Nachal novea; makor chochma -
A flowing river; the source of wisdom (Mish. 18:4)

Parashas Ki Sissa

(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

"Hashem spoke to Moses: 'Go, descend [from Mount Sinai] - for your people [the mixed multitude] that you [by yourself] brought up [without consulting Me] from Egypt have become corrupt [by worshipping the golden calf]." (Exodus 32:7)

Rav Noson, Rabbi Nachman's chief disciple, pondered, "It is very strange that the Jews came to worship the golden calf - an amazing phenomenon. How could it be that after the Jewish people had reached such a high level of Divine Inspiration - witnessing the unprecedented miracles of the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, events which supplied the Jews with conclusive proof that Hashem [G-d] exists, is the only G-d, and is all-powerful, as the verse says, "You [the Jews] have been shown to know [through all the open miracles they had witnessed], that Hashem, He is G-d, there is none besides Him," (Deut. 4:35) they could commit such a heinous sin. Of course, the sin of the golden calf was committed mainly by the eirev rav (mixed multitude of Gentiles) who converted to Judaism and accompanied the Jews in their exodus from Egypt. Yes, they influenced a few Jews-from-birth to sin along with them, still, how was it possible that the eirev rav and the few other Jews could come to worship the golden calf? The holy Ari writes that the eirev rav were highly intelligent people with many good qualities. For they were inspired to abandon their native people, country, and beliefs to join the Jewish nation, which, in the eyes of the rest of the world, was nothing more than a bunch of freed slaves. They gave up everything because they had witnessed the great miracles in Egypt, at the Red sea, and during the giving of the Torah. So how was it possible for them to have come to worship the golden calf?

Every person can learn a valuable lesson from this incident. We all feel discouraged and want to give up when we experience setbacks, especially when trying to come closer to Hashem. We must realize that the evil inclination continually works against any attempts to come closer to Hashem. The evil inclination is so powerful that, even if a person was shown the absolute truth, to the point where there could be no room for doubt, as was the case with the Jews at the time of the exodus, he would nevertheless have difficulty believing in the truth. If the Jews had trouble believing, after all that they had witnessed, certainly people who did not witness these events would have difficulty in finding and believing the truth.

The entire universe was created for man so that he could use his faculty of free-will to serve and discover Hashem amidst the veils of doubt and confusion. These conditions give meaning and value to man's quest for Hashem while the service of the angels, who do not choose, but are programmed to do Hashem's will. has relatively little value. Therefore, to maintain the balance of free-will, the evil inclination's strength must grow along with each person as he raises himself and gains greater and deeper insights into the nature of Hashem in this world. At Sinai, the Jews had reached the pinnacle of faith, had experienced the absolute truth. However. to ensure that their service would continue to be valuable by being based upon free-choice, Hashem had to empower the evil inclination to cast the Jews into a great confusion in order to counter and neutralize the awesome revelation they beheld at Mount Sinai. It was this confusion that led to the worship of the golden calf." (Lekutai Halachoth: Orach Chaim: Hilchoth Birkoth HaRay'ach 4:33)

By the time they reached Mount Sinai, the Jews' perception of Hashem had become very clear. So much so, that when asked if they would accept His teachings written in the Torah, even before they knew it's contents, they spontaneously responded, "All that Hashem has spoken we will do and we will obey ( ...naa'seh v'nish'ma)." (Exodus 24:7) "Na'aseh" was the statement of their willingness to accept the Torah even without understanding the reasons behind the mitzvoth (commandments). The Talmud quotes the follonx!iiig question asked by cynics. "To accept a doctrine that requires so much effort and has such an impact on one's lifestyle, a doctrine which is radically different from any other way of life, is a very foolish thing to do. The Jews should have at least questioned the content of the Torah and the reasons behind each mitzvah (commandment) before accepting it!?" Indeed, in dealing with material matters this argument would be valid. However, spiritual matters have a totally different set of rules. The Jews saw the hand of Hashem openly displayed in Egypt, and they had the solid foundation of the traditions of the holy patriarchs. They saw Hashem's great wisdom in how He dealt with Egyptians. They saw His total control over the world. Thus, they perceived that Hashem had built bridges of trust, and subsequently, were certain that anything He would give them or ask them to do would be totally beneficial, just as in a healthy family, a very small child implicitly trusts his parents. For he understands that they love him and have only his best interests at heart. It was imperative that the Jews accept the Torah before they knew anything about its contents. In order for the energies created by a spiritual lifestyle to function properly, one must first accept and perform Hashem's mitzvoth without necessarily understanding the reasoning behind them. When a person acts according to Hashem's will, he is in effect accepting Hashem's authority upon himself, invoking and activating the spiritual energy called malchuth (kingship or authority), drawing forth Hashem's light from the upper realms to this world. Before anyone actually decides to perform a mitzvah, Hashem's light is very hidden and diminished in this world. When the intensity of Hashem's light is low, one's intellectual capacity will be correspondingly diminished, making it more dffficult to perceive Hashem and truth, leaving the person in darkness and confusion. Bleak as this may seem, it is only then that the mechanism of free choice is fully activated, giving value and substance to the person's service of Hashem. At this point, when one's mind is befuddled and confused, as he deliberates whether or not to trust Hashem and fulfill His will, he must tenaciously work to ignore, these and all negative thoughts. Rav Noson, based on Rabbi Nachman's teachings, says that the only way to escape from these bad thoughts is by focusing on one's positive thoughts, not by trying to resist or suppress the negative thoughts. The combination of focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative thoughts deprives the forces of evil of the power to continue plaguing the person with doubts, while inspiring him to fulfill Hashem's will. When a person prevails over these obstacles and, through his faith, commits himself to Hashem's will, he activates the mechanism of malchuth; the light of Hashem then illuminates his mind and also has an impact on others.

The illumination of the individual's mind via the aforementioned process leads to the next level, associated with the last word in our verse, v'nish'ma. "...we will obey [lit. perceive]." This newly obtained light shines upon and reveals aspects of Hashem, about which he was previously unable to comprehend. The new insight causes him to cleave to, desire, and love Hashem much more than before he had performed the mitzvah. However, people who are not spiritually oriented apply this process in reverse. Their corporeal-based perspective induces them first to try to understand the mitzvah before they will perform it. They want first to understand everything about Hashem and the cosmic forces before they surrender to His will. However, they make a serious mistake. Without first accessing Hashem's light by heeding His will, a non-believer will not have the ability to understand Hashem's ways. Such a person cannot grasp true other-worldy concepts, but may instead fall prey to a certain pseudo-spirituality. For the scope of his intelligence is reduced and limited by not having accessed Hashem's light. It is this light that connects one's mind to the infinite, the ain sof giving him the potential to eventually understand deep spiritual concepts. However, without this guiding light, a person would perform only those mitzvoth based on a this-worldly rationale, only mitzvoth which make sense to him morally or are acts of mercy which benefit society. So if a mitzvah seems too exotic or far-fetched, he will dismiss it out-of-hand. This conceals the spiritual component of each mitzvah, and limits the spiritual impact it has. Since a non-believer, through his lack of faith, limits the amount of nourishment from Hashem's light that his mind receives, he walks in darkness, and has a limited grasp on how the universe functions. He limits his understanding of why things happen the way they do, is unable to deal well with adversity and finds it difficult to extend himself to others. Hashem is disappointed in those people who choose not to trust in Him, but instead insist on relying exclusively on their own. very limited intelligence. [Note: The current breakdown in the fabric of western society can be directly attributed to policy makers and leaders who have ignored the teachings of Hashem and, although surely well-intentioned, imposed their own untested values, based upon their limited intelligence, perceptions, and theories, upon society. If the policy makers would have had the faith to follow the teachings of Hashem, the moral chaos, to which we are all subjected, could never have happened].

The darkness one experiences by not initially understanding the reasons behind the mitvoth actually creates a spiritual filter, enabling him to tolerate greater amounts Hashem's light which is unleashed by the performance of a mitzvah. This filter protects the person from physical and mental harm, as he understands more of and comes closer to Hashem. However, those who refuse to experience that initial phase of darkness, instead attempting to access Hashem's light through analyzing the reasons behind each mitzvah, without first creating the proper filters, draw forth Hashem's great light prematurely. This causes what is known as ree'bui ohr - too much light. Ree'bui ohr can result in great harm. The forces of evil, as all things in the universe, are sustained only by the light of Hashem. They can only be nourished from the excess light created by the actions of each individual. To maintain the balance of free choice each person must sustain the forces of evil, but just enough so that they can survive, no more than that. The problem arises when the forces of evil are overly-nourished by too much light resulting from a person drawing more light from Hashem than he can absorb at his present level. Then, the well-nourished forces of evil become too powerful and cause the person to experience a great spiritual downfall. This is why many intellectuals, who do not first acquire the necessary filters through practical experience, cause great damage to themselves and others who accept their ideas. This is what Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa means in the Talmud, "He used to say: 'Anyone whose good deeds [gaining practical experience about Hashem's ways by performing His mitzvoth without necessarily understanding them first] exceed his wisdom [he did not spend his time initially analyzing, but rather doing], his wisdom will endure [because he created the proper filters, enabling him to come closer to Hashem, the source of all wisdom], but anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure [or produce beneficial results, for he lacks the proper filters and is unable to understand Hashem's ways].'" (Talmud: Avoth 3:12) [Note: This also applies to people who sincerely study the Torah. As long as they just study a given topic without actually experiencing or putting into practice that which they have studied, they will never come to a complete understanding of the material].

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Every Jew has a spark of Hashem within his heart. This spark kindles the desire, consciously or subconsciously, to come close to Hashem. When the estranged Jew, suddenly feels a strong yearning for Hashem, it creates a great light. This great light, because the person does not yet possess the vessel to contain it, overflows and nourishes the forces of evil, increasing their power, resulting in great confusion, demoralization, and material lust, derailing any attempt to return to Hashem. This is exactly how the Jews fell from the spiritual heights reached at Mount Sinai, to the depths of impurity, culminated by worshipping the golden calf. When Hashem openly revealed Himself at Mount Sinai to give the Torah, the light created from this experience was immense, far beyond the capacity of the Jews to absorb. Hashem had warned the Jews through Moshe (Moses) to set limits and boundary markers, as the verses say, "And you [Moshe] shall set boundaries for the people." (Exodus 19:12) "And Hashem said to Moshe, 'Go down [from Mount Sinai (before the giving of the Torah)], warn the people, lest they break through [the physical as well as the mental boundaries] to Hashem and gaze [upon lofty spiritual concepts far beyond their level, thus creating too much light, inciting severe attacks from the forces of evil] and [causing] many of them fall [into the depths of sin]." (Exodus 20:21) However, the eirev rav and some of the Jews-from-birth failed to heed this warning and went beyond the mental boundaries set for them, causing ree'bui ohr, which nourished the forces of evil. The evil forces then became too powerful and were able to easily confuse the eirev rav, influencing them to build the golden calf. This is mentioned in the verse, "And against the great men of the children of Israel He [Hashem] did not stretch forth His hand [they had looked beyond what they could grasp and were deserving of punishment for not heeding Hashem's warning, but Hashem chose to punish them later]; and they [the eirev rav] saw [perceived concepts about] Hashem, and did eat and drink [i.e. they were too materially-oriented and lowly to warrant an attempt at spiritual greatness, thus they created ree'bui ohr. Rashi explains that because of this, they deserved to die]." (Exodus 24:11) To this, Rabbi Nachman applied the following verse, "They rise to the heavens [reaching spiritual heights too quickly, far beyond their true level, with the result that] they descend to the depths [and fall verv far from Hashem]." (Psalms 107:26) Therefore, Rabbi Nachman always warned his followers to be vigilant in avoiding extremism, especially in spiritual matters.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

There is a kabbalistic rule that physical objects which have a certain numerical association share a common spiritual essence with other physical objects connected to the same number which manifests itself as similar functions in their respective domains of the physical world. For example, there are five air sacks or lobes to the lungs. Among other things, the lungs ventilate and cool down the body from the heat produced by the heart. There are five books of the Torah. The fact that the lungs and the Torah have the number five in common indicates that they function alike in their respective areas. The lungs cool the body and the Torah cools excessive passion and yearning of the soul for Hashem. Proper study of the Torah protects a person from becoming over-zealous in his behavior and desire to come close to Hashem. Only through moderation can one ever hope to come close to Hashem. A moderate approach prevents the forces of evil from overwhelming the seeker of Hashem because there will not be ree'bui ohr through over-zealousness. Therefore, Rabbi Nachman taught that it is in a person's hands to influence and manipulate his own thoughts. If the forces of evil should attack because of ree'bui ohr due to excessive passion for Hashem, giving a person an overwhelming urge to commit sins, he should study and focus on the Torah in order to cool down his cravings.

Aspects of Hashem's light can be drawn down even by thoughts about non-spiritual matters. But again, when a person's mind focuses too intensely on something, it causes the mind to access too much light as well. The resulting spillover to the evil forces leads them to attack in a different way - by throwing one's mind into confusion. The antidote is to do some physical work or perform a physical commandment which will distract the person's mind and thus prevent him from trying to confront the forces of evil directly, for no man has the power to defeat the evil forces in direct confrontation. When a person's mind is distracted to the point where he ignores the confusion inflicted upon him bv the evil forces, it causes the excess light to be covered over, reducing it. This reduction of the light in his mind cuts off the power source to the evil forces and their assaults subside. If the confusion becomes too heavy, he should just ignore his thoughts altogether. and not fight them. For the struggle to subdue detrimental thoughts entraps the person in a vicious cycle of creating ree'bui ohr, further nourishing the evil forces, prompting further attacks and thus more confusion.

The most important lesson that we learn from the incident of the golden calf is that we should never go to extremes in our quest to come close to Hashem. We must always work to moderate our natural zeal, through the guidance of the Torah and through the advice of our sages and true Tzaddikim (saints). This is why Hashem commanded the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) immediately after the sin of the golden calf It served as atonement, as rectification because the Mishkan was constructed according to specific, limiting measurements which confined Hashem's great light to an intensity which would be tolerable for all people and would not cause ree'bui ohr.

It is easy to find openly displayed religious zeal and passion in the world, but as explained above, this behavior leads to confusion, inevitable bringing the zealots to misguided conclusions which are, in fact, divergent from Hashem's will that He communicated to mankind via His Torah. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that only a moderate approach will help one reach Hashem. The moderate approach filters the light of the mind, enabling an individual to avoid attacks from the forces of evil, leading him to accurate conclusions and ultimately to oneness with Hashem's Divine Presence. (Lekutai Halachoth: Orach Chaim: Hilchoth Tefllas Mincha 7:6-10)


We mentioned above that the revelation at Sinai unleashed a great deal of spiritual light. Some of the Jews were exposed to too much, leaving them vulnerable to the attacks from the forces of evil. The following illustrates this point:

Rav Noson writes that he and his colleages witnessed many miracles performed by Rabbi Nachman. Once, one of Rabbi Nachman's followers became very ill. In addition, his hand became paralyzed and he was unable to put it down. The doctors recommended that he drink various types of salt water solutions to purify his blood, but he was unable to afford them. In considering his student's situation, Rabbi Nachman determined that this man had such great faith in Hashem that he warranted to be healed miraculously. Some of Rabbi Nachinan's students removed the man's bandage and Rabbi Nachman instructed him to lower his paralyzed hand, which he did. Rabbi Nachman performed this miracle before the entire community and the man became completely healed.

Rav Noson adds that for every miracle that Rabbi Nachman performed, he suffered great pain. [This was due to the great amount of light he unleashed in order to perform each miracle, which aroused attacks from the forces of evil]. Rabbi Nachman was in pain even from talking about the miracles with Rav Noson. Therefore. he prayed that all his miracles should be forgotten. Rabbi Nachman made many accurate predictions about future events, but he eventually took it upon himself not to work miracles except when absolutely necessary. [His reasoning was that his powerful and awe-inspiring teachings, if followed, could make the greatest sinner into a Tzaddik (saint). Performing miracles would unfairly attract people to follow him, jeopardizing the balance of free choice and possibly bringing the Messiah before his time [which is beyond the scope of this story]. The Satan interfered with Rabbi Nachman's performing miracles and therefore instead of working wonders as many of his contemporary Tzaddikim would do. Rabbi Nachman accomplished what he had to through prayer and instructed his disciples to do the same, even though they too could have performed miracles. (Se'pu'ray Tzaddikim - Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)


Rabbi Nachman stressed that everyone must study at least one law from the Codes, the "Shulchan Aruch", daily, without fail. This study is a great spiritual remedy. A legal conclusion determins what is permitted or forbidden after sifting through the various opinions. Study of the codes helps seperate and rectify the evil of one's sins (Sichos HaRan 29):

The Torah prohibits us from saying things to people that will cause them pain, suffering or embarrasment in any manner. We must be careful not to insult a person even by means of hints and signs. The Torah takes a very severe position when it comes to onoas divorim (verbal abuse), because it causes people so much suffering. Many people care more about verbal insults than financial loss. It is impossible to list all the potential ways that one can cause pain to others. Each person should be as careful as possible in this matter. (Sefer HaChinuch 338)

HITHBODEDUTH (secluding oneself)

Rabbi Nachman strongly urged his followers to talk daily to Hashem in the manner that one would confide in his best friend, in seclusion, in a language and style with which he feels most comfotable. In these sessions one can openly discuss anything and everythng with Hashem. One can praise Him, unload and, unburden his feelings, aspirations, problem and wants on Hashem Who has unlimited patience to listen and Who actually craves these encounters, as mentioned by Rashi in the book of Genesis. These encounters not only strengthen one's faith in Hashem, relieve stress and worry, help to accomplish goals, sharpen the mind and build an intimate and personal relwionship with Hashem, but it cultivates the notion the Hashem really exists and can he counted on for all one's needs. The following is an example of a Hisbodiduth session:

Save me from opposing any holy matter or any decent person. Let me be sincerely bound to all holy and good things. Let me have true love and be unified with all the righteous and sincere and decent people in the generation and with all the good that is found within the entire holy Jewish Nation until together with all of them we can be merged with You Hashem. (1 Lekutai Tefelos 51)

Volume 3, Issue 20