(Including discussions between friends on spiritual matters)

1) The Sages who offer guidance and criticism to their contemporaries in order to improve them sweeten the harsh judgements and cause peace to spread throughout the world. But when people's wickedness is so great that it spoils the very guidance and criticism themselves, the cause of peace is ruined and instability and strife become rampant throughout the world (22:1).

2) It is impossible to learn from the guidance and criticism of the Sages without having faith. Faith is a pair of `hands' held out to receive guidance. When a person is lacking in faith he can easily come to atheism and believe in false ideologies. Because of his attitude of scorn and derision, he will not listen to criticism and guidance from the true moralists at all. One must guard one's faith and see that it is not deficient in any way. Faith is the key to holiness. When people have faith they listen to the guidance of the Sages and then they can return to God, and He will take pity (Ibid. 2).

3) When you act on criticism and improve yourself you can come to perform acts of charity and kindness and in this way overcome the influence of false beliefs. Your divine intelligence will be strengthened and you will be worthy of a new perception of Godliness (30:7).

4) You should always talk to your friends about spiritual matters. Each Jew has a `good point' unique to himself. When two friends have a discussion, each one can benefit from the `good point' of the other. Sometimes the `good point' of one of the friends is communicated to the other in a veiled form in a conversation which to outward appearances is about secular topics. Because at times even a secular conversation can give you ideas and inspire you spiritually. Indeed sometimes the `good point' needs to be veiled -- and the words of the conversation become a kind of clothing for it. The main thing is that you should discuss spiritual matters with your friends all the time. Then you will all be able to gain from each one's `good points.' You will be able to break the `foreskin of the heart' -- the lusts and desires which break a person's heart -- and be filled with the holy desire for God (34:4).

5) The efforts a person makes to draw others to God enhance his own understanding of Godliness and bring it to perfection: he can come to understand everything which it is in man's power to apprehend and reach the very limits of human understanding. He will be worthy of children and cause the barren to give birth (53).

6) Each Jew has a certain authority -- a power to dominate and influence. There are some whose authority extends over their own household. Others have a wider influence -- each according to his level. A person must always take care to use his authority and influence not for his own personal benefit but for the sake of God alone: he should use it to guide whoever comes under his influence to draw closer to God. For example, if his authority extends only as far as his own household, he must make sure that he guides all the members of the household along the path of serving God. If his influence spreads wider, then he is under an obligation to use it to draw all the people who fall into his province towards God. A person who is negligent about guiding those who are under his influence will be punished because of them and his days will be shortened, God forbid. This is what the Sages meant when they said: `Authority buries those who possess it' (Pesachim 87). But those who use their authority to offer guidance and moral criticism and draw people closer to God will be blessed with long life and vitality (56:1-3).

7) The only way to give the right guidance and criticism is through devotion to Torah. This gives you the power to guide even those who are very far from you, even if you have no idea what they need. When a person devotes himself to Torah, even those who are distant from the Torah hear its voice crying out: `How long, ye thoughtless, will ye love thoughtlessness?' (Proverbs 1:22). This cry of the Torah will bring everyone to return to God (Ibid.).

8) Someone who tries to draw others closer to God must be careful not to get caught up in the `husks' and wickedness of the people he works with. The way to protect himself is with `judgement,' to see to it that he examines and judges himself concerning everything he does to see if it is right or not. He must criticize himself and feel contrition for anything he may have done that is not right. This self-examination will kindle a fire in his heart which will burn all the `husks' and prevent them from clinging to him. They will even be stripped from the people he is trying to draw closer to God (59:1).

9) A person who works hard to draw people closer to God and make souls builds a holy sanctuary. It may be that some of those souls will fall away from the holiness they attained. Nevertheless if at least some of the people who were brought to the fear of Heaven through his efforts remain devoted, `he that is left in Zion and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called 'holy' ' (Isaiah 4:3). The glory of God is exalted when those who were far are brought close to His service (Ibid.).

10) The self-examination and judgement which a person makes when he tries to bring people closer to God enable him to celebrate Shabbat. For the concept of Shabbat includes the destruction of evil and the impure husks (Ibid. 3).

11) You must watch over your name and your soul. You do this by keeping well away from anger. If you feel yourself getting angry, you must be `slow to anger' and suppress it. Then you will become rich and your name and soul will be enhanced. You will be worthy of a good name. All the souls will yearn to be merged with yours and you will be able to draw many souls closer to God and have many disciples (Ibid. 5).

12) When a person draws many souls closer to God it is better than having children. It is not possible to have more than a few children -- but here there are many souls: they draw all their life from the one who brought them closer and it is as if he himself gave birth to them (Ibid.).

13) You should realize that there are certain people who are so wicked that it is not permitted to draw them beneath the wings of God's service. They can cause the person who brought them close to fall from his level, and the self-examination and judgement mentioned earlier are powerless to nullify their evil. This can cause terrible damage. Anyone who tries to bring people closer to God must pray profusely for guidance so as to understand whom he should reject and whom he should draw closer (Ibid. 6).

14) It is good to discuss spiritual matters with your friends. Discussions like this create `direct' and `reflected' light. Even if your friend gains nothing from the discussion, it can still be a great benefit to you yourself. Someone who tries to encourage a friend can actually be greatly inspired himself. If he had merely said what he told his friend to himself, it could be that the words would not have inspired him at all. But by virtue of saying them out loud to his friend he himself can be inspired even if the words have little or no effect on his friend (184).

15) We must judge everyone in the scale of merit. Even if someone appears to be totally wicked, we still have to search and find even a modicum of good -- by virtue of which he will no longer be wicked! By finding this modicum of good and judging him in the scale of merit he really is elevated to the scale of merit, and it is possible to bring him to return to God through this (282).

16) There is no love greater than the love one has for Israel when they sin. Sin is the most terrible burden for Israel -- it is the worst scourge in the world. The root of the soul of the Jewish people is so holy and exalted that they are completely detached from sin. The Jewish people has no connection whatsoever with sin, so great is the subtle spirituality of their inner essence. This is why sin is such a heavy burden, God forbid. The greatest love one can show for Israel is to draw them from beneath the burden of their sins. One should always discuss spiritual matters with one's friends and show one's love for them by trying to draw them away from sin. This is something which can be done by everyone, even the simplest of people. When a person speaks to his friend about spiritual concerns and radiates his own wisdom in words which will penetrate his friend's very heart so as to draw him away from sin, then his friend is counted as his pupil. (It is the same the other way around, when his friend radiates his wisdom to him, he is counted as his friend's disciple.) Even when the time comes for him to leave this world, he will still be clothed in these words which radiate in his friend, and it will be as if he himself is still alive in the world. The essence of the soul's perfection after its passing from this world depends on leaving a son and a pupil behind in whom the holy wisdom they received from their teacher still radiates. Everyone has a duty to try and draw other people closer to God. The true well-being of the world depends on its being filled with men of understanding who know of God and serve Him. Anyone who lacks the knowledge of God does not come into the category of `man' at all: he is a beast with the appearance of a man. Every individual must be constantly aware himself and make known at all times to others that it is God who rules over the earth and there is no other purpose in this world except to do His will. Nothing is left of a person in this world after his death except the knowledge of God that he communicates to his friends and pupils (II, 7:3,4).

17) Someone who wants to influence another person to fear God must himself have the fear of God. Otherwise his words will not be heard and they will not stay with his friend: they will simply pass right through him immediately (Ibid. 5).

18) When a person tries to discuss spiritual matters with his friends he can gain a perception of the `encircling lights' -- which means that he can apprehend and understand what he was not able to previously. He will constantly rise to higher and higher perceptions until he reaches the perception of the most transcendent levels -- which is the joy and delight of the World to Come (Ibid. 6).

19) It is true that giving moral guidance and criticism is of the utmost importance and every Jew has an obligation to guide his fellow Jew if he sees him acting incorrectly. But nevertheless not everyone is fit to offer such guidance. When guidance and criticism are given by someone unfit to give them, not only do they fail in their purpose, worse still, they cause the fragrance of the souls which hear them to become putrid. The strength of those souls is weakened and blessing is withheld from all the worlds which are dependent upon them. Only those who can add to the fragrance of the souls they guide are fit to criticize and rebuke Israel for their sins. The voice that rebukes must be the `voice which waters the Garden of Eden.' It is there that all the fragrances grow and holy awe takes root. This is the voice of the song that is destined to be sung in the future (II, 8).

There is no contradiction between what was said earlier about the obligation which every Jew has to discuss spiritual matters with his friends and the statement here that not everyone is fitted to give criticism. If you examine the different passages carefully you will see that the idea that is applicable to everyone is having discussions with friends about spiritual matters: what is the purpose of life? What will remain of us in the end? and so on. Even the simplest of people should discuss these things. The kind of moral criticism which is referred to in the last passage is a completely different matter. It means making explicit reference to another person's sins and saying to him: `Why did you do such and such?' One should be very careful not to discuss people's sins and bad behavior with them because one can weaken their soul through arousing this bad smell. The distinction between moral guidance and rebuke is implicit in Rashi's comment on the opening words of Deuteronomy, where he says that Moses did not rebuke the Children of Israel until immediately prior to his death. The comment seems surprising, because surely Moses had spoken to them in a critical vein many times before and had given them many warnings to observe the Torah. The meaning of the term `rebuke' is that he made mention of their sins, as it says in the opening verses in Deuteronomy: `In the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph...' (Deut. 1:3). As Rashi (loc. cit.) explains, Moses mentioned all the places where the Children of Israel had made God angry. It is noteworthy that he did not administer this rebuke until immediately prior to his death, and this in spite of the fact that in his case the rebuke was spoken with the `voice which waters the Garden of Eden' (Ibid.).

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