The Torah of the Void

Please read this wonderful translation by Reb Zalman of Reb Nachman’s teaching. It can help with the arguments some of us have about God and Science.   Reb Zalman’s translation of the original Yiddish gives us access to Reb Nachman’s deep Torah.  Enjoy!  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor 


a teaching by
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

(Liqquttei Me-HaRan 1:64)

Translated and adapted from the Yiddish
by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

for Mercy’s sake,
created the world
to reveal Mercy.
If there were no world
on whom would Mercy take pity?

So – to show His Mercy
He created the worlds
from Aziluth’s peak
to this Earth’s centre.

But as He wished to create
there was not a where?
All was infinitely He,
Be He Blessed!

The light He condensed
thus was space made
an empty void.

In space days and measures
came into being.
So the world was created.

This void was needed
for the world’s sake,
so that it may be
put into place.

Don’t strain to understand
the void!
It is a mystery – not to be realized
until the future
is the now.

speaking of the void
we must say two things
– opposites –
is-ness and is-not-ness.

Void means absence of G-d
for the world space’s sake.
But in truth’s deepest truth
G-d is still there.
Without His giving life
Nothing is is-ing.

Thus we speak of the void.
There is no way to realize
the void before the future
is come to be now.

There are
two kinds of

One kind
the outering sciences.
The questions raised by them
are to be answered.
‘Know what to answer
the unbeliever’:
Outer knowing is rooted in
the order of holiness.

Once there was light,
much and powerful,
holy light,
and it was in vessels
– too much light,
too much power –
and the vessels burst!

When the vessels burst
the fragments
of Holiness
took form
becoming the outered sciences.

even of Holiness
there is offal:

Just as there is sweat
and hair and excrement,
so Holiness too
has its offal.

Holy Wisdom, too, has offal.
Outered wisdom
is the offal of the holy.
And when this offal is used
to twist the world,
you have sorcery.

Once, also, source-ery
was rooted
in a high wisdom.

He who can
should strive to avoid
the trap
of the outered sciences.
But whoever falls
into the trap
is not lost forever.

Seeking G-d
one can find Him there,
in the shards of Holiness
which give life to the sciences –
even in the very symbols
in which the sciences
express themselves.
For as long as there
is reason and rhyme –
and words –
there is Holiness
in the form of sparks.
As long as there is life
in the word, G-d is there.

As long as there are sparks
unbelief allows for re-ply
and for the return.
‘Know how to re-ply the Epicure.’

But there is another kind
of unbelief.
Rooted in unwisdom,
though profound it seems
and unrealizable
– its profundity is nonsense.

Such non-sense is thought wise.
One who is not learned
will be stumped.
Caught in a web by false reason,
How can he unmask it?
If he has no knowledge
he thinks the dissembler wise.

And the philosophers
have all kinds of questions
– objections to true knowledge –
not rooted in wisdom
but in unwisdom.
(They turn answers into questions
R’Akiba says.
‘All is foreseen
and freedom is given.’
This is an answer,
a paradox –
but a fool of the void
turns it into a question again –
‘if all is foreseen,
how can man be free?’
The paradox twisted into
a question
is the folly of the void

because human sense and reason
knows not how to settle the issues
the questions seem profound.

In truth there is no settling
these Issues at all.
They come not from sparks
of holy somethings,
but from the void,
and it is void even of G-d.
So there is no way to find Him
there –
no way to re-ply – to repent.

If one could find Him there
there would be no void
but Infinitely He.

Therefore there is no way
to answer this unbelief:
‘He who comes there cannot return’.

How can Israel face the void
and live in it with Him?
Such thought is void of words.

Israel believes
and leaps, passes over
all the sciences,
even the lore of the void
because even in simple faith
they believe
that He fills
and surrounds the world.
And the void?

It is nothing but
the no-thing which takes up
no space at all.
All it does is separate
between the Divine which fills
and the Divine which surrounds
the world.

Without the void
all would have been One.
But then
there would not have been
any creature – any world.
So the void is a kind of
Divine Wisdom of not being
so there can be division
between one kind of being
and another.

This wisdom of not being,
the wisdom of the void –
cannot be realized!
it is not a something,
but it makes all somethings possible.
Each something is infused with
and surrounded by G-d:
There is in between
a void that is not.

This cannot be known
by knowing
but it can be faithed
by faithing past and through it.

This is why Israel is called
Ivrim – Hebrew, through-passers.
And He is known as
the G-d of the Hebrews.

The wisdom of the void
is dangerous,
because where it is strong
there is no sense and no knowing.
So, be guarded,
and seek to escape the void trap:
‘Those who come there do not

Know this:

There is one zaddik,
a ‘moses’, –
He must study
the void thoughts, too,
although there is no settling
these issues.
In entering there –
where there is only void –
he raises lost souls
pending in the void’s web;
souls that want to voice
their objection
in the mass of the void’s unreason.
No voice can carry there
because of the emptiness,
and there are no words:
for in the void is only

All creation comes from
the WORD:
‘By the word of G-d
Heaven was made,
and by the breath of His mouth
all their hosts.’
In words inheres wisdom
and sense.

All speech is bordered
by the five limits
of the mouth.
All creation is a limiting
in three dimensions
and in time
and in substance:
‘In wisdom hast Thou
made them all.’

The void has no limits,
no echo.
Burning questions
are not answered there.
Martyrs who want to know Why?
are told ‘silence’.
Thus is the decree of the Thought!
Such thought is not given to words.

But ‘Moses’,
the tongue-tied one,
is used to thought
that cannot be worded,
and he must give thought
to the void
to save the lost souls.

    (Moses, the humblest of men,
knew his full greatness
as well as his lowest
vilest self.
Others would lose
their mind
would they know the full
and the full glory of being
a Man of G-d.
One who hides the full truth
of yes and no,
of is and not-is
cannot be in the void
without bursting to pieces.
In speaking,
only one side can be worded
and then there is the other side
Moses can contain yes and no,
noble and save, in one wordless

How is the void made?
By strife.

One zaddik says this
and the other that,
and between
there is strained a void.
Difference serves the purpose
of making the void void.
Thus there is place
for a whole world between them.
In this sense zaddikim
help the Creator create:
Of this zaddikim
must not talk too much.
Words are lights:
too many words – too much light.
And then again a break occurs –
Thus, more shells and shards,
more evil and offal/
All talk must be limited
to the limit of the worlds.

‘All my days
I grew among the wise:
No better thing found I
than silence for a body.’
‘He who multiplies words
multiplies sin’:
The furies are made
from too much talk.

Each science
has its own song:
Each science
issues from a melody.
Even the void’s Unwisdom
has a melody of its own.

‘What was wrong with the heretic?’
~When he rose,
Greek song books fell from him.
All day he hummed the song
of the Greek.’
The song and the heresy –
each depend on the other –
the wisdom and its tune,
the science and its scale.

For heresies fall
in book loads
from one who sings the tune
of heresy.

Each wisdom draws from its own
Even the higher ones,
they draw from melodies higher
Up, way up,
to the point
of the first emanation,
beyond which
there is only
but the Infinite Light
surrounding the void
which contains the
With the wisdoms
arising from some melodies.

Certainly in the beyond
of the void
there, too, is wisdom,
but it is infinite
and only the Infinite One
attains to it.
And His wisdom cannot be reached
at all:
There is no-thing there
save faith –
to faith Him, Be He Blessed! –
that His Light endlessly embraces
the all,
surrounds all worlds.

And faith –
she, too, is a song,
a tune unique
to faith.

Even those who worship stars
and constellations
have for each star,
for each Zodiac sign,
a special tune –
which they sing
and by which they celebrate
in their prayer houses.
in Holiness’ true worship
each faith
has a special tune and song.

And the song which is
uniquely singing of the
faith most high,
the faith transcending all
wisdoms and deeds
in the world –
That faith in the Self
of the Endless Light,
bathing all worlds,
it too has song and tune,
beyond any other
belonging to wisdoms and creeds.
Yet they all derive a note,
a phrase, a pattern or inspiration
from that most high tune
which passes all understanding.

And when
the future to come
will be now
and all nations will have clear lips
turned upon them,
all calling with the Name
and all faithing Him,
then will be upheld
‘Sing from the heap-springs of faith’
the tune most sublime.

Now only a Moses-zaddik
merits to know this tune
which is the song of silence
Be still.
Thus rose the THOUGHT
beyond words or expression.

And this is why
‘Then will Moses sing’,
for that song
has not yet been sung,
for it is a dead-raising
song of silence.

And through the zaddik’s niggun,
when in him tongue-tied Moses

all lost souls
rise from the abyss,
find their way from void.
All tunes are absorbed in
the song of silence,
all heresy integrated and dissolved.
Tune and word
And this is why G-d says
to Moses,
Come to Pharaoh,
the obstacle to freedom,
the void-maker,
for I have made heavy and hard
his heart
for in the void
only the hard questions
and contradictions remain –
Moses has come there
where no one may come,
for it is a G-d-void
which G-d voided
‘so that I might set forth
My wonders
in its midst.’
The wondrous creation
which needs a void
to be put into
‘In order that you may tell
in the hearing
of son and grandson.’

For in the creation,
in the some-thing
you can tell and talk,
for there is multiplicity –
names and forms,
letters and phrases,
notes and songs,
all for Mercy’s sake.

For all Mercy was condensed
so that the world could contain it:
Mercy is the world’s possibility.
And son and grandson
father Mercy’s objects,
can be told some-thing
for pity’s sake,
‘that which I mocked up
in Egypt’
for it is all a game
a monkey shine,
a circus made from junk
of broken vessels still iridescent
with some Holiness
so that even there
‘You may know
that I am the L-rd.’

So that even
in the middle of the joke
in the middle of the shards
in the middle of the heresy,
the partial and broken truth,
even there you can know
G-d, Be He Blessed!

Know how to re-ply
the Epicure –
that piece of truth he needs
to ply and mend
his partial truth.

‘Moses came to Pharaoh’
– the void –
‘and said
Tomorrow –
I bring the arbeh,
the swarms
of locusts
into your midst.’
For tomorrow
is the time
of the reward receiving.

What is the reward all about?
to perceive great perception
to have insight cosmic,
today unattainable.

And then we will know
how the void
was like the locust,
its cloak and being one,
all veils and garments
but He
outer, inner He
word and wordless He
end and endless He
Tune and singer He

Most high and abyss He
void He, fullness He
You He
He He!
– Amen

from Likutei Mohoran (1,64)

2 Responses to “The Torah of the Void”

  1. Eldar Mayouhas Says:

    I heard a recording of this by Rav Zalman on vinyl a long time ago. It was together with his reading of the Seven Beggars. I can’t seem to find it online and the CD of the Seven Beggars does not include the Torah of the Void. Can you provide any leads?



  2. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    Between Eldar and Reb Daniel Siegel it was determined that a recording of Reb Zalman reading this text begins at around 32:16 of the recording of “Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav: His Tales and Teachings” which is included in the University of Colorado archives at the following link:;JSESSIONID=8eeeacd6-ca29-4bd0-9e79-b920df3dc951?QuickSearchA=QuickSearchA&q=torah+of+the+void&sort=Identifier%2CTitle&search=Search

Leave a Reply