exilic thoughts

Sukkot and the Seven Beggars

תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין עִילָאִין, תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין, תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין דִמְהֵימְנוּתָא

Before beginning his thirteenth and final tale “The Seven Beggars”, R. Nachman asked his students to bring him the news of the world. Listening, silent, he sighed and opened, “let me share with you how once there was joy from within despair”.

The tale tells of a carnivalesque celebration. As all the villagers return to their homes, two young orphans, a young boy and girl, are left behind in the vacant forest. Bereft and lost they are visited by seven enigmatic beggars who open with advice and close with blessings.

With each beggars departure the desire of the orphans grows, mourning the loss and anticipating their re/turn. The beggars of the neighboring villages, the “community of those without community” take the children under their care, initiating them into the ways of the impoverished.

Eventually the community decides that the orphaned children should get married. A royal feast was set in a neighboring village. The beggars descend on the feast collecting the leftovers and the surplus for the marriage of the lost children.

The beggars dig a four-walled pit into the mud of the forest. The orphans descend into the pit. The pit is covered with branches and dirt.

The seven enigmatic beggars, the blind, the deaf, the stuttering, the hunchbacked, the crooked and the arm-less visit the muddy pit covered with branches to offer their gifts.


Lower Waters/ Part I

Originally, the water(s) were unified. Only after they were separated did they realize that they were different. Whether their original unity or their actual division was their essential state doesn’t matter much. What matters is that they are now separate.

The ‘higher’ waters were allowed to remain in their original state, the state of presence, of fullness and an awareness of their original purpose. 

The ‘lower’ waters, however, were cast out and away from their original space. Thrown into the nothingness of the outside, these waters gather and form into the abyss. Banished and lost, the ‘lower’ waters confront the absence of the depths, murmuring, trying to remember their forgotten origins.
Within the depths of forgetting, there is an awakening. A movement from within when the ‘lower’ waters gaze at their own distance, a self-reflection that opens unto the rootlessness of the self. The ‘lower’ waters of the abyss begin to rumble. Murmuring, depth calling unto depth, seeking out their barred origin, they cry out. The inaudible cry of distance, the sigh born in the shadows of the abyss rises above, silenced by the same depths that give birth to the cry.
The separation of the water(s), the primordial split that separates above from below, presence from absence, enables the functioning of being. Without the division of the ‘lower’ waters from within the ‘higher’ waters, the potential of being would be foreclosed on in the inundation of water, the oceanic sense of unity that prevents the possibility of duplicity. 
Once awakened, the desire of the ‘lower’ waters to ascend from her depths, the cry for the return to the never-present presence threatens to return the world to “water in water”, a return back to the beginning before the beginning where the saturation of presence denied even the whispers of absence. 
For the sake of being, the ‘lower’ waters are held in abeyance, never overcoming the boundary placed between her and her source. Perpetually assaulting the border, the ‘lower’ waters surge forth from their abysmal depth only to retreat back into themselves in the face of the impenetrable limit. 
Chained to their depth, the ‘lower’ waters seek out a crack, a fissure, a moment to burst free…

On Being the Other (Zohar 1:148)

R. Yitzchak was walking alone at night. He came upon a father and his two sons speaking about the sun. Uninvited, he followed behind them listening from a distance. They spoke about gods invitation towards man and mans invitation towards god. They spoke about the holy madness of King David, the reversal of laughter and grace, and the ways in which god must behave while in the house of his faithful. R. Yitzchak revealed himself to them, kissed them, and exclaimed, “had I only embarked upon this path to hear this, it would have, could have been enough.” A fleeting sense of fulfillment, a sense of totality lost as quickly as it was grasped. 

The mans son opens and speaks, interpreting Jacob’s descent from Beer-Sheva into Haran. Previously interpreted as the descent from faith into doubt, day into night, serenity into rage; the son reads Jacobs descent as the quest towards relation, towards the other. 

The son continues: what does it mean that Jacob stumbled upon the place? He opens with an analogy, a story within a story, a meandering tale amongst those that wander on the way…

When the king descends to the dwelling of his queen, a dwelling removed in time and space from the trappings of royalty, removed from the beds of gold and the images of open spaces . A distant place, devoid of externality. A space that is sparse and impoverished, a bed of stone and a blanket of wheat. He must cast off the burdens of his certainty, the edifices of the known, he must descend into the unknown invitation.  He must leave what was once his, he must let himself be invited, he must descend into the pit with flames of desire. For even the stones of her floor are enrapturing. 

Jacob was surprised. Caught off guard. Invited by the beckoning call of that place. In the depths of night, Jacob descended into the dreamscape of the host. 

Wandering on the way (אורחא), stumbling upon strangers, R. Yitzchak becomes the guest (אורח), humbling himself in the face of the other, being welcomed. Giving space.

R. Yitzchak heard the words of the mans son, and R. Yitzchak cried.

Thoughts on Possibilty (Zohar 1:133)

The stranger comes upon R. Shimon and R. Abba on the road towards Teveria. The stranger tells the companions that he is searching for R. Shimon. The dialogue begins. The discussion surrounds the three times of institutional prayer, the archetypal forefathers whose lives embodied the prayers, and the divine traits that each prayer represents. The brightness of morning and the grace of Abraham, the darkening dusk and the severity of Issac, the depths of night and the compassion of Jacob. 
R. Shimon opens and speaks: While the traits of Abraham and Issac are essential, they remain caught up in their specificity. They occupy the sides- both right and left- the peripheral that marks the edges of experience. Unchanging and constant, the grace of Abraham and the severity of Issac become the margins that keep the middle open. Jacob, a composite of his father and grandfather, embodies the middle path of compassion, the dialogue between open and closed, between light and dark. In occupying the middle space that makes room for both extremes, the centrality of Jacob is described as the “choicest” of the pillars. 
The stranger, now following the companions on the path towards Teveria, opens and speaks: If Jacob is the “choicest”, the paradigm of sacred neutrality, then why does his prayer-time remain optional (reshut) while the others carry the weight of obligation (chovah)?
R. Shimon responds: this has already been discussed, however, but, aval, there is more that can be said. The two moments of Abraham and Isaac, the brightness of morning and the darkening of dusk, these times are present to make room for the middle that they shape. The dance of grace and severity open unto the space of compassion. They dance for the sole purpose of compassion, “however, come and see, these two times of the two prayers are there for the sole purpose of cleaving to the act of Jacob”. 
Like the beloved embraced within the arms of the lover, there is no need for anything more. The right arm of Abraham and the left arm of Isaac embrace the possibility of Jacob, forming the potential space for compassion. Embraced, loved, there is no need for consummation. No need for specific ending. Protected by the two sides of certainty, of obligation, the event that murmurs in the center, the now, need not, must not be concretized into the stability of the absolute. The “optional”, cut through with the anxiety of the “perhaps”, of the happenstance encounter in the heart of the night, must remain perpetually open. Only through the volitional act is the neutral possibility of decision possible. Devoid of the compulsory drive that is written in obligation, the end, the purpose, the centrality of the center must remain free within the hollowed space of obligations embrace. 
R. Shimon continues: the embrace, the folding of the left into the right and the right into the left is necessary. The margins are stable and announced. The middle, the event, the compassionate, this remains whispered, hidden and concealed in the openness of possibility. 
R. Abba cries out, kissing the hand of R. Shimon:

This secret has yet to be revealed.  

Thoughts while reading the Zohar


There is a certain pungency to the avodah that works from the bottom up. A bittersweet smell, that comes from the flames of desire that is situated upon the lack of wholeness. Of satiety. The movement and play within the space of shadows where the light and dark move together creates the novel act. The heroic. The giving over of oneself. The sacrifice. Getting closer to the source devours the attachments of distance. The laughter is more of a smile. The sense of superiority over the flow of time in all of its absurdity. To act through distance, from concealment, is to show that the distance and concealment is nothing but the veil that conceals the light.

Yaakov didn’t know if he should say Baruch Shem out loud. Because it has a pungent odor, a pleasing smell that elicits the emotions, the inner rage of love. Strong waters may never assuage, satisfy, complete, fulfill, fix, finish, end , the flames of love, compassionate painful love that sees the pain of the other.

This is the light that reverberates from within the darkness that had extinguished it. This is the echo of a past voice. This is the laughter that arises from the depths. This is the water that cries out. This is the desire that stands to be fulfilled. This is the lost, the forlorn and the orphan. This is the doubt, the question and the return. This is the shattered , the broken and the hate. This is the mundane, the banal, the everyday. This is the mournful watch that is joyous in its heart. This the light that is concealed, never known, the distant shadow of a light that is not yet.  This is the transformation of darkness into light, the transforming of bitter into sweet, the turning the flipping the reversal. The face of the deer as it’s running away. The union of distance and the closeness of far. The Zohar, motzei shabbos, exile and longing. Desiring. Empty and full.

The Zohar has secrets of the Sugya of death. Moshe stole the secret of death. Deaths secret. The TZimtzum teaches us that the “death of god ” is only the starting point. Creation is death and death is creation. The tzimtzum as death, void חלל, a dead body. כביוכל. This is the question of death. Death awareness. Curse of death. Deferred death of kayin. In a sense adam never woke up, in a sense yitzchak was dead. קץ חי. Living death. Living beyond death. Being after death.

אלהים חיים

The Zohar is in Aramaic because it is a dream. The dream of adam. The creation of the feminine. The revelation of the חלל. חליל. Empty air creates . אוירפנוי. חלל פנוי

At one level it is a חלל פנוי. But from another it is an אויר פנוי.

Light and darkness. Empty and full.

The Zohar is the dream, the מראה לילה.

היינו כחולמים.

The author is hidden, concealed. The author of the Zohar is the concealment of the name. Rashbi. Rashbi. Rashbi.

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.”