A person’s closeness to a tzaddik is a very deep encounter with faith, with the divine meaning embedded in the mundanities of life
The question is, from where does one take the ruach-of-life? Know! the essence of the ruach-of-life is received from the tzaddik/rav of the generation. This is because the essence of the ruach-of-life can be found in the Torah, as in (Genesis 1:2), “And the ruach of God hovers over the waters’ surface”—this is the Torah (Tikkuney Zohar #36). And the tzaddikim are bound to the Torah,which is why the essence of the ruach-of-life is with them.When the person who is tied to the tzaddik/rav of the generation sighs and extends his ruach, he draws the ruach-of-life from the generation’s tzaddik. For [the tzaddik] is bound to the Torah—which is where the ruach is. This is why the tzaddik is called “a man in whom there is ruach” (Numbers 27:18) —who knows how to deal with the ruach of each individual (Rashi, loc. cit.). For the tzaddik draws and completes the ruach-of-life of each and every person, as above.
Rav Nachman opens this torah (teaching) with a description of the physical breath that gives a person ruach (wind, spirit). It is this ruach that gives one energy, the strength to act and impact. At this point in the torah, Rav Nachman proceeds to explain how this ruach – an intuitive force initially described as the product of a physical, personal breath that awakens one to renewal and aliveness- can also be generated from closeness to a tzaddik. What does he mean by this? On a spiritual level, when a person feels a sense of heaviness and fatigue, it is not simply a physical issue: it is a sign of something being spiritually out of order. Take, for example, a person who lives in a state of mind that does not fulfill her, who acts in a way that is not in line with his inner truth. Such a person’s constant frustration with her life may express itself as tiredness, heaviness, perhaps even an illness. On the other hand, suppose a person wakes up in the morning knowing that she must go teach her students, and for her it is a matter of great value, for she expects to teach them many valuable things. In such a case, that thought fills her with satisfaction and joy, and energy and the ruach of life flow through her. But if she does not perceive it that way – but must rather force herself, as though against her will, to go – then her actions, too, will be affected.
In this torah, Rav Nachman describes how a person’s closeness to a tzaddik is, in a sense, a very deep encounter with faith, with the divine meaning embedded in the mundanities of life. In the presence of a tzaddik, a person finds himself in the presence, too, of a different ruach, of aliveness, a joy, a profound feeling of belonging. Such closeness is an opportunity to draw life from the generation’s tzaddik, from the tzaddik’s internality that emanates outwards into the world beyond. In order to feel satisfaction, renewal and reception of the ruach of life, there must be a renewed contact with faith, the Divine, the infinite. The tzaddik’s purpose is to grant his listeners this ruach, the ruach chayim (spirit of life). Thus, Rav Nachman bridges the quality of release that occurs through exhalation – the sigh – and the closeness of the tzaddik, whose ruach is able to have that same purifying, cleansing effect of physical breath upon those who are in his presence. A person in the close presence of a tzaddik breathes in his spirit and receives a new aliveness. It is the tzaddik who can atone for the sin (or: the lack of meaning). The tzaddik’s power lies not in his good deeds, but in the ruach (spirit) and the dveykut (attachment) that he can grant to those who encounter him. In a word: charisma. The torah of the tzaddik is described as ruach because it is not only knowledge; it bears aliveness and meaning inside of it, so that the ruach that it bestows is the ruach of holiness. He gives his listeners inspiration, touching their hearts. Rav Nachman knows well that a person living his day-to-day life can sink into banality – but the touch of Torah, of the ruach haKodesh (spirit of holiness), the Ein-Sof (Infinite) can imbue life with vitality and dynamism.
Yet the Torah, too, can be an ‘orayta yeveysha’ (a dry knowledge), devoid of ruach chayim. For this reason, the Torah needs a tzaddik who finds new ‘faces’ through his learning and forms a ruach from it that enlivens his followers and also the Torah itself. Learning alone does not necessarily lead to ruach chayim unless there is a connection to God. Beyond the learning there must be something else, another ingredient, something that imbues aliveness into the whole process itself.
In yeshivas, you might hear the following: “How do you know you learned well? If your Aravit (evening) prayer was better.” This saying suggests that learning must have ruach, spiritual intention, not just intellectual challenge. The presence of the tzaddik, and his learning with his chassidim, enables a continued drawing of ruach chayim from the tzaddik or from his Torah teaching – an opportunity to connect with the depths of matters and discover their innermost meaning.