From Rabbi Ozer Bergman, “Where Earth and Heaven Kiss: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Path of Meditation” (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 251-254. Footnotes have been eliminated for this online version.
Based on Likutey Moharan I, 65
Nothwithstanding the loftiness of bitul (nullification of ego), the truth is that God desires your worship more than your bitul. The experience of bitul will open your eyes to the reality of a Unity in which all is good and everything that happens is good. But you can’t yet live in that Unity all the time. It would be like trying to buy a house with a futuristic currency—this is not the time or the place where it can be spent.
The point of bitul is the return from it. As important as “getting there” is, coming back with something good and living right as a result is even more important. When you come back from that state, you can take the light and fashion it into proper measures and vessels. The goal is the running to bitul and returning from it with an awareness of God that the residue of bitul enables.
Rebbe Nachman provides you with an idea of what degree of awareness your post-bitul life can have. He tells you that the NoPlace is right here. You can get there with hitbodedut.
Your mind can withstand any temptation. It is written, “God gives wisdom to the wise” (Daniel 2:21). Every person has the potential for wisdom. This potential must be used. With it alone you can overcome all temptations. But God also gives wisdom to the “wise”—this can bring you even greater strength.
Certain impurities in the mind must be subdued. When you do this, you will not want for anything in this world. Everything will be the same to you. It is written, “When you walk it will guide you, when you lie down it will watch over you, and when you awaken, it will champion you” (Proverbs 6:22).
When you have purified your thoughts, there is no difference between this world, the grave and the next world. When you only desire God and His Torah, all are the same. In all three you can grasp onto God and His Torah. But if you grasp at this world, there is an agonizing difference. This world is spread before you, while the grave is a tight, cramped place. If you purify your mind, all will be the same.
So, you’ve finished your hitbodedut for the day and you come back from bitul. Where are you going to put all that Infinite Light? Into the Torah. Rebbe Nachman teaches that those who succeed in reaching bitul return with a residue of the Infinite Light. As we wrote earlier, God is beyond human ken; no mind can be wrapped around what He is. Only through bitul can He be apprehended. The crux of revealing God’s presence in the world depends on securely protecting the memory of that experience.
The Torah you learn will give you the ability to protect and retain the light that remains from your experience of bitul in your intellect and emotions. When you study the Torah with renewed enthusiasm, viewing it in a new light and using it as a springboard for further hitbodedut, you will complete and perfect your bitul, just as you begin to get ready for the next go-round.
The experience of bitul is exhilarating, to say the least. You may be tempted to downplay the importance of trying to “bottle it” within the letters and words of Torah. After all, you saw the light. True enough, but one can still forget something he saw.
Because memory protection is so critical, you must be vigilant about farther sanctifying your mind, rejecting the evil and the unholy so that your brain remains a proper Ark in which the Torah can rest. Without proper sanctification, her great light cannot be contained. And then you forget.
How much Torah must you learn to retain the experience of bitul? Reb Noson points out that a Torah scroll that lacks even one letter is invalid, because it cannot and does not fully hold the light. Therefore, the more holy words of Torah that you speak, the more letters you possess with which to contain the residue of bitul. The more words of Torah that you learn and the more prayers that you speak, the better you will remember what you experienced and the more you can reveal Godliness. Therefore, speak as much Torah as you can.
Bitul is neither a place visited only once in a lifetime nor a permanent residence. It is like a home base which one needs to visit every so often, in a back-and-forth manner:
You make vessels to hold the light.
You touch it and step back.
Rebbe Nachman warns that each time you come back from bitul, equipped with the capability of making the world a better place, the challenges you face will be more difficult and painful, the suffering more intense. Because bitul redirects your focus to the ultimate good that lies behind everything, your return can come as quite a shock, magnifying the problems of this world even more. You must ensure that your joie du Judaisme—the joy that results from your experience of realizing that all is good—is in proper working order in order to survive and succeed. The greater the suffering, the stronger the bitul must be. When it was necessary, Moshe was willing to go so far as to sacrifice every trace of his existence.
When God threatened to annihilate the Israelites for the crime of the Golden Calf, Moshe argued with God to forgive them. If God wouldn’t, Moshe said, “Erase me” (Exodus 32:32).
One of the Rebbe’s followers was speaking to him about a marriage proposal he had received. He told the Rebbe, “There is no place for me there.”
Rebbe Nachman answered, “When a person has a Jewish heart, he has nothing to do with space. The heart is Godliness, and the world is located within God.”