YUD SHEVAT, THE 10TH DAY OF THE MONTH OF SHEVAT, MARKS THE PASSING OF THE FRIEDIGER LUBAVITCHER REBBE, RABBI YOSEF YITZCHAK SCHNEERSOHN IN 5710 (1950). A YEAR LATER, ON THE SAME HEBREW DATE, THE REBBE, RABBI MENACHEM MENDEL SCHNEERSOHN RECEIVED HIS FATHER-IN-LAW’S POST AND ASSUMED THE LEADERSHIP OF CHABAD.
SHORTLY BEFORE YUD SHEVAT 5710, THE FRIEDIGER REBBE PUBLISHED A CHASSIDIC TREATISE TITLED “BATI LEGANI” (LIT.: “I HAVE COME TO MY GARDEN”), FOR CHASSIDIM TO BEGIN TO STUDY ON THE VERY DAY OF YUD SHEVAT (WHICH MARKS, AS WELL, THE YARTZEIT OF HIS GRANDMOTHER, THE RABBANIT RIVKAH), WHICH POSTHUMOUSLY BECAME HIS SPIRITUAL WILL FOR OUR GENERATION.
YOU CAN FIND AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE ENTIRE TREATISE HERE.
THE TREATISE CONSISTS OF 20 CHAPTERS DIVIDED INTO FOUR ARTICLES. BEGINNING FROM YUD SHEVAT 5711, IT WAS THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE’S CUSTOM TO REVIEW ONE CHAPTER EACH YEAR ON THAT DAY AND ADD HIS INSIGHTS ON IT. THE REBBE COMPLETED NEARLY TWO WHOLE CYCLES OF ALL 20 CHAPTERS FROM THE YEAR 1951. CONTINUING WITH THE REBBE’S CUSTOM OF CYCLING THROUGH THE CHAPTERS OF THE TREATISE, WE WILL REVIEW THE CHAPTER OF BATI LEGANI THAT BELONGS TO THIS YEAR—CHAPTER 16—BASED ON THE THREE TIMES THAT THE REBBE HIMSELF REVIEWED THIS CHAPTER IN 5726 (1966) AND TWICE IN 5746 (1986).
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BATI LEGANI 5710–“I HAVE COME TO MY GARDEN”–CHAPTER 16 (PART I)
CREATION AS THOUGHT
In essence, the Torah reveals that the entire sum of creation is a thought of God’s that He uttered into existence. We ourselves, our lives, our surroundings, our thoughts, our dreams, our past, our present, and our future, are all an expression of this thought. Expression here alludes to the fact that the story of creation in Genesis relates that God “spoke” reality into existence. As noted by the sages: “God created the world with ten utterances.” The prophet Isaiah states that God’s thought (from His perspective) is nothing like our own.
Nonetheless, Chassidic philosophy, based on the teachings of the prophets and the sages reveals that, from our own perspective, there is a lot to be learnt about the nature of reality by analyzing our own thought and speech process.
THINKING ABOUT THOUGHT
The situation traditionally used in Chassidut to analyze how thought functions (specifically, thought transformed into speech as in the process of creation) is of a teacher teaching his student. This everyday situation is meant to highlight the categorical difference between God’s intellectual capacity and knowledge (symbolized by the teacher) and our own (symbolized by the student). In order to be able to transfer the content of his thought to the student’s inferior intelligence, the teacher has to go through a complex process. In a similar manner, in order to make reality livable for us, that is, to make the content of his thought a reality that is fit for limited beings like ourselves, God has to go through a process referred to as the creative process.
The central element in this process is that the teacher must necessarily limit or even conceal his own understanding and intellectual power. An example of this is when teaching a child how to read. The fact that as an adult the teacher does not even usually notice the individual letters that make up a word, but rather sees the word as a whole (including its meaning and pronunciation) must be hidden or concealed from the child (and even from the teacher himself). Only then can the teacher help the child recognize the individual letters and put them together in order to form a word. Moreover, exceptions, for example to rules of pronunciation, cannot be revealed until the child has learned the general rule.
Kabbalistic terminology refers to the “thought” revealed by God in creation as “light.” Thus, it was exactly to this stage of concealment (and simplification) that the Arizal referred when he explained that in order to create the world, God’s infinite light first had to experience a contraction, called tzimtzum in Hebrew. The infinite light represents God’s thought, or essence that he would like to reveal in its original form—as He Himself grasps and understands it. This is why it must first be concealed so that entities with finite minds, like us, can understand something of what God is trying to show us.
Just as the teacher teaches with the goal that someday the student will understand and know as much as he himself does, so God created the world with the intent that someday we graduate from childhood and be able to comprehend the secrets of creation and, as it were, share the thoughts of the Almighty. The Bible describes this day in its metaphoric language: “And the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold the light of the seven days.” As we noted, light is the prophetic and Kabbalistic symbol of thought.
THE CONTENT OF THOUGHT
Kabbalah and Chassidut describe that which the teacher is able to transfer to his student, and which the student is able to grasp as inner light, the “inner” indicating that it has indeed entered the student’s mind and is understood. The mind itself is called the vessel.
We might think that that which the teacher has concealed and in a sense skipped over is forever lost. However, this is not the case. The concealed light is referred to as surrounding light. Although the student’s mind cannot yet grasp this knowledge and understanding, it is relevant to him and is likened to an aura that surrounds the mind, waiting to fall in when the student has advanced enough. But, in Chassidut the surrounding light is divided into two different aspects. One aspect is referred to as the proximal surrounding light (אור מקיף הקרוב) because it is relatively at-hand and can be assimilated. The second aspect is called distal surrounding light (אור מקיף הרחוק) because it is relatively distant from the student’s capacity for understanding and may never be assimilated into his or her comprehension. In the context of God’s creative process, the distal surrounding light is absolutely distant and can never be assimilated into our rational comprehension.
One of the novel explanations offered in Chassidut is that these two aspects of surrounding light can also be defined based on their source. The source of the proximal surrounding light is in the direct, outward-shining light of the soul and therefore it is called the surrounding (light) of the direct light (מקיף דאור ישר), while the source of the distal surrounding light is from the inward-shining light of the soul, continually returning into the soul’s essence, and is therefore called the surrounding (light) of the returning light (מקיף דאור חוזר). This is the terminology used by the Friediger Rebbe in his discourse. Later, we will discuss the meaning of this terminology and its ramifications.
Following everything that has been said until now, we note that there are altogether four elements that make up our thought: the vessel itself (usually, pictured as the mind), the light that enters it internally, and the two aspects of surrounding light that hover above the vessel. Numerically, the value of these four elements in Hebrew is:
כְּלִי, אוֹר פְנִימִי, מַקִיף דְאוֹר יָשָׁר, מַקִיף דְאוֹר חוֹזֵר = 2070
But, 2070 is 10 times the numerical value of the word “light” (אוֹר) in Hebrew. This beautiful gematria illustrates that indeed the best symbol for thought is light. Moreover, the fact that the vessel is itself a form of light alludes to the Kabbalistic dictum that “from the thickening of the light come vessels.”
Furthermore, in the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that two times the word “light” in Hebrew (אוֹר), is equal to the value of the word וְאָהַבְתָּ, “you shall love,” the first word of the second verse of the Shema. Thus, 2070 is also equal to 5 times וְאָהַבְתָּ, which means that these 4 components of light (i.e., thought) corresponds to the five attributes of loving-kindness found in the sefirah of knowledge and which are capable of sweetening the harsh attitude and judgmental nature of one’s yet unrectified animal soul.
In a further example of self-reference, the numerical value of the initials of the nine words that make up the four components is itself 207, or “light” (אוֹר). This means that the average value of each initial is 23, the numerical value of the Hebrew word זִיו, “radiance,” the kernel essence of light in Hebrew.