Up is Down, Holy is Unholy:
From Vayikra to Hasidut to Rav Kook to Rav Shagar
1. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 15b
“On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed” (Esther 6:1). Rabbi Tanḥum said: The sleep of the King of the universe was disturbed.
Kodesh vs. Hol
2. Vayikra 10:8–11
And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: 9 Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout the ages, 10 for you must distinguish (lehavdil) between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.
3. Vayikra 11:44–47
For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean through any swarming thing that moves upon the earth. 45 For I the Lord am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy. 46 These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, 47 for distinguishing (lehavdil) between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.
Hasidut and Its Opponents
4. Keter Shem Tov, Bereshit §189
“The whole earth is filled with his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Nothing exists, large or small, that is separate from God. Thus, a perfect (shalem) person can perform divine unifications, even in physical activities like eating, drinking, and sexual relations, like business and mundane conversations between friends.
I have thus received a tradition from a wise man… this is the meaning of the verse, “Know him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6), which is like “And the man knew Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1), meaning unification and coupling.
If this is true about physical matters, all the more so with matters like prayer that stand in the heights of the world. There are many levels, and on each and every level a person can perform unifications, in the mystery of “Thus shall Aaron come to the holy” (Leviticus 16:3). Whatever level a person is on, from there he can include himself within the entirety of the world, which are on these levels. They are all the limbs of the Knesset Yisrael. At this point a person can pray, and it will be that “his God be with him and he ascends” (II Chronicles 36:23).
5. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:5
Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 304–5
But even considering this, these are His heroic and awesome [works]: that even so, He hid–so to speak–His glory so that it would be possible to actualize the matter of the existence of the worlds, and the powers, and created beings, both newly created and renewed, having different qualities and diverse situations, and distributed in different locations—places that are holy and pure, and the opposite: impure and filthy. And this is our perspective, namely, that our capacity for sense perception is limited to the realities as they appear, and on this perspective is built the system that mandates our behavior, as we were commanded directly by Him (blessed be He), it being immutable law. And from this perspective our sages metaphorized Him (so to speak) per the matter of the soul-Neshama’s relationship to the body. And as is stated in the Zohar that He (blessed be He) is the soul-Neshama of all the worlds, being that in people the senses only perceive a person’s body, and:
- even though the soul-Neshama permeates the entire body, it is an aspect hidden to eyes of flesh but revealed to the mind’s eyes,
- so too, based on our grasp of what can be perceived, so appears the reality of all the worlds and creations, and that He (blessed be His name) permeates and is hidden (so to speak) within them to enliven them and to sustain them,
as in the matter of the soul-Neshama that permeates and is hidden within all the various parts of the body’s limbs/ organs, to enliven it.
6. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:6
Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 307
And so it is that all of the fundamental principles of the holy Torah, every one of the warnings and commandments, positive and negative, all operate within this context, that from our perspective there absolutely exist differences and variations between places. In clean/pure places we are permitted and also obligated to discuss and to reflect on the Torah’s words. And in filthy places we are prohibited even to reflect on the Torah’s words. And so it is with all the matters and the system of behavioral obligations that we are directly commanded in the holy Torah, and lacking this context of our perspective there wouldn’t be any room for the Torah and commandments at all.
7. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ki Tisa, s.v. Elohei Masekhah Lo Ta’aseh Lekha
“Molten gods, you shall not make for yourselves” (Shemot 34:17). “Molten” refers to the general principles. This is the meaning of the verse: In a moment when you have explicit “understanding of the heart” (binat halev), then you should not look to the general principles to guide your actions. Understanding of the heart should be your sole guide as to how to act in each individual instance, as we find by Eliyahu on Har Carmel, and as we explained well in Parashat Ḥukkat.
8. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ḥukkat, s.v. Vayis’u Benei Yisrael Vayiḥanu Be’ovot
It is written in the Gemara (Berachot, 54a), it is a time for God to act, for they have made Your Torah void’ (Tehillim, 119). says, “It is a time to do for God, for they have made void your Torah.” This means, since they have made your Torah void, act only in the will of God. At a time when it is perfectly clear that it is a time to solely for Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, then it is necessary to put aside the principles of the holy Torah and act only in the understanding that the blessed God instills in you. Rebbe Natan is saying that at a time when this given under standing is not completely clear to you, you must act according to the principles of the Torah and mitzvot without stepping out of the bounds of the Halacha. Yet Rebbe Natan is also saying that if your heart is drawn after the will of the blessed God, and have removed from yourself any kind of impurity (anything that could bring you down), afterward God may provide you with an opportunity to act in a way that may seem as if, God forbid, you have removed yourself from the bounds of the principles of the Torah. Concerning this Rebbe Natan said that for the one whose heart is drawn after God and has cleansed himself from any affliction, certainly God will not let him fall into a transgression, God forbid. He will surely then know that it is “a time to do for God.”
Kodesh vs. Hol 2.0: Spiritual vs. Unspiritual
9. Rav Kook, Mussar Avikha 2:2
Translation from R. Ari Ze’ev Schwartz, The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook, 55-56)
“In all of your ways, know Him” (Mishlei 3:6). One must search for God in everything one does. When praying, one must search for God by trying to focus on the words of prayer with deep concentration and a dedicated heart. One must not search for God in other matters at that moment. Indeed, while involved in that specific action, it may be said that God can be found within that action and nothing else. When studying Torah, one must realize that God is found in the very act of analyzing and trying to understand each idea. At that moment, God reveals Himself in that specific action and not in anything else. And finally, when involved in gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness), one must search for God by trying to uncover the best possible way to help one’s friend.
This principle is true in all actions that a person does. Do not all matters in the world uncover the Divine? Therefore, everything a person does should be understood as a mitzvah, because one must search for God in every action. We may accurately say that one who dedicates his or her entire mind and strength to performing every action with the greatest level of perfection knows God in all of his ways…
10. Rav Shagar, Nahalekh Baragesh, 170
Paradoxically, the logic of self-nullification (bitul) leads to a parabolic movement culminating in a return to the world. The righteous person nullifies himself, but in this the lack of nullification–the non-spiritual, worldly life–itself becomes nullification, a vessel for infinite light, an instance of “existing but not in existence.” The divide between creator and creature, between a righteous person and his creator, blurs.
11. Rav Shagar, Shiurim Al Lekutei Moharan I:29, vol. 1, 368
Similarly, Rebbe Naḥman’s understanding of tikkun habrit does not depict the berit as identification. Identifying with something still expresses a dualistic consciousness, because a person could identify with something outside of himself. Berit means getting rid of duality, so being overly aware of what we are doing ruins it. For example, we say “Thank God,” and that immediately traps us, as if we are doing something good by saying “Thank you.” We can free ourselves from this trap by saying “Thank you” from a place of linguistic oneness, of simplicity (peshitut). If I pray, and I must identify with the prayer, then this is still a matter of innerness and duality. The highest prayer is simply saying, speaking. This act can create the most delightful prayer.