Torah 57: Medicine, the Sage’s Wisdom and the Tikkun of Eating – part 6

Rav Shagar • 2008

Rav Nachman describes the sages’s powers of interpretation as a miracle. He say that the creativity of the Sages is given free reign, but herein lies the miracle: the transformation of freedom into obligation.



As the paragraph continues, Rav Nachman returns to the topic of the sages. Rav Nachman describes their powers of interpretation as a miracle: the Torah was given to the Sages to interpret, and their interpretations become a part of the Torah. Such a transformation requires a deep connection to the heavenly source, the source of wonders. The mirror image of the word for miracle - ‘פלא’, is ‘אלף’ - the top of the world, its crown, the letter aleph of אנכי ה’ אלוקיך. According to hassidic thought, this is the highest form of revelation embedded, hidden in every single thing - and in our case, it is also present in the interpretive abilities of the sage.

The creativity of the Sages is given free reign: it cannot be said that they are revealing something pre-existing. On a superficial level, one might think that the Torah contains some sort of a priori truth, but this is incorrect. Every halachic posek, every scholar, knows that there are things that are not predetermined: he must make the decision. Herein lies the miracle: the transformation of freedom into obligation. Rav Nachman himself was well aware of his chiddushim; he speaks openly of his creativity, and in the same breath emphasizes the importance of faith - that of the rebbe and of his hassidim - in the idea that chiddushim are Torah.

Yet for a sage’s creation to be Torah - for it to be a spiritual reality - it must come from a place of self-nullification (התבטלות). Human perspective is always relative; it could be one way, it could be another. In order to eliminate relativity, one must nullify oneself: to come to a point of higher awareness which understands the chiddush, the creation itself, as an actual reality. This is the quality of the miracle, which is the source of wisdom.

Nullification takes many forms. Here we are speaking of a subjugation to a divine wisdom which is revealed in the sage’s heart; a nullification in the face of the very divine life that flows through him. The sage, or the rebbe: he is life. Whatever he creates: this is reality. There is no ‘I’ here, asking about a reality from an external perspective: he lives that which God has impressed upon him. He becomes reality itself. Thus, in a paradoxical way, self-nullification and creativity are connected. This is the miracle. It is similar to a river which - even as it flows - creates the shores among which it flows, though they had not been there earlier. Such is the oneness present in the sage’s creation: he lives, he creates, and his creation stems from a faith in what already exists within him.


Rav Nachman requires obedience to the rebbe. A hassid with a rebbe commits and belongs to a system, a path; he lives in a world of divine unity. Someone without a rebbe (like the majority of us) does not have a channel of divine energy flowing in their direction. We have different options, yes - but this condition does not create a state of obligation. Furthermore, not only do we have a multiplicity of rabbis, but most of them have passed away - we encounter them in books.  There are indeed works by major rebbes that can drive our growth, but there is a certain actuality that cannot be conveyed through books. You can learn all the theory of driving in the world, but you won’t learn to drive until you sit at the wheel. In our generation, we are sorely lacking a rebbe to lead us.

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