Controversy and Strife: Rabbi Nachman

1) You should not allow yourself to be disturbed by the various disputes between the Tzaddikim (as for example the differences of opinion between the Sages of the Mishnah, the Talmud and so on). If a person is troubled by these disputes and states raising all kinds of questions about them, it is a sign that he has allowed some impurity into his mind. It is this internal impurity that is the real source of his doubts. The danger is that his doubts could grow to the point where he becomes permanently separated from the Tzaddikim and their followers, who are the source of true and enduring life. A person should understand that if he finds himself troubled by doubts and questions about the Tzaddikim it is an indication that a flaw exists within himself. If he realizes this, it will help him return to the truth (5:4).

2) You should always make every effort to search out whatever merit and goodness you can find within the Jewish people. Judge everyone in the scale of merit, even those who oppose you and treat you disrespectfully. If you do this you will never be troubled by opposition and arguments. When you seek out the merit of your fellow Jew, you make a precious crown for God studded with beautiful gems (6).

3) If you find yourself in the middle of a dispute, it is very good if you can remain silent and pay no attention to the abuse which people throw at you. When you can hear what is said against you without answering back this is true repentance. It is the remedy for all past sins. Someone who achieves this can truly be said to be wise. He will receive a share in the glory of God and a goodly portion in the World to Come. He will be merged in the figure of the Man on the Throne which is the source of all the judgements passed on the inhabitants of the world (Ibid.).

4) Only the perfect Tzaddik has the strength to fight against the wicked and the enemies of truth. It takes a person who has already rid himself of evil completely to fight this battle successfully. The various character traits are rooted in the four cosmic elements of Fire, Air, Earth and Water. The Tzaddik must be pure in all of them. He must be assured that nothing will make him trip up and sin. Only such a Tzaddik and his followers can fight against the wicked. A person may have cleansed himself to the point that he is entirely free of sin in practice. But if even the mere possibility that he might sin remains, he is not a `perfect Tzaddik,’ and it can be very dangerous for him to try to fight the wicked. They draw their life-force from the Other Side, the `raging stormwind’ (Ezekiel 1:3), which has tremendous force at the peak of its power. Only the perfect Tzaddik can descend unharmed into the channel through which the wicked draw their strength in order to break them and humble them and cast them down to the earth (8:5).

5) If you are scrupulous about the mitzva of tzitzit you will be able to stand up against any opposition (Ibid.).

6) The people who set themselves in opposition to the Tzaddik are called dead even in their lifetime because they have no share in the holy life-spirit which the Tzaddikim alone draw into the world (Ibid.).

7) At times the wicked become so bitter in their battle against holiness that the only recourse is to fight them with the legal apparatus of the non-Jewish authorities. In fact it is a positive duty to do so, and to do the utmost to crush the opposition by this means, even if the cost is heavy. It helps to elevate the sparks of true justice from the domain of the husks and the forces of the Other Side. There are times when God intentionally brings it about that the opposition to the righteous and God-fearing should be so fierce that the only recourse is to the non-Jewish authorities. The whole purpose is precisely to elevate the sparks of true justice from the domain of the husks (20:9).

8) Those who ridicule and abuse the genuinely religious are under the influence of Torah they have learned from scholars who lack the necessary integrity. These scholars are termed `Jewish devils’ (Zohar III, 253) because their Torah is `fallen Torah,’ which lacks the power to guide men along the path of truth and goodness. There is nothing to be gained from such scholars. Anyone who associates with them will turn into an atheist (28:1).

9) One way of developing genuine faith is by offering hospitality to true Torah scholars. When you have true faith it will give you the strength to be untouched by the abuse and ridicule of others (Ibid. 2:3).

10) There are people who do not have a good word for anybody. They always look on the bad side of people. The source of their life-force is in the forces of the Other Side, which is called `the end of all flesh’ (Genesis 6:13). Such people are constantly trying to make an end of things. They are highly destructive. Their accusations and slander arouse harsh judgements in the world. The fundamental evil here is the abuse of the faculty of speech. Therefore the way to crush and humble these people is by developing the faculty of speech to perfection (38:2).

11) Clapping your hands when you pray helps against strife and divisiveness. Murder and destruction are driven from the world, and peace reigns (44).

12) The deeper a person’s understanding the more detached he will be from in-fighting and controversy. The main reason for factionalism and anger is lack of understanding. Torah is the source of all understanding. Therefore the study of Torah brings peace to the world and causes factionalism to disappear (56:3, 6).

13) Immersing in a mikvah deepens understanding. It is therefore also a help against factionalism (Ibid. 7).

14) When a person is prone to anger, it strengthens his enemies and opponents. One remedy is fasting. Another is taking pleasure in the delights of Shabbat especially the Shabbat meals (57:6).

15) A potent reason for factionalism and quarreling is because people lack sufficient faith in the Sages of the Torah. Someone who finds himself at the center of an argument, with people raising all kinds of questions about him, should take it as a sign that he does not have sufficient faith in the Sages. He should think about the implications of the argument and use it as a stimulus to help him correct the deficiency in his faith (61:5).

16) There are certain Tzaddikim in particular who could never be said to have less than perfect faith, yet they are still surrounded by controversy. In the case of a Tzaddik such as this the reason for the opposition is that `he bore the sin of many’ (Isaiah 53:12) and he has to bear the anguish of this controversy precisely because the rest of the world is lacking in faith in the Sages. The very controversy which surrounds him enables him to correct the flaws in the people’s faith in the Sages (Ibid.).

17) Another reason for the opposition against these Tzaddikim is that they do not have sufficient faith in themselves. They lack adequate faith in the value of the original Torah concepts which they have developed, nor do they fully believe that God has great joy from their teachings. They have insufficient confidence in their own originality, and as a result their powers grow weaker. This is the reason why opposition is sent to them — to encourage them to repent for their weak faith. Because a lack of faith in one’s own originality is also a lack of faith in the Sages. When the Tzaddik repents for this, it gives him new enthusiasm to explore fresh horizons and innovate further, and out of his teachings a book is made. Many holy books of Torah come to be written in this way. As a result disputes and faction-fighting are put to rest and all the harsh judgements are sweetened (Ibid.).

18) At the deepest level, the fact that there are disputes between the various Tzaddikim (for example the arguments between the Sages of the Mishnah and the Gemarah and so on) has its root in the concept of the `Empty Void,’ the mystical concept of the void that was left after the primordial light was contracted. (See Likutey Moharan 64 for a fuller discussion of this.) Any real understanding of this concept is beyond the capacity of our human intelligence. Because of this it is wrong for a person to allow himself to be troubled by fundamental doubts through an inability to understand how it could be that there were disagreements between the Sages on matters of Torah. One must simply have faith that `these and these are the words of the living God,’ even if we are unable to understand how this can be. We must strengthen ourselves with faith alone (64:4).

19) The more divisions among the enemy, the greater their power of endurance. When they unite, however, they very quickly suck dry the source of their life-force, which is in the waste substances of the brain, and they soon collapse (87:6).

20) The urge to dominate has its source in the blood with which a person has not yet served God. He must see to it that he serves God with every single drop of blood in his body. He must pour forth words of Torah and prayer until all his blood has been turned into words of holiness. Then he will attain peace and his urge to argue and dominate will disappear (75).

21) One who restrains his impulse to take part in disputes will be worthy of being quoted by name for his legal rulings. After his passing he will dwell in both worlds, the World to Come and this world, where his name will still be mentioned. It will be as if he is not dead at all (145).

22) Arguments and in-fighting make it difficult for a person to pray and speak words of holiness. This is why before we begin our prayers we must take upon ourselves the mitzva of `love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) in order to draw love and peace into the world. Peace is the root and source of speech (239).

23) Factionalism can cause even truly religious people to start having doubts and questions about their faith (251).

24) A person who is involved in a controversy can be thrown down from his level. He has to be very determined and pray profusely and plead with God not to let him stray from his path because of this (258).

25) When a person is involved in a dispute he should never get up and say that whatever his opponent does to him he will do to his opponent in return. This will only help his opponent achieve what he wants, which is to see his victim suffer. The best thing is to judge his enemies in the scale of merit, and even to do them favors where he can. This is the best way to foil their intentions. In the end their evil intentions will all come back on their own heads (277).

26) This applies when one’s opponents are not good people. But when they are Tzaddikim there is no doubt that their only intention is to benefit him. Their very opposition has the power to raise him up and sweeten any harsh decrees which may have been made against him. This is why they oppose him in the first place. A person must understand that when he is confronted with opposition from Tzaddikim, it is only for his benefit. He must pray to God not to allow him to fall into the error of thinking this is real hostility, because if he does it can arouse genuine opposition from the forces of the Other Side (Ibid.).

27) Strife brings poverty. It also prevents people from being healed. Peace brings healing and prosperity to the world (Ibid.).

28) When the world is afflicted with wars and bloodshed it can cause the rains to be withheld and bring about high prices (Ibid. II, 60).

29) When men abuse the honor of God it causes factionalism (71).

30) The whole world is filled with quarreling. Nation disputes against nation. Every city has its factions. Each household is locked in arguments with the neighbors. Within the household the husband argues with his wife, with the children and the servants. And so on and so on. Nobody thinks about what the ultimate goal of the world is. Every day man dies — because the day that has passed will never come back, and each day he draws closer to the day of his death. How can he waste his time on arguments? Anyone who has any sense should understand this and win long life for himself. Let him not waste his life on quarrels, big or small. He should control himself, hold his anger in check and live peacefully with everybody (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom 77).

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