Torah 8: Spirit, Inspiration and Halacha – Part 5

Rav Shagar • 2005

In this part, we learn that even the forces of impurity (tum’a) have a turbulent, roiling energy described as ‘storm winds,’. However, the tzaddik’s ability to awaken the holy ruach (spirit) is directly related to his ability to act without ego, selflessly



In the third paragraph of the torah, Rav Nachman explains where wicked people (reshayim) source their life-energy (חיות) from: even the sitra achra (‘the other side’) contains a rebbe-like element, the so-called ‘Rav d’klipa’ (Rav of the husks). There are people who have immense charisma and power, such as ‘the chiefs of Esav’ (Mikraot Gedolot on Genesis 36:40). Esav – described in the Bible as “שעיר” (SA’iR) – is not only a reference to his hairiness (ריבוי שערות, ribuy se’arot) but also to storm winds (רוח סערה, ruach Se’ARah):

But what of the wicked people “who speak arrogantly, haughtily and contemptuously of the tzaddik” (Psalms 31:19)? From where do they receive the ruach to fill the lack? But know! There is a Rav of the kelipah (husks). He corresponds to Esav, as is written in connection to Esav (Genesis 33:9), “I have Rav (a lot).” This also corresponds to (Genesis 36:40), “… the alufey (tribal chiefs of) Esav,” which Onkelos renders: “Ravrevay Esav”—who is the Rav of the husks. The wicked receive their ruach from him. And he corresponds to the impure ruach, a ruach Se’ARah (storm wind), as in (Genesis 27:11), “But my brother Esav is an ish SA’iR (hairy man).” This is why their ruach is temporarily strong and mighty, much like the storm wind which blows strongly while it lasts.

(Likkutei Mohara”n 8, translation from

This word game points to a significant insight: even the forces of impurity (tum’a) have a turbulent, roiling energy described as ‘storm winds,’ and they possess an immense power that can stir up a storm. Yet this storm is not substantial: it swallows itself up, its grandeur ultimately fleeting though impressive. The reason for this can be found in the fundamental difference between the charisma of the tzaddik and that of the wicked person, oriented around the ego of the central figure surrounded by students and teachers. The tzaddik’s ability to awaken the holy ruach (spirit) is directly related to his ability to act without ego, selflessly (in direct opposition to a wicked approach). The tzaddik’s actions are not a storm wind but a wind which revives everything around it, and can rectify the influence of the ‘chiefs of Esav’ and even challenge them.

Every human being has a personal point of goodness from which he can act selflessly and without ego. Moreover, each person can connect to the point of the tzaddik within. Nevertheless there are people whose quality of tzedaka (mercy) is a natural characteristic, a strength that allows them to heal those who they encounter. Is the person a tzaddik? This question does not hinge on an individual’s personal work on rectifying the ego – for the matter of overcoming the ego is itself an expression of the ego. Rather it all depends on the grace of God. The tzaddik is described as whole and complete in his tzaddikut, and therefore capable of facing evil energy – and, indeed, of rectifying it.

We saw above that Rav Nachman advises rectifying evil through the sigh. This expresses an understanding that when I deal with wickedness from an unclean place, I am likely to fall even lower. It is at this point that the power of the tzaddik’s tikkun (rectification) – free of any grasp of wickedness in his soul – comes in. Rav Nachman emphasizes this in the fifth paragraph:

The perfect tzaddik, however, has completely distinguished and separated the bad from the good, so that he is without even a residue of bad from any one of these four elements—which encompass all the traits, as is known. When he is on this level, [the tzaddik] is permitted to provoke the wicked. <And those who are attached to such a tzaddik may also provoke them.>…This is not the case for the tzaddik who lacks perfection. Even if he is not guilty of any sin, he still has not totally separated out the bad. The bad still exists in potential and it is therefore forbidden for him to antagonize the wicked. For the bad has where to attach itself to him, God forbid.

(Likkutei Moharan”n 8:5, translation from Sefaria)

What is the secret of the tzaddik’s strength? In an article, Rav Kook speaks of Rabbi Israel of Salant and describes him as a perfect tzaddik who influences his environment. But Rav Kook is not describing a tzaddik in the traditional hassidic sense but in the mussar sense. What is relevant to us here is Rav Kook’s emphasis on tzaddikut (tzaddik-ness) as a quality which – though it may be improved and furthered – is not at its core a consequence of some action or another. Rather, tzaddikut is a matter of intuition, an abundance (shefa) that comes down to a person and creates an aspect of tzaddikut and an inclination to actively do chessed (loving-kindness) for the world around him.

It would be good and preferable, of course, if we were able to find a tzaddik today who could grant us a ruach chayim (a spirit-of-life), but there are a number of confounding factors present. Firstly, tzaddikim are far and few in between. Secondly, we are not always open to the possibility of having a rebbe – and perhaps for this reason we may never meet him. We are educated to be doubtful and suspicious, cynical and nihilistic, and this can make it very difficult to form a deep connection with a tzaddik. It is difficult to connect, and all the more so to nullify oneself, as hassidim would before their rebbes. If anything, our live option is to connect with tzaddikim through their books, which may bring us closer to them and grant us inspiration and ruach chayim. It is possible to find resonance and connection with the torahs of Rav Nachman, the insights of the Admu”rim of Chabad, the writings of Rav Kook. These torahs become sources of inspiration. This is not only due to their content, but because by learning the torah of a particular tzaddik, we perceive and receive his light. The tzaddik renews a unique light and a path of revealing the divine, such that the presence of the tzaddik is perpetuated by his approach. One can connect to this presence by learning that tzaddik’s torah. This process depends on the manner of learning the tzaddik’s torah, and more specifically – on the ability to listen and absorb the wisdom that is embedded in his torah through a personal receptivity to it.

Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the famed rabbi from Piaseczna, expressed this as follows:

Thus one who deepens his familiarity with the ways of tzaddikim, the holiness of the way of the Besh”t, the Rabbi R’ Ber, the Rabbi R’ Elimelech, etc. (zatza”l) and knows them according to his intellect and situation – he can also at times know, when he is in a state of elevation, what kind of awakening has awakened in him, from which tzaddik and in which way…And when he feels the way of awakening, he must further strengthen that avoda (work)…And one through whom the light of the first tzaddikim shines, who becomes holy through them and brings holiness from himself according to their ways – he perpetuates the light of the holiness of the tzaddik both for himself and for his friends.

The guidance of trying to connect to the person behind the torah is found already in the words of Chaza”l, who teach that while learning, the student should sense the author before him: ‘Every person who says something in the name of the one who uttered it will see that person as though he were standing across from him.’ (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 6b) In chassidus, this idea was expanded and interpreted to mean that when a person is learning Torah, it is his duty to connect to the soul of the tzaddik he is learning at that moment, to experience his presence, to sense him through the contents and the special language of his torah. A person who has an inner connection with tzaddik can connect to him in his prayer and experience a closeness to God through this as well.

Relation to a tzaddik is not measured by physical closeness, but by an ability to have a spiritual connection. An example: there is a story about the Kotzker Rebbe who was unable to attend the levaya (funeral) of his rebbe, ‘HaYehudi HaKadosh’ of Peshischa. He entered his rebbe’s room and stayed there in hitbodedut (quiet, solo contemplation) for an extended period of time. He then came out of the room and said that he was the only one who had participated in the levaya, though he had not been present physically. This story fits the character of the Kotzker Rebbe, who nullified the value of ceremonies and technical perspectives, and instead taught a connection with essence. We can learn from him that closeness and connection to a tzaddik’s spirit are not to be measured by physical-geographic proximity to him, but rather by the ability to have an encounter in the spiritual sense, one which reflects his being.

Why is it that the tzaddik in particular enables the restorative sigh? I don’t have experience with this and therefore it is difficult for me to explain. Rav Nachman writes that the tzaddik “knows how to deal with the ruach (spirit) of every individual…[and and in doing so] draws and completes the ruach of life of each and every person.” (Likkutei Mohara”n 8:5, translation from Sefaria).

The tzaddik has the ability to grant inspiration and spiritual elevation to the spirits of all who surround him, with a framing that fits each and every individual in their own way. Thus, the sigh of the student – that same physical act in which he divulges what is on his heart – allows him to receive an answer from his rabbi that responds to his needs. The tzaddik’s presence allows this sigh to be one of inspiration – or to turn it into a source of inspiration. However, the image of the “Rav of husks” is expressed as the ‘storm wind,’ which teaches us that he cannot give the personal attention to the state and place of every single person within: the storm ahead will move things, naturally, and also take things to places they should not be.

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