Happiness in the Fall from Kingship – Part 3

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2012

Another part of Happiness in the Fall from Kingship: Rav Nachman describe and tie in this story the dispersion of wisdom to the loss of authority: detachment from parental ways is expressed as heresy

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The Crisis of Authority and Returning to the Father

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Following the story’s opening – the transfer of kingship from king to prince – Rav Nachman tells us about the reign of the son.

What happens to the son of the king? He dives deep into the world of wisdom, and this immersion leads him to heresy. There is a surprising link between the two segments: the king-father saw in the stars that his son would descend from the throne and informed and tried to prepare him – but in the end the son turned to heresy. This is a development that even the father could not anticipate: he thought that, at most, his son may become sad, depressed even. But something much graver occurs: the newly-installed ruler essentially ceases to be the king’s ‘son,’ failing to sustain the king’s path.

The significance of this dissolution is also to be found in taking leave of the father. The first segment of our story describes a hierarchical family order of a father and son, with the father dictating what will be (and how to behave accordingly). But suddenly the father vanishes, and the son finds himself in an entirely different space. The son of the king embarks on his own path. Like any young person beginning his life, the son wishes to find his own ‘place,’ to be authentic, immune to external pressures. The father encourages him, granting him kingship, and sends him on the road with a blessing. But one cannot liberate a child to find his place while simultaneously expecting him to follow in one’s footsteps. When it comes to talking about freedom and the personal perspective, this game cannot be ‘rigged.’

This tension is felt strongly in the dynamic of parents and children, particularly in the religious world. It is often observed in yeshivas, where there is much talk about freedom and authenticity, but at the end of the day these conversations are built with unspoken borders and silent assumptions. Yet these assumptions only hold true within the walls of the Beit Midrash; in the outside world, students find that their freedom leads them elsewhere indeed.

Rav Nachman’s description in this story ties the dispersion of wisdom to the loss of authority: detachment from parental ways is expressed as heresy. This is a common problem in our times, when people are not willing to show submission to anyone, and there is a great deal of resistance towards hierarchical relations where one side is seen as greater and more powerful than the other. I see here an alternate form of authority suggested by Rav Nachman. In this form, freedom itself leads to a particular, mindful kind of reception of the ‘yoke of Heaven,’ submission from a place of liberation.

“No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the LORD”; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me—declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:33). In this messianic frame, humankind is in a position where each person can be situated in relation to God from within.  On the other hand, even such a world has a place for a rabbi and the rabbi’s student, for the act of submission to another.

This gesture of submission and deference can be understood in a familial frame, through the relationship between parents and children. This relationship is – by nature – clearly hierarchical, a dynamic that is established early on, during the period of a young child’s dependency on her parents. Indeed, at that point there is a great need for exercising authority. On the other hand, there is also the period of “Hence a man leaves his father and mother…” (Genesis 2:24): the child finds a new-found independence, constructing a self through a separation from his parents – and so the authority of the parents dwindles. It is at this point exactly that she can return to them from a different place. The grown-up child can return to herparents from a different, higher place – where she does not feel fear or need, but also is not a peer on equal footing. The parents take on a position somewhere between the concrete and the metaphorical: the child accepts them as the parents, but from a position of freedom. Thus, a whole new relationship is born. 

I feel that this is the way in which we find ourselves relating to hidbakut (attachment) to a tzaddik. Although this may be the generation of “All shall heed me” (Jeremiah 31:34) – in which every person is the tzaddik within – there is still room for a certain kind of dveykus (attachment) to the tzaddik. There is a kind of dveykus in which the chassid (follower) ‘dissolves,’ nullifying his ego and integrating it into the whole of the tzaddik, drawn deeply into his world. This is a possibility that we see playing out around us today with regards to rabbis and teachers of every stripe. But there is another possibility, one in which the chassid is not reduced to nothingness, but rather becomes a medium for the tzaddik to reveal himself. The chassid’s ego transforms into a medium for the tzaddik’s light to be revealed – a process that in fact causes the ego to be strengthened (rather than diminished). Of course, this requires work on one’s middos (moral qualities) so as not to cause haughtiness or embody the quality of “דאשתמש בתגא חלף,” “He that puts the crown to his own use shall perish” (Mishnah Pirkei Avot 4:5). To me this is absolutely necessary work, because the first option does not seem relevant or possible for us. The chassid is not called upon to be swallowed up or dissolved in the whole, but rather to act as a medium. This is not restricted to just one figure: I could be a medium for Rav Nachman as well as the Admu”r HaZaken – with all their differences- and to cleave to both of them in a deep, real way.

This is a very significant issue, because in my opinion it is inconceivable to lose dveykus to a tzaddik. You must always maintain ‘eye contact’ with the larger-than-life figures that teach you their torah, drawing from the endless reservoir that is beyond any formally studied Torah. It is the shifting of the gaze during learning, the sight of “And your eyes shall see your teacher” (Isaiah 30:20) which injects a niggun that transcends the content. It may not place you into their world, but it does place their light into your world. When you study their torah, you carry them inside you. As I teach Rav Nachman’s story, something stirs deep inside me – and it is from there that I speak. Beyond the content of my words, there is a long moment in which I join with Rav Nachman and he speaks from within me, through the way that I receive him. So it is that the chassid establishes the position of the tzaddik, just as a son builds up the status of his father.

Rav Pinchas of Koritz said that every person should have two tzaddikim: one among the living, and one among the dead. Personally, I prefer to only attach myself to tzaddikim who are among the dead. People who have passed away can have an immense presence in our lives, particularly when framed in terms of family: the figure of a father who has gone on to the next world, a grandfather who is no longer with us. Tzaddikim of the past surely have this sort of presence. For me, Rav Nachman is not only a historical figure but someone who lived once and was like this and that, etc. Rav Nachman is a ‘limb of my limbs;’ he lives within me. It is from there that I learn and teach my torah.  

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