Connecting our spiritual dimension to our material dimension
Adapted and translated from the Ohr HaDaat newsletter, Parshat Vayetzai 5778
The Cripple: Story # 3 in Rebbe Nachman’s Tales:
Once there was a Chacham. Before he died, he summoned his sons and his family and he told them that they must water trees. “You may also earn a living in other ways, but you must also be careful to water trees.”
With that, the Chacham died, leaving behind sons.
It’s written that: ‘A man is like a tree of the field.’
Rabbenu emphasizes this point a great deal, that the ikker (fundamental point) of our work in this world is to see how much we can ‘water the trees’ [i.e. human beings] – and not with ‘water’ itself, but with Torah, prayer and emuna, as it’s written: ‘pour your heart out like water, when in front of Hashem’. Namely, our main work in this world is to strengthen Jewish souls, the souls of Am Yisrael.
But what happens if a person comes along and says: ‘How can I strengthen others, when I have no strength myself?’ This is also included in what we’ve said. You yourself are also a tree that needs to be watered, so go and irrigate yourself!
If you feel that right now, you can’t ‘water’ anyone else (and sometimes, this does happen), so then go and ‘immerse’ yourself. We’ve seen with our own eyes that when a person merits to come closer to the Tzaddik, shemayim then surrounds him with opportunities where he’s really able to strengthen other people a lot, too.
The closer a person comes to the Tzaddik, the more energy and light he has to go and strengthen others.
To go and ‘water the trees’ means to light up the world with the da’at (spiritual knowledge) of Rabbenu, especially his advice and approach to life. We need to know that this is very great rachmanus, merciful behavior, to show other Jewish souls these things.
In his story ‘The Cripple’, Rabbenu says: “With that, the Chacham died, leaving behind sons.” When it says ‘sons’ it also means students. The story then continues:
“He had one son who was lame (crippled) and who couldn’t walk, and his brothers took care of him.”
The cripple is the hero
The cripple is actually the hero of the story, and the whole tale turns around him, but as a kind of secondary storyline, he also gets healed by the end. In the past, we’ve often spoke about how each and every detail and topic in Rebbe Nachman’s tales hint at extremely deep spiritual matters.
In truth, each and every one of us is included in the character of ‘the cripple’, who can’t walk or get around. It’s known that Hashem builds His world in a very definite way… HaKadosh Baruch Hu is hidden from all human thought, and all that we can really hope to grasp is simply the manner in which He runs the world.
Hashem gave us Torat Emet, the Torah of truth, and in the Torah He set out all the different ways that He uses to govern the world.
What does it mean, to be created in Hashem’s image?
It’s written that: “Hashem said ‘let us make man in our image and in our likeness.’ What does this mean? Can we really say that Hashem has an ‘image’ or a ‘likeness’? Of course He doesn’t! So, clearly this verse is hinting to something far, far deeper. It’s written in the holy Zohar that the Torah is revealing a very big secret to us here: Man is built in the image and in the likeness of all the worlds, from the highest to the lowest.
We’re talking about the aspect of the body itself, quite literally. The Arizal speaks a great deal about the verse: ‘From my flesh, I grasped Elokim (God)’. The holy Ari toils a great deal in these subjects that are at the very root of the spiritual worlds. In this case, he suddenly says: ‘Wait a minute. There’s a kooshia (difficult problem, or question) here.’
What’s difficult, here? Some detail about the human being’s body? Something about the eyes that doesn’t jive with the order to be found an infinite number of levels above this lowly world of atzilut (the world of action – where we find ourselves)? Really, what’s the difficulty? You’re busy engaging in the highest spiritual worlds, so how is something as materialistic as a human body even connected to this? How is the one connected to the other?
How are our bodies connected to spirituality?
The holy Arizal explains that this verse ‘From my flesh, I grasped Elokim’ shows us that the harmony that exists between all the spiritual worlds and the human body is extremely exact. So much so, that if there if something ‘unsuitable’ occurs, it will cause a kooshia – a difficulty. Things have to be in complete harmony.
So, every limb and organ in the human body hints at a great many spiritual matters. There’s something else that chassidut also discusses. The holy Arizal spoke about ‘From my flesh, I grasped Elokim’, and the BESHT added that ‘From my Nefesh, my soul, I grasped Elokim’. I.e. that all the spirituality of a human being is also built ‘in the image and likeness’ of the worlds.
So, the Tzaddikim reveal to us how both the body and the soul are included in all the processes occurring in the worlds. There are a great many details to clarify here, but generally, we’re learning a very secret that is repeated on a number of times throughout the books of the kabbalists:
Kabbalistically, the body is divided into two parts
Generally speaking, the body is divided into two parts, from the head down to the belly button, and then from the belly button down, which is essentially the legs of a person.
The holy Ari writes in a few different places that this division within the human body alludes to something very deep. In this world, we’re caught between two basic sides: the spiritual side, and the materialistic side. Sometimes, a person finds themselves at an extremely high level of spiritual reality, like when we learn a sugiyah (section) of Gemara in depth, with all the earlier and later commentators.
When a person is studying Torah in-depth like this, he can forget that this world even exists, he has no idea where he is, even. This can occur when we’re learning Torah, when we’re praying, when we’re doing Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight lamentation) – each person according to their own path. This is described as us being situated in the spiritual space that’s located from the hips, up. That’s when we’re busy interacting with the spiritual side of our world.
We have to ‘come down’ and interact with the material world
But Hashem created the world in such a way that we’re also required to busy ourselves with the materialistic side, too. A person is obligated to come ‘down’ into the materialistic reality of the world, especially via his need to eat.
Baruch Hashem, a person merits to set up his own household, to have children, etc, all of this reality causes us to descend very deeply into the business of interacting with the material world. By necessity, we have to be busy with this. We can’t be devuk, attached to a very lofty spiritual aspect, and at the same time talk to our wives about the sugya (issue) of how many potatoes we need to buy, or about even deeper subjects, like the sugyot of diapers….
Angels don’t learn any of the sugyas about diapers, and they also don’t have the same problems about deciding which sort of tomatoes to buy or how to make a living. Baruch Hashem, everything is arranged for them, because everything is spiritual.
But all of our work revolves around trying to make that connection between our spiritual world, and our material world.