Monday, November 21, 2005

elliot r wolfson Says:

yesterday i decided i would not respond to the person who reacted to my lecture at the nyu conference and saw it fit as his duty to correct me

i have changed my mind but it should be clear that i am not interested in a protracted discussion with this man or anyone else

let me say first that the main point of the response is valid, and had the person listened carefully or better had he read the paper he would have seen that i said clearly and repeatedly that i did not think the rebbe advocated a breaking of mitsvot, but what i was trying to bring out is that in his thinking there is an awareness of a higher mode of avodah, what i called the hypernomian as opposed to the antinomian, what the rebbe himself calls the avodah is lema’alah mi-torah u-mitsvot

here is an exact citation from my lecture, which i read word for word:

The holy madness is linked by the Rebbe to the interiority of Torah, which is fully realized in the “worship of self-sacrifice,” which, as he says in one context, is “aroused precisely by means of the concealment and hiddenness of the world, the body, and the animal soul.” With this statement the Rebbe affirms an ascetic orientation that anticipates his understanding of the messianic redemption: the highest level of achievement, which corresponds to the esoteric meaning of Torah, comes about by the act of self-sacrifice, a negation of self that is above the intellect and beyond the nomian framework of halakhah. This is not to say that in the Rebbe’s teaching the esoteric is at odds with or in contradiction to the exoteric. On the contrary, he often enunciates the convergence of overlapping of the secret and the contetual, sod and peshat. What I am suggesting, however, is that he did affirm a messianic vision predicated on the possibility of the mystical attainment of the nondifferentiated oneness—theosophically this corresponds to the aspect of Atiq and psychologically to the highest gradation of soul yechidah—wherein good and evil are indistinguishable, and thus it is possible, indeed necessary, for one thing to be transformed into its opposite. In a state where opposites coincide, the binary distinctions basic to a nomian system break down. The ultimate coincidence is reserved for the messianic era, a time that can be characterized in the paradoxical terms that Schneersohn used in a brief discourse on the eve of the new month of Sivan 1953 several days prior to the festival of Pentecost: “In the general matter of the giving of Torah, there is a response to those who have claims against the study of the hidden aspect [nistar] of Torah, for in the time of the giving of Torah the matter was reversed, the exoteric aspect of Torah was hidden and the esoteric aspect of Torah was revealed” she-nigleh de-torah hayah nistar we-nistar de-torah hayah nigleh.

The secret of the secret elaborated by the seventh rebbe of the Lubavitch-Habad dynasty turns primarily on this reversal of outside and inside, the manifest and hidden, the body and soul. As he put it already in a letter dated the fifth of Nisan 1955: “In the future redemption, the inner soul of the Jewish man will be united … with the external soul, for this is the vessel for the disclosure of the unity of the hidden aspect of Torah and the manifest aspect, and for the unity and disclosure of the hidden aspect of the holy One, blessed be he, and the manifest aspect of the holy One, blessed be he, for this is the matter of the complete and true redemption.”

The new Torah (torah chadashah) to be implemented in the messianic era exemplifies this reversal: the interiority of Torah (penimiyyut ha-torah), the illumination of the disclosure of the light of the Infinite (gilluy or ein sof), which for the most part has remained veiled, is fully revealed. Following earlier sources, moreover, the content of the concealed aspect is identified as the “secrets” and “rationales” of the Torah. The secrets and rationales, however, do not relate to ritual practice as such, since in the messianic state there is no longer a viable distinction between permissible and forbidden. As Schneersohn expressed the matter in a discourse connected to the second day of Pentecost in 1991, “The rationales and secrets of Torah are above the application of purifying evil”—since there is no more distinction between good and evil, there can be no more need to purify evil. The secret of the secret that one may elicit from the teachings of the Rebbe is predicated on understanding the messianic redemption in hypernomian terms as the overcoming of all binaries and divisions, a mystical vision beyond reason that allows one to see that darkness and light are no longer distinguishable.

In a text for Shabbat Sheqalim written when Schneersohn was in Paris and preserved in his own hand, he already anticipated the reversal that became so central to his way of thinking:

“The greatness of the level of the children of Israel is that they are found in this corporeal world parallel to the level of the angels. Thus we have found that in the future to come the soul [neshamah] will be sustained from the body, and this highlights the level of the corporeal body [ha-guf ha-gashmi] in relation to the soul. And this is … [the import of] “many miracles” [nissei nissim] (the matter of the name Yohanan) precisely, for it is not enough that the corporeal world [ha-olam ha-gashmi] will be elevated to be equal to the spiritual [ruchani] ]—and this [the meaning of] “miracle” [nes] from the word “elevation” [haramah]—but it will be above it.” The messianic future is thus described as an inversion of the longstanding hierarchical relationship of soul and body. It is not sufficient to envision the eschaton as a leveling out of the difference between the two, but it must be seen as the moment when the material is elevated to a higher status than the spiritual. In the continuation of this text, Schneersohn accounts for this matter by noting that just as the ten commandments are holy so too are the ten sayings by means of which the world was created. The distinction between the words of creation and the words of revelation is that the former deal with the manifest (gilluy) and the latter with the hidden (he’elem). As a consequence of human transgression, however, the holiness of the world has been concealed—a point driven home by the play on words between olamand he’elem. In the future the matter will be rectified and the spiritual essence of the corporeal will be manifest, an idea that Schneersohn expresses in terms of the rabbinic idea that the land of Israel, which is holy, will spread forth in all lands and then “it will be revealed to every eye that the whole of the world in its entirety, which was created by means of the ten sayings, is holy.”

If the land of Israel spreads forth so that it is everywhere, then there is no more distinction between it and other lands and, consequently, no more distinction between holy and unholy. In this discernment lies the secret of the secret, which is at once obscurely obvious and obviously obscure.

To realize the truth beyond the polarity of truth and deception one must walk the path of lawfulness, a path that leads beyond the path, not by breaking the law, but by fulfilling the inscription of its own erasure. In the final analysis, this to me seems to be the secret of the secret that Menachem Mendel Schneersohn both revealed and concealed, and as a consequence his notion of esotericism should be seen not only as the culmination of the kabbalistic-hasidic ethos but as the expression of mystical personalities from various religions who experience the ultimate paradox that any mystic operating from with the depths of a particular tradition experiences: the mystical truth that is radical both in the sense of rootedness and in the sense of uprootedness; indeed, it is precisely the latter that reinscribes the former.


this is a portion of my text, and i said at the beginning of my lecture that i could noit read my paper which is already over 50 pages

i want to conclude by saying that this respondent displays an arrogance by suggesting what i should read as he has no idea what i have read and he has no idea how many sources i engage in the written version of this study

he has ever right to disagree but it is impulsive and inaccurate on his part to start criticizing me by assuming what i have read or have not read

i am not surpirsed by his response but it is an inaccurate portrayal of my thinking, and i do not think that he will ever understand what i am talking about

the teaching of the rebbe on this point is greater than his hasidim and it is greater than habad itself

i was trying to pinpoint a tension that gives life to the tradition, a tension that envisions the tradition stretching beyond itself

to paraphrase rilke, one who knows how to bend the branch can take hold of the root


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