April 2, 2009


From Dovid Sears, “The Tree that Stands Beyond Space: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov on the Mystical Experience” (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 70-73. End notes have been omitted for this online version, although we have restored several to the text.

Finding the Shabbat Within

From Reb Noson's Likutey Halakhot

The paradigm of the Shabbat is a potent remedy for any confusion that may beset us, whatever its cause. Amid all the conflicting desires, emotions, and evil thoughts we may experience, we must search for the aspect of the Shabbat. This is the nullification of the self to the Ultimate Reality.

Thus, the Torah instructs us, “Remember the Shabbat day and sanctify it” (Exodus 20:8). Similarly, our Sages observe, “Remember it from the first [echad] toward the Shabbat [meaning, “Remember from the first day of the week by counting toward Shabbat.” The latter phrase also may be understood to mean, “Remember the Divine Oneness (Echad) on the Shabbat.” The Shabbat is the aspect of “sit and do not act,” the aspect of sh’vitah, rest and cessation of activity.

This is good advice for all the difficulties we may encounter: we should simply nullify ourselves for a time and remind ourselves of the Ultimate Reality. Anyone in the world, without exception, can accomplish this and thus merge into the Infinite Divine Light. It is impossible to explain this further, because “everyone must understand according to the capacity of his heart” (Zohar I, 103b). Nevertheless, all of Israel believes that this is the ultimate spiritual goal and our hope for all eternity. Every person, whatever he may be, whatever may happen to him, can nullify himself to God, even in the midst of his confusions and problems. This is the paradigm of the Shabbat, the paradigm of sh'vitah (rest and cessation). Through this, we can destroy all disturbing thoughts, all intellectual entanglements and false wisdoms, and direct all of our doings toward the Ultimate Reality that is beyond time and change. This is the aspect of the Shabbat and the principle that “the mind is nourished first.” That is, our eating and mundane activities, even the necessity of attending to our physical needs, should be directed to the Shabbat alone -- to true wisdom and the essence of the mind.

All this is implicit in Rebbe Nachman's tale, “The Exchanged Children. “ At the end of the story a garden, which alludes to the Garden of Eden, is described. [No one can enter the garden without being pursued by invisible terrors and confusions.] However, the hero vanquishes these terrors and confusions by standing beside [the statue of the unidentified human form, which symbolizes] the Shabbat. Thus, our Sages state that the Shabbat protected Adam after he had tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (Zohar II, 138a) (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:5, 8).


The main strategy for taming the mind is the practice of “sitting and not acting” in thought (see Likutey Moharan II, 122). Even if you already have allowed your thoughts to wander and your mind has strayed into evil or disturbing realms, if you seek to undo your error by struggling with your thoughts, you will only become more deeply entangled. Therefore, the best advice is to “sit and not act” in thought, at least from now on. In the midst of your mental turmoil, let your mind stand still and rest by disengaging your attention from the flow of thoughts.

Ultimately this requires complete nullification of the ego. This is accomplished by remembering God's Presence and effacing yourself completely before the Infinite Light.

This is the paradigm of the Shabbat. You should strive to remember the Shabbat constantly, drawing its holiness upon yourself even during the week [i.e., in the realm of the profane]. Then you will discern the openings in the very midst of your confusing thoughts.

The practice of self-effacement is beneficial to all [even if at first one succeeds only intermittently]. However a great master like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah [who debated the Wise Men of Athens, as recounted in Bekhorot 8b] was capable of nullifying himself at every moment through the paradigm of the Shabbat. Therefore, he was able to enter the gates of the Wise Men of Athens [who symbolize egoistic thinking and secular philosophy] and defeat them utterly (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:8).

Silence of the Shabbat

On the Shabbat we are forbidden to discuss our mundane affairs [i.e., business matters and the like]. Rather, we should speak words of Torah and prayer and praises to God, singing zemirot (songs) of the Shabbat and thanking God wholeheartedly and with great joy that He has mercifully conferred upon us this precious gift of the Shabbat from among His hidden treasures.

The Shabbat transcends speech -- yet all speech comes forth from the Shabbat. It is the supernal silence above speech, the paradigm of “the fence for wisdom (chokhmah) is silence” (Avot 3:13).

Kabbalistically this corresponds to the sefirah of Keter (“Crown”). In terms of our Divine service, it corresponds to the quality of waiting.

Speech is bound up with the sefirah of Chokhmah (“Wisdom”), as the verse states, “God will give wisdom, from His mouth...” (Proverbs 2:6). However, wisdom and speech spring forth from the sefirah of Keter, the transcendent silence, the “fence for wisdom.” This is why we must be silent before we speak, when we need to collect our thoughts.

Similarly, we must pause between words, however slightly, as our Sages state, “If a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two” (Megillah 18a), for silence is both the source of speech and its tikkun. This concept is also suggested by the verse that refers to “a wise man (chakham) among the silent, understanding whispered mysteries” (Isaiah3:3). Thus, speech is elicited from the paradigm of the Shabbat that corresponds to the sefirah of Keter, the aspect of the “covering of coverings,” which is the mystery of silence.

On the Shabbat, it is forbidden to speak anything but words that come forth from the supernal silence, words of yishuv ha-da’at (mindfulness, or mental focus), words of faith through which one may cleave to the Infinite One, as the verse states, “I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth” (Psalms 89:2). [That is, our words bear this quality of da’at because they are rooted in the level of faith that transcends intellect.] Therefore, on the Shabbat, we praise God by singing, “A psalm, a song of the Shabbat day: it is good to praise God...” (Psalms 92:1,2) -- for all praises and words of holiness emerge from the silence of the Shabbat (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 7:43, abridged).