If all the birds and animals and even the very trees and plants are constantly uttering the deepest secrets, why did the Baal Shem Tov not teach his students how to hear and understand them?
His answer was: "If you needed this wisdom in order to serve God, I would have hurried to teach you.... But you have no need for it! Just serve God with simplicity!"
The simplest way of serving God is through prayer, which the sages called avodah, "work", "labor" or "service".
This was Isaac's act of service when he "went out to meditate in the field" (Genesis 24:63). Isaac, diligent disciple of his father Abraham, set himself to the task the way an ox submits to the yoke and patiently plows the field.
Isaac was following the path of Abraham's Sefer Yetzira, which teaches that by manipulating the "letters of creation" in prayer and meditation, man has the ability to influence creation according to his will. That man should play this exalted role was indeed the very purpose of his creation. God "placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and guard it" (Genesis 2:15). Creation was intended to be a magnificent garden of wisdom and harmony, with man in the role of the gardener and orchestrator, tending and developing it to perfection. Order, meaning and blessing come into the world through following all aspects of the divine code -- the Torah -- and especially through prayer, which aligns the entire creation with its Creator:
Praise HaVaYaH from the heavens; praise Him on high. Praise Him all His angels, praise Him all His hosts. Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all bright stars. Praise Him, highest heavens and you waters that are above the heavens....
Praise HaVaYaH, O you who are on earth, all sea monsters and ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and smoke, storm wind that executes His command, all mountains and hills, all fruit trees and cedars, all wild and tamed beasts, creeping things and winged birds, all kings and peoples of the earth, all princes of the earth and its judges, youths and maidens alike, old and young together.
Let them praise the name of HaVaYaH, for His name, His alone, is sublime; His splendor covers heaven and earth!
Psalms 148 1-4, 7-13
Adam failed to rise to his destiny of bringing the world to God. Instead, pride and greed made him to seek to manipulate the world for his own selfish purposes, treating it as a separate realm from which God had somehow become detached, a pleasure-ground for him to exploit in any way he wished without thinking about the consequences. Adam ate from the forbidden fruit. And today, thousands of years later, we are witness to the terrible despoliation and destruction of the world we live in due to the same pride and greed.
The mission of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to forge the pathway that would enable mankind to rectify Adam's failure. Isaac's going out to "labor in the field" exemplifies the Torah of prayer taught by his father Abraham in order to bring man and the world back to God.
The essential labor of prayer is to affirm that God governs the entire universe and to bring this knowledge into the innermost recesses of our hearts in order to overcome the egotistical human tendency to suppose that we are in control of things. By steadily working in the "field" of hitbodedut day after day, prayerfully laboring to refine and elevate the raw elements of our personalities, we turn ourselves into true servants of HaVaYaH, manifesting His total unity and power. We are then ready for the highest level of prayer, which is to pray selflessly for the welfare of the whole world.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman: "According to the rabbis, every person must say, The whole world was created only for me! (Sanhedrin 37a). If the world was created for me, it follows that I must constantly examine how I can rectify the world and fulfill its needs and pray for the world..." (Likutey Moharan I, 5:1).
The classic Jewish prayer book, the Siddur, composed by the Men of the Great Assembly (2nd century B.C.E.) -- outstanding sages, saints and prophets -- consists of elaborate structures of Hebrew letters, words and holy names all of which are aligned to the underlying TzuRoT (forms or codes) through which God made and runs the creation. These sages' profound knowledge of the secrets of Sefer Yetzira enabled them to compose prayers that would accomplish the necessary rectification.
To understand how prayer has the power to rectify and benefit the entire world, it is necessary to understand the underlying cosmology of the Kabbalah as taught by Abraham, Isaac and all subsequent masters and teachers of the Torah tradition.
The patriarchs lived in a world where people were very aware of the influence of the sun, the moon and other planets and stars upon Earth. Whether these are seen as gods, angels or lumps of lifeless matter formed by exploding gases, it is obvious that these celestial bodies are vital sources of light and all kinds of other influences upon Earth. All life on Earth, plant, animal and human, depends upon the interplay of light and other radiations from these celestial bodies with the various gases, liquids and solids that make up Earthly matter.
Awareness of the heavenly influences upon life on Earth down to the very plants of the field is implicit in the well-known rabbinic dictum: "There is not a blade of grass that does not have a star in the skies that strikes it and says: Grow!" Examining the original context of this saying will help elucidate its meaning.
Rabbi Simon said: You will not find a single blade of grass that does not have its mazal -- constellation of stars and/or angel -- in the heavens that strikes it and says to it "Grow!" as it says: "Do you know the ordinances of Heaven? Can you establish its rule (Mishtaro) over the earth?" (Job 38:33). The word for rule, miShTaRo, is from the root ShoTeR, signifying a "police officer" who gives blows to enforce the law [alluding to the "striking" of the plant by the mazal.) The same passage continues: "Can you bind the chains of the stars of the Pleiades or loosen the bands of Orion?" (ibid. v.31). The Pleiades ripen the fruits and give them flavor, while Orion lengthens the stalks of the plants to let the fruits grow. "Can you lead forth the Mazarot in their season? Or can you guide the Bear with her sons?" (ibid. v.32). This is a constellation that sends winds to blow over the plants and cleanse them of their wastes...
Midrash Rabbah Bereshit 10:6
According to the above-quoted Midrash, each plant has its own mazal that strikes it and says "Grow!" The word mazal means both a "constellation of stars" and "an angel", for the two are interrelated. The physical energy -- the light that "strikes" the plant and makes it grow -- comes from the physical star, the sun, etc. But this physical energy derives from and is channeled by a spiritual power-source, an "angel" or "form" (Tzura) that governs the physical process through a formula of words ("and says: Grow!").
The interface between the physical and spiritual worlds is explained by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL") in his classic exposition of the Judaic worldview, "The Way of God".
Creation in general consists of two basic parts: the physical and the spiritual. The physical is that which we experience with our senses and is in turn is divided into the terrestrial and the astronomical. The terrestrial includes everything in the lowest sphere: the earth, water and atmosphere, and every detectable thing they contain.
The spiritual consists of all entities which are not physical and which cannot be detected by physical means. These in turn are also divided into two categories: souls and transcendental beings. Souls comprise a class of spiritual entities destined to enter physical bodies. Transcendental beings comprise a class of spiritual entities that are not meant to be associated with physical bodies. Transcendental beings are also divided into two categories: Forces ("Kochot") and Angels....
Everything in the physical world has a counterpart among these transcendental Forces. Every entity and process in the physical world is linked to these Forces following a system decreed by God's wisdom. These Forces are therefore the roots of all physical things, and everything in the physical world is a branch and result of these Forces. The two are thus bound together like links in a chain. Every physical entity and process is under the charge of some type of angel. These angels have the responsibility of maintaining each of them, as well as bringing about changes within them according to God's decree.
The main existence and true state of the physical universe thus emanate from these highest Forces. Whatever exists in the physical world is a result of something that takes place among these Forces. This is true of both what existed in the beginning and what transpires with the passage of time. These forces were the first things created, and they were arranged in various systems and placed in different domains. Everything that came about later was a result of this, following rules willed by God, linking these Forces to the physical world. Everything that happens in the past or present thus has its origin in processes taking place between these Forces. The existence, state, pattern and every other quality that exists among these Forces are a result of what is relevant to them by virtue of their essential nature. The existence, state, arrangement and other phenomena involving physical things in turn depend on what is transmitted and reflected to them by these Forces, following the essential nature of these physical entities.
The Way of God Part I, Chapter 5
The central figure in the entire creation is man. Thus Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto continues:
There is one exception to the rule that every physical phenomenon originates among the highest Forces. This exception includes all things that depend on man's free will. God willed that man should be able to choose freely between good and evil, and therefore made man absolutely independent in this respect. Man was thus given the power to influence the world and its creatures in any manner his free will desires.
The world therefore contains two opposite general influences. The first is that of natural determinism, while the second is indeterministic. The deterministic influence is directed downward from on high, while the indeterministic is directed upward from below. This is because the deterministic is the influence that stems from the highest Forces, and therefore, when it is directed toward the physical world, it is directed downward. The indeterministic influence, on the other hand, is the result of man's free will here in the physical world.
Since both man and his actions are physical, the only direct influence that he can have is on physical things. However, because of the linkage between the physical world and the highest Forces, every time a physical thing is influenced, it also has an effect on its counterpart among these Forces. Since man's deeds in the world are what influence these Forces on high, man's influence is said to be directed upward. It is thus the exact opposite of the natural deterministic influences....
God arranged things so that every matter falling within the realm of man's free will should be able to affect the transcendental forces through this indeterministic influence according to the measure and degree set forth by God. This is true not only of man's deeds but even his speech and thoughts.
Every indeterministic influence also results in deterministic influences. When the highest Forces are influenced by man's free will, they in turn influence the physical things that are inherently linked to them.
The crucial point that emerges from Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's explanation of the interface between physical and spiritual is that every single human being has the power to influence the root Forces of creation through our actions in this world and through our very words and thoughts.
The highest way of influencing these root Forces for good is through Prayer, which is simultaneously a spiritual and physical process. When we pray, our inner thoughts and feelings on the level of spirit and consciousness are bound to the physical words that we form with the movements of our mouths. These cause vibrations of actual physical air together with rippling chains of spiritual influence that fan out to the highest Angels and root Forces of creation.
Rabbi Nachman explains that the power of prayer derives from the fact that through expressing Divine names and other supremely powerful formulae on his lips, man's word actually becomes the Word of God (Dvar HaVaYaH). And it is through the Word of God that the entire creation came into being and remains in being.
"Through the word of HaVaYaH the heavens were made and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth" (Psalms 33:6). These "hosts" include both the spiritual Angels and everything contained in the physical creation, including ourselves.
It is from the Word of God that the Angels and other spiritual forces receive their power, as explained by Rebbe Nachman in the following passage:
Know that from every single word that came from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, an angel was created (Chagigah 14a). And every single word was divided into many sparks "as a hammer smashes a rock" (Jeremiah 23:29, and see Shabbat 88b), and many, many angels were created corresponding to the multitude of sparks. A word consisting of many sparks created a ruling angel who is chief over all the angels created from the sparks, and these secondary angels make up his camp. Each individual angel is in charge of something. Even the trees and herbs all have captains over them, as our Sages said: "There isn't a single blade of grass down below that does not have an angel in the world above overseeing it." Each angel receives vitality from the Word of God that brought it into being, and in turn sends vitality into the thing it is in charge of, be it a blade of grass or something else.
Likutey Moharan I, 57
The Angel, then, receives power from the creative Word of God that brought it into being, and it then hands on this power to the physical entity over which it rules.
But man has a power that goes above that of the Angels. For when man uses his God-given faculty of speech in prayer, he manipulates the Letters of Creation themselves. Then man's own words themselves become the Word of God, bringing blessing and influence into all creation.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman:
Every single plant receives its powers from its own particular planet or star. Every planet and star receives its power from the stars above it, and the highest stars from the higher powers, until they receive power from the supreme angels, as we are taught (Tikkuney Zohar #44, #79b) "All the stars borrow one from another: the moon borrows from the sun, etc. "for one higher than the high guards, and over them are those who are even higher" (Ecclesiastes 5:7). All of the stars borrow one from the next, until they receive and borrow from the supreme angels, and the angels receive from the powers beyond them, one higher than the other, until they all receive from the root of all things, which is the Word of God, as it is written, "Through the word of God the heavens were made and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth" (Psalms 33:6).
Likutey Moharan II, 1
According to Rebbe Nachman, when a man rises to pray, the very herbs and plants of the field put their power into his prayers. This is because prayer is the "Word of God" which is the root of all things. When a man rises to pray -- and the prayers coming from his mouth are the "Word of God" -- all the plants and herbs of the field are obliged to give back their power and put it into his prayers, which as the "Word of God" are their supreme Source.
The reason is that when a person attains true prayer, the "Word of God" -- which is the supreme Source from which the highest angels and hosts of heaven receive their power -- then all the angels and hosts of heaven become his debtors. For "all the stars borrow one from another" and thus all of them are debtors, right up to the supreme Source, which is the Word of God, which the Master of Prayer has attained. He is thus the Great Lender, to whom all the hosts of heaven and all the powers in the world are in debt.
Thus it is written: "And the hosts of heaven bow to You" (Nehemiah 9:6). This means that all the hosts of heaven bow down to and humble themselves before their root, which is the Word of God, which the Master of Prayer has attained. Because of the exaltedness of the letters and words of the prayers coming from his mouth -- the "Word of God" -- the Master of Prayer becomes the Creditor from whom the entire creation is receiving a flow of power and blessing. Since he is their creditor, all the Angels and all the plants and trees have to pay him back, as it were, pouring back their power into his words, which are now bringing blessing into all creation. This is the idea in the verse: "And Isaac went out to pray (la-SuaCH) in the field" (Genesis 24:63). Isaac's prayer was with the herbs (SiaCH) of the field, because all the herbs of the field returned their power and put it into his prayer, which was their root.
The natural surroundings of the fields and meadows are most conducive to prayer and meditation. In the words of Rebbe Nachman: "Go to a grassy field, for the grass will awaken your heart" (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #227).
Grassy fields, meadows, woods and other natural surroundings can be most enchanting. Yet the idea is more than that they should serve simply as a pleasant backdrop for spiritual work. The grasses and other plants and trees actually contribute to our prayers. The plants and trees have their own song. As Rebbe Nachman told one of his students as they walked through a grassy meadow early one summer morning: "If only you could hear the song of this grass! Each blade is singing out to God for no ulterior motive, not expecting any reward. It is most amazing to hear their song and serve God among them" (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #163).
Especially in the spring and early summer, as the plants return to life after the winter, they themselves yearn to enter into the prayers of the person who has gone out to meditate and pray among them. The very yearning of the plants comes into this person's prayers, filling him with yearning and longing for God.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman:
In the winter all plants and grasses die. Their strength is dissipated and they are like the dead. But when the summer comes, they awaken and return to life. It says: "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field" (Genesis 24:63). The Talmud teaches us that this meditation was prayer. When summer begins to approach it is very good to meditate in the fields. This is a time when you can pray to God with longing and yearning. The Hebrew word for meditation and prayer is SIChah. The Hebrew word for a bush of the field is SIaCh. When every bush (SIaCh) of the field begins to return to life and grow, they all yearn to be included in prayer and meditation (SIChah).
Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #98
In the last years of Rebbe Nachman's life, when he was seriously ill with the tuberculosis that was to take his life, he would often ride to the outskirts of the city and take walks in the fields. In the words of his leading student, Rabbi Noson:
During these strolls we heard many wonderful teachings and discussions by the Rebbe. It was on one such occasion that we heard a lesson on the verse, "And Isaac went to meditate in the field" [see below]. We had taken the coach out of the city, and we stopped in a field to walk. We had got down from the coach and were standing around the Rebbe, who was still sitting there. It was time for the afternoon (Minchah) prayer. We were about to begin the service in the field. The Rebbe said that when one prays in the field, every blade of grass enters into his prayers (ibid. #144).
The lesson Rebbe Nachman gave on that occasion is printed in his collected teachings, Likutey Moharan II, 11:
The Produce of the Land
KNOW that when a person prays in a field, all the grass and herbs come into his prayers and help him and put strength into in his prayers. This is why prayer is called SiChaH: the Hebrew word is related to the word SIaCh, herb, as in "the herb of the field" (Genesis 2:5). For all the herbs of the field put strength into the person's prayers and help him.
This is the underlying idea in the verse: "Isaac went out to pray (la-SUaCh) in the field" (ibid. 24:63). His prayer was with the help and strength that came from the field. For all the grass and herbs -- SIaCh -- of the field put their strength into his prayer and helped the prayer. This is why prayer is called SIChaH.
Conversely, among the curses is that "the land will not give its produce (YeVUL)" (Deuteronomy 11:17). For all the produce of the earth is supposed to put power and strength into our prayers to help them. When this power and strength fail to enter our prayers for some reason, this is the negative situation expressed in the curse: the land does not give its produce. Even when a person is not actually praying in a field, the produce of the land still puts power into his prayers and helps them. For all the food and drink and other things a person consumes -- all of which are "the produce of the land" -- also put power into his prayer.
The difference is that when the person is actually in the field, he is very close indeed to the plants, and then all the grasses, herbs and other "produce of the land" put power and strength directly into his prayer. The Hebrew letters of the word YeVUL ("produce") are the initial letters of the Hebrew words making up the verse "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field" (Vayetze Yitzchak Lasu-ach Basadeh). This indicates that all the plants and produce of the field prayed with him.
Likutey Moharan II:11
The field in which Isaac prayed was the site of the Holy Temple destined by be built by his descendants. Isaac's labor of prayer in the field laid the foundation of the Temple as the "House of Prayer for all the nations" (Isaiah 56, 7) -- the place where the prayers of mankind will bring the world back to the Creator and shine peace and blessing into all the world.
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