Let’s Not Make Wings for the Nachash

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The Importance of Correcting Our Speech (Likutei Moharan 63)

Have you ever wondered why certain heresies, i..e. religious, scientific, psychological, educational, philosophical and political heresies, spread like wildfire while others never seem to gain much traction? Likewise, have you ever wondered why the mythology of almost every nation of the world contains the image of a flying serpent or dragon? Let’s find out why.

Shlomo ha-Melech reveals a fundamental principle of creation in Kohelet 7:13: גַּם אֶת־זֶה לְעֻמַּת־זֶה עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים (Also, G-d made this opposite that). What does it mean? In its broadest application, it means that for every aspect of kedushah there exists a corresponding aspect of tumah. For example, there are 50 gates of binah on the side of kedushah and there are 50 gates of tumah on the side of the klipot. Ha-Kadosh baruch Hu and the Shechinah are on the side of kedushah, while the Samech-Mem and his consort are on the side of tumah. Many more examples could be given, but the one that is most relevant for our purpose relates to the six wings of the seraphim that we learned about in the previous two articles, ‘Revealing a Tefach and Covering a Tefach‘ and ‘To Know That We Don’t Know Anything‘. The six wings of the seraphim, two of which cover the face, two of which cover the feet and two with which they fly, are on the side of kedushah. But since ‘G-d made this opposite that’, there must also be six wings on the side of the klipot. What are they?

Where do the wings of the seraphim come from? It is written (Kohelet 10:20): גַּם בְּמַדָּעֲךָ מֶלֶךְ אַל־תְּקַלֵּל וּבְחַדְרֵי מִשְׁכָּבְךָ אַל־תְּקַלֵּל עָשִׁיר כִּי עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם יוֹלִיךְ אֶת־הַקּוֹל וּבַעַל כְּנָפַיִם יַגֵּיד דָּבָר (Don’t curse the king even in your thoughts, and don’t curse a wealthy person in your bedroom, for a bird of the sky will carry the voice, and a ‘winged one’ [ba’al kenafaim] will report the matter). In general, this pasuk comes to warns us that we will be brought into judgment even for blemished thoughts. Even though we may think that we should be exempt from liability for our unspoken evil thoughts, the ‘bird of the sky’, i.e. the soul that is within us, will fly up to heaven and report the matter to the Heavenly Courts. There is no escaping judgment.

On a deeper level though, let’s focus on the last four words of the pasuk, i.e. וּבַעַל כְּנָפַיִם יַגֵּיד דָּבָר (and a ‘winged one’ [ba’al kenafaim] will report the matter). Why did Shlomo ha-Melech change the wording, from mentioning a ‘bird of the sky’ to a ‘winged one’? Who is this ba’al kenafaim? As we learned previously from Yeshayah 6:2, the ‘winged one’, the ba’al kenafaim, is a seraph, an angelic being with six wings. R’ Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan 63: כִּי עַל יְדֵי דִּבּוּרִים קְדוֹשִׁים עוֹשִׂים כְּנָפַיִם דִּקְדֻשָּׁה בִּבְחִינַת וּבַעַל כְּנָפַיִם יַגֵּיד דָּבָר (Through holy speech, we make wings of kedushah, in the aspect of [Kohelet 10:20], ‘a ba’al kenafaim will report the matter’). If we read this quickly without thinking about it, we might miss the whole point. What is R’ Nachman actually saying here? Holy speech, as it ‘relates a matter’ or ‘tells a word’, i.e. יַגֵּיד דָּבָר, is what actually creates the winged one, the בַעַל כְּנָפַיִם. The entire phrase וּבַעַל כְּנָפַיִם יַגֵּיד דָּבָר can be understood like this: an angelic ‘master’ [בַעַל] has ‘wings’ [כְּנָפַיִם] as a result of a person ‘uttering’ [יַגֵּיד] a ‘word’ [דָּבָר]. What a remarkable revelation!

And now that we understand the source of his insight, we also know that there must be, in the aspect of ‘G-d made this opposite that’, evil speech which creates wings for the klipot.

It is stated in the Zohar ha-Kadosh (Parashat Mishpatim 98a): מַאן הוּא נְחָשָׁא דְּפָרַח בַּאֲוִירָא וְאָזִיל בְּפִרוּדָא וּבֵין כַּךְ וּבֵין כַּךְ אִית נַיְיחָא לְחַד נְמָלָה דְּשָׁכִיב בֵּין שִׁנּוֹי (Who is the nachash that flies in the air and crawls separate, and between this and that, there is rest for the ant that rests between his teeth?). We are familiar with a crawling serpent from the story of Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden, for Hashem cursed the nachash and said to it (Bereshit 3:14): עַל־גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ (you will crawl on your belly). But who ever heard of a flying serpent?

R’ Nachman takes up this subject in Likutei Moharan 63: וְהַנָּחָשׁ פְּעָמִים הוֹלֵךְ וּפְעָמִים מְעוֹפֵף וְהַחִלּוּק שֶׁבֵּין הֲלִיכָה לַעֲפִיפָה כִּי בַּעֲפִיפָה יוּכַל לָעוּף וְלִפְרֹחַ בְּרֶגַע הַרְבֵּה אֲבָל בַּהֲלִיכָה הוּא הוֹלֵךְ מְעַט מְעַט כְּדֶרֶךְ הַהוֹלֵךְ שֶׁהוּא תְּנוּעָה כְּבֵדָה (Sometimes the nachash crawls and sometimes it flies, and the difference between crawling and flying is that with flying he can fly over a large area in a moment, but with crawling, he goes little by little, as is the manner of walking, which is a cumbersome [literallly, ‘heavy’] movement). Therefore, we must ask, Where do its wings come from? Even if it originally had wings, Hashem seems to have removed them when He said to it ‘you will crawl on your belly’. So where do these wings come from that enable it to fly? R’ Nachman teaches: וּבְכָל הַדִּבּוּרִים רָעִים שֶׁמְּדַבְּרִים וּבִפְרָט כְּשֶׁהֵם נוֹגְעִים עַל צַדִּיקִים וּגְדוֹלִים בְּאֵלּוּ הַדִּבּוּרִים הֵם עוֹשִׂים כְּנָפַיִם לְהַנָּחָשׁ שֶׁיּוּכַל לְעוֹפֵף (With every evil speech that we speak, and in particular, those directed against tzaddikim and gedolim, wings are created for the nachash so that it can fly). Yeesh! That’s heavy.

Each word that we speak makes a wing according to its aspect. Holy speech composed of truth, honesty, sincerity, praise, encouragement, tefillah, Torah, etc. creates wings of kedushah which correspond to the six middot of chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod and yesod. In turn, these six middot correspond to the six tefachim of the amah and the six wings of the seraph which encompass the deep meaning behind fulfilling the mitzvah of brit milah in completeness (as we saw in the two previous articles). And on the other hand, evil speech composed of lashon ha-ra, gossip, lies, slander, mockery, scorn, flattery, words that embarrass others, profanity, vulgarities, empty or meaningless words, etc. creates wings for the nachash. These wings encompass all of the bad character traits which are contrary to kedushah and contrary to being faithful to the brit that Hashem made with the Jewish People.

So what about the nachash? We know the identity of the nachash from Bereshit 3, but on a more practical level, who or what does the nachash represent? R’ Nachman explains: וְהַנָּחָשׁ הֵם אֵלּוּ הַחֲכָמִים לְהָרַע הַחוֹקְרִים פִילוֹסוֹפְיָא וְאֶפִּיקוֹרְסוּת כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: חֲכָמִים הֵמָּה לְהָרַע וּלְהֵטִיב לֹא יָדְעוּ, שֶׁהֵם רַק חֲכָמִים לְהָרַע שֶׁאִם יִרְצוּ לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בְּחָכְמָתָם לְהֵיטִיב לֹא יוּכְלוּ וְהֵם בְּחִינוֹת הַנָּחָשׁ בְּחִינוֹת: וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיּוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה (The nachash are the scholars for doing evil, researchers of philosophy and heresy, as it is written [Yirmeyah 4:22]: ‘They are scholars for doing evil, but for doing good they don’t know’; they are scholars only for evil, that even if they wanted to use their scholarship to do good they couldn’t, and they correspond to the nachash, in the aspect of [Bereshit 3:1]: ‘And the nachash was arum more than all the wild animals of the field’). Often translated ‘subtle’, the word arum can also be translated as clever, cunning or shrewd. In other words, these so-called ‘scholars’ or intellectuals are very good at crafting clever-sounding arguments designed to fool the masses, but in truth, their words are nothing but lies, and they know that they are nothing but lies. One of the best sources which proves this point is the candid admission of Aldous Huxley, a highly respected English writer and intellectual who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature many times. He wrote in his book Ends and Means (1937): “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

You might want to read that again, because you may not run into something that blatantly honest anywhere else. These scholars are not looking for truth, rather they are looking for justification to behave in whatever manner they want.

Let’s return to the subject of the wings. Just as we previously learned that there are three kinds of wings for the seraphim, one set to cover the face, one set to cover the feet and one set with which to fly, there are also three kinds of wings for the nachash.

Let’s begin with the wings that cover the feet. On the side of kedushah, these wings are associated with one’s relationship with others. The same is true for the intellectual scholars. When the nachash is wingless and must move about only on the ground, these scholars have limited ability to influence others. They have the ability to influence or spread their heresies to their fellow colleagues and students, but that’s about it. They have little to no universal influence. On the other hand, when the nachash is given wings with which to fly, these scholars have the power to spread their heresies far and wide even beyond the walls of academia.

Next, as is the case with the wings that cover the seraphim’s faces, the wings of the nachash are also associated with one’s relationship to oneself. How so? When the nachash is wingless, the intellect of these scholars is not so quick. Their seichel doesn’t fly, as it were, from thought to thought very quickly. Rather, they go from idea to idea in a laborious and cumbersome manner, plodding along at a snail’s pace. Although they still end up with heretical ideas, they’re not so quick-witted. On the other hand, when we give the nachash his wings, we give quick-witted seichel to these scholars, allowing them to move from idea to idea quickly with ease and nimbleness of wit. They can fly from concept to concept at lightning speed, not only in their own heads but also when speaking with others, frequently overwhelming their audiences leaving them with a spellbound gaze.

Finally, we have the wings that are used for flight itself. For the tzaddik, these wings symbolized humility in wisdom, helping him to realize that even as he learned more of Hashem, he really knew nothing of Hashem at all. On the other hand, these arrogant, empty-headed scholars are completely delusional and think that they know everything. Another way to look at it is that the tzaddik allows his learning to penetrate his heart and mind. As a result, he is able to influence others when they come to learn from him, allowing the truth to penetrate deeply into their hearts and minds. With the intellectual scholars who crawl on the ground, their dishonesty doesn’t really penetrate the hearts and minds of others so well, at least not in a profound way. Although other people may accept their false ideologies, it’s often superficial acceptance or lip-service acceptance. However, when the nachash has wings, the ideological penetration is profound, reaching deep within the hearts and minds of others.

Therefore, it’s up to us. When false ideologies are strengthened in the world, it’s because our speech is blemished. When our speech is refined and holy, heresies are weakened in the world. Yes, we really do have the power to change the world. Those ‘in power’ want to deny this truth and want you to believe that you are powerless to effect change in the world. Of course, it suits their agendas to con us in this way, but don’t believe them. Nothing can stand in the face of kedushah. Nothing. All we need to do is prioritize the tikkun or rectification of our speech. We need to raise our fallen speech and restore it to kedushah, to the place of malchut. This is why brit milah is so intimately connected with speech, for malchut is called ‘mouth’. One source for this is from the well-known prayer Patach Eliyahu (Tikkunei Zohar 17a): מַלְכוּת פֶּה (malchut is called ‘mouth’). Why is the sefirah of malchut called mouth? It is named after the corona or ‘crown’ at the end of the brit which is likened to a mouth. One who protects the kedushah of his brit will, in turn, protect the kedushah of his speech.

So next time we daven the Shemoneh Esreh, we should pay special attention to the very first words we utter in the supplementary prayers after the berachot (Tehillim 34:14): אֱלקַי נְצר לְשׁונִי מֵרָע וּשפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה (My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit). There’s a reason that Chazal put that pasuk at the beginning of these supplementary prayers, and now you know why.

If you want to know the meaning of the ant in the mouth of the nachash, you can look it up in Likutei Moharan 63.

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