Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bittul Hayesh -- Self-Annihilation

When Jacob had the famous vision of the angels running up and down the ladder at Beth - el, he awoke and explained:

אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא יָדָעְתִּי

Usually translated:  "Surely the Lord was in the place, and I knew it not."

For most classical commentators on the Torah, no word in the Torah is superfluous.  Each had a special meaning.  This verse can also be translated, quite literally : "Surely the Lord was in this place and me, I did not know it."

Shelemoh of Radomsk (1803-1866) uses this unusual Hebrew syntax to provide a lesson about self-annihilation in the Hasidic vein. 

He writes that  "If the presence of the Holy One indeed dwells here, if I have invoked the holiness of this place, it must be because 'My I, I did not know.' I obliterated everything that was in me; my sense of self-awareness; any consciousness of ego; any trace of self-intention.  Everything is now for the sake of the Holy Name itself; for the sake of unifying the holiness within all beings and its presence."

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