vakeish) and seek out (mi-chapeish) the impossible presence of God that must- paradoxically -permeate the void of God. For R. Nahman this questioning act in which the individual cries out “where” (ayeh) is not aimed towards any specific destination or answer; rather, the act of ontological questioning itself elevates and redeems the spiritual seeker from their personal abyss. As R. Nahman writes:

“we find then, that when one seeks out and asks “where” is the place of Your Honor, through this [act] itself they return and ascend to the elevated honor, that is the aspect of “where”, for from His great concealment and occlusion God enlivens (mi-chayeh) these places, and now as a result of falling there, and [the individual] asks “where” is the place of Your Honor, through this he returns and connects (mi-daveik) himself to there, giving life to his fallenness, and he ascends in all matters of ascension.”

Satisfied with desire- a pesach thought

There is a paradox at play within the matzah experience.

On the one hand, it must be eaten in a state of hunger, symbolic of the destitute spirit yearning for that which it lacks. 

On the other hand, the afikoman must be eaten in a state of satiation, symbolic of the effulgence of spirit, the fullness wherein we lack nothing but the experience of lack itself.

While the binary of fullness and lack may be applied to two disimilar aspects of the same mitzvah, akin to the analytic distinction of tzvei dinim- two distinct aspects that cut the selfsame in half- there is a more difficult insight that can be applied to the matzah experience.

As opposed to viewing the act in two distinctive ways, one of plenitude and one of privation; we may view the matzah as an act that effectuates the dialectical sway between fullness and lack. The matzah, and the anxiety of freedom that it represents pushes the individual towards the limit wherein fullness and lack act in unison, producing the sublime affect of satisfaction that leaves room for desire. 

Generally speaking, when one is full they do not lack. The object of desire has filled the hole from which desire spreads forth. Redeemed, the individual no longer yearns for the elsewhere, standing assuredly in the promised land where all lack is erased. There is a way, a derech upon which one may taste the fullness of redemption without negating the exilic desire that pushes the individual beyond the limit. Having and not-having at the same moment. Pushed out of our self-sufficiency born in redemption, we seek without seeking, want without wanting. Yearning for that which can never come. Desire in the space of fullness. To be whole and broken at once. 

Satisfied in our hunger, and hungry in our satisfaction.

Thoughts on the Opening

At first we seek transcendence, something that is removed and beyond.

Then, we come to foreclose on the the dreams and faith of our youth. The moment we come to realize that stars are nothing but dead, residual lights.

The revelation of our naivete.

Then, we come to understand what is immanent, what is present. The infinite that is with everything. There is no up or down, no limit of immanency.

Even when we talk about the beyond, it is always the beyond that is relative to the inner.

The secret of faith is to “assault the boarder”, to move towards the limit, the limit of what is truly limitless. We move up, hitting the limit, the place where something and nothing kiss, the liminal boundary.

We do not retreat, we push through, paradoxically moving towards and back, running and returning, touching but not touching, filling and surrounding.

The presence that draws forth the impossible that rests beyond, and within the possible..



I seek out in darkness

In the silent moments.

What I seek

I cannot name.

I walk with the thoughts of a thousand eyes


I seek,

Is gone.

Through the doorway of a present past.

I take comfort

In the distance

Quietly hoping

For that which was never gone.

Fear is the trace

Of your distance.

The Craving

The quest for oblivion.

The quest for simplification.

The quest for self sufficiency.

The quest for wholeness.

Addiction is a mode of being wherein the addict is wholly given over to that which can never arrive. Hurt and broken, or more importantly aware of the pain and brokenness, the addict hopes, seeks, craves, devours that which promises a momentary lapse from the harrowing outside. The object (spirits, narcotics, relationships etc.) promises what it can never deliver. The failed attempt at entering the inside, the space of serene self sufficiency where one needs no/one and no/thing other than the magical elixir opens unto the undying quest for the fantastical wholeness that craving dreams up. The vertical ascension, the higher space, the drive to get high.

Rooted in the unending sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

Sukkot Thought

כי עזה כמוות אהבה

There is a glaring paradox when it comes to Sukkot.

On the one hand it is a time of joy, a time of wholeness and simplicity. (Re)entering the natural world prior to the abasement and framing of nature. The Sukkah- the potential space in which the newly emergent subject exits the womb of teshuvah to find itself embraced, held and nurtured- the space of joyful simplicity is enabled by the newfound recognition of the simplicity of joy. The building of this space of joy, uninhibited by the previous years perception of happiness leads us to the simple recognition: joy must be built. Happiness is not some preexisting framework towards which we must walk, nor some prescribed space in which we must be. It is a choice, one that must be built from the excess and the surplus (p’solet) of last years joy. On Succot we a faced with the harrowing realization: if we are to be happy, we must choose, we must agree, we must believe in joy.


We also read Kohelet, a mournful scroll that would make Sartre blush. A story of futility. The emptiness of air. A reading that opens the abyss, lets it yawn. Nothing will last, all turns to nothing. You remember life, for the sake of life, with the Giver of life? Death says otherwise. You want joy, wholeness and compassion? Sadness, lack and loneliness say otherwise.


Joy must be measured by loss. Our teachers have long spoke of the pristine quality of joy that comes from pain, of light born of darkness. A simple sequential pattern. The joy that comes after the fall is endowed with a greater measure of intensity, due to its proximity to its opposite.

This is something else.

To live in a space of joy, one must relinquish control over the next moment. To experience the intensity, the urgency of this moment, one must lose hope in the past and future. Joy demands abandonment. Unhinged from the walls of the narrative sequence of our lives, the past that bleeds into the present only to enable a greater future, we allow ourselves to live in a space where nothing is lacking.

To truly love, one must also be aware of the transiency of all things, particularly the beloved. Joy is as strong as Nothing. Love is as strong as death.