The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review
Yaacov Dovid Shulman
|WINGS OF MORNING
Volume III, Issue 39
Sivan 5759 June 99
Translations and original material copyright (c) 1998 by Yaacov
Dovid Shulman (unless otherwise noted)
* The Neglect of Torah
* Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and William Blake
* Divine Protektzia
* Fecundity and Effusion
THE NEGLECT OF TORAH
On occasion, the times during which we neglect Torah act to illumine our eyes so that we may recognize the content of the holiness of the Torah and the depth of life that it pours forth upon those who learn it. Oros Hatorah 7:3
RABBI NACHMAN OF BRESLOV AND WILLIAM BLAKE
Yaffa Eliach (author of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust) has pointed out some remarkable similarities between Hasidism and, on the other hand, Christian mystical, charismatic movements that sprang up simultaneously in Russia.
There also exist, more generally, resemblances between Hasidism and the Romantic movement, which appeared at the same time.
In particular, one can see a number of parallels between the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and the thought of the English poet, William Blake.
A substantial portion of the following is taken from an admittedly dubious source: an essay about William Blake found on the Internet. Nevertheless, for these modest purposes, and because what the author says seems reasonable, I shall make do with it. (The author's name is Lorraine Lynch; other quotations are lifted from Lynch's article--I did not go to the primary sources.)
Lynch writes that:
"The Romantic revolt was directed against an 18th Century society known as Classicism. Romanticism sprung from classicism because it embraced everything classicism excluded - passion, self expression, spontaneity, inspiration, unrestrained energy, imagination, violence and irregularity, strangeness, the shocking, the elemental. Romanticism emphasized passion rather than reason. 'At the heart of Romanticism lay powerful impulse' (Gelding, Robert, 1989, p.
35). Prior to Romanticism, enthusiasm was frowned upon and the darker side of the spirit was ignored in favor of the sunlit world of consciousness...."
A similar--although certainly not identical--spirit can be discerned in Hasidism: the fervor, the stress on feeling, on song, on soulful connection to God. Adherents of one of the earliest Hasidic groups would somersault through the streets, calling out, "For God and for the rebbe!"
This was the Hasidic revolt against the intensely cerebral and dour classical piety represented by the Vilna Gaon.
At the same time, Hasidism presented a Jewish path to counter the materialism and atheistic rationalism fostered by the Enlightenment and scientific development.
As a Romantic, William Blake "valued, over everything, imagination and its power to liberate the human spirit from its earthy confines" (Stevenson, W. H. , William Blake: Selected Poetry, p. 12).
The affinity between this stress on imagination and as found in the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is striking.
Rabbi Nachman too lauded the power of imagination (although he was also wary of it). In his famous Tales, Rabbi Nachman showed himself to be a creative literary artist of the highest and most inspired caliber, with a brilliant, evocative use of image and archetype. In his teachings in Likutei Moharan, Rabbi Nachman also performs extraordinary tours de force of brilliance and imagination, weaving together ethics, mysticism, fervor, inspiration and sharpness with a dazzling display of knowledge and freedom in the use of that knowledge. Images move across the pages of his words like Jungian archetypes, living as Jewish souls.
"The surrealist quality of the images" in Blake's poetry, we are told, "partly explains why they are so vivid, but there is an emotional power in their vividness that surrealism rarely touches" (Stevenson, p. 17). If one were to add to the phrase "emotional power" the words "spiritual fervor," this sentence could apply as well to the extraordinary images and happenings of Rabbi Nachman's tales.
William Blake rejected entirely the rationalistic, mechanistic view of the world, which he saw as represented by Sir Isaac Newton.
"Reason and Newton they are quite two things For the Swallow and the Sparrow sings. Reason says Miracle, Newton says Doubt-- Aye that's the way to make all Nature out."
Similarly, Rabbi Nachman opposed with all his heart the rational trend of his day, warning that it would lead to disaster for the Jewish people. Instead, Rabbi Nachman believed profoundly in faith. This led him to oppose modern science, which he called "the forehead' of the Serpent." In his writings, Rabbi Nachman lambasts and lampoons modern science, and his descriptions of physical reality rely solely on the descriptions found in pre-scientific texts (to the discomfiture of the modern reader).
William Blake faced the incipient Industrial Age and its sooty deadening of humanity. Although Rabbi Nachman did not deal with this phenomenon, he spoke rapturously of meditation upon God amidst the grasses in the fields. From a young age, he would row a boat into the stream or ride a horse into the meadow to commune with God. All the grasses, he taught, are singing to God, and when we stand among them, their song strengthens ours as well.
Blake, we are told, "had the ability to mold images arising from the depths of the mind of an impulsive, fiery, religious man, into the framework provided by conventional, even common materials that created an unexpected greatness" (World Book Encyclopedia: 1998, "Blake, William"). These words could be applied to Rabbi Nachman as well.
In many ways, Rabbi Nachman was profoundly different from William Blake, a Christian visionary who created an idiosyncratic and seemingly-blasphemous religious system. Perhaps that makes all the more striking the similarities between these two men.
How are we to understand the remarkable confluences that appear so often among such different men and movements? One might see them, perhaps, as representing loci where the intent of God moves through men equally and is colored by their nature severally.
Some 50 Yesha residents were waiting for rides home at 3 PM this
afternoon when they unwittingly played a role in what could be called a
case of Divine intervention. It began when a soldier stationed at the
"trempiada" (bus stop and hitch-hiking station) on the Ma'aleh Adumim road
adjacent to the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill noticed a large,
unattended, rose-colored backpack. Arutz-7 correspondent Ron Meir - on his
way home to Beit El from Jerusalem at the time - described the incident:
FECUNDITY AND EFFUSION
Supernal repentance, which comes from great love and clear understanding, raises the content of all learning to a degree of fecundity and effusion that cannot be found in any learning in and of itself. Oros Hatorah 6:3
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