Alien Philosophies and Ideologies: Rabbi Nachman

1) The only true wisdom is the wisdom of the Tzaddikim. It brings them to a lofty perception of God and gives them the power to communicate their perception to those who follow them. Compared with this wisdom, all other ideological systems are utter foolishness. But because of our many sins, it can happen at times that this genuine wisdom falls into the hands of the heathens and the forces of the Sitra Achra, the Other Side. Their new-found wisdom gives them power and dominion, and then the heathens gain the upper hand, God forbid. Who can bear the sound of the great and terrible cry when this wisdom falls into their hands and fools affect to be wise? They try to adapt this genuine wisdom to their own purposes, as if it could be made a part of their own ideologies, as if their own foolishness had anything to do with the knowledge of God. They start claiming that they alone are the wise ones and there is no wisdom greater than their own erroneous speculations, parasitic as they are on the fallen, genuine wisdom. God Himself cries out because of this. Every Jew has a part to play in the task of identifying how this wisdom that has fallen into their hands can be separated from them and elevated in order to return it to its source. The way to achieve this is through acts of charity and kindness under the guidance and inspiration of the Tzaddikim (30:6).

2) Wisdom is the root of all things (Psalms 104:24) One should always guard one’s mind against false ideologies. The only way to achieve fulfillment in life is through the pursuit of genuine wisdom, namely the wisdom of Torah, which is concerned with Godliness. Compared with this all other systems of ideology are sheer emptiness, they have nothing to do with wisdom at all (35:1).

3) When a person is born his intelligence is limited. When he begins to use it to think about how to serve God, it starts growing. But if a person fills his mind with alien ideas, the intelligence of his holy soul is diminished in direct proportion to the space taken up by these ideas. This unholy `intelligence’ becomes the source of all kinds of negative appetites and character traits (Ibid.).

4) This is why a person has to be so careful to guard his mind and his thoughts and make sure that he never admits alien ideas or ways of looking at things. All our problems and defects and sins come from abusing the sanctity of the mind, God forbid, by admitting alien thoughts and ideologies. To achieve true repentance and to make amends for all one’s sins, one must cleanse the mind of all these alien ideas. Wisdom and intelligence actually are the soul. By clearing the mind of alien ideologies the faculty of thought is elevated to its source. This is the essence of returning to God (Ibid.).

5) When the Jewish people adopt the ideas and outlook of the other nations, God forbid, the Tzaddik falls from his level and his perceptions become covered over and obscured (49).

6) Too much intellectual sophistication can be harmful, especially when it takes the form of excessive philosophizing and speculation. The basis of true wisdom is a strong heart and a strong character. The only way to attain them is through good deeds. A person whose intelligence outstrips his practical attainments in the form of good deeds will lack the strength of character to contain his intelligence within the necessary bounds. His intelligence will only make him sin. It can be very dangerous when people with lax moral standards dabble in philosohy. Their intelligence drives them on to even greater transgressions and it harms them, and indeed the entire world, more than all the snakes and scorpions, wild animals and other dangerous things in the world. They use their intelligence to hurl insults and abuse at the heavens and to cast aspersions on the Holy Torah and especially the Sages of the Talmud and the Tzaddikim of blessed memory who followed them. All this is well known. May God in His mercy take pity on the remnant of Israel and guard them from this band of people and their babblings (55:6).

7) Within the bounds God has set for man’s intelligence it is a great mitzva, a positive duty, to sharpen the mind and understand as clearly as possible whatever the human mind is capable of grasping. However there are certain questions the answers to which are beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand. Only in time to come will the answers be revealed. (An example is the paradox of free will.) On no account should one delve into these questions. Of those who try, relying on their own intelligence and speculation, it is said: `None that go unto her return’ (Proverbs 2:19). It is impossible to solve these questions through reason. We must have pure faith. Even when it comes to the questions which do have an answer, there are times when the paths of the intellect become blocked and one is unsure how to answer the unbeliever speaking in one’s heart. The remedy then is to study the codes of Torah law. If one still finds oneself confused and unable to understand the way to answer the questions, one should rely on faith alone even here. The main thing is to have faith (62:2).

8) It is forbidden to delve into philosophical works. There are certain questions which stem from the chalal hapanui, `the empty void,’ to which it is impossible to find any answer. In time to come the answers will be revealed. But in this world it is impossible to put these questions to rest merely with thought and ingenuity. Whole philosophical systems have been built up around them. Anyone who delves into them will be sunk in them and lost eternally, as it is written: `None that go unto her return’ (Proverbs 2:19). God is not to be found in these philosophies. Through intelligence alone it will never be possible to solve the intellectual tangles they contain. The Jewish people, with its faith in God, is beyond all these philosophies and their complications. Israel believes in God and His Holy Torah without needing philosophical justifications. They have pure faith. The Hebrew word for `beyond’ is e-ver, and the Jews are called Ivrim — Hebrews — precisely because they are beyond all this speculation. With a faith which transcends philosophy we do not need to speculate about the truth. We know it. We have received it from our fathers, of blessed memory (64:2).

9) Certain of the great Tzaddikim were obliged to go into these philosophies in order to extricate and elevate the souls which have fallen and become sunk in them. You cannot argue that it is permissible for others to enter them on the grounds that many of the great scholars of the past were involved. In their case it was an obligation. And through the great sanctity they possessed, they had the power to release the souls which were trapped. But people who are not on a comparable level of sanctity, and needless to add, the ordinary people of our own age, should never enter these realms and risk being eternally lost (Ibid. 3).

10) The song of the true Tzaddik has the power to draw up the souls that have fallen into this form of atheism, from which there is otherwise no return (Ibid. 5).

11) The materialist philosophers, who claim that everything operates only by virtue of the laws of nature, are a breed of wild animals who have made terrible inroads into our people and caught many of our sons in their clutches. Many Jewish souls are sunk in this like birds caught in a snare. If you love your soul, keep well away from these wild beasts, who would otherwise snatch your soul and consume it. Keep well away from books of speculative science, even those written by our own great Sages. There is no greater evil (Likutey Moharan II, 4:6).

12) Acts of charity and kindness have the power to break the force of the serpent, which is the root of materialistic ideology. And then these wild animals will have no power over you. However at times even after you have crushed them they are soon back again, placing fresh doubts in your mind about whether the world is governed only by the will of God. If this happens you must make fresh efforts at charity and kindness. Charity has the power to subdue the ideology of materialism and reveal that everything is governed only by the will of God (Ibid. 9).

13) Serve God with simplicity and purity, using no sophistication at all. This is the true goal. No one who goes by the name of Jew should ever so much as open a book of philosophy. This is no part of the heritage of Jacob. All speculative philosophy contains the stumbling block of Amalek, which is calculated to make people fall. In one moment they can lose whole worlds. There is no greater evil. Even the books written by Jews discussing speculative philosophy should be left well alone, because they can harm the holy faith which is the root of everything. Thank God we have today many holy books which are filled with sound guidance and the fear of God and which are free of all speculation derived from the so-called `wisdom’ of the Greeks. They are firmly founded on the holy words of the Sages of the Talmud and the Midrash. In particular there are the books based upon the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Explore them, and go through them again and again. You should have nothing to do with books based on the viewpoints of the other nations of the world (19).

14) There are many searching questions about God. But anyone with even a modicum of genuine understanding will see that it is only right and fitting that such questions should exist. For how can we, with our limited human intelligence, understand how God governs the world? Of course there are things which baffle us. The utter greatness and exaltedness of God are only magnified when we find that there are questions we cannot solve. Understand this well (52).


Online English translation of Likutey Etzot
A compendium of Rabbi Nachman’s practical teachings on spiritual growth and devotion.
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5766 / 2006

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